The Runaway Bride

Story No. 188 The bride
Production Code Christmas 2006 special
Dates December 25 2006

With David Tennant,
Catherine Tate
Written by Russel T. Davies Directed by Euros Lyn
Executive Producers: Russell T Davies, Julie Gardner.

Synopsis: The Doctor must return Donna to her wedding on time. With hilarious consequences.


A Review by Billy Barron 7/1/07

My major interest in waiting for this was to see how RTD and gang were going to put Rose to bed so we were not stuck with the pouty Doctor syndrome for the whole Season 3. The idea of the Doctor being immediately thrust into his next adventure without time for reflection was a good one.

I was unfamiliar with Catherine Tate, but I see why a lot of people were nervous about her in Doctor Who after watching this. There were many ways for it to go seriously wrong. However, her character worked brilliantly in this episode. In fact, I kinda wish she was sticking around.

Just imagine. I think there would be no potential for romance. We just got through two seasons of this and it would be good not to repeat. She can go toe to toe with the Doctor in an argument. The best comparison I could give is Romana I with the brains of Leela. Oh well, this could have been a fun and interesting ride, but it is not to be.

The FX department really outdid itself. Did the BBC really pop out both the car chase and the Empress of Rachnos? Incredibly good job and possibly the best ever for a Doctor Who.

On the other hand, the music at times was too much. I don't think I've ever had that problem in a past episode.

Egads, the plot..... I think that it may have set a record for non-sensible technobabble in a Doctor Who episode. Though Doctor Who is pretty bad about that, I can't think of another episode right now that even comes close. In this case, it would be easier to point out the science that made sense than point out the bits that made no sense.

I know Doctor Who continuity is lacking in a lot of ways. However, this episode made an obvious one though relatively minor and harmless. To avoid spoilers, I'll just say it occurs at the 40:39 mark and contradicts the events of Castrovalva. It's possible that statement might contradict other episodes as well.

In the episode's defense, I didn't see the big plot twist coming at all (the one in the axe scene) and was surprised by it. In hindsight, I can see the subtle foreshadowing of it. Also, there were numerous amusing bits. Tennant and Tate had a great chemistry that was fun to watch. The acting across the board was top notch.

The ending scene was a really good one. The points made to the Doctor may be key to helping the Doctor get past Rose. From the preview, it seems like Rose is still mentioned in the next episode. I know it is not realistic to expect him to recover quickly, but it is critical for the sake of the show that the Rose era ends soon and is forgotten. I don't watch Doctor Who to see a bunch of moping and angst.

In conclusion, Runaway Bride was a fun episode not to be taken too seriously. If you are looking for a deeper meaning, it isn't here (except for maybe the final scene). All in all, average to maybe slightly below.

A Review by Peter Thomas 23/1/07

Here goes. Once again opens in deep space, marvellous special effects only to be ruined by boring Earth setting again. However, we do see how Donna (Catherine Tate) comes aboard the TARDIS. Doctor tries to get her back to Earth for her wedding. Meets the Santa robots again. Finds the Empress of Rachnoss plotting to revive her children currently sleeping at the bottom of a well by the Thames Barrier, then decides to take the TARDIS to a time just before the Earth's creation to find out about the Spiders of Rachnoss. Comes back and sorts her out. Like most of Russell T Davies's scripts, it's all over the place. It even has an exciting chase involving the TARDIS & a black cab. However, when did the TARDIS become a racing object?

Still, at least the Doctor did mention that he's a Time Lord from Gallifrey. However, I cringe everytime it's mentioned that the Doctor is the last of the Time Lords. If the Doctor was able to go back in time to the point of Earth's creation why can't he go back in time and stop the timewar from ever happening? RTD is just a bad writer. I mean look, the Time Lords sent the Doctor back to avert the Daleks creation didn't they?

7 out of 10 for effort. Please someone sack RTD and get decent producers again.

Running to Stand Still by Mike Morris 7/2/07

How does one articulate concern? It requires a certain... foresight. Adding up little signs here and there and you can arrive at the most wildly incorrect conclusions. We can talk about the direction the programme's taken, or use hindsight to prove that seemingly insignificant details were in fact ludicrously important. I ain't got hindsight. I'm only guessing.


But, there's a scene in this story that I think might turn out to be one of those pivotal scenes. I think. Could be wrong. Obviously.

Before that, I should probably get the obvious stuff out of the way. The Runaway Bride is a half-decent story, well-judged in terms of its audience; i.e. quite easy to watch when parked in front of the telly, slightly rat-arsed on canned Guinness and liqueur chocolates. Its main problem is Catherine Tate, plus a few others which I can't quite be bothered going into. It's fine, but throwaway. Blah blah big scale blah blah plot barely hangs together blah blah interesting characterisation of the Doctor blah blah Tennant is good blah blah. OK, moving on.

Second, I should state my position - or rather, my concern. I expect that there will be some cracking stories this year; Cornell's redrafting Human Nature, and that's got to be worth viewing. But I'm thinking - sorry, suspecting - that the programme is in decline. I suspect that the show has lost its lean dynamism and is becoming fat and bloated. I suspect that cracks are appearing in the writing. I suspect that it's going wrong.

Not irretrievably, mind you. But...

Oh yeah, anyway. The scene. It's the chase scene on the motorway, obviously. Catherine Tate in a cab driven by a robot Santa, while the TARDIS bashes alongside her and children shout at her to jump. And so:

Things That Are Wrong With That Scene 1. The Santa: Bloating Mythologies

Bloating is the problem with all our Western culture now, obviously. It's an age of obsessive documentation, of poring over the past, of collecting and cataloguing and regurgitating. It goes without saying that Europe in particular, and the West in general, has entered the red giant stage of its culture, eating its own detritus, until an inevitable collapse into nothingness. OK.

The robot Santas weren't a good idea in the first place; or rather, they just weren't an explained one. The most we ever got by way of saying what they were was "Pilot Fish", which translates as "things we didn't manage to actually integrate into the plot". Which was okay, just about, in The Christmas Invasion; they weren't really important anyway. Indeed, they aren't important in this. So...

So why are they in it?

The answer, for what it's worth, is because they're recognisable. We had the Santas last Christmas and people thought they were sort of clever, and people slapped us on the back about them, so hey, let's have them again. It's the action of a programme that has already become enamoured with its own detritus, and can't be bothered coming up with something new. Nor, indeed, can it be bothered coming up with a good reason for reintroducing the old stuff. The Santas' inclusion is entirely meaningless: there';s no explanation given for how they were adapted, or why (the villain has no need of an army), and they don't achieve anything anyway. The overriding message of the first series - well, one of them - was not just to say no, but also to ask why. Including the Santa for the sake of it, for the cheap audience-recognition thrill, is the action of a mythology which is no longer asking why. We're having them because, hey, that's what we do at Christmas. It's not good enough.

2. The TARDIS chase: Bigger, Faster, Worse

It's weird how accidental a lot of Doctor Who was. It just sort of happened. Suppose, for example, some other country had the idea. Suppose Gene Roddenberry had come up with it, instead of Star Trek, and got a budget and a backing and made it all work. What we got would not be the programme that we have now, the Greatest Television Programme Ever Made.

Doctor Who's lack of budget was part of what made it great. Not in a chortle-chortle-the-bad-effects-are-part-of-the-charm way, but because it meant the programme could never rely on spectacle. Ergo, it had to rely on scripting. Atmosphere, ideas, wit, intelligence, plotting, narrative. All those things. The things that matter.

When it came back, bright 'n' shiny 'n' new, the new series understood this. Yes, we got spectacular space stations, and London skylines during the blitz, and Victorian Cardiff in loving (if chocolate-box) detail. But the effects were there to serve the plot, and not vice-versa. The series was written by people who knew what Doctor Who meant, and didn't think of SF in terms of all things visual. It's an odd thing, but the more money you have to throw at making the pictures look nice, the smaller your tapestry tends to become.

First up: the chase is rubbish. There's no plausible reason as to why the hell Catherine Tate got into the cab anyway, or where the robot got the cab from, or how it found her so quick, or... it's just a story's internal logic breaking down in order for this sequence to occur. And if we're going to go action extravaganza - well look, it's not exactly one of the best ten chase sequences ever now, is it? It's not Bullitt. Is it? Well? So it fails on the level of was-I-wowed-by-astonishing-visuals, and fails on the basic level of can't-you-think-of-something-more-interesting? as well. There's no story advancement here, no new ideas, nothing beyond a capture-escape-recapture-escape ping-pong that goes on for way, way too long. We're dealing with a story that's motivated by a desire to provide spectacle. And like all spectacle, it's endlessly, crushingly boring.

3. The speech: Borrowed Words

She's not dead, she's so alive, all that.

Here's a question: why is Tony Blair such a rubbish orator now, when he used to be so good? Why is it that JFK's speeches, written by professional speechwriters, are better than the speeches written by George Bush Jr.'s speechwriters? How come the best speech in Series One is an incoherent, half-assed rant by Rose in a cafe? How come the words "I Love You" can be colossally irritating and the bravest thing you'll ever hear?

Comes down to a lot of things, but ultimately you're stuck with the obvious one: conviction. Tough to thing to define, maybe, but at the same time it's difficult to get wrong. JFK's speeches were better than Dubya's because one was a man who had ideas, and believed what he was saying, and the other is a... well... I want to avoid expletives. When Rose says "I Love You" in Doomsday, I want to punch things. When Elton says "So much better" in Love and Monsters, I cry. Because one means it and one doesn't.

The naive, corny, touching moments in the first series worked because they were done with conviction. Since then, we've had pretty much the same lip-service paid to the same idea, without anything to back it up.

Newness is also a factor. When the Doc says "Live a really good life" in The Parting of the Ways, it's an elegant summation of what the series has been about. When David Tennant says "Be magnificent" at the end of The Runaway Bride, it's just... well... more of the same. The programme is losing its drive, becoming repetitive. Already.

(It would be disingenuous, obviously, to pretend that this is a new phenomenon. Compare, for example, the Daleks of The Chase to those you saw in That First Dalek Story With Three Names; Doctor Who, like all television programmes that become phenomena, has always been vulnerable to this sort of repetition. What's worrying is that Russell T. Davies knows this, as he's a Doctor Who fan who subscribes firmly to the Golden Age In The Seventies theory. As someone who is aware of what happened to the show in the Eighties, i.e. suffering from retreading past glories without the conviction to back up the sentiment, you'd expect him to know better.)

God, I'm bored of Rose. I was bored of her by the time she left, and don't want to hear any more about her now. As was elegantly put by Thomas Cookson, the problem lay with the fact that they had become just another couple. And that's just... well... boring. And now we have a Doctor who's damaged by losing her, who visibly wells up when she's mentioned, who behaves in such an obvious way. Too many of the new series stories are now starting to sound like motivational speeches, inserted into the mix and dressed up as something profound, and this is more of the same. Why in the name of arse would Donna give a toss whether Rose is alive or dead? Why would it convince her to jump out of a cab? Why would anyone bring it up, when hurtling down a motorway at god knows how many miles an hour?

This is what's replacing actual thematic depth. It's similar to the way that The Satan Pit did a lot of blathering about faith to try and look intelligent, or every two minutes in Doomsday someone does a "You Know The Doctor's Great" speech. Something without newness and without heart, regurgitated and represented to us. Something that is becoming as hollow, and as vacuous and empty, as the inward-looking culture that the first series so effectively attacked.

4. The Kids: Everybody in the Audience

The interesting word that I used unconsciously in the last paragraph is probably "phenomenon". The way I used it was, perhaps, instructive. The other instructive word that people throw at Doctor Who is that chestnut, National Institution.

Phenomenon is an unfair, glib word. It implies that the success is unexplainable, something that just happened for various reasons that have more to do with a cultural zeitgeist than anything else. Doctor Who wasn't - and isn't - a phenomenon. It was (and is) just really, really, really good. But when things become phenomena they start being the property of the mass audience, not in the good honest passive way that good programmes belong to everyone, but in the way that the audience have something they think they can control. Phenomena become about conforming to expectations, and thereby satisfying an audience for a while. The other current phenomena - which actually are phenomena - are Lost and Desperate Housewives. In these programmes, the Housewives / Silly People perform the expected Shrill Self-Involved Scheming / Loud Shouty Annoying Weird Stuff as the audience demands, and then go home. Both programmes are, obviously, rubbish.

Doctor Who isn't rubbish. But it's spoken of as a phenomenon, and is therefore reinstating itself as an Institution. Or a National Treasure. Like Stephen Fry, or Only Fools and Horses. Not that these things are bad, just that they're deeply, deeply, expected; a bit of lighthearted fun that can't be taken too seriously, and receive indulgent chuckles, and never ever surprise us. The first series didn't stop surprising us. The second was less surprising, and the conclusion seemed to be the first slice of demographically-engineered professionally-assembled Doctor Who. The Christmas special was a case of a story doing what Doctor Who Christmas Specials are supposed to do.

Two kids shout "Jump." These kids, clearly, are supposed to be the audience, and the programme is actually breaking the fourth wall and speaking to its audience - but not in a good, or witty, or smart way. It has more in common with pantomime, in the truest sense of the word. Or, if you want another example, Baz Luhrmann's vile, regressive, Red Curtain trilogy. Both are deliberately predictable; not trying to surprise the audience but trying to get them to join in the fun, to interact with the drama in a jolly good knees-up spirit.

My response is simple: if you want a knees-up, then throw a sodding party, but don't put force one on me in my cinema. Or, for that matter, my front room. Don't bully your audience's emotions along and tell them how to react, particularly not with something as dull and witless as a car-chase. You aren't an Institution, you're a programme. Challenge and respect your audience. You can - and should - do that, even at Christmas. Even with kids. Especially with kids.

And that, more than anything, is my concern: the concern that Doctor Who, wonderful unpredictable Doctor Who, might be heading down the road where it's expected and staid and does what it's supposed to.

I've never wanted to be wrong more.

Runaway scriptwriters by Jamie Kravitz 3/3/07

Oh dear.

I suppose if this is just viewed as a comedy break, it is acceptable. On so many other levels, however, it is a big disappointment. To summarize, a shrewish young bride, Donna (Catherine Tate) appears in the TARDIS after the Doctor's teary farewell to Rose. The story is essentially the Doctor trying to figure out what is going on and how to get her back to her wedding. Along the way, he runs into another Torchwood mess and another made-up alien race who were responsible for imbuing Donna with the ability to appear impossibly in the TARDIS.

The question facing the writer/producers must have been how to deal with the Doctor's grief at being separated from Rose and moving on. Do a whole episode around it, or do a totally unrelated story with little snippets touching on it? The Runaway Bride represents the latter choice, and it might have worked if the unrelated story were any good. The few, short moments when the Doctor is reminded of Rose work well and communicate enough without having to dwell on it, and David Tennant plays these nicely. The rest of the story, however, is just a big mess with a histrionic heroine, a completely over-the-top alien, a plot with so many holes and new elements tossed in that it's nearly impossible to keep up with it.

This has been a growing problem I've had with the show since the second season. The writers seem to be in love with the idea of the Doctor encountering things that are outside the realm of his knowledge, or things that are "impossible" (the void ship in Army of Ghosts, the whole Impossible Planet/Satan Pit story). Problem with this is that if every week there's another "impossible", not only do we get bogged down with endless dialog about why something is impossible, but additional expository dialogue about what it might be. In Runaway Bride we get both the particles that Donna has been imbued with, as well as the Rachnos alien, with lengthy boring dialog explaining each. At least Donna slaps the Doctor to shut him up (a very funny bit that works well). But one wishes someone had slapped the scriptwriters instead. In this shortened format, it's too much to introduce new aliens, re-explain old villains (metal Santas), a Torchwood plot, ancient space particles, new history of Earth, new characters, and reminiscing about Rose.

Focusing in on one of these elements, the new alien, the Rachnos Empress. Well, big ugly spiders are good villains, and both the empress' body and her space-ship are well realized. The performance and facial makeup though are really just too much. She's like a hysterical Grace Jones who's lost her oxygen tank. This portrayal might have worked if she were mostly unseen, or had fewer lines, but as she goes on and on, it is neither funny nor scary, just grating. Also, why create new spider-aliens when the Doctor has encountered them before (Planet of the Spiders)? Since the last time he met a spider queen he had to regenerate, you'd think that could have been utilized. As for the other elements? Well, suffice to say there are just too many. Since Donna apparently is a one-shot role, who cares about her family, fiance, etc.? It might have been better to try the Doctor on his own for an episode (a la Deadly Assassin after Tom Baker's Doctor left Sarah Jane).

On the plus side, there are some nice, if absurd, action sequences. The effects are good, and Donna gets some good lines in. But these don't make up for the runaway script. Script editors wanted!

A Review by Rob Matthews 10/3/07

Funny how evolving circumstances completely alter your expectations. If you'd have told me as little as four years ago that there'd be such a thing as a decently-budgeted Doctor Who special at the heart of the BBC's Christmas schedule in 2006, I'd have thought you a hopelessly optimistic dolt who couldn't accept that Doctor Who as a TV show was dead and gone. If you'd have added that said special would not be a risky one-off but just the latest installment in a massively popular ongoing series, I'd have nodded politely before scarpering at the greatest possible speed from your mad, slavering presence.

If you'd then suggested in 2004, following the casting of the new show's leads, that the upcoming show's biggest asset would not be established 'serious' actor Christopher Eccleston but former cheesy popster Billie 'Because We Want To' Piper, I'd have thought you were trying to make some obscure but not entirely serious point about your lack of snobbery. And yet if you'd gone on to posit after the broadcast of the first new season in 2005 that Piper's character, Rose Tyler, would soon become a largely redundant drag on the show, I'd just have as readily assumed you were one of those truculent people who'd never liked her in the first place. You'd then have had to go on to insist that you in fact thought she was bloody great in the 2005 season, but that she would nevertheless become a gigantic pain in the arse long before the 2006 one was done. And I'd still have given you a funny look, doubtful that the production team - and Russell T Davies in particular - could drop the ball on the character who was so obviously the key to their approach.

Christmas 2006: The Runaway Bride. Well, let's take those 'evolving circumstances' I mentioned into account. If you look at this episode from the point of view of the alleged wilderness years, the mid-nineties when Doctor Who was off our screens and - so far as the mainstream knew - defunct, this episode's a great success. Or at least as far as my own preferences are concerned. Back then, when the idea of new televised Who was mooted - though more usually as a potential one-off than an ongoing series -, I always thought the most important factor in re-grounding Doctor Who as a brand new television show would be a greater attention to characterisation; that of the regular leads, and that of the story-by-story guest casts. This has nothing to do with 'soap opera' (a phrase that's become as much of an all-purpose vague insult in Who fandom as 'politically correct' has in the world at large), or the idea that television has become more touchy-feely since the days of the classic series: the fact is that Doctor Who was more or less always lacking in this department. It was rare for guest characters to feel like much more than ciphers, to give the impression of having lives and agendas of their own beyond the crisis at hand, and equally rare for us to be given any sense of who the Doctor's companions' loved ones were or where they came from, beyond the stuff that obviously came from production notes, like 'Pease Pottage', 'Botany student' or 'Really keen to get to Heathrow Airport.' Bear in mind that within its sixties-childrens-telly limits the show got off to a pretty good start in this area - we had a sense from the first episode of who Ian and Barbara were in their daily lives, in Edge of Destruction we got a two-part story based largely on character conflict and ending with what would now be called - erk! - 'bonding', and with the Doctor and the Susan themselves we saw a convincing grandpaternal relationship (there's one of few instances in which you'll see 'Susan' and 'convincing' in the same sentence). But dynamics of this kind didn't last the course - if you compare the departure of Dodo with that of Ian and Barbara you'll notice that writerly attentions waned significantly even before Hartnell's tenure was over. The better companions got by almost solely on performance - on paper, Jamie is two-dimensional and Sarah Jane a clumsy nod to feminism -, with Leela one of very few 'assistants' to benefit from attentive scripting, if only for her first few stories. In the main, the old show became worse and worse at this as time went on and the crushing embrace of (perceived) formula took hold - a quietly hysterical refusal to admit the existence of sexual feelings of any kind seemed to become a strict rule in the JNT years, giving the show a campy edge which just made it less easy to engage with, and right at the point where it was aiming for more grown-up viewers. Nyssa, because she'd been shoehorned last-minute into Logopolis to become a companion, bizarrely shrugged off the destruction of her home planet between one scene and the next. The Doctor and pals did likewise shortly after one of their number got blown up trying to defeat the Cybermen. The Doctor accepted the unstrustworthy Turlough aboard the TARDIS for no apparent reason except that the series required it. Melanie 'Bloody' Bush became a companion of the Doctor without actually meeting him onscreen. You know, that sort of thing. These made-up people just didn't act enough like real ones.

Even among the ephemeral characters, the guest casts, it was really quite rare to see friendships or familial relationships. And yet the stories were always the more satisfying for it when we did - part of the reason The Seeds of Death gets off to a strong start is that we believe in Radnor and Eldred as a pair of estranged old friends. Frontios works that much better because we're presented with a father and daughter, plus a captain anxious to live up to his father's reputation, instead of just a disparate bunch of survivors. Part of the reason I'd say The Tenth Planet works better than its virtual remake The Moonbase is that General Cutler's concern for his son gives it a thread of tangible human emotion that's lacking in the latter.

If you look at the basic outline of The Runaway Bride - bride kidnapped on her wedding day discovers she's part of an ancient alien plan to destroy the Earth - you can see a story with a good strong hook; Doctor Who frequently concerns itself with the irruption of the extraordinary into the mundane, and a story that kicks off with a bizarre occurence at a wedding - something that's both an everyday occurence yet also a once-in-a-lifetime (well, usually) occasion - takes this approach to what could almost be described as its logical conclusion. Frequently in Doctor Who we've seen people in the midst of everyday rituals, like shopping, making a nice cup of tea, or washing their car, suddenly harrassed by Autons, Kitlings and the like. An obvious extension of this is to utilise one of the bigger rituals - weddings, funerals, Christmas - and to up the emotional ante by making the victim of the weirdy-incursion not just a chance bystander, but its actual target. As story ideas go, this is no masterstroke; in fact it's practically inevitable, so much so that to the casual observer it may seem hard to credit that a series like this, nearly thirty years into its run (in broadcast terms), hasn't done it already.

(it's done something broadly similiar in Father's Day. But emphasise 'broadly' there)

And yet, for all its old school 'traditional' elements - alien threats, von Danikenist (cheers, Miles & Wood) twiddlings with Earth's history, ancient evils known to the Time Lords -, anyone even casually familiar with 'old' Doctor Who would likely find it as hard as myself to picture The Runaway Bride being made, even in an earlier production style, in any previous period of the show. One senses this so instinctively that it's quite hard to explain precisely why in logical terms, but if you even attempt to picture Jon Pertwee running down Ealing High Street with, say, a wedding-dressed Barbara Windsor, you'll probably see what I mean. In those days, the target of unearthly malice would more likely be a 'man from the ministry' or some such, the big event would be some speech in the house of commons, a meeting of the atomic energy commission, an international pow-wow at Sir Reginald Styles' house; the approach would be blokey and stiff-upper-lipped rather than girly and a bit hysterical. Crucially, there wouldn't be the underlying hint of sexual chemistry (for all that Donna being whisked away from her wedding and into the TARDIS is an accident, the visual impression is that she has eloped with the Doctor - the title Runaway Bride implies this too, with wilful inaccuracy).

Additionally, though, the more truncated format of the new series has made structural clarity all the more important. Old Who could, by its very nature, get away with being episodic. New Who episodes, even a slightly extended one like this, are conceived as miniature movies, and it's implicity understood that at the core of those there must be a character making a progression from A to B. This was something the classic series itself had begin to acknowledge in latter seasons, albeit in ways that now look desperately clunky ('Professor, I'm not a litte girl' - yeesh!) This is the first Who story to come on like a cross between a screwball comedy and a Hitchcock chase movie from another dimension, so it does have an element of originality even if it doesn't quite feel like it amongst the rather too familiar trappings.

I was talking about context there, because for a variety of reasons its nigh-on unavoidable with this one. Most of my criticisms of The Runaway Bride stem less from what it is than where it is, so I've put it first of all in the wider context of the show's overall canon in the hope of seeing it a bit objectively. It does attempt to do something the show hasn't quite done before - a screwball comedy action-adventure invasion of Earth story with a slightly existential edge. It's perhaps a mark of how accustomed we've become to Doctor Who being back on the telly that this just seems like business as usual.

As a Christmas Day special, it's also a very well judged choice. In execution... well, actually it succeeds for the most part, but thanks more to the scripting, direction and overall production than to the efforts of the leads. Where it falls down most obviously is in that 'screwball comedy' element. David Tennant and Catherine Tate are, to put it mildly, not exactly Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell. As good an actor as he can be on occasion, and I have to keep reminding myself that he genuinely can, I'm afraid Tennant has a massive capacity to be truly irritating as the Doctor, what with all his gurning, 'wacky' mood swings and over-excitable babbling. And though I was scrupulously prepared to give Catherine Tate the benefit of the doubt, reasoning to my electronic mail brethren that Jon Pertwee was best known for silly-voiced comedy when he was cast as the Doctor, I have to admit she's exactly as shrill as the biggest pessimists in fandom were expecting. Guess they can't all surprise us like Piper did...

Not my two favourite performers, Tennant and Tate make for a pretty ghastly mismatched couple, and particularly so in the opening moments. I'm not sure whether the appalling sound mix, in which their loud attention-seeking-toddler style bickering is frequently drowned out by an overly busy musical score, compounds the problem or offers some helpful, marginal respite. Probably the former, though.

Following the initial clash of the ritalin-deprived gingers, however, things settle down somewhat, and their performances become acceptable, if rarely all that enjoyable. Tennant tones down the hyperactivity that plagued his performance in season 2, and on the single occasion when he does go off on one of his over-excited "oooh, that's briiiilliiiant!" rants he finally receives a well-deserved slap for it. If it's his split from Rose Tyler that's caused this newfound nearly-sobriety, then long may he mourn her... He's good in the bit where he realises what's going on with Donna's fiance, though that's perhaps because he doesn't have any lines there and we're unaccustomed to seeing this bloke come to any conclusions without so much as a squeak. I can't complain about his final confrontation with the Empress of the Racnoss either, though it hardly lingers in the memory like some of his predecessor's comparable moments. Likewise when Donna finds out that thing that I can't mention 'cause it's all spoiler-like, Tate's performance surprised me by making me feel sorry for her (mind you, I suppose it's difficult not to feel some sympathy for a gently weeping woman in any circumstance), but note that, like with what I just said about Tennant, this is a scene where she doesn't really have any lines.

Despite my lack of enthusiasm about the antics of the headlining double-act, I think the story works. It works in spite of Catherine Tate rather than because of her, and it would doubtless have worked a whole lot better if an actress with a bit more range had been given the role, but still, it works. It's structured and paced nicely so that you never have time to second-guess the plot, and the monster, set-pieces and effects are well-realised visually. Some fans made silly complaints of the 'But the TARDIS can't do that!' variety when they saw the chase scene, based on the flawed premise that it can't possibly do anything that it's not been specifically shown to have done before. Which is rather like watching Logopolis for the first time and saying 'But the TARDIS doesn't have a cloister room!' And not really worth the bother of refutation, now I think of it.

The story has a number of fun bits - I didn't know whether I should feel a bit ashamed for laughing at the somewhat groansome 'personnel' joke, but certainly our first sighting of the mysterious HC Clements did rather make me fall off my chair. Donna's little journey of discovery is a worthwhile and rather touching one, though of course it's also strangely familiar. When the Doctor takes her to view the formation of the Earth it's hard not to think of him and Rose standing there billions of years in the future watching its dissolution, though the scene avoids being a simple replay and stands out as one of the best - and more blessedly quiet - bits of the adventure, and particularly suited to the Christmas Day broadcast too.

Oh,which reminds me... one of the reviewers here asserts that Russell T Davies is 'just a bad writer', apparently because he fails to concentrate on fannish, convoluted side issues concerning the Time War that very few people would care about anyway at 7pm on Christmas Day. By this unique standard, perhaps said reviewer would consider Gary Russell a good writer. In response to this one could of course point out that the show's various and conflicting suggestions about how time travel works have rarely if ever stood up to close examination, and that this is largely because it's just a TV show. But ironically enough his complaint about the Doctor not going back in time to prevent the war ever happening - tangential though it is - is in fact answered both in this episode and in Parting of the Ways when the Doctor explicitly says you cannot cross your own personal timeline. Damn that RTD hack for his consistent backstories and failure to say 'Gallifrey' every three seconds!

No, the writing here is solid and perfectly pitched in its context. If there's a big criticism to be made, it's that it is uninspired, saying nothing that the same scribe's work hasn't said already, and better. A number of other factors conspire to leave this one feeling less than the sum of its parts, and somewhat disposable. A pointless return for those robotic Santa Clauses from The Christmas Invasion, with barely any additional information about them to at least make it feel like a progression of mythology. An appalling over-reliance on the sonic sodding screwdriver to get the Doctor out of every conceivable jam (makes you wish a grouchy Terileptil would turn up and zap the damn thing). That self-satisfied bit Mike Morris singled out with the children in the car cheering the Doctor on; I'd noticed an influx of irksome airbrushed middle-class CBBC children throughout season 2 as well, perhaps a result of the makers of the show enjoying confirmation in 2005 that this was a show modern children actually wanted to watch. But where they get the idea that children will therefore enjoy watching other children watching the show from inside I don't know. Sidney Newman knew better than this in 1963!

Mainly, though, that lack of originality at the story's heart. Part of the mini-movie ethos that's behind new series stories is the awareness that audiences are hip to subtext. If it was an optional extra in the old days, it's now something they have script meetings about and state so overtly in the finished episodes that 'subtext' is almost a misnomer, and we're all going to start having to look for sub-subtexts instead. The downside of this is that it's very hard to distract us with superficial novelties like TARDIS car chases and big red spiders - we can very quickly see when we're being given the same old gift in slightly different wrapping paper. It's the Doctor again providing some galactic perspective and demonstrating, as someone memorably said, 'a better way of living your life'.

And this of course comes back to context. We've just got through seeing all this, and at greater length, with Rose Tyler. I have a feeling that this sense of repetition comes back to Russell T Davies still playing it safe, assuming that Rose's departure will be a wrench for many and attempting to ease the transition by repeating motifs from her tenure and banging on about her throughout the episode to demonstrate that, for a change, the Doctor isn't simply forgetting about a recently-departed companion within moments of saying goodbye. But if all this is so, then Davies is being unnecessarily cautious. New Who has been a big, fat hit and he should by now have taken that as a mandate to push it further. What he appears to be doing instead is looking back at what he's done so far and finding ways to repeat it with minor variations, in ways that won't alienate a fickle audience.

The sad thing is, from the BBC's point of view he's probably right to do this. New Who has, so far as one can tell, been just as popular in its second season as its first. Billie Piper and David Tennant have been winning the same awards that Piper and Eccleston won a year before, and a majority of viewers seem - unaccountably - to believe David Tennant's a better Doctor than Christopher Eccleston. For the moment, the public at large do not appear to be as bored as I am of seeing people run panicking through the streets of Cardiff/London from whatever monster's invading this week (even though they're now seeing the same thing in Sarah Jane and Torchwood too), and there's no impetus for the show to progress onto new pastures. Most people watch the show, enjoy it, and don't think about it again. They're not sitting down two months later to draft a review of it like me, and ironically they're probably not likely to get tired of it as quickly as us fans who are accustomed to the variety that only forty-four years of accumulated stories can provide.

For all my keen hopes to the contrary, I guess it was probably inevitable that the show's initial blaze of glory would settle into a warm simmer. That's what The Runaway Bride seems to demonstrate more strongly than anything, at least to my jaded fan-eyes.

This is another place where context rears its head, of course. For me, one of the most baleful varieties of fan criticism about the new series has been the kind that looks at each new story only in terms of what it bodes for the show's future. The kind that ignores the individual story completely, sees every new development or change of emphasis as being both permanent and for the worse, and then gets proved wrong a week later when the next episode's on.

Unfortunately, with an episode like this - an isolated Christmas special that's also the first episode of the new show sans Rose Tyler - this variety of analysis is all but inevitable. Hall, even reliable reviewer Mike Morris reduced his thoughts on the bulk of the episode's running time to 'Blah blah big scale blah blah plot barely hangs together blah blah interesting characterisation of the Doctor blah blah Tennant is good blah blah' - that's verbatim, by the way, it's not me being sarky or owt -, before getting down to the serious business of what's wrong with it and where the series is heading.

Not that I'm criticising his arguments. Naturally enough, I think they're spot on, and anyway I'm in the process of doing the same thing. In particular, I dislike the contrived and unwieldy ways in which the script tries to keep bringing our attention to the fact that the Doctor misses Rose. You know that bit at the wedding reception where we we see a couple of brief clips of the Doctor's memories of her? That would have been quite enough. Less is more and all that. One of the ways in which The Runaway Bride does feel original is that it's a story that simply couldn't have been done in season 2, or at least not without the irritating, clingy Rose of much of that season dragging on it like an anchor. And yet, perversely, even though Billie Piper's not around, Rose manages to drag on the story just a little anyway!

Still, this episode really isn't horrible, not when you attempt the possible task of looking at it on its own merits. 'Be magnificent!' isn't offensive on its own terms, it's just that it's less than inspiring when we're fresh from two seasons of much the same thing, in much the same way as the Racnoss ship descending on London borders on 'Oh, for fuck's sake' territory coming after the Dalek and Cybermen attack on the city which took place one bloody episode before. Russell T Davies is keen on the iconic Autons-on-Ealing-High-Street scene from the classic series. But the thing is, the Autons on Ealing High Street are memorable precisely because we didn't see the Silurians on Ealing High Street in the next story, and then the Primords on Ealing High Street a couple of months after that.

The Runaway Bride is entertaining Christmas TV, but that's all, and nothing worth getting really excited about anymore. Indeed, it makes me feel sort of sad now to recall the vitality of End of the World, Aliens of London, Dalek, The Parting of the Ways. If it turns out come season 2 that the show really is descending into formula I am, oddly enough, inclined to be indulgent towards it. These things are cyclical, and perhaps the fallow periods are as inevitable in a TV show as they are in life. And the show remains enjoyable, it's just that as it stands now I'm not passionately excited about it anymore, not keen to champion it in places like this.

I'll make one final stab at being fair on the episode itself: if you watch it alongside a random selection of 'classic series' stories, everything that's unique and glorious about RTD's Who will reveal itself. It'll certainly stand up with decent-but-not-classic stories like, I don't know, The Androids of Tara, The Romans, or Mawdryn Undead, as representative of its era.

The thing is... The Runaway Bride says 'be magnificent', but settles for just being okay. A series that keeps on doing that will be merely... well, okay. And I for one will not be overly, so to speak, 'bovvered' by it.

Losing Momentum by James Taylor 26/3/07

The previous Christmas special, properly introducing the new tenth doctor, served up a good standalone adventure to whet our appetites for the season to come. So does The Runaway Bride manage to repeat the trick?

Well - no, actually.

There are some promising ideas here - the approaching "Christmas star" at the beginning is creepy and malevolent - but the defeat of the villain ends up feeling routine and inevitable. We don't ever feel that the Doctor is really in peril; it's only a matter of time before he conjures victory from somewhere. The show ticked all the boxes, but it felt like a confection; especially the contrived "heart-to-heart" at the end.

The main problem is that fans of New Who have been utterly spoiled to date. We've had a marvellous season one arc with Christopher Eccleston, and an entertaining second season with David Tennant, leading up to the fate of Rose at the end of season two. The special effects are marvellous and there's no time to get bored. But having already got the Doctor as close to a girl as he can go, having already regenerated the Doctor once, having already united two of the show's most famous villain races for a slugfest, and having already created and then dispatched the most pivotal "assistant" in the history of Who, how can the New Who under Russell T. Davies go further? I don't know, and judging by this Christmas effort, neither does he.

A scientific masterpiece by Steve Cassidy 8/5/07

Professor Zaroff, he of Underwater Menace fame, makes an appointment with his lawyer.

"Sir! I vish to make a complaint! You know I have a difficult past and once planned to destroy the world?"

The lawyer nods sympathetically.

"I had a perfect plan! I vas going to drill a hole down into the earth's core and fill it with seawater! The buildup of steam along with the magma would crack the vorld open like an egg! Oh it vas a vonderful plan!" [starts wagging his finger dramatically]

The lawyer agrees, and takes a sip of his coffee, and lets the raving madman continue..

"But someone stole my idea! The idea I was damned and condemned for! That Doctor! The tall skinny one with the strange mockney accent! He thieved my idea! He poured the Thames down a giant tunnel into the earth's core to destroy some baby spiders! And they do nothing! The earth isn't destroyed! He steal my fiendish plan for one of his solutions! Oh the shame!" [Breaks down and starts sobbing in lawyers office. Lawyer hands him a hanky to dry his eyes.]

And so we have one of the most ridiculous plots EVER in a Who adventure. In fact it is so ridiculous it's hilarious. I kept on thinking of Garth Merenghis' "Dark Place" or the Victoria Wood sketch where the girl assistant says "Oh Doctor, I think I've got the ming mongs..." It really was comedy gold.

Now, in The Runaway Bride, you aparently have a tunnel made by Torchwood using a laser that goes to the centre of the Earth. A solid tunnel? What happened to the physics of most of the Earth here? And how much water does it take to fill a shaft 6 thousand miles deep? And how long does it take? And what happens to the North Sea/Thames Estuary in the meantime? Not to mention the thousands of miles of magma which would seal the tunnel up anyway? Where does Russell do his scientific research? Whizzer and Chips comic?

OK, OK, whether you can enjoy The Runaway Bride is in proportion to how much sherry you have drunk on Christmas Day. And this adventure is much better seen through the heady haze of alcohol. It is a strange hybrid which pits the nations favourite Time Lord with the BBC's current golden girl: the "comedienne" Catherine Tate. The result is frankly jarring. It's almost like seeing the two Ronnies appear in 'The Bill' or the cast of Blue Peter appearing in Eurotrash. It's a strange amalgamation which doesn't quite work under the scrutiny of the cold light of day. I'm not going to say stunt casting, I'm not going to say Radio Times covers, I'm just going to say interesting experiment.

But as usual it's a proficient effort. The production design, direction, SFX and professionalism of the programme makers is absolutely flawless and there are some stunning set pieces. Many people have mentioned the motorway chase (Best chase EVER!! cries RTD) and it is original and exciting. They never had the budget before to really go to town on the TARDIS. It just used to appear and disappear and occasionally spin unconvincingly in the void. Here it shoots into the air, races down the motorway, bounces off cars. The scene where Donna has to jump into the TARDIS is a good action set piece. The production design is good in this one. The spaceship hovering over London is a intricate piece of design work. And the climax, involving lots of rushing water, bursts of fire and explosions, looks suitably spectacular and expensive.

It is briskly directed by Euros Lyn. For the first half hour you don't really draw breath. The hook here is the wedding. The Christmas audience probably can't relate to alien planets or societies but it can relate to a wedding. The cliches are all there: the ghastly songs, the strident mother, the ineffectual father. Her motivation for the first half hour is getting to her own wedding. It's the stuff of rom-coms all over the world. But after that it becomes a little nonsensical. The Doctor tracks down Huron particles (that Whizzer and Chips science page again) and their link with mouthy Donna is tenuous at best. I can't really say how she was brought into the story due to spoilers but let me just say it consists of six months and a jar of Nescafe. To be honest, The Catherine Tate Show passed me by. I'd never really seen her before but I have on good authority that her main characters aren't too different to the one she portrays here: loud, demanding, self-absorbed. But that was the point I suppose. A woman who wasn't particularly interested in exploring the universe, she just wants to get that ring on her finger and her obsession in doing so allows her fiance to take advantage of her. But even she cracks in one scene with the wonders of the universe. The scene where he goes back to the beginning of the formation of planet earth and she sees this is rather special. Catherine Tate is rather understated here. And her muttering "it puts my problems in perspective" is Doctor Who in a nutshell. The big picture is everything.

And then we have Sarah Parish as the Empress of Racnoss. Not a bad creation; evil spiderwomen are a good sci-fi standby. And the role called for a lovely slice of ham that Sarah duly obliges. Some complained that the costume was too stationary. I have no problem with this - it was a very ornate costume and looked damn painful to wear. Those teeth in particular could not have been too comfortable for Sarah. Unfortunately, the music drowns out some of the dialogue. That is a problem all the way through this adventure. I rather like the big scale of Murray Gold's music, but this time it really intruded. There were times in the first ten minutes where the dialogue was obscured. It was like going back to Mark Ayres and Ghost Light all over again.

And one more thing. The speech from Lance ie "God, she's thick.." and then he goes on to list all the vacuous celebrity obsessions he has had to put up with from her. From the pen of Russell T Davies, the man who inserts Eastenders references into every other episode, this is rich indeed. It's ironic then that a writer who consistently brings in banal pop culture references into his stories, and who opportunistically cashes in on the popular consciousness in terms of scenarios whenever he can (ie, Big Brother, Weakest Link and Trinny and Suzannah) - to save money on sets and time or the hard work of mapping out decent polemic - should in turn mock the very sources of his plagiarisms whenever the whim takes him. This is clearly a writer who doesn't really take anything that seriously - including, unfortunately for us, Doctor Who.

To be honest, The Runaway Bride isn't very good. Its extremely dodgy science tends to detract from everything. My problem with it, and indeed all the Christmas episodes, is that it costs time and money that could be better used in the main series. The main series has to do "cheapo" episodes like Boom Town or the dreaded Love & Monsters to give the main actors/crew a break so they can do the Christmas special. Not to mention the creative quicksand which is Torchwood. If we were to stop the Christmas episodes I certainly woudn't complain.

And Proffessor Zaroff would be jumping cartwheels...

A Review by David Weber 18/5/07

The Runaway Bride is a huge mixture of extremely different sides of The Things Reviewers Pick Up On. And with that non-too-serious beginning, one must remember 'tis the season of Goodwill, and we must not be unlenient. And with that in mind, I hold no responsibility for whatever offense my review may cause, as I have tried my best to be reasonable.

It would be easy to start with some review cliche, such as "It is difficult to know where to start with a review of The Runaway Bride" except that unfortunately it is easy to know where to start, and it's not pretty. Since her introduction in Doomsday, Catherine Tate's casting has hardly been one of the less controversial events, with several heated debates arising over the wisdom of it; unfortunately, from the very beginning of the story Tate seems determined to prove her naysayers right. Tate is abominable from start to finish, although she seems, somewhat impossibly, to get worse throughout the first half of the story. I can personally appreciate she was intended to play a stupid character, but Tate's performance isn't justified by this, its lack of taste and talent are only hightened by the fact that she plays an admitteddly difficult part.

Tennant, on the other hand, does fare arguably better. Tennant is now stuck as firmly mixed in my mind; he plays some aspects of the character very well, and is strong for some of the story's important parts, such as the climactic scene, which I will come to later. Unfortunately, he is weak for some equally important parts, he still shows the unfortunate weakness when it comes to comedy, and - more embarrassingly still - technobabble. This is unfortunate, as The Runaway Bride is filled with cumbersome technobabble, which is sometimes necessary but always needs a good delivery to work at all.

References to technobabble bring me to the plot, which, like Tennant, is distinctly mixed. The basic premise is one surprisingly rooted in technobabble, which is not a wise move, both because it confuses the average audience, and, as I have said, plays to one of Tennant's weaker traits. What's more, is that, annoyingly, this aspect of the plot only ever comes close to making sense, and never actually convinces, when ironically it would have made more sense if it were simpler in explanation, and more left to the imagination. The fact is, I am not going to be spell-bound with explanations of what huon particles are, so it would be better to leave this to the background and concentrate more on the visual magic, rather than worrying about plausibility which does not exist.

This brings me to one of the more satisfying and impressive aspects of the story, the action and the visuals. This may seem a bit shallow to highlight, but for one thing this a somewhat shallow story, and for another this aspect is extremely strong, so strong as to be quite surprising. I know I mentioned how these aspects had improved with season two, but this still did not prepare me for the honestly quite brilliant scenes of the birth of the earth, or of the Spaceship decending over London (quite a nice and subtle christmas parallel, by the way, spot on place, unlike the later one) or the dark atmosphere-heavy climatic scene, which convinces and strikes on quite a gripping level (I know there are big practical problems with it on a purely plot level, but I'll come to them later). The only things which don't work look quite as good as they should are the robot Santas, who in general are not as visually capturing as last year. In general, despite numourous other problems, it's at least an exciting and thoroughly gripping episode, with a ludicrous but delightfully entertaining highway chase sequence quite early on which kickstarts the action and from there the episode doesn't let down.

Which is perhaps just as well, as for all of these The Runaway Bride is severely flawed in other respects. The characterisation is sketchy, with Tennant being perhaps slightly better written but by no means being written to his strengths; on the other hand Donna is, despite having some plot advantages, entirely unsympathetic and extremely irritating. In addition to this, she is ludicrously inconsistant at the end, turning round, to, how conveniently, manage despite her incredible stupidity to make some lovely meaningful insights into the Doctor's character. The supporting characters are, unfortunately, not much better; whilst Lance is okay in that he is exactly what he is supposed to be, an utter loser, the Empress, despite obviously intended to be pantomonic, is still far too over the top. The same can be said for Sarah Parish: despite playing an intentionally over the top character, she still manages to overplay the part enormously. All in all, characterisation is not one of The Runaway Bride's biggest strengths.

The tone, as well, is all over the map. Is the episode a comedy, a pantomine, a light-heated romp, or a dark and striking action thriller? Apparantly Davies can't quite make up his mind, although at least the changes in tone do happen more smoothly than in his previous (and extremely overrated) Tooth and Claw, and the change in tone for the last ten minutes works much to the episode's better, suggesting dark and intriguing possibilities about the Doctor's character which I dearly hope are not passed over by Season Three.

Ah yes, the climax. The climax, evidently one of the advantages with the extra quarter hour, was much stronger than on the whole the New Series episodes have been inclined to be. It is, for one, and also one might say for once, properly set up, and despite the obvious logic gaps in the plot, works well in tying it up. The Doctor gets to drain the Thames (and no, I haven't forgotten that there are all sorts of problems with drilling a hole to the centre of the earth, or draining the Thames to drown Spiders climbing up the said hole, but Doctor Who, despite its history of making points about the enviroment, is still gloriously chock-full of scientific mistakes as ever; I wouldn't have it any other way), leading to what someone else, not me, noticed as a hilarious visual joke as he literally flushes hundreds of Spiders down a big drain. I'm getting sidetracked here, however, as this is achieved by a spectacular finale dripping with atmosphere, and, for once, some intriguing undertones. It's surprisingly dark and, even more surprisingly, somewhat adult, as the Doctor refuses to give the Racnoss a second chance, reflecting the previous Christmas Special only better, and interestingly enough only identifying himself after she refuses. What's interesting is that Davies clearly decides to play this up, as we hear the dying shrieks of the Racnoss' children as they drown, and get to see what the Doctor is like when he lets himself go. I also like the fact that we get a Doctor here who is evidently a little morally dubious (although some parents might not agree), and not above robbing a bank, or wasting several hundreds of pounds to distract an enemy who would just as easily have been distracted by blowing the checkpoint up. For this reason, the closing scene, irritatingly out of character for Donna though it may be, is not a complete failure, as it rings true and makes sense in terms of the Doctor's character. The episode does hint that this may be a theme of season three, although this could be just another hint of Doctor-companion romantic schtick. I dearly hope not, as Doomsday showed that the writers clearly aren't brave enough to actually go anywhere, only hint as much as they can, and it's tremendously frustrating.

This brings me to the flashbacks which annoyingly intrude into one of the scenes, though thankfully never to come back in the episode. The reason they annoy me isn't actually so much because I hated any hints of the Doctor having been in love in season two, nor was this the reason I was always complaining in season two about the horrendous Doctor-Rose flirtation. No, I think I'll take a little time here to outline, as I didn't really go into this enough when reviewing Doomsday (mainly because of the high entertainment value of that episode), why this isn't just a stupid fan-issue and why the Doctor-Rose interaction in last year's season didn't work.

  1. If you are going to do a romance featuring a 1000+ year old alien then you are going to have to at least make it convince in terms of the character. In other words, the romance must reflect the character's alienity in some respects, and do justice to his character (not to mention the other half of the relationship, before someone accuses me of being an sexist). Now, the Rose-Doctor interaction of season two in no way managed this and was at best remnicent of two happy-go-lucky office characters, at worst of two smug sixth-form flirters.
  2. If you are going to do a romance, then it should be compelling and deep. Ditto.
  3. If you are going to do a romance, then get on and for goodness sake do it, rather than wasting time hinting as far as you can but never going anywhere in fear of offending a minority of hard-line fans who only affect viewing figures and any other measure of popularity insignificantly. What the writers did last year not only felt out of place for reasons 1 and 2, it felt pretentious as well, as it never actually went anywhere in the end in any case.
Which is why I found it irritating, not because I'm not imaginative or willing to change enough to accept a Doctor who falls in love or is romantic. I loved Girl in the Fireplace. Enough said, back to the review.

Return of the Doctor inevitably means return of the irritating smug laughter, especially with the comic tone which persists in coming and going. Why do they have to do this, especially as it nearly always falls completely flat? It isn't funny, it isn't even amusing, it just feels smug and patronising. I'd far sooning have pantomonic gags in the shape of Donna swinging into a wall which, although unsophisticated, are still funny, rather than put up with this smug element. It's gone on far too long, and can be torturous, when used as unsubtly as in the segway scene.

There's also key problems in the pacing of the episode - while I said earlier it was good in that it kept the viewer gripped, it also, however, feels rather disjointed in terms of buildup and climax - leading to the feeling that inevitably follows when coupled with a mixed episode, that it is not greater than the sum of its parts. The pace is definitely better than that of your average 45 minute episode, but it and the direction could still have done with considerable improvement if they were to elevate the material into something worthwhile.

Another spoiling factor is the inevitable "return to form" (translate as return to formality) for Murray Gold. Gold's music isn't particularly good on average, but for Christmas spirit he seems to have taken to the bottle and produced something even more tasteless than usual. Whereas his music normally has some grounding in suitability, here it is without exception completely unsuitable. To add further annoyance, the mixing is also off-form, with it sometimes seeming that the drama is to complement the music, rather than vice-versa. As for dialogue, who cares about a little detail like that?

What is perhaps surprising for a Christmas special, is how little it reflects what it is. Whereas last year we had an episode with robot Father Christmases, killer Christmas trees and snow conveniently falling at the end to visually represent the traditional Christmas special, this year the only gratuitous and tacked-on homage was the Doctor's snow at the end, and even then it feels very last-minute. It makes a refreshing change to get a proper story, or at least one which tries to be a proper story, as a Christmas special, and most of the Christmas homages were really quite good (the "Christmas Star" of the web spaceship in particular). I liked the idea of having a complex and big plot, even if it was filled with technobabble, and liked the sophistication Davies' backstory is starting to get. He is definitely gaining confidence now, and less afraid of alienating mainstream audience even if he does still underestimate its intelligence occasionally. But there are still big problems with characterisation, and big problems with acting, and no amount of visuals or action is going to hide that. Overall, although The Runaway Bride is the start in some essential re-working of focus, it's not far enough yet, and enough can never be soon enough in coming.

Despite all this, and all of the flaws I've evidently noticed far more easily than the positives, I can't quite call The Runaway Bride a failure. Maybe it's the undeniable advantage of the extra fifteen minutes. Maybe it's the dark, visually striking, last twenty minutes. Perhaps (although I hope not, for the sake of retaining any semblence of credibility), it's the Doctor naming his home planet. But The Runaway Bride managed to keep my attention engaged and my eyes entertained and for an hour of relaxation on Christmas Day it's not unwelcome. Too bad Christmas was some time ago, but there you are, reviewers get vacation too.


Christmas pressie! by Joe Ford 9/6/07

Let's go back three years and think about this. If you had told me that David Tennant, Catherine Tate and Sarah Parish would be starring in the Doctor Who Christmas Special I would have laughed my head off! The stars Doctor Who is attracting these days is amazing and looking at the guest cast for series three - Derek Jacobi, Jessica Stevenson - it just goes to show what the shows status is these days.

The Runaway Bride is compared unfavourably with The Christmas Invasion by the majority of fandom. Whilst I thoroughly enjoyed last year's Christmas special it was almost like Doctor Who with a huge safety net. Involving so many characters we have seen throughout the first year of the programme (Rose, Mickey, Jackie, Harriet Jones) and with lots of touches that would make fans squeal with delight (UNIT especially), it was pretty darn crowd pleasing. Featuring an alien invasion plot, it felt like comfy-blanket Doctor Who; Russell T Davies ticked off all the right boxes that he knew would make our day.

The Runaway Bride is far braver than that. Choosing to jettison all continuity that has been built so far, all we have to remind us this is the same series we have been watching is the TARDIS and the Doctor. There are the odd mentions (Rose, the Powell Estate, the battle of Canary Wharf) but these references all have a purpose, be to make us laugh or realise how much the Doctor is suffering. This is Doctor Who stepping out into a brave new world without the cuddliness of the Tyler family (brilliant though they were) and in my eyes it is a successful first jaunt.

What is shocking is on first viewing how sloppy it all seems. The first ten minutes seems to confirm all of our fears we had at the end of Doomsday; Catherine Tate screaming her head off, lots of running about, Robot Santas back for another round... my warning signs flashed immediately. Seen as a whole on Christmas Day it feels like it is obscene amounts of running, screaming, a big spider and some snow. But when I watched it over a couple of times I could see just how clever the script actually is. There are very few scenes that you could take out here that wouldn't affect the overall plot, even diversions such as the reception party that seems to halt the action is needed because it introduces the Doctor's weapon against the Racnos in the climax. There are lots of lovely early touches - Donna working for a "key" company, how they met over "coffee" - that turn out to mean something later in the day. Donna being transported to the TARDIS, her abduction, Lance dancing at his reception without her... what seems like a very slack first half all has significance. It is one of his cleverest scripts, what RTD has realised is that people want spectacle, one liners and laughs on Christmas Day but underneath all of that he has written a tightly packed script that happens to incorporate all those elements. Watching the last twenty minutes as everything pulls together is sublime.

Another huge strength is that it features three of the best scenes yet in new Doctor Who. The first comes when the Doctor takes Donna to the creation of the Earth. It is such a successful scene because it connects with out senses visually (the special effects are stunning) and emotionally (experiencing Donna's first true sense of wonder), it is moments of reflection like this that make Doctor Who. The second comes at the story's climax and the Doctor stands defiant, soaking wet as he murders the children of the Racnos. This is such a shocking moment because we have heard of the Doctor's unforgiving nature but have never really seen him in action. The direction here is just astonishing, the heavy drums, the cuts to the Racnos screaming for her children, Donna's shocked reaction, the Doctor's determined face. When Donna says he needs someone to stop him she was not wrong. And of course the last scene is one of the most emotional of the series to date, sad because we have to say goodbye to Donna but beautiful because we can see the Doctor's effect on her life. It's hilarious, this one scene affected me more than much of the Doctor/Rose relationship, especially when Donna admits that he scares her to death, it's beautifully performed by two of the best actors in the UK.

Okay, it's time to deal with what everybody thought would be the damndest thing about The Runaway Bride: Catherine Tate. You go on a proper journey with Donna in the space of an hour, in the first ten minutes I wanted nothing more than for her to be jettisoned from the TARDIS (despite great lines like, "Where? Popped out for a space walk?") but come the story's conclusion I was genuinely sad to see her go. Her relationship with the Doctor is hilarious in spots (I love how she keeps slapping him!) and really does seem as though it could have been explored more (go and watch the scene where he tells her the particles are deadly to see what I mean). It's desperately trying to be a relationship on the level of a Hollywood blockbuster with lots of arguments and make ups but these are actors are too good to waste on material like that and they subvert it and make it mean something. Donna and the Doctor standing at the threshold of the TARDIS watching the Earth form is a truly beautiful moment for their characters as well. It's very sweet how the Doctor turns suddenly protective of Donna no matter how abusive she is to him. His "I'm not going to lose someone else" is adorable.

Tate is a little over the top in places, I won't lie, but she knows how to pitch her role perfectly during the gentler moments. I absolutely adore her show and was expecting to see Lauren or Elaine travelling with the Doctor but to her credit the woman who takes on a thousand faces for her art manages to create a character here that is nothing like any of her own creations. I especially liked how she displayed Donna's dumbness; a lot of actors dislike characters that make them look stupid but Tate throws herself into Donna's shoes with real gusto.

As for David Tennant, he seems to have nailed the role of the Doctor on the head. Some of my closest fellow reviewers have expressed their dissatisfaction of Tennant in the central role and I could not disagree more. I think he was superb in The Runaway Bride, energetic, slightly crazy, poignant and very scary. Watching the Doctor trying to get over Rose is far less vomit-inducing as you would imagine. It makes her time with him even more special since clearly it has affected the Doctor in such a strong way. Tennant doesn't even have to say anything in these scenes; he expresses the Doctor's aching sadness with just a look. He handles the comedy well too, dashing off dialogue in a terrible rush and reacting with spot-on precision when he is slapped. Whereas it would have looked daft for the ninth Doctor, it seems so right that the tenth Doctor should be zipping around the streets of London trying to get a bride to her wedding on time. It is in the climax that the tenth Doctor really makes his mark. Like facing Mr Finch over the pool, smashing through the mirror on horseback and sending Rose to an alternate world rather than risking her life, this is one of those seminal moments that each Doctor gets every now and then. Tennant decides to play the scene with deadly seriousness and watching the water run down his face, his piercing eyes watching the atrocity he is committing is simply some of the best work he has done on the show yet. Bravo. I would also like to make a quick mention of his hurt expression when Donna turns down his invitation to join him, heartbreaking because you can see how much he enjoys her company at this point. Tennant deserves recognition for the incredible work he is doing in the show and if he does leave after series three as is hinted I should imagine the work will come pouring in.

Sarah Parish is bloody brilliant as the Empress, it's a truly teeth-gnashing, voice-testing performance that she fills with real panache. This is my kind of monster: one with enough personality shining through the growls and threats and a good deal of humour too. "My funny little Lance!" shouldn't be a funny line but from Parish's mouth it is hilarious! Its funny, I've been watching Blackpool and Sleeping Murder (the Miss Marple she appeared in) and with this it truly shows what a versatile actress Parish is. It pleases me that she should be so concealed as she is here because it means we can have her back in a non-alien part in a future episode.

Clearly some substantial money has been poured into this project. The special effects are as superb as ever with crowning achievement going to the Empress of the Racnos, a terrifically scary monster costume. The star-shaped spaceship glowing over the Earth is a memorable sight, especially when it starts destroying central London! The much-celebrated car chase sequence is as good as everyone says, the TARDIS swooping down the M4 is the sort of technical magic the show was denied in its original series and provoked suitable gasps in my house.

My biggest criticism would be the direction; a shocking statement considering Euros Lyn is my favourite of the new series. Whilst the show is pacy and full of some memorable images I don't think he went for the "magical" Christmas feel enough. There are far too many scenes in the broad daylight. Imagine how much scarier the taxi chase would be at night and the scenes outside the reception are far too sunny for the Christmas feel they were going for. I would have excised the sequences with the space trikes, which serves no purpose at all. The scene on the rooftop is nice but how many of shots of the London skyline have we had already? In spots this felt almost like "ordinary" telly and we wouldn't want Doctor Who to ever feel predictable or normal, otherwise this is just Eastenders with spaceships. I don't want to knock the entire show because as I have already mentioned there are lots of fabulous scenes but I would just advise caution before setting another episode in modern day London. When a director of Euros Lyn's capability (Tooth and Claw and Girl in the Fireplace, need I say more?) cannot find anything new to shoot you have exhausted all possibilities. Things look much more interesting when we are gazing out at space or underground in a secret Torchwood base.

So whilst I thought it was disappointing at the time I have now come to re-evaluate The Runaway Bride. It isn't the best thing Doctor Who has ever produced. It's not The Talons of Weng-Chiang, Caves of Androzani, Revelation of the Daleks, The Empty Child or Tooth and Claw. But it is far, far better than its critics would have you think, a strong, tightly plotted script powered by some incredible performances and packed with exciting, funny, poignant moments.

Here's to Donna. She might not have stuck around but she sure made one hell of an impact.

The tiniest moments of kindness save Christmas by Mike Heinrich 10/8/07

It's entirely possible that my entire view of The Runaway Bride was different to that of most UK viewers simply because of one simple thing. I'm an American (and let me take a moment to apologize for the entirety of our foreign policy since... I don't know... let's say 1978), and prior to The Runaway Bride I had never heard of Catherine Tate and wouldn't have known her if I had tripped over her in the street. (Although I would, of course, have stopped to apologize. I was just raised that way)

In any case, I had absolutely no preconceptions about who Catherine Tate was or the kind of things she did. Therefore, whereas most of the UK viewers seemed to watch her in this and think "Oh, Catherine Tate is doing her comedy shouty character", I didn't have that point of reference to start from and just watched her as I would any actor. I think that if you can watch The Runaway Bride without any preconceived ideas regarding "the kind of things that Catherine Tate does" than you can't help but see some incredibly touching and quiet moments. That beneath the shouty exterior that Donna (not Catherine Tate) puts up there is a woman who is sweet, and kind, and very, very alone.

I'll just say it right here and get it out of the way. I adored Donna, and I'm thrilled that we get to see her again.

The plot of TRB is... well, it ain't Shakespeare. The Mean-Santadroids kind of mulled around looking menacing without ever really needing to be there and when you come right down to it there's really absolutely sod-all rhyme or reason behind the Christmas Tree of Death (a possible title for the Christmas special 2008?) The santas and the Christmas Baubles are there... well, they're just decoration, aren't they? They're pretty, and they make the kids feel all Christmas-y inside, but they aren't really what Christmas or the Christmas special is ultimately about. When you get right down to it this episode is all about the smaller moments. The little moments of kindness that are so easy to miss when you're distracted by knowing Catherine Tate well before you met Donna.

The story, when you come down to it is: the Doctor is lonely and alone (and yes, I know we're all sick to the teeth already of the mooning over Rose even by this point, but it's important for the heart of the story) He meets Donna, who is even lonelier and alone, even though she's about to get married and it should be the happiest day of her life.

Because you see, on some level Donna KNOWS that her chance of happily ever after is built on lies. You can see it in the scene on the roof when she relates the story of how she and Lance met. It's all self-deception and "put on a happy face and pretend it's all ok." Donna is a woman who's been very alone for a very long time and has learned to be pushy and aggressive as a way to show people that she matters. That she can take care of herself. That she's even in the fucking room, for Christ's sake (and we get SO many clear examples of how her family and friends just really, fundamentally, don't give a shit when it all comes down to it. And every time it happens you can see in Donna's eyes - thanks to Catherine Tate's performance - that SHE sees it very clearly.) Catherine Tate's performance is really very touchingly nuanced, but if the shouty side of Donna's personality is similar to a comedy shouty character that she traditionally does (I'm guessing it is; I honestly don't know) then it's easy to see how one would be so used to that character that you wouldn't even look for the details.

So yes, the incidental music is a little bit brash, and the villainess is a little bit bwa-ha-ha. And the Doctor's ultimate solution to the problem is a little bit convenient and relies entirely on a completely pointless side plot of the villainess earlier on. The pedant in me also feels the need to point out that according to Inferno the entire planet should be melting to slag well before Boxing Day... Not that that matters, but I do fully expect a novel at some point which reveals that it's really super-energized spider shit from the dawn of the Earth that turns nice scientists into ape-men as it seeps up through the ground. Actually, there might be a Big Finish script in that...

But set against all of those things that might write this one off as "lite entertainment with no real depth", you also have to remember the little moments that make the whole thing MEAN something. The little moments are what actually make life mean something, when you get right down to it.

And my favorite small moment of them all. (And it's not the one you're expecting.)

That shared moment when he smiles, and then she smiles, and you can just see that this is a woman who has probably never before had ANYBODY tell her that she was worth knowing. It just gets me every time.

It's these quiet little moments of genuine love, respect, compassion and friendship that make The Runaway Bride for me. Just as it's those same little moments that really make Christmas. And life.

A Review by Finn Clark 11/2/10

The Runaway Bride plays a bit differently these days. Thanks to Series 4, it's no longer just an opportunity for a famous guest star, but instead the debut story for the much-loved Donna Noble. Catherine Tate can be rather impressive and I have a lot of sympathy for those who call her the best actress to have played a companion in New Who so far, but her performance in this Christmas special was, to put it mildly, controversial. People were calling her a screeching harridan in the run-up to Series 4, although one tends to forget this today since it's obviously untrue once you're seen her in the likes of The Fires of Pompeii and Turn Left.

The truth is that The Runaway Bride contains two performances from Catherine Tate, one good and one not. Based on this story, I now understand and agree with both sides of the argument.

The good stuff begins with the quiet chat on the roof. From then on, I liked her. That's most of the episode, by the way. Her only problem is with lines that require her to change direction too suddenly in mid-flow. I have a Theory of Tate, which goes that her weak point as an actress involves trying to hit too many notes, either at the same time or in very quick succession. Look at her few line flubs in Series 4, all examples of that Russell T. Davies trademark of characters interrupting themselves repeatedly within a single line, each time bringing a new train of thought. I've never seen her comedy sketch show, but sketches aren't often about that kind of acting. They're more about caricature, hitting a single note and playing it very hard indeed. That's how I'd guess she made her success. It would have been her bread and butter and I'm sure she has quite a gift for it.

In Series 4, she brought emotional weight and a down-to-earth quality to Donna Noble. However the other side of the coin would be the first act of The Runaway Bride.

I'm only talking about those early scenes, the first twenty minutes or so. In those, she's useless. She gets most of the lines, yet it's Tennant who gets the laughs. He's the one who's playing the situation. She's just shouting. She's not playing the layers beneath the outrage. In fairness at this point she's a myopic pest for whom the big picture means a widescreen TV and I'm sure there are many people like that in real life, but that doesn't mean she's dramatically or comedically effective. On first viewing, I laughed like a loon at the first act despite the cold dead weight of Tate. However, on second viewing, I sat and watched without feeling particularly involved, ever more aware that the episode was only getting a laugh or indeed any other kind of reaction out of me when the focus was on Tennant.

For Tennant, on the other hand, I'm full of praise. What he achieves here would have been beyond half his predecessors. Colin would have been too loud; Tom too aloof and offhand. I'm not even sure that Eccleston would have handled it this well, being so powerful a presence. David Tennant however can be baffled and bewildered, but then flick in milliseconds to darkness when reminded of Rose. "I lost her." He's also developed a nice line in dodgy glances when up to something dubious. He's bringing a lot to the role, but this first act is essentially a comedy and so he duly makes it funny. No, make that really funny.

Ironically though, if he'd done an Eccleston and left after his first year, I wouldn't have thought he was much cop. He'd come across as a bit shallow in his first year, just bouncing around and grinning at everyone. I like Billie Piper, but losing Rose has clearly made all the difference. The 10th Doctor's dark side is something we hadn't seen before in the show, not being manipulativeness but simply pain. He'd had so much bottled away even before this, just waiting to break through the surface, but Doomsday marked the point where the show started piling on ever more of it. He's in for a rough time in the coming seasons and Christmas specials, with the successive tragedies getting ever nastier. Needless to say, this is great. It gives weight to the flibbertigibbet and lets Tennant show off more of his range.

As an introductory story for Donna, it's both strong and surprising. She says no! We're not programmed to expect that possibility, especially for someone whom we know will indeed become a companion. I also like the character development she got between this and Partners in Crime, although it's slightly scary to try to imagine Series 4 if we hadn't had it.

As for the episode, I used to think it was a huge improvement on The Christmas Invasion. These days, I'm not so sure. I may find The Christmas Invasion a bit shallow and obvious, but it hits its targets. The Runaway Bride is a comedy that's being screwed up by its comedienne, although having said that I have to admit that back in 2006, that first act had me laughing as if at the Taran beast. It's a rare treat to see comedy from two television professionals at the top of their game, the duo in question of course being Tennant and Davies. I was on the floor by the time we reached the motorway scene. I could have lived without the kiddies, mind you.

It's a flamboyant, gaudy story, although I suppose this goes with the territory. It's a Christmas special. It looks almost muted if you compare it with Voyage of the Damned, though. It might seem natural to decry all this superficial flash and pizazz, but to be honest, I thought it could be a lot of fun. I adore the all-action TARDIS hijinks, for instance. The motorway TARDIS ("you are kidding me") still has me laughing out loud and I even loved the Doctor's hammer.

It's also only fair to note that this is an hour-long Russell T. Davies script in which the plot hangs together with no structural niggles. Well, one niggle. I'm not sure about the weird bit with Lance and the axe. I mention this because Rusty has never been a plot-driven writer, but this is solid. I also like the ruthlessness of this 10th Doctor once he doesn't have Rose to anchor him, which of course would be revisited in Turn Left. Character development for the Doctor! RTD deserves more credit than he gets for managing to introduce that to the show, if you ask me.

This isn't an episode you watch for its supporting cast, but they're okay apart from those twenty minutes of Tate. Don Gilet as Lance Bennett got a laugh from me. Sarah Parish isn't even aiming for a second dimension, but look at her costume and dialogue. I also liked the return of the robot Santas. Given the coincidence of all these Christmas stories (including The Unquiet Dead), it's nice to have a continuity link or two to make them feel more tied together. The world will always need killer Santas. While I'm talking about continuity, I don't mind the hat-tips to Torchwood and Mr Saxon, but it felt wrong not to have Bernard Cribbins at Donna's wedding. Obviously that's a ridiculous criticism, but sad to say, it also happens to be true. I suppose that's a tribute to Cribbins.

If it weren't for Catherine Tate, I'd have thought this was a gazillion times better than The Christmas Invasion. However, even as it stands, David Tennant's working so hard that he pulls the show up anyway. Imagine it as his Warriors of the Deep, but with just one specific problem instead of catastrophe on all sides. In any case, I'm still basically a fan of Tate's and she's fine for all the rest of the episode. This is a big, over-the-top romp that nonetheless has big ideas too, then on top of that also manages to do genuinely funny comedy. I'm starting to think that we tend to underrate the Christmas specials.

Have you ever seen a bride with pockets? by Evan Weston 15/10/14

The Runaway Bride is an interesting episode in my Doctor Who development. In a lot of ways, it reminds me of my experience with Series 1's Rose. Before watching that episode for the first time, I had very little clue as to what the show was about at all; I didn't even know what a TARDIS was. (Imagine my shock upon discovering that, yes, it's bigger on the inside.) Up through The Runaway Bride, I had basically assumed that the Doctor and Rose would go on travelling in the TARDIS all the way up to the current place in Series 7. I had no idea that Billie Piper left the show at any point; hell, I didn't even know that Russell T. Davies left as showrunner. Once I realized that Rose was really, truly gone, I began to snoop around on the internet and discovered the Doctor Who universe. Yes, there were many different companions and writers and producers that would pop up over the next several seasons, and no, don't get comfortable with any character being around too long. Rose was when I discovered the show. The Runaway Bride was when I discovered the show is the star.

And so it feels fitting that The Runaway Bride is receiving the same grade as Rose. It's slightly better on rewatch than I thought it was at first: completely disposable with some (one really) fun moments and a couple of great scenes from Tennant, who is actively hurting for the first time in the role. Series 3 gives the Scot far more to do than he had in Series 2, and Tennant mostly acquits himself. He's not constantly brooding like Eccleston in Series 1 - I don't think he's capable of that - but there's a sense of sadness with the Doctor across this series, and I think it works well contrasted against his zest for life and adventure. In The Runaway Bride, he's mostly his old, wise-cracking self, but it's the moments when he's asked about Rose in which he drops the charade and shows those eyes that have become a staple in Doctor Who lore. It's a nice performance, underplayed a bit but still well done.

While we're on the subject of acting, I suppose we need to talk about Catherine Tate. Series 4 is easily my least favorite in the show's history, and while poor scripts and a nightmarishly bad finale factor in, Tate's hammy performances occupy a large chunk of my dislike. This episode is actually one of her better turns; Tate is a legitimately funny woman, and her anger juxtaposed with the Doctor's utter confusion is a joke that never gets old. Unfortunately, Donna is never interesting as a character, and while she's written at some angle of "unlucky woman tottering through life," she comes off as an older version of Rose Tyler without Billie Piper's unyielding charm. Tate is useless when it comes to conveying actual drama, reverting to her obnoxious yelling at several crucial junctures, and there are times when she really hurts the episode. She's not actually the worst performer here, though; Sarah Parish commits some ghastly overacting as the villainous Empress of the Rachnoss, sending spittle all over the set as she chews, swallows and vomits up the scenery. It's another terrible villain in what's becoming an unfortunate trend for Doctor Who, and one which doesn't really let up until the middle of the season. I do enjoy Don Gilet as the sleazy Lance, though.

As for the story itself, well, there's not much there. I suppose we can forgive that sin, as it's a Christmas special and Davies has admitted he wrote the script to be viewed drunk, but it's really very thin. Donna is somehow brought onto the TARDIS on her wedding day and deals with the fallout as the Doctor pieces together the mystery of her appearance. They're led to the basement of her employer wherein they discover Donna has been poisoned by something technobabbly. The Empress then drops down from her ice star and starts spewing bodily fluids, there are some monsters in the center of the Earth, the Doctor drains the Thames and saves the day. Fairly basic stuff, but nothing really offensive except the Huron particles, which are given a name only to move the plot forward and are explained away by the "Torchwood developed them" line, even though that's plainly impossible.

Still, the story lends itself to some cool set pieces, and there's one in particular that actively raises the grade of the episode. I'm speaking, of course, of the TARDIS-car chase scene that closes out the first act. Davies used his Christmas budget to make a third of the world stand on edge in The Christmas Invasion, but this is on a different level of awesome. The effects are completely convincing, the Doctor and Donna are both terrific (it's Tate's best moment of the episode), and it feels like an edge-of-your-seat thrill ride the entire time because we have no idea how the script will treat the Donna character; after all, we've only known her for ten minutes. I love the idea of the TARDIS as an actual spaceship, and while it may seem hokey and the kids cheering in the other car might be a bit much, it's really well-executed. I must also applaud the climatic drowning of the Racnoss, which looks and feels as epic as it is. The "Doctor needs someone to stop him" theme is worked well into this scene and into the plot in general; that lesson holds up the episode and drags it across the finish line. The Doctor leaves the episode knowing that he needs someone, which is worked perfectly into Series 3's main character arc.

The Runaway Bride is easily digestible Christmas fun, and it was never intended to be anything more. The story is easy to comprehend, the action is fun and occasionally awesome, and, while the performances are uneven, nothing is terribly offensive, with the exception of Parish. Is this a great or even good episode? Not really. But still, the mere absence of Rose forced me to look outside the new series bubble and finally connect with the Doctor Who universe. While it took until the second half of Series 3 - a masterclass in modern television - to really turn me into a fanatic, I was open to the prospect after The Runaway Bride, and that's something for which to be thankful.


"Give Moffat the keys already" by Thomas Cookson 9/2/15

The Runaway Bride is a story that, when initially viewed, back in 2006, felt like an engaging, fun romp that moves fast enough for the viewer to takes its goofy moments in its stride. In repeated viewings however, it becomes more and more awful.

Maybe it's the fact that Rose is thankfully gone and we'll never have to put up with her snark or bitching again that made me rate this story initially.

Watching this now is like looking back onto a decadent, illiterate age where this kind of moronicness passed for BBC flagship product. Where the man who penned the scene where Donna has random drivers heckling her - insinuating that she's drunk or a transvestite in quick, seconds-apart succession, out of the blue - was considered a maestro who brought an unprecedented emotional realism to Doctor Who. Where the man responsible for Donna swinging on a rope and hitting the wall is considered the man who modernized and moved Doctor Who on from dated cliches.

Yes, the noughties are quickly becoming a period to be ashamed of. But still some fans persist in getting misty eyed over this thankfully bygone era and whinging for their precious RTD back.

To be fair, Tennant and Tate have a fun, energetic dynamic together, which makes the first fifteen minutes of this quite entertaining. Donna's like a ball of unstoppable energy and there's something reassuring about how she maintains that attitude no matter the situation. And at a point where the Doctor is heavily indulging his misery over Rose, to degrees that eventually killed all my remaining good will, it's refreshing to have a companion who doesn't take it all so seriously. I even laughed at the gag of her missing the Daleks in the sky because she was scuba diving.

When other characters end up in on the comedy though? Oh dear. Tate can run at 100 miles a second with the comicalness. The rest of the cast just make the comedy come off as stuffy and awkward. It comes off as not remotely natural. When Donna's party guests are having a collective go at her, you can practically feel the actress playing Sylvia almost choking on the bad dialogue.

The Robot Santas have lost what little menace they originally had. When the Doctor sabotages the cash machine to spew money, drawing people into the Santa's path, it should be utterly morally objectionable that he's using human shields. Instead it's just immediately clear the Santas are no kind of threat to anyone. Their weapons are pitifully short range and they never do anything evil. I did laugh though at "Santa's a robot!"

The chase on the motorway proves hollow and forgettable in the way most modern spectacle is. RTD spends most of this story contriving magic moments, right till the end when the TARDIS makes it snow for no real reason, and that's just not what magic moments are made of at all. It just feels so manufactured.

The story has perhaps the worst, most pathetic villains in the show's history. Lance makes an utterly terrible turncoat character, and an utterly irritating comic relief, mugging for the camera. He's so wormy you just want to trod on him hard. The scene where he nearly bears the axe on the Racnoss and then starts laughing at how he fooled Donna and the audience made me want to punch Russell in the face.

Lance has absolutely no plausible motivation whatsoever. The only thinking behind his character seems to be Russell's complex about his fan critics. Here he demonises fans who tire of his trash TV, celebrity-obsessed direction, and yearn for the show to be about alien worlds and the bigger picture again. Which apparently means painting them as arrogant, heartless cads who delight in spoiling everyone else's fun and making women cry. Could Russell get any more self-satisfied?

It's the conceitedness that gets to me. That RTD feels the need to so belligerently, childishly guard his toy. RTD was only ever responsible for half the creation and half the success New Who was. It wouldn't be the success it was if not for the years of hard work of those who first created the show's icons. And I'd argue a substantial viewership would have given up on the show altogether if not for the promise of the better stories by Moffat and Cornell. If RTD wrote the entire show, how many would get sick of his loud, insular nonsense? So RTD's desperate crying of 'popular trivia is important to the show and brings viewers together you snobbish, judgemental bastards' comes off as rather sad hubris really.

If you're criticising the latest Transformers or Twilight movie, you're open to the retort of why you expect good things from it by now. Those who criticise it should know better by now than to go see more like it. But RTD's era has intelligent writers and lowest common denominator pandering ones. Of course we want more of the former and decry the latter. But RTD can only proclaim how important his trashy writing is to the show and how worthless he considers our tastes. He honestly thinks Doctor Who wasn't good enough without him cheapening and lobotomising it for the masses.

Then there's the Racnoss Queen herself. Nothing more than a lumbering pantomime villain in a spider costume who's supposed to be threatening. Russell's lack of imagination here is practically chastening. It goes for the idea that this was the ancient enemy of the Time Lords that were such a threat to the universe that it called for an almighty genocidal war against them. This is the kind of concept you have to do with real conviction and gravitas, and that's why State of Decay and Dalek worked. The Vampires and the Dalek really did feel like the almighty, unrelenting creatures of apocalypse waiting to be awoken and unleashed upon the universe, and they actually demonstrated their superior strength and invincibility, and thus were frightening for it. This treats the villain as nothing but a cackling comedic pantomime foe, conveying no sense of threat to any world. Neither her impractical presence nor her lobotomized intellect seems to present much of a threat. This was the great enemy of the Time Lords? Give me a break.

The Doctor comforting Donna by showing her the beginning of Earth's creation is almost a magic moment in itself. Apart from the tokenist insincerity of the Doctor gushing about humanity at its most trivial and shallow. It seems to desperately cry out 'please still watch this show you common plebs, we're into pointless crap and trash TV just like you'.

The Doctor eventually comes to save Donna, who's webbed to the ceiling, whilst Lance is still calling her 'thick'. Oh it's intolerable. The Doctor breaks Donna free with his sonic screwdriver. But how could the Doctor know from that distance that he'd undone the web whilst still facilitating the swinging string that safeguarded Donna from falling into the pit? Oh and then follows silly slapstick as Donna swings, misses the Doctor and hits the wall. How did Russell win his Bafta given this crude, childish level of writing he continually indulges?

So the Doctor offers the Racnoss an ultimatum and a chance to resettle elsewhere. She laughs in his face (it's impossible to take such a flippant villain seriously), but then he mentions Gallifrey. Then the terrified Lady Racnoss recalls how the Time Lords nearly wiped her species out. The Doctor declares she's had her warning and now he'll destroy them. Is this Doctor stupid? If this revelation would cause such a stir, why not actually include it in his threat, so she might take him seriously? It almost seems as if the Doctor didn't want her to take him seriously and just wanted an excuse to destroy her whilst claiming a moral triumph because he 'offered' her a choice.

It feels like a pretentious dark turn for the sake of it. When the Doctor in State of Decay decided to destroy the Vampires, the story really conveyed why he felt he had to do it, from his duty to the greater cosmos and his responsibilities as a Time Lord. This is utterly self-serving. And are those Christmas tree baubbles really that destructive? They were barely more than firecrackers in the Wedding afterparty sequence, of no real danger to anyone. And the Doctor using a playstation joypad to navigate them so that he looks down with the kids. Can this show get any more desperate?

Overall, it was just a horribly noisy climax that relied on shock for shock's sake in the way RTD always does. And what I never got was why Donna says "Doctor, you can stop now." What the hell is she on about? He's already detonated the charges and the water is flooding by itself. Exactly what is there for him to stop? Of course in hindsight, from what was revealed in Turn Left, if Donna hadn't distracted him, he'd just have blindly stood there and let himself get drowned because of his post-Rose death wish. Even Time and the Rani didn't demean the Doctor's dignity and intelligence this much.

So the Christmas star nearly kills some litle girl who was stupid enough to just stand there because all members of the public are stupid and useless in RTD's reductionist writing. Then the tanks blow it to pieces on Mr Saxon's orders.

I like the idea of a goodbye turned ugly, where the companion actually tries making her excuses and then eventually, when pushed, she comes out and says the Doctor's actions have horrified her and she just wants away from him. Like Tegan's goodbye.

But "you need someone to stop you"? I'll buy that was true of Hartnel's Doctor initially and Eccleston's, but the idea he still needs someone to stop him, as though all that growth since hasn't happened and that the Doctor's somehow useless or morally lost without his companion is downright offensive (and sadly in keeping with RTD's fixation with regressing the Doctor into a tough-talking macho meathead). It seems the Doctor only butchered the Racnoss so we could have this scene.

I think the Rose moping annoyed me more than anything else here. I just cannot buy that the Doctor is this cut up about Rose. His reactions are so melodramatic, from the wounded silence whenever she's brought up, to his lamenting how he 'lost her' and having flashbacks to her swooning in New Earth. (That's RTD's ecological-minded approach to writing. Recycling his old rubbish.) It's cliched, heavy-handed insincere boyband drivel. What's this crap doing in Doctor Who, coming from a 900-year-old enlightened alien character?

I could believe and accept it if Rose actually died. But it was just like any other companion departure in his life. What is so important about his connection to Rose? Rose herself said the Doctor never mentions Sarah Jane or any of his past companions anymore, but Rose he mentions constantly. It's just forcing a contrived sense of love lost so as to make the teenage girls and shippers get fluttery hearts. And he knows this will annoy the fans, so naturally he'll keep on doing it again and again to get a reaction.

Jon Blum made a compelling case for Rose, and for RTD Who's bad attitude. That Rose is a selfish, catty disrespectful brat, who simultaneously proves capable of generous acts and noble heroism. Believable and perhaps reassuring.

But that the Doctor would value such a selfish person so highly over his earlier companions who were better people? That's just unpleasant viewing and not remotely believable, unless the Doctor's been changed beyond recognition into someone who vaunts Davros' kind of self-obsession over altruism.

This story's just annoying, and it's about nothing. Hence why the Doctor's dark streak feels flavourless. New Who's usual infectious exhilaration factor is barely present at all here, because there's no real threat and no believability. It's just bad television.