Doctor Who fans, when given a speculatory inch, will take the most absurd mile you can imagine. This isn’t necessarily a criticism—Doctor Who itself is about the unexpected, and the joy of that is what makes its fans going a little doolally when they have no idea what to expect part of the fun. But showrunner Russell T. Davies thinks he might have gone a little too far with this week’s anniversary special.
“Wild Blue Yonder” was unique of the three special episodes made for Doctor Who’s 60th anniversary because, before it aired this past weekend, the BBC kept as much as it possibly could about the episode secret, an intentional gambit by Davies to amp up the mystery. Plot synopses released ahead of time were vague, only a partially-redacted cast list was made available, in released footage it was the special we saw the least of. This, it turns out, was to hide the fact that “Wild Blue Yonder” was in the vein of some of Who’s best puzzle box stories, a tight, intimate bottle episode mystery aboard a very long-corridor-shaped spaceship and featuring David Tennant and Catherine Tate playing both the 14th Doctor and Donna Noble as well as sinister copycats of themselves.
It was great! But it was also far from the story a lot of Doctor Who fans were expecting, having spent the week prior madly speculating that the explicit secrecy around it practically guaranteed enough cameos to make Avengers: Endgame blush. Classic monsters! Companions from the distant and recent past! Multiple Doctors! Future Doctors! Everything was, in their minds, on the cards. Why else would the BBC keep it a secret? It’s something that Davies, upon reflection in the latest episode of the official Doctor Who podcast, started to worry about.
“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 The Garm on board this spaceship,” Davies said, which is honestly not too far off some of fandom’s expectations. But the showrunner explained why he thought it was fun to at least try and keep one of the specials under wraps.
“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 [it’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.”
While some people have expressed regrets that the episode was not a big celebratory bash, it seems like Davies didn’t have as much of an effect to worry about as he thought, given the largely positive critical reaction to the episode so far. A bold thought, perhaps: but what if celebrating 60 years of Doctor Who didn’t have to necessarily mean cameos and throwbacks, when it could just mean we get a really good episode of Doctor Who instead?
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