“The Runaway Bride”
The TARDIS has been invaded! But it’s not Daleks, Sontarans or Cybermen causing confusion and worry for The Doctor – it’s an angry bride who thinks he’s a Martian.
After the emotional juggernaut of the Series 2 finale “Doomsday”, the 2006 Christmas Special really needed to be something a bit lighter in order to give the audience a little relief but also to move The Doctor’s adventures forward after the loss of Rose. Now I’ll admit that, on first viewing, I found Catherine Tate very grating in her first appearance as future companion Donna Noble but, by the end of Series 4, I was heartbroken at her departure. This story isn’t really about Donna as a character though – all of that would come later – so much as it’s about the necessity of someone like her in The Doctor’s life. Without someone to hold him back during those times when he is pushed to the limit, The Doctor can become a frightening figure and the consequences can be dire (as we’ll see when we get to the excellent “The Waters Of Mars”).
“Doomsday” concluded with Donna suddenly appearing inside the TARDIS, fully decked out in her bridal dress and we pick the story up here with her screaming at The Doctor that she’s getting married today and asking him what the hell is he doing abducting her. The Doctor is, of course, as confused as the rest of us so he makes a gallant attempt to get Donna to the church on time. Sadly it doesn’t go well as the pair can’t even manage the simple task of hailing down a taxi cab and then, even when they finally succeed at that small feat, the taxi driver turns out to be one of the Robot Santas from “The Christmas Invasion”. All of this running about and shouting is a bit tiresome, even on repeat viewing, and probably went a long way to cementing my initial dislike of Donna, but Tennant is able to match Tate in her larger-than-life performance and the two of them sell the banter quite well. The Doctor hurtles to the rescue in the TARDIS, flying it down a motorway alongside the taxi in an attempt to extract Donna from the clutches of the evil Robot Santa. It’s a wonderfully exciting and exhilarating sequence that delivers on the fun adventure that a Doctor Who Christmas Special ought to have.
We take a breather on a nearby rooftop, where The Doctor attempts to block whatever the Robot Santas are using to track Donna by putting a bio-dampening ring on her finger. It’s a sweet little moment and we get the first proper exchange between the two characters. It’s still early days but some of the characteristics we’ll grow to love about Donna are first displayed here. There is definite on-screen chemistry between Tennant and Tate but we won’t have the time to explore it just yet.
Although they’ve missed the wedding, The Doctor and Donna make it to the reception. The Doctor does some scanning with his sonic screwdriver and discovers that she has absorbed something called huon particles (i.e. bullshit science) and that was what allowed her to be drawn inside the TARDIS. It’s also what attracted the “pilot fish” Robot Santas to her. After they gatecrash the party, The Doctor escapes with Donna and her groom, Lance, and head to Donna’s place of employment. Lance reveals that it’s connected to Torchwood and shows The Doctor a secret tunnel beneath the building that leads directly under the Thames. It’s here that we finally get to meet the big bad for the episode – the Empress of the Racnoss! This is also the part where we get inundated with plot exposition in a pretty heavy handed manner. It takes something away from the big reveal when the villain has to explain everything first, rather than The Doctor working it all out en route before the final confrontation. Put simply; Empress has a pit under the Thames filled with her children, they need to be freed by a key, the key has to be a person full of huon particles and Lance (who was working with the Empress the whole time! duh duh dun!) has been spiking Donna’s coffee with huon particles for months to make her the key to open the pit.
Right…have you got all of that? Okay then…
Turns out the Time Lords had a bit of a beef with the ole’ Racnoss and basically wiped them out centuries ago. But back at the forming of the Earth, an ancient Racnoss ship was pulled into the core and helped form the centre of the Earth because…SCIENCE! Again, a lot of this feels like stuff that we could’ve discovered during the adventure somehow and placing it all at the conclusion in this way feels like an info dump, which gets very boring, very quickly. Thankfully, this is all building up towards something; The Doctor offers to take the Empress to another world where she can rebuild her species but the old cow is having none of it, so The Doctor switches gears – he reveals himself to be a Time Lord and basically tells her to shove it up her giant spidery arse. Blowing a hole in the wall, he unleashes the flood of the Thames which pours down the pit and drowns the Empress’ offspring. Because if you pour water into a giant hole that leads to the centre of the Earth, erm, you get, aah…SCIENCE!
Now here’s the interesting part. The Doctor has basically saved the day at this point (though he does seem to be racking up these genocides of late, doesn’t he?) and should now be in the process of legging it back to the TARDIS. Except that he doesn’t. Instead, he just stands there and watches as the Racnoss and their Empress are destroyed by the flood. He’s going to get himself killed at this rate! Tennant says it all with his eyes; The Doctor is tired of having to do things like this, tired of the death and destruction and, just for a moment, he’s willing to let the villain go to Hell even if he goes with them. Donna, then, is the saviour here; she’s able to pull him back from the brink and observes at the end of the story that The Doctor needs someone to travel with him, even if it won’t be her right now. On his own, The Doctor won’t necessarily know when to stop and it’s the companions who act as his moral and emotional anchor when he has gone too far off the beaten path. After all the running about in the first half and the massive amounts of badly handled exposition in the second, it’s rewarding to at least have a dramatic ending that carries some emotional gravitas.
Although the story does get dragged down in the second half with all of the exposition, “The Runaway Bride” manages to be entertaining and fun whilst giving us a nice refresher course in the importance of The Doctor’s companion. Tennant is on fine form here and while Tate is sometimes a little unbearable, she will go on to become a great companion and deliver a brilliant performance as Donna Noble. All in all, an enjoyable 7/10 for one of the better Christmas Specials.
Written and edited by Richey Hackett