Friday 8 December 2023

Doctor Who: Wild Blue Yonder

Wild Blue Yonder is the second of three specials celebrating the 60th anniversary of Doctor Who.

The second special's promotion is steeped in redacted mystery. Nick Smith, our US-based veteran Whovian, discovers what it all means.

Guest post by Nick Smith

Since the Daleks first returned to Doctor Who in 1964, the series has performed a delicate balancing act, bringing its viewers familiar sights and themes alongside new, unpredictable adventures. At the height of its 60th anniversary, this balance is trickier than ever.

How can a nostalgic show like Doctor Who continue to surprise us? How can it give us what we crave – the Doctor being insatiably curious, exploring strange new worlds – and stay fresh simultaneously?

Wild Blue Yonder, the second of three consecutive specials, revitalizes a well-worn wedding adage by including something old (a top-tier previous Doctor and companion combo), something new (a bizarre alien spaceship), something borrowed (shades of films like Passengers and Event Horizon) and something blue (the TARDIS!).

The high-wire act works, with mystery, humour and pathos all rolled into a tightly paced story that purposefully focuses on the Doctor, giving David Tennant plenty of time to remind us what a good and charismatic actor he is.

The Wild Blue Yonder was a phrase coined for the official U.S. Army Air Corps (now Air Force) song in 1939. It means venturing into the unknown, mysterious territory of the sky. In this new story, the Doctor and Donna Noble (Catherine Tate) find themselves on a gleaming white space vessel so vast that they need a futuristic golf cart to get around.

Donna keeps us grounded in reality, considering the cleaning routine. The Doctor is obsessed with the ship's mysteries, confounded by the appearance of two strange, bendy, gruesomely toothsome creatures.

Although there’s a real sense of threat from these monsters, the sets are too brightly lit for the story to be scary. It’s hard to lurk in the shadows when we can see every nook and uncreepy cranny. The show has been overlit in stories like Warriors of the Deep and Dragonfire, but that was back in the ‘80s when the Beeb didn’t always want to spend the time and money on effective lighting. In Wild Blue Yonder, the Doctor and Donna talk about being terrorized but we do not share their fear; it’s harder to be scared with the lights on.

Aside from that questionable directing choice, this episode is near-perfect, full of ideas and excitement, giving the lead actors lots to do and providing us with a sweet scene where the Doctor is reunited with his old friend Wilf. Sadly no longer with us, Bernard Cribbins depicts joy, hope and fear in a heart-breaking last hurrah.

Since Tennant is so confident and personable in his role, this is the story that will really make us miss him when he regenerates into the next Doctor, Ncuti Gatwa - an event that has been a year in the hyping but will still seem like a surprise, since we’re just getting comfortable with Tennant again. It’s a clever conceit and a risky one – by giving the people a treat and whisking it away, there’s a chance they’ll turn their noses up at the substitute.

Luckily, the familiar and the unfamiliar have always coexisted in the world of Doctor Who.

Have you seen Wild Blue Yonder? What did you think? Let me know in the comments below.

Nick Smith's new audiobook, Undead on Arrival, is available from Amazon (affiliate link).

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