For the first of the specials that will bridge the era of Jodie Whitacre as the Doctor to that with Ncuti Gatwa as the Doctor, Doctor Who decided to bring back David Tennant and Donna Noble and to revisit a type of story that it has explored since the era of the very first (televised) Doctor, played by William Hartnell. Spoilers ahead.
The episode “The Star Beast” was very much in keeping with recent Doctor Who. There was none of the slow unfolding of the classic series. The pace is not merely quick but frantic. Given that we were all worried that this episode would see Donna remembering the Doctor, the metacrisis reemerging, and her death as a result, I felt like it rarely slowed down enough for me to recall the tragedy of her story arc and prepare emotionally for whatever would follow. That’s probably just the nature of storytelling now. In terms of continuity I love that the Meep is a character from a 1980 Doctor Who comic book. And I love that the Meep and those who were seeking it went the route of the very very early story Galaxy 4 in which the appearance of non-human beings leads us towards empathy and revulsion when the character of the entities is aligned in precisely the reverse. I apparently need to go back and watch the animated version of that since it is one of the lost episodes. I enjoyed it immensely as an audiobook.
There were lots of things I loved about this episode and a few things that I have qualms about (none of which will cause me to be any less of a fan, because all of them are par for the course at this point when it comes to Doctor Who). I liked when the Doctor said, “I don’t believe in destiny but if destiny exists it’s heading for Donna Noble right now.” I liked that the Meep’s preferred pronoun is the definite article since it gave the Doctor the chance to say he does that too. I liked that the Doctor was able to express our grief over the fact that Wilf is “no longer with us” only to have it revealed that that means he’s no longer living with them, being looked after now by UNIT. I think my biggest and perhaps my only major qualm was the shield function of the sonic screwdriver. The Doctor surely would have used that before. I liked the idea that the metacrisis could spread to the next generation, allowing for a resolution that did not entail the death of Donna Noble. Not a perfectly satisfying route to take, but better than a tragic death scene.
In related news, I’ve been speaking on multiple panels at Starbase Indy this weekend, mostly on AI but one on creating diverse characters and worlds as science fiction authors. It was quite something to be on a panel at least in part as a science fiction author and not as an academic author of nonfiction. It was an honor to be included alongside John Scalzi, Maurice Broaddus, and Mohamed Noor. I had a chance to talk about my stories “In Earth’s Backyard” and “New Members” as well as how similar it is writing historical fiction about the past (as I did in What Jesus Learned from Women) and imagining the future.
My colleague Ankur Gupta was there, and there were several sessions about artificial intelligence. The end result, I think, was to persuade us both that we need to get back to writing about the subject. There’s a need for clear articulation of the fact that the artificial intelligence we now have is not sentient nor quickly heading towards that. There’s a place for stories about sentient AI and great usefulness in telling and reflecting on those stories. We also however urgently need reflection and storytelling that gets to the heart of the near future of AI. If we cannot get that right, we won’t make it to a future in which the other issues might possibly arise.
What did you think of the Doctor Who episode? Anyone reading this who’s at Starbase Indy? Did you catch any of the other special offerings for the 60th anniversary of Doctor Who, such as the new version of the powerful ending scene of An Adventure in Time and Space?