Doctor Who: Wild Blue Yonder ditches the theatrics of last week’s episode for a darker, more character-driven story that goes back to the show’s roots.
Though it seemed hard to imagine, the second of Doctor Who’s 60th Anniversary specials managed to be even better than the first. Wild Blue Yonder adopts a completely different style to The Star Beast, but this works entirely in its favour – it’s much darker and more mysterious than expected, breaking the show down to its core elements and focusing almost exclusively on The Doctor (David Tennant) and Donna (Catherine Tate) as many fans were hoping for. Traces of the show’s lighthearted comedy and silliness are still there at times, but Wild Blue Yonder is the kind of episode that recognizes the talent in front of the camera and prioritises them above all else.
Following Donna’s accidental destruction of the TARDIS in The Star Beast, the pair find themselves flung to the edge of the universe where they discover a seemingly abandoned spaceship that’s harbouring a dark secret. It’s a very simple premise, at least on the surface, but the actual conflict is only one part of the story in Wild Blue Yonder. The rest of the runtime is dedicated to the relationship between The Doctor and Donna, exploring how they’ve both changed since they parted ways in Series 4. For the majority of the runtime, Tennant and Tate are the only actors on the screen – which gives them so many chances to play off each other and develop the relationship between their characters even further. It’s exactly what long-time Doctor Who fans wanted from these specials: an opportunity to see The Doctor having fun with his best friend one more time.
However, behind the wholesome friendship that drives the story forward, there’s a much more sinister and frightening aspect to Wild Blue Yonder that raises the stakes and keeps tensions high. With enough vagueness to keep spoilers at bay, the aliens at the heart of this story are much more reminiscent of classic episodes such as ‘Midnight’ or ‘Silence in the Library’, keeping in the shadows and using tension as their scariest weapon. There aren’t any explosive battles or unexpected twists as seen in The Star Beast, but rather a much more patient and subtle narrative that unfolds more like a family-friendly horror movie. It’s much more reminiscent of the aforementioned adventures that The Doctor and Donna had previously been on, which is sure to please most fans.
Everybody has a favourite incarnation of The Doctor, and equally a favourite companion, but Wild Blue Yonder proves beyond a doubt that this particular duo was the perfect choice to return for these specials – the chemistry between these two actors is absolutely unmatched and they each provide two of their strongest performances in this episode. Tennant is playing a version of The Doctor that’s riddled with grief and guilt following the events of the previous season, and Tate is playing a much more mature and responsible version of Donna who’s got a daughter to look out for – it makes their performances much richer and more interesting, and Wild Blue Yonder really capitalises on that. This story simply wouldn’t have been the same with any other actors, which finally justifies the show’s decision to bring them back.
When it was first announced that David Tennant and Catherine Tate would be returning for three special episodes to commemorate Doctor Who’s 60th Anniversary, it seemed like an unusual (albeit exciting) decision. Fans were only given one episode to celebrate the 50th Anniversary, so why are we getting three here? The question even remained after last week’s episode, but Wild Blue Yonder makes the answer abundantly clear. There’s a key theme running throughout these specials, and it’s one that simply can’t be answered in an hour: why is this version of The Doctor back?
The Star Beast hinted at the answer, but Wild Blue Yonder uses its character-driven narrative to dive even further into the question, drawing references to previous adventures and establishing a clear arc that’s hopefully going to reach an emotional conclusion next week. It’s very similar to what audiences saw with the 2009 specials, in which Davies constructed an entirely new character arc for The Doctor that spanned across four episodes and led directly into his final story. The writer seems to be doing something similar here, and each episode is dropping plenty of hints about how these specials are going to end. We know that next week’s episode will see the emergence of Ncuti Gatwa’s Fifteenth Doctor, but there’s bound to be plenty more surprises in store before these specials are over.
Doctor Who: Wild Blue Yonder is now available to watch on the BBC iPlayer and on Disney Plus. The final 60th Anniversary Special will be released on December 9, 2023.