Doctor Who - Wild Blue Yonder review: everything you could want from an episode of Who

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doctor who wild blue yonder
(Image: © BBC)

GamesRadar+ Verdict

Inventive, unsettling and the perfect vehicle for its two stars, 'Wild Blue Yonder' is event TV at its best, and everything you could want from an episode of Doctor Who.

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Back in 2005, showrunner Russell T. Davies kicked off his first stint in the TARDIS with an Earthbound adventure featuring a familiar villain (malevolent mannequins the Autons in ‘Rose’), followed by a trip to the furthest reaches of time and space in ‘The End of the World’. After bringing back fan-favourite comic-book creation the Meep in last week’s ‘The Star Beast’, he’s followed a similar trajectory by materialising the Doctor and Donna on the literal edge of the universe.

That’s where the similarities end, however, because while ‘The End of the World’ was a fun, knockabout introduction to some of the weird and wonderful aliens who call the Whoniverse home, ‘Wild Blue Yonder’ is a considerably darker affair. In fact, the second of the three 60th anniversary specials revels in bringing scares and some genuinely unsettling moments to Saturday evening TV – just as Doctor Who should.

doctor who wild blue yonder

(Image credit: BBC)

Davies has said in pre-broadcast interviews that he’s been trying to keep the plot under wraps ahead of transmission, and going in cold really pays dividends here. Even the opening of the episode offers few clues of what’s to come, as Donna’s strategically spilled coffee plays havoc with the TARDIS’s navigational systems, facilitating an entertaining encounter with Isaac Newton and history’s most famous apple. But that’s just a minor detour en route to a spaceship where things are so irregular that the out-of-sorts TARDIS does a runner – the Doctor’s blue box may have a fancy new interior, but it’s still as eccentric as ever.

Much has been made of the influx of Disney Plus money to the show’s production budget, and it’s used to spectacular effect here. Running through corridors has always been a big part of the Doctor Who brand, but the Time Lord doesn’t usually have to negotiate seemingly endless corridors that mysteriously reconfigure themselves on a regular basis – although they’re obviously CG, the ambition and scale of this alien craft’s design compensates for any flaws.

doctor who wild blue yonder

(Image credit: BBC)

And there’s something seriously weird going on here, as the episode refers back to the horror movie manual to ramp up the tension in an ingeniously family-friendly way. Why is there a rusty robot (who looks a lot like Marvin in the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy movie) loitering in the corridor? Why are there no lifeforms on board? Why did an airlock open and close three years earlier? Why are there no stars outside? What’s that banging? And why has the air got a little bit chilly all of a sudden? Director Tom Kingsley also adds to your growing sense of unease by making the camera peer through holes or round corners, as if the Doctor and Donna are being watched.

When the antagonist(s) are finally introduced, it takes you a few moments to realise that something is very, very wrong. And the big reveal, when it comes, is both grotesque and hilariously funny, body horror with a comedic spin, as if David Cronenberg woke up one morning and decided the one thing his movies need is more slapstick. There are also echoes of vampire mythology, Alien(s) and even – in one wonderfully freaky moment – The Exorcist.

In fact, there’s so much going on here that it shouldn’t really hang together. That it does is a testament to Davies, who – after more than a decade away from Who, during which he’s written the brilliant A Very English Scandal, Years and Years and It’s a Sin – is arguably an even better writer than when he left. ‘Wild Blue Yonder’ segues seamlessly from a Thunderbirds reference and an ongoing gag about Newton’s discovery of “mavity” to jump scares and emotional character beats – and then back again.

doctor who wild blue yonder

(Image credit: BBC)

The sheer volume of ideas is also remarkable, as Davies burns through several sophisticated concepts that would – on most sci-fi shows – be enough to power entire episodes by themselves. Indeed, the idea that 21st century human language lacks the capacity to comprehend the universe having an edge is a genuinely beautiful piece of writing.

Most importantly, however, “Wild Blue Yonder” is the perfect vehicle for stars David Tennant and Catherine Tate, who carry the entire episode, and – for various reasons – get to show sides of their roles we’ve never seen before. As one of the few new Who companions who’s never been in awe of her Time Lord chum, Donna’s never been afraid to tell it like it is. But there’s an extra dimension to her now that she has a family, and is even more desperate to get home than she would have been before. The Fourteenth Doctor, meanwhile, has changed significantly during the three lives he’s lived since they parted ways, and is definitely still carrying serious baggage from the Flux and the Timeless Child revelation.

They’re such a perfect duo that you want to spend as much time with them as possible, making this three-part reunion feel painfully short. The episode’s conclusion – featuring a lovely cameo – and “next week” teaser do enough to suggest they’re going out in style. But after the brilliant “Wild Blue Yonder”, it’s clear that saying goodbye for a second time is going to be just as cruel and painful as it was all those years ago.

Doctor Who 'Wild Blue Yonder' is available to watch now on BBC iPlayer in the UK and Disney Plus in the rest of the world.

For more, check out our guide to all the best shows on Disney Plus to fill out your watchlist. 

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Richard is a freelancer journalist and editor, and was once a physicist. Rich is the former editor of SFX Magazine, but has since gone freelance, writing for websites and publications including GamesRadar+, SFX, Total Film, and more. He also co-hosts the podcast, Robby the Robot's Waiting, which is focused on sci-fi and fantasy.