The world’s longest-running sci-fi series has returned for three special episodes to mark the show’s 60th anniversary. For the specials, former Doctor David Tennant has returned as the Doctor, with Catherine Tate accompanying him once more as fan-favourite companion Donna Noble. Former showrunner Russell T Davies is also back at the helm.
*Spoilers for “The Star Beast” below – you have been warned!*
The mini-series – which will air before Ncuti Gatwa takes over as the Doctor at Christmas – kicked off on Saturday (25 November) with “The Star Beast”. The series saw the Doctor running back into Donna while out with her daughter Rose, played by Heartstopper star Finney.
While walking home, a group of teenage bullies cycle by on bikes, shouting at Rose and deadnaming her – calling her the name used before she transitioned. Fuming, Donna says she’ll “get them”.
“I would burn down the world for you, darling,” Donna tells her. “Anyone has a go, I will be there and I will descend.”
Donna and her mother Sylvia (Jacqueline King) are also shown having a frank discussion about Rose’s identity. Sylvia accidentally misgenders Rose, then apologises, and worries about being “clumsy” or saying the wrong thing.
The scene was praised on social media, with one viewer tweeting: “This to me was the most natural part of the episode. Sylvia says something I can easily see one of my parents saying, who are good-natured when it comes to this stuff but miss the mark sometimes. I’m so glad [Davies] didn’t make her transphobic, though.”
Another replied: “One of my favourite character moments. She’s genuinely trying, but she’s not perfect and still slips up. It’s so real and true to life.”
Nods to trans identity were made throughout the episode. Soon, after a spaceship lands on earth, Rose meets The Meep, a cute-looking creature that tells her it is being hunted down across the galaxy.
When the Doctor meets the alien, he tells Rose and Donna that he can “help him get home”. “You’re assuming ‘he’ as a pronoun?” Rose asks the Doctor, who replies: “True. Yes. Sorry, good point,” before asking the Meep: “Are you he or she or they?”
The Meep responds: “My chosen pronoun is the definite article. I am always The Meep.”
“Oh. I do that,” the Doctor says back.
Rose’s trans identity ends up playing a crucial role in the plot too. It’s revealed that, as the daughter of Donna, who herself contains part of the Doctor’s identity (known as the DoctorDonna), she contains memories of the Doctor and is able to save her mother.
Previously, the Doctor had said that he needed to utter a series of words, ending in a repeated “binary” to bring Donna’s memory back. As a clip of Donna saying “binary”, Rose’s voice echoed back the words “non-binary”.
On Twitter/X, fans were delighted by the episode’s trans-inclusivity. “Russell T Davies truly stood up and said Trans people are beautiful and we love to see it,” one commenter wrote.
“Doctor Who having its BIG SPECIAL be about a trans character saving the day with the power of being nonbinary & The Doctor overtly relating to being nonbinary – combined with Tennant’s overt trans support – is a serious message.”
— Safe Space Who (@SafeSpaceDrWho) November 26, 2023
“The way that you can tell Russell had so much fun writing the progressive, trans-inclusive elements of that episode knowing that it would make all the worst elements of the internet seeth,” another joked.
One commenter wrote: “It’s going to mean so much to so many to see a trans woman character in Doctor Who, who gets to have her identity actually explored and validated. That’s amazing.”
Another tweet read: “Honestly I don’t care if some of the lines were a bit cheesy, the best DW episodes are. Great to see Donna and 10 back again. Plus such a huge mainstream show having a trans storyline be so central to a 15-year plot line is beautiful.”
Honestly I don’t care if some of the lines were a bit cheesy, the best DW episodes are. Great to see Donna and 10 back again. Plus such a huge mainstream show having a trans storyline be so central to a 15 year plot line is beautiful #DoctorWho pic.twitter.com/xnwkdszOAh
— supercalumfragilistic (@calumbyyourname) November 26, 2023
Speaking on companion show Doctor Who: Unleashed, Davies explained the decision to incorporate Finney’s trans identity into the show. “It becomes a vital part of the plot that Rose contains the ‘he’ and the ‘she’ and the neither and the both, and that’s a new future. Rose goes beyond words, beyond definitions.”
He continued: “Homophobia and transphobia happens when it’s something you’ve never seen before. You can temper that reaction and change it when you introduce these images to people happily and normally and calmly when they’re young. Then it just becomes normal.”
Tennant, meanwhile, has sported a Tardis pin badge in the colours of the transgender flag during a number of recent TV appearances. Asked about the badge, the proceeds from which go to LGBT+ homeless charity the Albert Kennedy Trust, he told Attitude: “It’s just something that I think is rather lovely and important and suits what Doctor Who is all about.”
Doctor Who continues Saturday 2 December at 6.30pm on BBC One.