I’ve been trying to unpack my joy at watching the recent return of Doctor Who, the “Star Beast” episode that pretended to be an anniversary special but was, really, just an old romp of silliness that took up an hour of television.
Part of it is, simply, that I really love Doctor Who, and have missed seeing the show for awhile; even before the recent break in broadcasting/reboot, I’d kind of lost touch with the show during the Jodie Whittaker era due to a combination of Big Life Events and not feeling particularly enamored with the writing at the time. (Really, I feel bad for Whittaker for that very reason; she was very charming in the role, but the scripts weren’t there for her.)
There’s also the fact that, in a lot of ways, “The Star Beast” was a joyful restatement of intent: a declaration that Doctor Who as a show is going to be silly, sentimental, and kind, all of which are increasing rarities in science fiction television. Russell T. Davies has plenty of failings as a writer — particularly as a writer of Doctor Who, where he tends to overindulge in the silliness and sentimentality, judging by past experience — but his focus on characters, and his affection for his characters is something that everything from The Mandalorian to Star Trek: Discovery could learn from.
It helped that “The Star Beast”’s gimmicky ending relied on something that is (unfortunately) political, especially in the UK: a non-binary character and their self-belief and the power that comes from that. Does that make me “woke,” or a “SJW” as they used to be called, to say that element appealed to be so much? So be it, but it did, especially imagining the more uptight, conservative parts of fandom getting upset as a result. It was a small moment of seeing Davies realize the power of the platform that Doctor Who grants him, and perhaps part of his (to my mind, far superior) Years and Years or It’s a Sin coming to the fore, unexpectedly.
Whatever the reason, watching Doctor Who with the family on a Saturday evening made me impossibly, excitedly, happy. Here’s to feeling this over and over again as the show continues its run in the coming years.