THIS EPISODE TAKES
AFTER THE TV EPISODE
"DOOMSDAY" AND AT
SOME POINT PRIOR TO
THE TV EPISODE "SMITH
RUSSELL T. DAVIES
'THE COMPLETE THIRD
EXCLUSIVE DVD BOX
RELEASED IN NOVEMBER
AN ALIEN SPACESHIP
SHAPED LIKE A GIANT
25TH DECEMBER 2006
(60-MINUTE CHRISTMAS SPECIAL)
I don’t think that I can stress enough just how strange it is that Doctor Who is
so universally popular nowadays. Granted, it has always had its devoted cult following, but nearly ten million viewers tuning in at prime time on Christmas Day? Shops brimming with merchandise ranging from Sonic Screwdrivers to TARDIS wardrobes? I don’t think that I’ll ever get used to it, but I will certainly try to bear it in mind as I review The Runaway Bride – not the biggest fan-pleaser in the world, it has to be said, but then again a fan’s idea of what makes for a great episode is not always the same as the mainstream viewer’s.
“Her name was Rose.”
As this special’s opening titles played, a thought suddenly struck me. In just two years, the show’s two leads have now both changed entirely. It is a totally different show now, yet still clearly every bit as good as it has been since its return. There have obviously been much better episodes than The Runaway Bride to date, but as the show’s festive showcase it
is a fair representation about what modern Doctor Who is all about. In fact, had last year’s Christmas Special not been so damned epic, I doubt very much that I’d have a bad word to say about this engaging yuletide romp. But it was, and so I do.
The Christmas Invasion had so much that The Runaway Bride lacks. To start with, it was much more Christmassy - both fundamentally and thematically. Last year the show was all about family, rebirth, and hope. Like The Runaway Bride, it did have its darker moments,
but all the same the overwhelming feeling coming out of The Christmas Invasion was one
of optimism and anticipation.
“This friend of yours, just before she left did she punch you in the face?”
However, the fundamental theme of The Runaway Bride - no matter how fluffy and corny it may appear on the surface - is one of grief. When the Doctor sets off in the TARDIS at the finish, choking on Rose’s name, it is a truly dark moment. What’s more, the story’s festive elements feel tremendously convoluted: a few robot Santas and another killer Christmas Tree; hardly all that pivotal to the plot (or all that surprising really, I suppose, given that this story was originally pencilled in as a regular episode for last season). And the idea of a Christmas Eve wedding was really pushing it…
On the whole though, I think that Russell T Davies and the production team have delivered the best possible episode under the circumstances. Considering the lengthy ‘shopping list’ of ingredients that they had to juggle, it’s remarkable that this episode turned out as well as
Which brings me on to the flood of positives.
Catherine Tate – she’s good, don’t you think? And more than that, she and David Tennant bounce off one another delightfully. I had high hopes when she first materialised inside the TARDIS at the end of Doomsday, immediately starting remonstrating with the disconsolate Time Lord, but in The Runaway Bride Tate really outdoes herself. Her feisty, acerbic, utterly belligerent – and let’s face it, slightly thick – character has received a bit of stick because
it’s ostensibly so similar to some of her own comic creations, but surely (the big-name draw aside) that’s why she got the part?
However, I’d gone and spoiled the best bloody bit of the episode for myself, having seen
the motorway chase well over a month before it aired thanks to Music & Monsters. Even
so, being able to watch it in its full 16:9 widescreen format with surround sound is another experience entirely. What is there to say bar the obvious? It was demonstrably spectacular;
if anything, better than most of stuff that you would see in the cinema. Once again, I take my hat off to the boys at the Mill. But as well as all the action, this spellbinding sequence also had a lot of humour, and a lot of heart.
“Yes. You look lovely. Come on!”
I’d not seen the scene’s big payoff though – the delectably written and performed “trust me” moment. I think that Davies got the balance just right here in how he handled the Doctor’s grief. He could quite easily have gone overboard, which could have really been nauseating; or on the other hand, he could have not mentioned Rose at all which, although it may have been far more commensurate with a Christmas-themed episode, would have been just as bad as a pathos-overload. These little moments though; that certain look in Tennant’s eye – it’s enough. Just right. I’d even go so far as to say perfect.
“You’re not special. You’re not powerful. You’re not connected. You’re not clever. You’re not important.”
The rooftop scene offers a brief respite from the special’s frenetic pace, allowing the writer to squeeze in his first little bit of plot and the audience another chance to simply bask in the banter between Tennant and Tate before the action kicks off again. Say what you will about Davies, but never before has Doctor Who been written with such witty, concise dialogue. It’s certainly one way to make techno-babble and exposition entertaining!
“Well you took me in, you stole my heart; I cannot roam no more.
Because love it stays within you, it doesn't wash up on a shore.
But a fighting man forgets each cut; each knock, each bruise, each fall.
But a fighting man cannot forget why his love don't roam no more.”
On balance though, the reception scene is probably my favourite of the episode as it has it all. A nice little set piece with the Christmas Tree and the Santas; some hilarious moments between Donna and her family; and best of all, the Love Don’t Roam bit. It lasts - what, fif-teen seconds? - yet it sums up exactly how the Doctor feels. He watches the hot blonde girl in the purple dress dance and he sees Rose. He holds back the tears and he gets on with the job in hand, but once again he’s back to his lonely old self. Murray Gold’s lyrics fit like
a glove, just as the lyrics to Song for Ten did last year. Not only are we treated to an annual Christmas special these days, but we’re also treated to an annual Christmas song…
“I shall descend upon the Earth and shine!”
Turning to the villain of the piece, the Empress of the Racnoss is certainly an awe-inspiring sight; a tremendous achievement for the make-up team. Sarah Parish really gives her all to the part and comes across as being utterly vile without ever venturing too far into pantomime territory. I really like the back story that Davies gives to the Racnoss – having them hail from “the dark times” and being old enemies of the Time Lords is a lovely, almost poetic touch.
Furthermore, although it won’t get as much recognition as the ambitious motorway chase, I should say that I was very impressed with the striking design of the Racnoss web. The Mill had a tremendously hard act to follow after the matchless Sycorax starship last year, but I think that with the almost religious image of this frosty, star-shaped ship in the night sky over London, they have once again surpassed themselves.
I’m not sure how I feel about the Earth forming around
a Racnoss web though - our poor old planet certainly
gets some hammer in this series! Nevertheless, it’s
indisputably a beautiful moment of the sort that you
could only ever see in Doctor Who. Donna’s sullen
ambivalence towards the wonder that she is a witness to really emphasises Rose’s loss; Donna here, in essence, is shown something equally wonderful and opposed to that which Rose witnessed on Platform One – yet she couldn’t care less.
“You make sense out of chaos, marking it out with weddings and Christmas and calendars.
The whole process is beautiful, but only if it is being observed.”
Further, on top of the patent spectacle, Davies’ story is full of twists and turns too. The big reveal about Lance came as the biggest surprise to me – up until the ‘axe’ moment I’d seen him purely as a bit of comic relief, not the nasty piece of work that he ultimately turned out to be. His rant about Donna’s annoying habits – texting, X-Factor, celebrity gossip, etc almost won my sympathies though. I know how he feels, poor bloke.
The special’s closing moments are harrowing in the extreme - the Empress really picked the wrong time to mess with the Doctor. The prominent image used in the trailer for this episode, where the Doctor is stood amidst an onslaught of fire and water, says it all really - Tennant’s blank expression masks a burning rage. A dangerous rage. He mercilessly washes all the Racnoss down the plughole for good (draining the Thames in the process!) and then leaves the military to finish off the Empress.
“My planet is far away and long-since gone, but its name lives on. Gallifrey.”
And at the same time, the hardcore fans are given at least one thing to really smile about. Whereas Doomsday saw the first mention of Skaro in the revived series, this story’s final showdown sees the Doctor’s long-lost homeworld named at long last. Davies had obviously been saving it for a striking moment like this – the sheer look of terror on the Empress’ face as the Doctor uttered the word was well worth waiting two seasons for.
I wouldn’t be surprised if Davies worked harder and longer on the final scene of the episode than any other. The scene was masterfully crafted in almost every way and, most importantly of all, it succeeds in highlighting the key fact that the Doctor needs somebody to reign him in. Somebody to look after him. And we even got snow.
And so that was that; the end credits rolled and Christmas 2006 was all downhill from there. In all, The Runaway Bride has perhaps been the most difficult episode of the new series to pull off so far, and whilst I don’t think that it’s a patch on The Christmas Invasion, it certainly ain’t bad, considering.
Copyright © E.G. Wolverson 2006
E.G. Wolverson has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.
When is now? The Doctor refers to the events of The Christmas Invasion as being “last Christmas”, and the events of Doomsday as having occurred without Donna noticing them. As such, this episode must be set on Christmas Day 2007, exactly one year ahead of its transmission.
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