Doctor Who: Wild Blue Yonder - 60th anniversary special recap

The lack of advance detail about this episode had led to wild speculation about it possibly featuring returning actors, characters and monsters, while Doctor Who magazine even had a redacted cast list last month. Some pondered whether Ncuti Gatwa might put in an early cameo as the Fifteenth Doctor opposite David Tennant. In the end, it was a multi-Doctor adventure of sorts, just perhaps not in the way some people had been hoping.

Effectively a two-hander for Tennant and Catherine Tate’s Donna, it explored a theme we’ve seen before in Who during stories such as Listen or Flatline – that there is something nameless and shapeless lurking at the edge of our understanding of the universe, and it is coming to get us. This time, though, it came disturbingly in the misshapen form of Tennant and Tate themselves.

The show’s bigger budget was evident on screen, as that was surely the longest corridor the Doctor has ever run down, and the hover-car put the Segways the Doctor and Donna rode in her 2006 debut, the Runaway Bride, to shame. The robot looked like it would have been fun if it had been given anything much to do, but that it was doing not very much, and doing it very slowly, turned out to be the point.

This story hinged on the performance of the two stars and the work of the design and VFX teams. Tennant and Tate were impeccable. The look, feel and realism of the shape-shifting menace varied. As specials go, it didn’t feel as special as the Star Beast had the week before, but it finished with a lovely dose of the much-missed Bernard Cribbins, and the set-up for what looks to be next week’s explosive finale of the Fourteenth Doctor’s brief but welcome era.

Sum it up in one sentence?

The Doctor and Donna get the runaround on a giant slowly self-destructing spaceship … and find they are chasing themselves.

Life aboard the Tardis

It didn’t take place in the Tardis, and it wasn’t with the real Donna, but as promised by Russell T Davies in advance, this episode firmly asserted that the destruction of half the universe during Flux, and that the Doctor was not born on Gallifrey, are facts in the Whoniverse. This will disappoint a vocal section of fandom that were rather hoping the new showrunner was going to airbrush out or undo the Timeless Child concept introduced during Jodie Whittaker’s tenure by Chris Chibnall.

Fear factor

Remembering that there are children in the audience, this special managed to balance the chilling idea that someone – or something – is gradually becoming the perfect facsimile of you, with the frankly laugh-out-loud unexpected giant stunt arms.

Mysteries and questions

This didn’t feel like it had any elements in it setting up story or character arcs, with the main mystery being why the Doctor usually uses the sonic screwdriver to read every alien spaceship control panel they come across if they can just do it themselves by translating some numbers. And is it really “mavity” now?

Deeper into the vortex

  • The Hostile Action Displacement System of the Tardis was first introduced in 1968 Second Doctor story the Krotons, and barely mentioned again until it was the reason for the Eleventh Doctor and Clara to get stranded on a sinking submarine in 2013’s Cold War.

  • The Fourth Doctor once told Romana in the Douglas Adams-penned the Pirate Planet that he had to give Isaac Newton “a bit of a prod” to discover mavity – by climbing up a tree, dropping an apple on his head, then explaining it to him “afterwards at dinner”.

  • The actor playing the Doctor has faced off against themselves playing the villain before, notably with Patrick Troughton playing both the Time Lord and the evil dictator Ramón Salamander in 1967’s Enemy of the World, and Tom Baker getting made up to look like a cactus as the anti-hero in 1980’s Meglos.

Next time

Neil Patrick Harris! The Celestial Toymaker! A doll sending the whole world mad with its giggle! And presumably, as it has been in the trailers, we get to see Jemma Redgrave back as Unit’s Kate Stewart in their swish new Avengers Tower knock-off in London, and hopefully a little more Bernard Cribbins.

60th anniversary specials

Special 1: The Star Beast
Special 2: Wild Blue Yonder
Special 3: The Giggle
Christmas special: The Church on Ruby Road

Flux / Series 13

Chapter one: The Halloween Apocalypse
Chapter two: War of the Sontarans
Chapter three: Once, Upon Time
Chapter four: Village of the Angels
Chapter five: Survivors of the Flux
Chapter six: The Vanquishers
New Year's Special: Eve of the Daleks
Spring special: Legend of the Sea Devils
BBC centenary special: The Power of the Doctor

Series 12

Episode 1: Spyfall part one
Episode 2: Spyfall part two
Episode 3: Orphan 55
Episode 4: Nikola Tesla’s Night of Terror
Episode 5: Fugitive of the Judoon
Episode 6: Praxeus
Episode 7: Can You Hear Me?
Episode 8: The Haunting of Villa Diodati
Episode 9: Ascension of the Cybermen
Episode 10: The Timeless Children
New Year's special: Revolution of the Daleks

Series 11

Episode 1: The Woman Who Fell to Earth
Episode 2: The Ghost Monument
Episode 3: Rosa
Episode 4: Arachnids in the UK
Episode 5: The Tsuangra Condundrum
Episode 6: Demons of the Punjab
Episode 7: Kerblam!
Episode 8: The Witchfinders
Episode 9: It Takes You Away
Episode 10: The Battle of Ranskoor Av Kolos
New Year's special: Resolution

Series 10

Episode 1: The Pilot
Episode 2: Smile
Episode 3: Thin Ice
Episode 4: Knock Knock
Episode 5: Oxygen
Episode 6: Extremis
Episode 7: The Pyramid at the End of the World
Episode 8: The Lie of the Land
Episode 9: Empress of Mars
Episode 10: The Eaters of Light
Episode 11: World Enough and Time
Episode 12: The Doctor Falls
2017 Christmas special: Twice Upon A Time

Series 9

Episode 1: The Magician's Apprentice
Episode 2: The Witch's Familiar
Episode 3: Under The Lake
Episode 4: Before The Flood
Episode 5: The Girl Who Died
Episode 6: The Woman Who Lived
Episode 7: The Zygon Invasion
Episode 8: The Zygon Inversion
Episode 9: Sleep No More
Episode 10: Face The Raven
Episode 11: Heaven Sent
Episode 12: Hell Bent
2015 Christmas special: The Husbands of River Song
2016 Christmas special: The Return of Doctor Mysterio

Series 8

Episode 1: Deep Breath
Episode 2: Into The Dalek
Episode 3: Robot of Sherwood
Episode 4: Listen
Episode 5: Time Heist
Episode 6: The Caretaker
Episode 7: Kill The Moon
Episode 8: Mummy on the Orient Express
Episode 9: Flatline
Episode 10: In the Forest of the Night
Episode 11: Dark Water
Episode 12: Death In Heaven
2014 Christmas special: Last Christmas

Series 7

Episode 1: Asylum of the Daleks
Episode 2: Dinosaurs on a Spaceship
Episode 3: A Town Called Mercy
Episode 4: The Power of Three
Episode 5: The Angels Take Manhatten
2012 Christmas special: The Snowmen
Episode 6: The Bells of Saint John
Episode 7: The Rings of Akhaten
Episode 8: Cold War
Episode 9: Hide
Episode 10: Journey to the Centre of the Tardis
Episode 11: The Crimson Horror
Episode 12: Nightmare in Silver
Episode 13: The Name of the Doctor
50th Anniversary special: The Day of the Doctor
2013 Christmas special: The Time of the Doctor

Series 6

Episode 1: The Impossible Astronaut
Episode 2: Day of the Moon
Episode 3: The Curse of the Black Spot
Episode 4: The Doctor's Wife
Episode 5: The Rebel Flesh
Episode 6: The Almost People
Episode 7: A Good Man Goes To War
Episode 8: Let's Kill Hitler
Episode 9: Night Terrors
Episode 10: The Girl Who Waited
Episode 11: The God Complex
Episode 12: Closing Time
Episode 13: The Wedding of River Song
2011 Christmas special: The Doctor, The Widow and the Wardrobe

Series 5

Episode 1: The Eleventh Hour
Episode 2: The Beast Below
Episode 3: Victory of the Daleks
Episode 4: The Time of Angels
Episode 5: Flesh and Stone
Episode 6: The Vampires of Venice
Episode 7: Amy's Choice
Episode 8: The Hungry Earth
Episode 9: Cold Blood
Episode 10: Vincent and the Doctor
Episode 11: The Lodger
Episode 12: The Pandorica Opens
Episode 13: The Big Bang
2010 Christmas special: A Christmas Carol