Doctor Who fans know not to get attached to a face.
Every few seasons, the nameless Doctor undergoes a “regeneration” that changes his appearance, bringing in a new actor to play the iconic Time Lord. It’s happened 14 times since the show began in 1963, and it’s always a landmark moment for diehard viewers.
So just imagine everyone’s surprise when at the end of the most recent season, the 13th Doctor (played by Jodie Whittaker, the first woman ever to take on the role) transformed not into a new face, but back into the long coat and Converses of the 10th Doctor.
Yes, fan favorite David Tennant is back, returning as the Doctor for three special episodes. Not only that, but he’s joined by Donna Noble, his beloved companion and best friend. It’s a bittersweet reunion, though; back in Season Four, during Tennant’s time in the TARDIS, the Doctor was forced to wipe himself from Donna’s memory in order to save her life. If she ever remembers him, she’ll die.
Which makes things slightly tricky when he must protect her and her family from an alien trying to destroy London—and figure out why he’s back in an old face to begin with.
The Doctor’s top priority at all times is saving lives, both human and alien. He constantly puts himself in harm’s way to defend not only Donna and her family, but total strangers as well. When the entire city of London is put at risk, he runs headfirst into danger to stop disaster from occurring.
Inspired by the Doctor’s courage and kindness, other characters attempt to imitate him. We learn that Donna previously won the lottery, and in an effort to help people like the Doctor does, she donated every bit of it to charity. When London is at risk of being decimated, she’s even willing to sacrifice herself to save the city.
Donna also possesses a fierce love for her family, one that’s shared by her husband Shaun. He talks proudly about how much he loves his girls, meaning Donna and their child Rose (this unconditional love and support does come with a twist … but we’ll get to that in the “sexual content” section).
The Doctor briefly discusses his views on destiny and fate; “I don’t believe in destiny, but if destiny exists, it’s heading toward Donna Noble,” he says. An alien called the Meep comes from a race that worshiped the sun, and it uses the sun’s power to hypnotize soldiers.
We learn after meeting Donna’s family that her teenage daughter Rose is actually transgender, having transitioned from male to female. This is a recurring theme throughout the episode. Rose laments being “different,” and Donna and her mother talk about ways they can be more supportive of Rose’s choices. Discussions are had about “chosen pronouns,” as Rose chides the Doctor for assuming that the Meep is a “he.”
The topic of the Doctor’s regeneration from female to male is also highlighted, though not necessarily in terms of transgenderism. It’s treated more as a wacky alien quirk than a chosen transition. “The Doctor is male and female, and neither and more,” Rose says proudly. Rose also refers to the Doctor as “male-presenting.”
Rose is heckled and catcalled by bullies shouting “give us a kiss” and other taunts.
Doctor Who has definitely veered into more disturbing territory in the past—looking at you, Weeping Angels—but The Star Beast stays (mostly) on the family-friendly side of things. We catch some glimpses of more frightening creatures, but the aliens we spend the most time with in this special aren’t meant to be all that threatening.
A shootout takes place between British soldiers and a few aliens called Wrarth warriors. Cars catch fire and explode. Soldiers are shot and fall over, presumably dead, but we later learn that the aliens are simply stunning them rather than killing them. Two Wrarth warriors, however, are shot and killed. No blood is seen; their mechanical eyes go dim as they die.
Donna’s mother slaps the Doctor, and a hypnotized soldier later knocks him unconscious.
The Wrarth warriors tell the Doctor that the Meep, an alien race, beheaded and ate the solar council that ruled over them. The last surviving Meep kidnaps Donna and her family and threatens to eat them as well.
“H—” is used six times, the Lord’s name is taken in vain five times, and the British curse “bloody” is heard once.
Rose lies to Donna in an attempt to conceal the Meep hiding in their shed.
Spoiler alert: The Meep betrays the Doctor and Donna’s family. Originally pretending to be sweet and innocent, the alien reveals its true nature as an evil creature that wants to destroy London in order to launch its spaceship.
This special episode of Doctor Who brings all the adventure, excitement and humor that fans expect from the sci-fi series. Wacky aliens, explosive chases, and charming characters both new and familiar wait around every turn of The Star Beast.
No, the real issue here isn’t an alien one—in fact, it’s very, very human. Rose’s transgenderism takes center stage in many scenes, and it’s treated as completely normal and acceptable by Donna and her husband Shaun. While there’s lots to admire about Donna’s devotion to protecting her child, it comes at the expense of not just tolerating, but celebrating her choice.
Doctor Who: The Star Beast has the potential to provide action-packed sci-fi fun for families with older kids. Plus, it’s a hearty dose of nostalgia for fans of the series. But its warped perception of gender and sexuality make it dangerous territory. Viewers may need much more than a sonic screwdriver to make it through here unscathed.
Lauren Cook is serving as a 2021 summer intern for the Parenting and Youth department at Focus on the Family. She is studying film and screenwriting at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts. You can get her talking for hours about anything from Star Wars to her family to how Inception was the best movie of the 2010s. But more than anything, she’s passionate about showing how every form of art in some way reflects the Gospel. Coffee is a close second.