Wild Blue Yonder sees Doctor Who cross the Event Horizon
Russell T Davies has made no secret of his admiration for the explosive expansion of Marvel’s Cinematic Universe and the transformational impact it has had on genre storytelling across film and television, but WILD BLUE YONDER suggests that RTD’s Hollywood viewing habits haven’t been solely contained to the works of Kevin Feige. Yes, in between chilling us with visions of the UK’s possible (probable?) future and trying to hoodwink us into believing Olly Alexander can act, Doctor Who’s very own Napoleon has used at least part of his exile to take in Paul W S Anderson’s 1997 masterpiece EVENT HORIZON.
With the newly refurbished TARDIS hurtling out of control thanks to Donna’s contrived coffee calamity, after a brief and linguistically disruptive visit to 17th century the Doctor and Donna find themselves on a mysteriously deserted spaceship, a spaceship that immediately becomes more deserted as the TARDIS promptly vanishes. Left with little alternative, the Doctor and Donna explore the seemingly abandoned craft only to discover that they are at the very edge of the infinite universe – and they are very definitely not alone.
WILD BLUE YONDER showcases some of the very best that Davies brings to Doctor Who, while minimising his foibles which will return with a vengeance in THE GIGGLE – but more on that next review. It’s first and foremost, tremendously frugal – an essential quality for anyone in charge of a BBC show – yet never feels constrained or parsimonious. Indeed, the lack of any guest cast (save a brief scene with Isaac Newton that feels like it might have been written to pad out a run time that was tragically denied as much of Bernard Cribbens’ Wilfred Mott as it should have had) barely registers thanks to the immense watchability of Tennant and Tate onscreen together. The dialogue is whip-smart and razor sharp, even if the early banter feels a little mannered, and once again it’s like the pair have never been away. Which, I guess they haven’t because it’s only been a week.
Davies’ well-paced plot feels like a variation on his own work from MIDNIGHT where the Doctor was possessed by an entity who gained dominion over its victims through linguistic mimicry. Here, the classic Doctor Who monster’s mimicry is more overt but creepily effective nonetheless and bolstered by some tremendous visual effects. The effects work – not that it’s been all that shoddy in the series’ modern era – is one of the clearest beneficiaries of the injection of Disney Dollars, giving the series a polished increase in capability without being discordantly different with what’s gone before.
There’s a lot of iconic Whovian elements at play in WILD BLUE YONDER. The unnamed antagonists are a wonderfully creepy creation and I can’t be alone in wanting a toy of Jimbo, the slow-moving, Marvin the Paranoid Android evoking robot. Current family audiences may be too desensitised to hide behind the sofa but moments in this definitely caused some cuddling in tight in the Craggus household and we can’t be the only home where “My arms are too long”/ “Your arms are too long” has already entered the family lexicon.
One of the more interesting markers laid down here is the tacit embrace of the Timeless Child arc as the Doctor and Donna catch up properly, although you get much more sense of the weight of it on the Doctor’s soul from Tennant than we ever did from Whittaker, something which the bulk of the blame can be placed on the writing but some must land on Jodie’s performance too. We also get confirmation too of the cataclysmic damage wrought by The Flux, where half of the entire universe was annihilated. It’s a big fucking deal but one that, having carelessly – almost thoughtlessly – done it, Chibnall point-blank refused to engage with it during the remainder of his tenure. Davies is clearly willing to swing at the narrative knuckleball Chibnall pitched on his way out the door and try to turn it into a home run. Time will tell if he is able to.
In the meantime, WILD BLUE YONDER (the significance of the episode taking its title from the song of the same name feels incidental even if it does provide a wonderfully apposite description of the TARDIS) gives us more foreshadowing in the closing exchange about invoking a superstition at the edge of the universe. Is it heading towards the same place as The Meep’s reference to “the boss” (e.g. The Celestial Toymaker) or is – and I wouldn’t put it past him – RTD pulling a fast one here and even The Toymaker will end up being subservient to the forthcoming season’s real big bad.
If WILD BLUE YONDER has a fault, it’s that for the middle part of a 60th Anniversary trilogy of specials, it doesn’t feel very, well, celebratory. It’s a brilliant episode of the series as a whole, showcasing a lot of what has made it such an enduring cultural icon, but its metatextual ambitions feel very slight indeed. And the “mavity” running gag is going to get old really, really fast. After having declared in his fourth incarnation that there no limit to Isaac’s genius, the fourteenth Doctor discovers that there is, apparently, a limit to his auditory memory. We can only hope that the Doctor will correct it when, in his fourth incarnation, he visits Newton later in the scientist’s timeline to discuss the finer points of punting.