Thursday, 30 January 2014

Doctor Of The Bride

Doctor Who
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.
That's not to say I don't like The Runaway Bride.  Surprise!  I do!  It's just that, where Russell T Davies has to Christmas things up a bit, and he has to, he does it all virtually the same as in The Christmas Invasion.  Once again we're dealing with robot Santas, killer Christmas trees and a spaceship blowing up over London.  There's even artificial snow at the end.  I mean, it's a lovely present, Gran, but you actually got me this last year...

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...
Donna's lack of enchantment cuts the Doctor down to size, which is again hilarious, and keeps him from dealing with the Rose situation.  This just keeps it right at the forefront of his mind, and David Tennant does an amazing job with it.  A raging glance when Donna grabs Rose's jacket, a sudden memory when he sees a blonde girl dancing, bittersweet references to Christmas dinner... these are little moments, all the more effective for not bashing us over the head.  I prefer all of this to the Doctor's silent tears at the end of Doomsday, and certainly to all that "I love you" fan-service.  At the very end, when we've just begun to put it out of our minds and Donna asks his friend's name, the way his voice cracks as he says "Her name's Rose" strikes just the right note.  Emotional, but not too much.  It's really well done.

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.

And did we forget about the groom?  Oh, I wish.  In a regrettable twist, it turns out Donna's intended, Lance, is working for the Racnoss.  His motivation is to see the universe "I think you understand that, don't you, Doctor?" but if that's supposed to explain why he's prepared to drug, marry and sacrifice a random woman, well, it doesn't.  (And if it's supposed to provide some kind of commentary about the Doctor's relationship with his companions, god knows what it's actually trying to say.)  Lance just suddenly becomes a venomous bastard, not to mention a complete idiot, because "the evil monster promised me untold riches" is never going to end well.  Not exactly someone you could see clambering to explore the stars, is Lance.

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.


  1. Great review - I really enjoy this one actually, up until the reveal of the Empress. Fun concept, horribly executed. The spider body is pretty amazing, but the hammy acting is just too much for me.

    But that's ok, because as you say here - there's actually quite a lot to like in this episode, and that ending is just note-perfect. I was thrilled when it was announced Donna would be coming back, even though it completely overshadowed poor Martha.

    Keep em coming!

  2. Cheers! Alas, Martha's not just overshadowed by Donna. But we'll come to that...

  3. Is this the one where the Doctor uses humans as a shield to get away from some killer robots?

    I recall seeing this on Christmas. At first it was so frenetic I thought my brain was going to explode - am I getting old? But I loved it when Donna hit him. HIT HIM AGAIN! Thanks, he needed that.

    Very irritating that in series 3, he went right back to moping, when I thought whole point of this ep was he was OVER/had worked through all that Rose angst now. Series 3 undermines the emotional development of this episode.

    1. Yes, this is the one where the Doctor uses human shields. I can't fit every single thing in, you know!

      Series Three could definitely prove an interesting topic. I'm looking forward to it! Well, most of it.

      A shame the Doctor doesn't really get over things. And when characters in Who DO get over things, it's often rushed! Melody, f'rinstance.

    2. So RTD era, not enough moving on. Moff era, too much moving on.

      HUMAN SHIELD, kinda a big deal. I haven't been this shocked by the Doctor's actions since he stole all that money from that ATM.

  4. You know he was stealing money from an ATM in order to do the human shield thing, right? Or are you talking about The Long Game? I NEED ANSWERS!