Thursday, 17 December 2015

Doctor Who: Christmas Specials Revisited - The Runaway Bride

Each day leading up to Christmas and 'The Husbands of River Song', we will be looking back at the Doctor's previous festive adventures with a different TGT writer reviewing each episode. Today, we have a bride on the run...

As is always the way with Doctor Who when one story ends, the next one begins. With the audience still reeling and wiping away the tears after seeing the Doctor and Rose separated from each other, Catherine Tate appeared in the TARDIS. Wearing a wedding dress of all things. And so the count down to a second Doctor Christmas special had begun, cementing the programme's place at the forefront of BBC One's festive schedule and long may it continue.

Catherine Tate had become a hugely popular face on television with her comedy sketch show appealing to a varied audience and catchphrases such as "am I bovvered?" being regularly imitated. Her casting was kept a huge secret and successfully drew added attention to this Christmas special given Tate's high profile in the UK and with her other work commitments this may have indeed been her only appearance in Doctor Who. Fortunately, it was not and she would return a couple of years later but this story played to her established strengths. However, to say it is just a comedic performance would be unfair. Russell T Davies manages to create a character who is not impressed by the 'it's bigger on the inside' time machine and makes it very funny. As a result it is the chemistry between Donna and the Doctor that is one of the real joys of the episode, although there is a huge difference between the Donna Noble we encounter here from the character we would see in 2008. In the Runaway Bride she is sharp tongued, abrasive and very aggressive, with her sarcastic humour the perfect antidote for the ludicrous situation she finds herself in. As an audition to be a travelling companion I don't think anyone has slapped the Time Lord twice before!

The pace at the start is incredible with David Tennant doing plenty of running about. I have to admit that the TARDIS chase with the taxi still remains one of my all time favourite sequences. Nothing like that had ever been attempted before and the results are simply spectacular, although how only two kids noticed is beyond me!

Even though the story is set at Christmas time it stands alone as a very good Doctor Who episode in its own right. We do get a return of the Robot Santas, with improved masks but mere disguises for the Roboforms beneath, and killer Christmas trees. Another loose connection is the Christmas star spaceship. However, outside of that the story is not really Christmas centered, with an intriguing plot built on how Donna appeared in the TARDIS in the first place and a non-festive villain.

The Empress of the Racnoss is one of the most incredible achievements in a Doctor Who production. For those lucky enough to have seen the full size spider the scale of it was phenomenal. Crucially within that extensive makeup was the experienced actress Sarah Parish who succeeded in making the character believable and real. Which neatly brings us back to the Doctor.

There are multiple moments where he is clearly broken from losing Rose, she haunts him. And it is that which is influential in the Doctor's actions towards the Empress, showing little remorse, even if he does give her a chance. As Donna puts it, sometimes the Time Lord needs someone to stop him. So although the shadow of Rose is still cast over the Tenth Doctor it benefits him to encounter someone who is the complete opposite, who actually turns down an invitation to the TARDIS, a brilliant way to revitalise the Doctor, readying him for a new series of adventures.

The Runaway Bride is as perfect an hour of Doctor Who as you could want. There is a great pace to the story, with drama, comedy coming from witty dialogue, a convincing villain fantastically brought to the screen, a top notch guest star and all with a healthy dollop of Christmas thrown in.

Tomorrow Anna takes a Voyage with a lovely popstar who used to be in Neighbours, surely it can only go well...