TV Review: Doctor Who - Wild Blue Yonder


Shrouded in mystery by modern standards (no plot leaks, no full cast list, a vague trailer, just a few photos, quotes about how unusual it is) this episode has been the subject of assorted rumours in the week leading up to today. You know what, this is a good and rare thing these days. When even teaser trailers can ruin some surprises it makes a pleasant change to approach something with no real knowledge of what is about to unfold. Pre Internet, pre smartphones most things were like this, now its very difficult to keep secrets. If you’ve seen the episode, you'll know it's worth watching without knowing what happens so if you haven't then the review that follows reveals things...

Spoilers ahoy after the break

So in the past week I’ve read that this is a multi Doctor story, or just that Matt Smith is coming back or that the spaceship is full of old monsters or that Susan could be in it (well the only other cast member revealed beforehand is called Susan Twist) or the ship is another TARDIS. A more accurate summary would be that it has a similar tenor to `Midnight`. One of RTD’s best Doctor Who scripts the 2008 story is notable for its reliance on menace without special effects or creatures. It is built up in layers of tension and relies more on acting than anything to put across the dangers. Though the story doesn’t quite match the edginess of `Midnight` and actually includes alot of effects it is a very compelling high concept sci-fi tale in which the Doctor and Donna find themselves trapped on a gigantic spaceship after the TARDIS pootles off courtesy of the Hostile Alien Displacement System aka HADS. I never quite understood the point of this Sixties invention which is designed to keep the TARDIS out of danger. If it had been on all this time there would have been very few adventures! Anyway, as the duo try to unlock the mystery of where they are they encounter duplicates of themselves. The unnamed aliens are initially garish recreations with extra-long limbs or features but the longer they are around the more they become increasingly indistinguishable from the real Doctor and Donna. 

The potential is realised in a busy, clever episode - Tom Kingsley directs with vigour- in which both fun and fear are delivered in equal measure as David Tennant and Catherine Tate play all four roles with commitment. With a series of corridors and rooms to play with the episode places its strongest card on dialogue as the real Doctor and Donna have to challenge their duplicates to see which is real something that becomes increasingly harder as the beings solidify. Its introduced really well as it takes us a while to even realise it’s happening (I just thought there’d been an abrupt edit when the Doctor pops back to the Donna so soon) The ultimate mystery is kept well corked till the right moment and turns out to be one that works very well. Some of the chase sequences are surreal in the extreme especially one in which the Doctor and Donna are pursued by giant versions of themselves. 

Visually the story impresses with its design work that is reminiscent of big screen sci fi epics like 2001- A Space Odyssey, Silent Running or more recently Moon. There’s a bit of Alien and Solaris in there too. Oddly the design aesthetic is a perfect match for the newly designed TARDIS interior. So, there’s a lot of white, angular shapes and the spaceship reconfigures itself every so often. There’s also an initially unexplained rusting robot who looks rather like the big screen version of Marvin from Hitch Hikers Guide to the Galaxy and seems to move every slowly. It is the case that today’s big clear tv screens do betray the digital origin of some bits, things you would never notice on an old analogue tv, but that even happens in cinema films. For the most part though the effects are spot on especially the reconfiguring spaceship and when we get to see the exterior.

Conceptually we’re at the very edge of the Universe with simply a black void stretching as far they can see. Indeed, the spirit of Douglas Adams also floats about this episode too. The narrative is revealed at a pace that allows for the Doctor and Donna’s situation to become increasingly desperate and also means a lot of personal information has to be swapped. Nice to see an acknowledgment of the events of `Flux` in there and the clear effect the repercussions of that have had on the Doctor. Plots like this can end disappointingly but the standard is maintained right up into the denouement which is real edge of the seat stuff.

It must have been such a fun episode for David Tennant and Catherine Tate to make and means we get to spend a lot of time with this feisty duo who are certainly one of my favourite Doctor / companion combos in the whole series. They bring so many ingredients to the table oscillating from fun to serious, happy to sad, crazy to thoughtful. Particularly great are Donna’s ordinary observations like the first time she sees the vast walkway of the spaceship declaring that she wouldn’t like to be the cleaner!  Its just great to spend an extended time with them.

The episode is topped and tailed by unrelated happenings. At the start the Doctor and Donna have an encounter with Isaac Newton played by Its A Sin alumnus Nathaniel Curtis. I’m not sure if this has a purpose other than as a fun excursion or perhaps to add levity to what develops into a more serious episode. As for the much speculated upon Mrs Merridew, she only gets a couple of lines and is not Susan or anyone other than Mrs Merridew (unless we find out next week she is). At the end the stage is set for what look like tumultuous scenes next episode plus a reunion with Wilf. So nice to see Bernard Cribbins again. `Wild Blue Yonder` is a treat that delivers from start to finish.

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