Doctor Who #1043: Wild Blue Yonder

"My arms are too long."

TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired Dec.2 2023.

IN THIS ONE... The Doctor and Donna fight weird doppelgangers at the edge of the universe.

REVIEW: I love a good scientific mystery, so Wild Blue Yonder is much more to my tastes than the previous special. There are many questions to answer, and those stated do get definitive answers and not too much technobabble attached. We shall resist the temptation of calling this a bottle episode, since those are meant to save money, and it really doesn't seem like they did, despite the focusing almost entirely on the two leads on a single "bottle" spaceship set (or greenscreen mat). It's wall-to-wall effects, and because Tennant and Tate play both the heroes and villains, would have taken a long time to shoot. Though while there's lots to like in the way that mystery unfolds - the conversations, the weird transformations, the cute robot, "goosebumps like braille", the villains chattering the word "think", the horse-like alien heroine - there's also some patented RTD nonsense at hand.

First, one has to accept that Donna DIDN'T spill coffee into the TARDIS works on purpose even if it seemed quite dubious she did. Perhaps that dubiousness hides another question: How can a simply coffee spill make the console room blow up after sending the invulnerable time capsule (this is the same episode that features a beautiful evocation of its immortality) crashing to the very ends of the universe. And for that matter, if you're going to blow it up and have it repair itself, WHY OH WHY pull the trigger on the new look in The Star Beast?! Yes, you'd lose the moment when the Doctor joyfully runs up the ramps. In other words, Davies wants moments on screen, and is ready to jettison logic to have them. (He's always been like this.) Let's also throw on the pile the entire Sir Isaac Newton sequence which has the illustrious scientist as a much more pleasant chap than history would suggest (see David Warner's performance in the Big Finish audio Circular Time for a more researched take), who comes up with the Theory of gravity here, but misunderstands the word as spoken by 14 and Donna, which changes history to it always having been the Theory of MAVITY. I almost want to forgive it because the call-backs are amusing, but it's still complete nonsense. "Gravity" was already a word, or else the "gravity of the situation" joke at the top wouldn't work. Newton can't be this thick anyway (as per history), so it's just dumb. But it's part of the "memification of Doctor Who" where words don't really mean what they mean except in some new context. Similarly here, "Wild Blue Yonder" is a perfectly good titles for an episode on a ship facing nothingness. It didn't ALSO need the actual song blasting out of the TARDIS for no explained reason (unless it has more to do with the next episode somehow). Why are these words there? Memification. Similarly, perhaps, there are a lot of things in the episode that hark to the Celestial Toymaker (a cute robot, Donna's sweater, some design elements), but I doubt any of these events have anything to do with the CTM. They're just memified call-backs-forwards.

Two episodes in, I can see that Tennant really IS trying to give the 14th Doctor a different personality from the first. He's a lot more serious, but not in Ten's sad way. His reaction to the Flux (which is problematic because any mention of the universe being half-destroyed should also remember that our SOLAR SYSTEM was half-eaten so... how can it be both?) is different from the way he talked about the Time War, for example. His reaction to the Timeless Child business is dead serious (and a surprise, given how much Chibnall swept it away for RTD - wouldn't it be amazing if Davies actually fulfilled its promise and broke all those fanboys' minds?). But the scripts are rather unwilling to let go of the old Doc10, even if they might throw out the realization that he's gay or bi now. We had catchphrases in the previous episode, and here, he licks a thing to determine its function. Pure Ten. A reprise of the non-binary speech is to be found here (that things can be two things, like Donna dumb/smart, or salt superstition/true), but at this point, I wouldn't be surprised if you told me Davies was really Two-Face. This episode is certainly concerned with "doubling".

Tennant is great as the Doctor regardless, and equally good as the creepy double from outside the universe. Tate isn't quite as strong when playing the villain, basically going into her shoutiest persona. "What are ya?!" is a particularly terrible reading. But ultimately, this is a fun episode that takes its time, gives us some weird aliens - evocative of the strangeness in "Midnight", which is a good thing - and some nice dialog between the four characters. I questioned at first if the characters had to play "spot the double" too many times, but each instance provided different rewards, including, I should say, the real-seeming possibility that Donna would die on the ship and Tate have to play a monstrous version of herself (or perhaps by then, the duplication would be so perfect as to make no difference - except to the real Donna, of course) in the third special.

Very special mention must be made of the fact that the final scene is Wilfred Mott's last appearance on the show, and indeed, anywhere. Bernard Cribbins passed away in the middle of the shooting schedule and could not film any of his scenes for the third special. He was one of the greats, with a Whovian history going back to the Dalek films of the 60s, and he will be missed. Is missed. It's just great to see him again one last time, and we can grieve his abscence in The Giggle, which he could only have made better.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium - Its world-building, gonzo villains, and ear for strong dialog makes this a step up from the previous special. I more easily forgive it its flaws since they're rather secondary to the plot.


Doug Adamson said…
I agree it's a much stronger Dr Who Story and I might have to walk back my assessment that RTD is not very good at the Sci-fi parts.

However your thoughts as to the CTM and Donna's Jumper - is that reference to Bagpuss as some have suggested before?
Personally, I thought this was the most "new" that the show's felt since Can You Hear Me, and the first episode to be properly great since It Takes You Away - while Star Beast was fine but clearly RTD overusing all his worst tropes, this one's given me a lot of hope for the future; I can't imagine the RTD of a decade ago making such a matured and efficient bread-and-butter Classic Who throwback that somehow feels like a radically new flavour of what the show can be. I mean, that cold open was unbearably cringe Tooth and Claw table scraps, but the mavity gag works for me and feels like the kind of playing around with the timeline/fixed points that we've only seen in EU stories up to now.

For as much as RTD does twist logic for emotional ends (and we should point it out), I disagree that Donna spilling the coffee counts towards that: "companion spills coffee into the TARDIS console, damaging it enough to spur an atypical adventure" is a cliffhanger so general that I can see it in practically any other era of the show; Moffat, Chibnall, JNT, Cartmel... hell, I can VERY vividly imagine it happening with Hartnell or Troughton.

It is nice to see that all that time we spent on the Timeless Child and Flux aren't going to waste; I was prepared for another complete clearing of the board after Chibnall did the same to Missy's arc. I've watched Flux three times, but it was only after this one that I actually understood what the ending was supposed to be!