Remember back in 2008, when Donna Noble broke our hearts? Catherine Tate’s gloriously mouthy companion had gone from a suburban office temp to the most important woman in creation, and then had her memory wiped. She saved the universe, but she lost everything. “There’s never been a human-Time Lord metacrisis before,” David Tennant’s Tenth Doctor told her. “You know why.”

Because there can’t be”.

And, oh, how we cried.

That was 101 episodes, (give or take) fifteen years (our time), a couple of thousand years (the Doctor’s time), three regenerations (more or less) and two show-runners ago. The second great era of Doctor Who ended in October of last year when Jodie Whittaker’s Thirteenth Doctor regenerated into … What? WHAT? What?! … David Tennant’s Fourteenth Doctor. The new Doctor once again wore an old Doctor’s face, and behind the scenes another returning figure was writing his dialogue. Russell T. Davies, pound-for-pound Britain’s greatest living dramatist, has come back to the show he loved – the silly sci-fi about a mad man in a blue box. Doctor Who 3.0 is here.

And it looks a lot like it did before.

That’s no bad thing. Doctor Who has always had an in-built continuity. The 1963 pilot episode is recognisably the same show as the one we’ll be settling down to watch on Saturday: A blue box travels in time and space. It’s bigger on the inside and piloted by an enigmatic alien genius, who takes ordinary Earthlings along for the adventure —after which, it turns out there’s no such thing as an “ordinary Earthling”. That’s the show. That’s always been the show. Still, from show-runner to show-runner, from Doctor to Doctor, the tone and feel have evolved and refreshed. Chris Chibnall’s Doctor Who wasn’t quite Stephen Moffat’s Doctor Who, which wasn’t quite Russell T. Davies’ Doctor Who. Always a change, my dear, and not a moment too soon.

Doctor Who The Star Beast 1

This regeneration is different. We have returning actors and a returning showrunner, and in both cases we’re picking up where we left off. This is 100% the Davies/Tate/Tennant version of the show. Quite gloriously so. It’s just as fast, bonkers, funny, flashy. It’s just as wise and generous-hearted, and it’s just as hand-wavy-don’t-think-about-it-too-much about plot details. And now, as then, you won’t really care, because it’s so much fun to be back with these characters and inside this worldview, and because no-one writes people like Russell T. Davies.

There’s not much of the plot that we can reveal, of course, on pain of extermination. The Doctor, who seems to have been wearing David Tennant’s face for a little while now, arrives in London in time to see a spaceship crash. Donna Noble and her family are knocking about somewhere, and she’ll still die if she remembers him. There’s a cute animatronic critter called “The Meep”, voiced by Miriam Margoyles, oh, and Donna and her husband Shawn (who you’ll remember got married and won the lottery during 2010’s Tennant/Davies swansong ‘The End of Time’) have a daughter, Rose, played by Heartstopper’s Yasmin Finney —who’s great, by the way. That’s about all you’re getting.

What we can tell you is that the episode is a riot. This isn’t Davies in ponderous, foreboding epic-mode. This is his Doctor Who at its Saturday tea-timiest. A ripping yarn – not that there isn’t some heartbreak along the way; with Davies there always is (and does anyone do an emotionally wounded howl like David Tennant?). What’s remarkable is just how familiar the whole thing feels. It’s like picking up a favourite book and discovering that the tale carried on after you thought it ended. It just feels … right. If you loved Doctor Who back in 2008, then you’ll love Doctor Who now. Even if you drifted away between the two points.

There are some differences, but they’re mostly upgrades. The new, Disney-powered budget is clearly on the screen (Disney+ are an international streaming partner) and the scale, CG, model work, sets and all, have been supercharged. There’s better representation in terms of disability, race and gender than the olden days, and it’s all pretty seamlessly integrated. Tennant’s Fourteenth Doctor isn’t quite the same character that he played before: there’s a few extra gracenotes to reflect the journey that he (and also she) has been on, though his chemistry with Tate is as brilliant as it ever was. In almost all cases it’s the old show feeling just a little bit bigger and more, well, 2023.

If you’re forcing us to nitpick for the sake of journalistic integrity, we could have done without the sonic screwdriver’s new let’s-just-move-the-plot-along-shall-we feature, and the whole thing could have been a little scarier. No-one’s hiding behind the sofa here in the way they were when the Autons smashed their way through London’s shop window’s back in 2005’s ‘Rose’. Some may also miss the mythic weight that the show has carried since Davies’ run, all portentous foreshadowing and epoch shattering revelations. There’s not much of that here. That said, this is a reset episode. It needs to welcome back those viewers who didn’t follow the Impossible Girl or the Timeless Child arcs, without putting off those that did, and it does so with remarkable energy and verve for a show entering its seventh decade.

This is just the start of the journey, of course. We get Tennant and Tate back for just three hour-long specials, before Doctor Who 3.0 really gets going with Ncuti Gatwa’s Fifteenth Doctor getting the TARDIS keys on Christmas Day. In the meantime ‘The Star Beast’ is a hoot, and one that, appropriately enough, lets us look to both the past and the future and get extremely excited about both.