The TARDIS does a brief stop-over where the Doctor and Donna inspire Sir Issac Newton to come up with the law of gravity, and it sure did look like Newton was played by an actor of color. I have no issue with that, nor with the Doctor’s notice that Newton was hot (Donna is unsurprised while the Doctor is), but I’ll bet there’s a lot of people online that got really upset about that.
Anyway, the TARDIS comes to a stop, the interior wrecked, on some kind of a large spaceship, and while the Doctor knows the TARDIS can repair itself, he speeds the process along by sticking his sonic screwdriver in the exterior keyhole. Only the TARDIS has some sort of spider-sense that will send it away in case of great danger, something the Doctor normally leaves turned off, but since it’s repairing itself, that’s a different story. Point is, the TARDIS won’t come back until the danger is gone, and the Doctor’s sonic screwdriver went with it.
I should probably note this middle episode of the three was the one that had the least amount of hype and advance notice. The first was clearly an adaptation of a popular story that hadn’t been done for TV before while the third brings in a big name guest star and a return of an old foe I’ve never seen because those episodes are among the lost. This one? Well, there were some hints, and aside from a brief appearance by Wilfred at the end (in apparently Bernard Cribbins only scene, RIP) and Newton at the start, it’s basically all the Doctor and Donna.
Anyway, there’re on a very big ship, showing off that Disney+ cash infusion to do bigger CGI special effects, and the only thing on the ship seems to be a rusty old robot and a mystery voice that speaks a word now and then in a language even the Doctor doesn’t know because, well, the TARDIS does the translations, and even he doesn’t know every language. There’s a clanking noise, and something scared the TARDIS off. Oh, and they’re at the edge of the universe where not even stars can be seen. What could be happening?
Well, the first hint comes when the Doctor and Donna go to different rooms to work on the ship. Donna’s at work, the Doctor comes in, and says something about his arms being too long. Not out of the question for a Time Lord just after a regeneration. But then the Doctor is still working on another part of the ship when Donna shows up with the same complaint.
Yeah, the problem here is the end of the universe, where there’s nothing, is inhabited by these formless beings that are Not-Things, and two of them decided to take the shapes of Donna and the Doctor, all while reading their minds to learn everything they know. They also tend to shapeshifit, and as such, they’re, well…hard to pick out when they aren’t turning into giant things with weird fangs and such. Some of these effects all a bit wonky while others work out pretty well, and since the Not-Things know everything the heroes know, well, they are hard to pick out especially after the Doctor and Donna are separated by one of the sudden ship transformations.
Likewise, the Doctor does figure out their copies are trying to scare them to speed up the Doctor and Donna’s thinking to learn how humans (and Time Lords) work, first by pointing out that the Not-Things don’t understand paradoxes which humans use on a regular basis and somehow still get by. Oh, and the clanking outside was the ship’s late captain, a horse-headed alien who saw what was coming, set the whole ship to explode in a slow moving bomb–the weird voice is a countdown and the robot is slowly walking to press the self-destruct button–before said captain killed herself to keep the Not-Things from figuring out how to control the ship, get back to regular space, and cause all kinds of problems.
Oh, and if time is up, then it’s time for the TARDIS to return because that means the danger is past, even if the Doctor does initially grab the wrong Donna (he realizes her hand is a nearly microscopically different size), dumps the fake off in the exploding ship, then grabs the real one and takes her home to her grandpa.
But the Earth is in danger again.
So…why was this episode made? It’s nice to see the Doctor and Donna bicker like they always do, but this seems like an odd choice for an anniversary episode. It’s not a callback to past episodes. It does show the Fourteenth Doctor still has the memories of the previous Doctors and the Flux and all the guilt that goes with it, but if I have three big anniversary specials with a popular former Doctor and companion, is this the story I tell?
Eh, maybe. Maybe it’s just nice to visit with old friends.