Wild Blue Yonder is one of those claustrophobic episodes in which the Doctor and perhaps a handful of others are trapped in some situation in a specific confined location. In this case, having just the Doctor and Donna (and the Doctor and Donna) was delightful (even in this creepy episode), given that this represents a brief return for both actors. For someone like me who is a huge fan of Doctor Who in general but who has a particular interest in religious themes on the show, the episode had a lot to offer. Due to a TARDIS malfunction (the show’s go-to explanation for so many things) the Doctor and Donna end up at the edge of the universe, about which the Doctor doesn’t miss the opportunity to speak condescendingly in relation to humanity’s lack of understanding of how the universe can be both endless and have a beyond. The Doctor says that they have arrived on a spaceship beyond which lies the “absolute nothingness” at the “edge of creation.” The Doctor says that he has “never been out this far” and indeed no one had been before them, a statement contradicted by the presence of the spaceship they are on.
Having sensed grave danger the TARDIS dematerialized. The Doctor had inserted the sonic screwdriver into the keyhole to prompt the TARDIS to regenerate itself. The Doctor explains that he had disactivated the HADS (Hostile Action Displacement System) since otherwise they’d never materialize anywhere interesting, but presumably the reset also reactivated it, hence the dematerialization of the TARDIS. Although it would have been natural to assume that the TARDIS simply remains dematerialized under such circumstances, the Doctor muses aloud about where the TARDIS goes when it’s on its own. He suggests that it materializes somewhere, is worshipped, a city and eventually a civilization grow up around it, is forgotten, the city and society collapse around it, and the TARDIS nonetheless remains. This brief aside offers yet one more instance of the trope of something scientific being mistaken for something of religious significance, but as so often the rest of the episode raises problems for that caricature which denigrates religion at science’s expense.
For just as the nothingness out of which some insist the universe came to be is not really “nothing,” so too in this episode “no-things” from the “nothingness” turn out to have been watching our universe, intrigued by our wars, our games, our lives. They take the form of the Doctor and Donna to observe but ultimately seeking to take their forms as a way of entering our universe and existing there, to their own malevolent ends.
There’s no need to recount all the episode’s twists and turns as the Doctor and Donna seek to prevent this happening at any cost. That the TARDIS ultimately reappears so that they can escape is not really a surprise. Along the way, we have the fact that humans can believe two contradictory things at once mentioned as something admirable about our species. The Doctor also claims that vampires and ghosts cannot cross a line of salt without counting every grain and, by treating it as fact, forces them to comply. The Doctor later worries about the fact that he has invoked a superstition at the edge of the universe, presumably hinting at something to be revisited later, or perhaps that by doing so he has introduced that into the fabric of our universe’s reality. Either way the episode shows that science fiction that pokes fun at religion (primitive people worshipping the TARDIS, for instance) brings it back by telling stories about monsters and ways of stopping them that are magic overlaid with a thin veneer of scientific-sounding mumbo jumbo.
The Doctor tries to stop thinking at one point, before acknowledging the impossibility of doing so on a ship full of questions. That’s rather like life, I’d say.
Let me just mention a couple more highlights before I conclude this brief reflection on the episode “Wild Blue Yonder.” It was a nice touch that, before the Doctor knows that Donna’s form has been taken by some “nothing” from beyond the edge of the universe, that being says that as the DoctorDonna she remembered all the things that happened to the Doctor since the Doctor and Donna parted ways, including the Flux and the Doctor not being from Gallifrey and not actually knowing where they are from. Later, the Doctor avoids talking about it with the real Donna in characteristic fashion.
Wilfred Mott appearing at the end in what will be his final appearance was a deeply moving surprise. Wilf utters words about the Doctor that are a fitting conclusion for an episode that at times seems like it might be anti-religious yet turns out to be quasi-religious in a science fictiony sort of way. Wilf says, “I never lost faith…He’ll come back and save us.”
When asked from what, Wilf says that everyone’s gone crazy and “the whole world’s coming to an end.”
What that entails we’ll see in the last of the three 2023 Doctor Who holiday specials, which seems poised to show a return of the Celestial Toymaker. In that episode, the Doctor is somehow already aware of the Celestial Toymaker’s existence and recognizes his domain. The Doctor says, “He’s a power for evil. He manipulates people and makes them into his playthings.” The Toymaker says to the Doctor, “I’ve been waiting for you a long time…It’s so nice to see you again.”
Later the Doctor explains, “The Toymaker is immortal. He’s lasted for thousands of years. Very occasionally, of course, he loses a game, and then he has to pay the price [the destruction of a world he has created]…but he himself is not destroyed. He goes on forever.” The Doctor predicts that he will encounter the Toymaker again. Perhaps in the upcoming episode “Giggle” that is what we’ll be treated to.
What did you think of “Wild Blue Yonder”? How did it compare in your estimation to other similarly creepy and claustrophobic episodes?