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Review: Recent Doctor Who Specials Put Show Back On Track

Joseph Neuenschwander
The Doctor uses a sonic screwdriver like this to unlock doors, hack and disable technology, scan items and more.

Doctor Who has run on tv for 60 years and the newest specials came out at the end of 2023. The show is getting a whole new season in May. This review will have minor spoilers. 

Russell T. Davies wrote some of the best episodes of Doctor Who from 2005-2008 and the latest specials have shown the same promise as the show did in 2005. 

Each of the recent specials feels like an apology to the fans of the show after the fiascos that were episodes like Orphan 55 and The Timeless Child, while still acknowledging these episodes. The three specials have also acknowledged episodes that fans would know. An example of this is when companions of the Doctor such as Amy Pond and Clara Oswald are mentioned. This helps strengthen the past episodes and helps character development. 

Each special will be examined in great detail. The first special resolves a 15-year-old plot between the Doctor and one of his companions. This episode has a great story. Though there were people who criticize this episode for being “woke” because of a scene where the Doctor asks the pronouns of an alien, this critique is moot because Doctor Who has always been politically active. Davies wrote many characters who are LGBTQ when he wrote for the show 15 years ago. The line where the Doctor asks for the alien’s pronouns is a throw away line meant to flesh out the character and the world the alien lives in and who the character is. The people who are calling the episode “woke” are just being hateful for the sake of being hateful. 

There was a stand out part where the Doctor has to make Donna, who will die if she remembers her time with the Doctor, remember. During this scene, the Doctor has to stop the evil alien named Meep from destroying a huge part of London, so Donna needs to remember. This is one of the most heartbreaking scenes in the history of the show. Though the ending to the episode isn’t the best, it doesn’t have to be the best ending to make what is a good time. 

The second special focuses on Donna and the Doctor on a ship on the edge of the universe. This episode has some flaws, but it holds up. This episode should be an example to all the companies that overuse CGI like the marvel cinematic universe. The majority of the effects were practical effects, meaning that all of the objects were real. One example is when the villains of the episode, who are copies of the Doctor and Donna, grow long arms to show that they are not exact copies of the Doctor and Donna. These were actually real arms made by the effects team and they look realistic for what weird stretchy arms should look like. In fact, all of the episodes have great practical effects but the second special has the best of the episodes. 

The villains were literally the Doctor and Donna or copies of them. It really allowed the actors to flex their skills in acting. David Tennant is a powerhouse on the screen, as always. However, the real star of the episode is Catherine Tate who plays Donna Noble. She manages to bring so much character to this specific villain. This episode really shows what Tate is capable of.

The second special does have its issues though. The ending was supposed to have a twist, but it feels like it came out of nowhere, and not in a good way. Basically the pilot of the ship blew the ship up really slowly so that the alien would never figure out what was going on. As the ship is exploding, fake Donna sneaks onto the TARDIS (time and relative dimensions in space) and somehow the arm is slightly too big, which was hinted at earlier, but it confuses the viewer about which Donna is the real Donna until the Doctor spells it out for the viewer. It’s just not well done and there probably could have been a different ending to the episode. 

The third special is interesting. It is a great episode but the end is controversial and could have possible future ties into future plots. The villain of the episode is the Toy Maker who is played by Neil Patrick Harris, who does a fantastic job as a psychotic villain who plays sick games with the Doctor. The best part of the episode is when the Toy Maker sits the Doctor down and reminds him of all the companions who have died while traveling with him. Every time the Doctor tries to make a counter point about the companions and how they “live on” the Toy Maker yells at him saying  “well that’s alright then.” During the whole episode Neil Patrick Harris has a German accent but he loses it for that moment and becomes one of the most intimidating villains the show has ever seen. This is a combination of great writing and acting. In another scene the Toy Maker just walks into a UNIT (Unified Intelligence Task Force)  tower and lip syncs to the Spice Girls Spice up Your life while turning some UNIT guards into balls. The scene works because it follows the rule show don’t tell. The scene is well choreographed. 

The writing of the episode works because it shows how one messed up man can break the Doctor. It is also a calibration of what makes the show so great. It brings back characters from the past and it doesn’t mess with what makes them great. The only bad thing about the episode is the “Bigeneration ” which has split the fandom. The Doctor can regenerate which gives him a new face every time he regenerates. But this time when the Doctor regenerates he splits into Two Doctors. Now there is a doctor played by Tennant and a doctor played by Ncuti Gatwa. This is probably hinting at a future plot with two Doctors. This happens throughout the three specials like the word “mavity” and when the meep hints at the “boss.” The two Doctors will meet again and Davis does have a plan for it which is what made the show so good around 5 years ago. The ominous hints make fans excited for future seasons and it allows people to rewatch the show. 

The best episode was the Christmas special called the Church of Ruby Road. This episode focuses on Ruby whose mother abandoned her at a church. The episode follows Ruby Sunday who is played by Millie Gibson and the doctor who is played by Ncuti Gatwa. The episode follows Ruby and her relationship with her family. In the episode Ruby loses a baby who the family is fostering to goblins and she has to get the baby back from the goblins. The episode is an emotional roller coaster and will bring the viewer to tears. At the climax of the episode, Ruby gets erased from time and it changes everyone around her. Her mother goes from a positive happy person to a depressed angry person. This shows how one person can affect the world just by being there.

Doctor Who has shown that any show can come back from a bad few seasons if done well.  The show has great potential for the new season in May and hopefully this will continue for 60 more years.

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