The Runaway Bride
2006 Christmas Special
Another year, another Christmas Special. It's absolutely brilliant that they were able to make this a yearly thing, but some of the novelty is definitely starting to wear off.
|I don't mind them re-using this shot, though.|
Fortunately, there's more to it than Christmas. Zip back to the end of Doomsday. Having seen Rose off to a parallel universe, the Doctor is immediately interrupted by a bride, just popping into the TARDIS, mid-flight, right in front of him. What? And that's exactly how it should be. Either the Doctor moves on, or life moves along for him. Things don't stay still in Doctor Who.
Done poorly, this is a way of just not dealing with things. At the end of The Parting Of The Ways, for example, Earth is bombed to oblivion, but we're too distracted by the Doctor's regeneration to stop and deal with it. Done well, charging in the opposite direction right after tragedy strikes is a way into character development, not out of it. And The Runaway Bride uses this sudden, shocking turn of events to bring the Doctor to terms with Rose's loss. He hasn't got time to process it, and he's got a passenger who's not interested in hearing about it. Nevertheless, it's constantly on his mind. (And unlike Rose's actual departure, which I found emotionally muddled for all sorts of reasons, it makes perfect sense to me that he's sorry she's gone. He knows she's miserable, and whether or not he was ready for her to go, he is now on his own.)
Skipping temporarily over his heartbreak, the Doctor tries to get the bride, Donna, to the church on time. And this is hilarious. It's great having a character who's not enraptured by everything the Doctor says and does, and Donna has every right to be suspicious of this strange bloke. "The what?" "The TARDIS!" "That's not even a proper word! You're just saying things!" It probably goes without saying that Catherine Tate is funny, but Donna is an immediately refreshing and likeable character, partly because she's so pitiably unlikeable. She's loud, got a short fuse, and her own family don't seem terribly fond of her (let's not get started on the groom) – which singles her out and, cleverly, unites her with the Doctor, since they're both lonely.
It's undoubtedly a mark of Catherine Tate's brilliance that Donna sounds so teeth-pullingly irritating when you describe her, but isn't in practice. (Although some people found her to be exactly that.) With all her shouting, arguing and occasional slapping, she seems like exactly the worst person to pair the Doctor with in his time of crisis. So in a weird way, she's just what he needs.
|She's good. They should bring her back and stuff.|
Oh, hang on...
Alas, we can't just have sixty minutes of wedding stress and the Doctor coming to terms with stuff. There must be a plot. And this one has its ups and downs.
Donna is dosed with Huon particles. They attract her to the TARDIS, and a giant spider, the Empress of the Racnoss, hopes to use them to reawaken her species. (They're buried at the centre of the Earth in an ancient spaceship, which for some reason isn't troubled by the planet's molten core.) Assisting her are a bunch of robots, which are those killer Santas from last year. It's fair enough as we don't know where they come from or where they went, but seriously, it's boring. We've had them. Think of something else. (And seriously, they're all still dressed as Santa? Do they only get work at Christmas?) The same goes for the Christmas tree, which is notably less novel this time round (exploding baubles?), on top of how tired the thing is.
So what's new? Well, the Racnoss, which is an amazing piece of prosthetic work, and that's about the nicest thing I can say. The character's appallingly written: just why is an ancient megalomaniac spider so full of terrible marriage jokes, doctor jokes, and three-men-walk-into-a-bar jokes? (Okay, maybe not the last one.) Sarah Parish doesn't exactly have much to work with, but even so, I'm hoping it wasn't her idea to pole vault over the top with every single line. Possibly the most horrifically exaggerated performance in all of Doctor Who, she comes close to transcending that old expression and actually eating the scenery.
|"WOULD YOU LIKE SOME HAM?"|
The plot is all rather talky and boring, not to mention unconvincing on Lance's part, and it contains an absolutely abysmal amount of sonic screwdriver abuse. It's supposedly there to get out of "boring" things like having to unlock a door, but the overuse of the screwdriver is ironically more boring than having to do things the hard way. How will he get out of this one? Oh, the screwdriver again, right. Honestly, if you took it off him, what good is the Doctor? (NB: The fabulous Who book A History Of The Universe In 100 Objects lists all uses of the sonic screwdriver, and the entry for The Runaway Bride is several inches longer than any other episode. So there!)
On the plus side, there are some excellent set-pieces. There's the astounding TARDIS car chase, which might be one of the coolest special effects I've seen in Doctor Who. (Can you imagine anything like that in the Classic series?) And there's the moment when the Doctor shows Donna the creation of the Earth. This is a beautiful way to put Donna's (and the Doctor's) misery in perspective, to potentially cheer her (and himself) up, and to do that necessary culture-shock thing the Ninth Doctor did with Rose in The End Of The World. But it's also stunning to look at. Odd that it comes right in the middle of the villain showdown, and just goes to show how gripping that isn't, but I'd still rather be here than there. As for the attack of the Racnoss spaceship, zapping random holes in London before a tank blows it up, it just feels like another dull echo of The Christmas Invasion. Only this time, the Doctor doesn't complain.
The Runaway Bride seems a lot worse in hindsight. It's easy to remember the stale Christmas gimmicks, the terribly hammy Racnoss, the blethering about Huon particles and Catherine Tate shouting a lot. But look closer: there's a sensitive epilogue to Series Two, a moving performance from David Tennant, and a character who shouts a lot just to hide her lack of a place in the world, all lurking under last year's wrapping paper. It's worth revisiting.