Warning: contains spoilers for Doctor Who: “Wild Blue Yonder”
In the December issue of Doctor Who Magazine, a preview for the second 60th anniversary special “Wild Blue Yonder” advertised the following episode cast:
“David Tennant, Catherine Tate, [REDACTED], [REDACTED], [REDACTED]”
Fans were understandably quick to fill in those blanks with potential guest stars fitting for a diamond anniversary (Eccleston, Smith & Capaldi! Piper, Agyeman & Coleman! Davison, Baker & McCoy!…). Nobody guessed the actual names redacted: Bernard Cribbins (beloved of Doctor Who fans, and whose return for the anniversary specials had been much-anticipated since the May 2022 location shoot), plus Daniel Tuite and Helen Cripps.
Tuite and Cripps play David Tennant and Catherine Tate’s body doubles in “Wild Blue Yonder”, an episode that saw the Doctor and Donna pitted against monstrous copies of themselves. Neither household names nor Doctor Who regulars, had the two actors been revealed prior to broadcast, it would likely not have explained or spoiled a thing…
…apart from the fervour of fan speculation, which was whipped up to great effect by the secrecy surrounding the ep. Very few clips were released ahead of broadcast and unlike for “The Star Beast”, press screeners were not made widely available.
Speaking on The Official Doctor Who Podcast, showrunner Russell T Davies has now expressed a fear that all that cloak and dagger stuff in the run-up to “Wild Blue Yonder” may have damaged its reception.
“We kept this very secret. I think that might have had an unfortunate effect. I think everyone’s expecting Matt Smith and Peter Capaldi and the ghost of William Hartnell riding on the back of [Fifth Doctor alien] era The Garm on board this spaceship, whereas actually I kept this secret for a very simple reason: partly because I think it’s nice to keep some episodes completely secret, but also because this is actually the simplest one of the lot.
“If you describe this episode: so, they arrive on a spaceship and they meet evil versions of themselves… that’s it. That’s it, there’s nothing more that’s it. Do they win? Yes they do, of course they do. With “The Star Beast” you could say well, the Meep turns out to be evil and actually that’s about Donna – the other episodes are more complicated. This is so simple, that’s why I kept it secret, but I wonder if that’s had an unfortunate effect and made it disappointingly simple on its broadcast.”
This paranoid, creepy two-hander (big-hander?) certainly wasn’t the multi-Doctor story – a Who tradition when it comes to anniversary episodes – that many were expecting. And despite Billie Piper’s name being mysteriously included in its IMDb page prior to broadcast, the special didn’t welcome back familiar names from the Doctor’s past.
Did that make the episode seem “disappointingly simple” when it arrived, or was the whole thing a welcome and bold step forward from a show that’s at its best when not looking back? Or to put it another way, can Doctor Who have its fan-frenzy cake and eat it?
Doctor Who continues with “The Giggle” on Saturday December 9 at 6.30pm on BBC One and iPlayer in the UK, and on Disney+ around the world.