The Runaway Bride never lets up for a minute, almost like watching a blockbuster movie. The TARDIS car chase is breathtaking, although you need to suspend disbelief: other cars are caught in the chase, bumped and bashed, but they never stop, even when the TARDIS almost lands on the roof of one of them! The shot of Donna looking out into space from the TARDIS door is stunning and beautiful, one of the most ambitious and exciting effects shots attempted to date.
The story is partly a sequel to The Christmas Invasion. The robot Santas make a second appearance, although their masks have been improved. When the Doctor spots the potential danger of a Christmas tree the script plays with our expectations. We are waiting for it to start spinning but instead it is the baubles that are deadly this time. What will it be next time, strangling tinsel?
Giant spiders are a regular feature of sci-fi and fantasy, but surprisingly rare in Doctor Who, perhaps due to special effects limitations over the years. Although the Empress of Racnoss is undeniably impressive she lacks the fear factor for all but the youngest children. The problem is that she is far too humanised, with a complete humanoid head and torso. What makes giant spiders scary is that they are (a) giant, and (b) spiders, but this is just a person with lots of legs. Allowing for the advancement in special effects, the Great One in Planet of the Spiders is far more frightening.
Humour has always played a part in Doctor Who but the increased use of comedy since the revival has been instrumental in the move towards the mainstream. This must surely rank as the funniest episode so far, with some brilliant one-liners (‘They think I’m in drag!’) The comic timing from the two leads is impeccable, and just look how David Tennant delivers the line ‘with this ring I thee biodamp’ – genius. Then there is the visual humour, such as Donna slapping the Doctor. Twice.
Amongst all the fun and laughs there is still time for the Doctor to remember Rose, and it is nice that she has not been forgotten straight away. The pain of her absence is a constant theme throughout the episode and, seen in context, it does feel slightly hollow without Billie Piper. Casting Catherine Tate as her replacement, if only for one episode as originally intended, is one of those decisions that seemed odd at the time but in hindsight worked out to be completely brilliant, which is why the people who are writing Doctor Who are the ones writing it, and not us! At this point, with the revived version of Doctor Who now two seasons and two specials into its run, we have had:
- The Doctor is a northern bloke in a leather jacket. Not a frock coat in sight. The fans: “huff puff it’s doomed”. End result: fantastic.
- The companion is Billie Piper – you know, that child pop star who has turned her hand to a bit of acting. The fans: “huff puff it’s doomed”. End result: sublime.
- Her replacement for Christmas is Catherine Tate – you know, that comedian who keeps saying “am I bothered?” The fans: “huff puff it’s doomed”. End result: so brilliant she had to be asked back full-time.
So what do we know? As I write this we are about to embark on an era of a female Doctor. There has been plenty of huffing and puffing about that and I have to admit to the odd huff or puff myself. Let’s hope it all turns out to be a great spirit of adventure again. We’ll find out soon.
Meanwhile, in the world of Doctor Who it was another Christmas in blistering sunshine. But it was a Merry Christmas nonetheless.
(Here are some bonus bullet points, being as it’s Christmas.)
- The Runaway Bride starts with another zoom into Planet Earth, just as Rose began and with the same musical cue.
- Although only appearing in this one episode (as far as anyone was aware at this stage), Catherine Tate is billed as a companion, with her name in the title sequence. This set a precedent that would continue with other ‘one-off’ companions such as Kylie Minogue and Michelle Ryan.
- The TARDIS doors open in flight, which doesn’t cause a problem. Traditionally it was dangerous to open the doors in space, as seen in stories such as The Edge of Destruction and Planet of Giants.
- The Doctor says he ‘couldn’t go back on someone’s personal time line. Apparently.’ This is a key concept in Doctor Who, because of course if he could do that then it would ruin any story, hence the silly resolution to the Movie. The ‘apparently’ is interesting. Perhaps there were some unseen consequences to the Doctor breaking this important rule during his post-regenerative trauma in the Movie. Or maybe he is thinking of what happened in Father’s Day.
- Like The Christmas Invasion, The Runaway Bride features a specially recorded song, ‘Love Don’t Roam’. If it continues the tradition of hinting at things to come, then the references are pretty oblique.
- The Doctor says the Racnoss are from the ‘Dark Times’. This period of Time Lord history was also mentioned in The Five Doctors.
- ‘I’m going further back than I’ve ever been before.’ This is incorrect, unless you take it to mean ‘further back within the history of Earth’. The Doctor has been right back to the creation of the Universe, in Castrovalva.
- The Doctor confirms what we have always known about his pockets: ‘they’re bigger on the inside.’
- ‘Doctor, you can stop now.’ Donna saves the Doctor’s life, something that will have a great significance in Turn Left.
- ‘Orders from Mr Saxon – fire at will.’ The next series’ story arc begins.
- At the end of the episode the TARDIS does not dematerialise as usual but shoots up into the sky. Maybe the Doctor does that for Donna’s sake? Show off!
The view from across the pond:
It was Christmas of 2006. Rose had left the TARDIS at the end of her second season, trapped forever in an alternate universe. The Doctor was on his own and hearts-broken. Christmas did something very strange. It introduced us to a companion that was extremely annoying, extraordinarily abrasive, and woefully dim-witted. Or so it appeared.
I’ve praised Russell T. Davies enough that I had to give him the benefit of the doubt. This decision could not have been made lightly because it would run the risk of alienating the viewers which is never a good idea for a TV show. What is only clear in retrospect is that there was an incredible character arc being laid out for Donna. She was going to grow and become so much more than the person she is at the start. And here’s the mark of good writing: there is such a gradual shift that it is almost unnoticed as it happens. It’s only brought into focus when viewed against the person who she becomes but you’d have to see those two versions back to back. And Russell planned for that too. It’s an incredible contrast but requires patience over a season. His planning also allowed him to drop in two words that would not come back until the new season: “Mr. Saxon”. In many ways, Russell was the master of the long game for Doctor Who!
Catherine Tate, the titular Runaway Bride, actually does a great job with the character who comes around as she learns and grows. The fact that she is taken advantage of by her would-be husband, Lance, helps to make her a more sympathetic character. Coupled by mother Sylvia, it’s no wonder she developed into the person she is. But she just needs a spark and she can be something really special! Tate plays the part marvelously.
As for the Christmas link, we have a couple of red herrings. Love might not roam but Santa does in the form of Roboform Santas. And these guys know some classic Christmas tunes, as they stalk Donna while playing God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen. But if you’ve been coming to our website long enough, don’t think we aren’t teaching you a thing or two! It’s not what you think it is! It’s a Venusian lullaby used on Peladon to quiet Agador! It just sounds like a Christmas classic! Another blind is the Christmas Star. To quote Uncle Lewis in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation “That ain’t the friggen Christmas Star, Griss…” Nope, sure isn’t! It’s a spaceship brought to earth by the Racnoss.
Which leads us to the Empress of the Racnoss. Now, I’ll be the first to admit that me and spiders… not such good friends. But the art department made this creature look beautiful! I wish we could have seen her moving around, but what an incredible visual treat. Kudos to an outstanding job on make-up too! Now her plan, to bring her children out of the center of the earth, might have given me a lifetime of nightmares had I seen them but thankfully the Doctor drowns them. Which is actually pretty dark for both the Doctor and Christmas Day!
In the end, we get a deeper look at the Doctor and why having a human with him is a humanizing element! It takes our favorite alien and explains why he needs us as much as we need him! And it continued a tradition of bringing Christmas cheer in the form of new Who episodes; a much-needed Christmas tradition indeed.
Oh, and what of the snow at the end of the episode? Yeah, that was also a fake! It’s not natural any more than the Santas or the Christmas Star. It’s an effect created by the TARDIS for Donna’s benefit.
Merry Christmas, Donna. Your journey is just beginning!
C-17, by the way… ML