The Runaway Bride


‘The Runaway Bride’ is Doctor Who‘s second Christmas special; as such in this review I’ll be able to make sweeping comments about the nature of Christmas specials that seemed far less justified this time last year. A sample size of 2 is indeed, a massive improvement.

So: Christmas specials use a broader style of humour than normal, always include over-the-top villains, do something bad to a major London landmark, involve the TARDIS doing crazy things it doesn’t normally do, and have a song. Clearly.

Of course, the big deal about ‘The Runaway Bride’ isn’t what’s in it, so much as what isn’t; Billie Piper. A hugely important part of the new series’ success, it’s perhaps just as much of a shock to the system losing her as it was losing Eccleston’s Doctor. That said, her loving relationship with the Doctor had gotten a tad dull by the end of series two; gone were the intense arguments of ‘The Unquiet Dead’ and ‘Father’s Day’. In their place was an empowering “Rose becomes like the Doctor” arc, which was cute — but it never produced the same fireworks.

So it’s refreshing, in ‘The Runaway Bride’, to have new quasi-companion Donna slap the Doctor about a bit when he gets out of hand.1 I’m not in favour of domestic violence aboard the TARDIS; Gallifrey says “No”.2 However, something about this felt oh-so-right. The Ninth Doctor was a vulnerable, moody bugger who needed Rose’s compassionate love. The Tenth Doctor’s a bouncy fellow with renewed confidence; he shines with a grumpier companion to keep him grounded. He needs more of a Bernice, or a Romana, to keep him in order. If Martha isn’t something more along these lines I’ll be disappointed, but for the moment, it was nice to have someone like Donna around, who wouldn’t take any shit.

She did whinge a lot though. That was annoying. I’m not saying I wanted her to stay.

The plot this Christmas goes thusly. A seemingly normal human about to get married is snatched away at the last moment into the Doctor’s TARDIS. After fighting their way past those nasty Santa Robots that we saw last year, the Doctor and Donna discover a sinister plot below her work! Along the way, there’s the first ever TARDIS car chase (which was awesome), some good jokes, more killer Christmas trees, and a Christmas star which devastates the streets of London.

And yet… it just doesn’t all quite fit together. Despite the odds, ‘The Runaway Bride’ feels like less than the sum of its parts.

I place some of the blame on the choices made with the villain, Sarah Parish’s Empress of Racnoss. A wonderfully realised giant red spider monster, the Empress looks magnificent. However, her actual character resembles no one more than the capricious Joker from the old Batman TV series.3 Which drags the whole thing down a bit, as the best Who usually works on more levels than just ‘cartoon’, and also because other bits of the script seem to think that we’re going to have some sympathy for her.

It’s amazing how callous I can be towards an entire race, just because their leader has been one-note and irritating for 20 minutes, and is now screaming “My Children!” repeatedly, rather than doing something useful.4 Unfortunately I found this undermined the otherwise fascinating little moment that the Doctor was having at the time.

There’s a lot to like in ‘The Runaway Bride’, and it bodes well for the future. For perhaps the first time since Eccleston left us, I feel like there’s some definite care being put into the Doctor’s character and his development. Donna shows that they’re unlikely to fall into the trap of making Martha into ‘Rose 2.0’.5 And the CGI was undeniably wonderful. But it’s a bit less involving and a bit more superficial than we’re perhaps used to.

So, my final sweeping statement about Christmas specials; they’re just not quite as good as the seasons themselves. And they’re a painful tease, when you realise that you’ve got another four months or so to wait to get more. But I’m glad we have them. Because ‘The Runaway Bride’ was fun, if nothing else, and that’s what you’re after on Christmas Day.6

  1. An intriguing question; did Russell T. Davies include the slaps in his script to attempt to placate the fans who kept on talking about slapping Rose and the Doctor every time they looked like they were enjoying themselves too much?
  2. The Doctor calls his home planet by name for the first time in the new series! Place your bets now on whether this means the Time Lords will have something to do with this season’s finale…
  3. I’m almost certain I’ve heard Caesar Romero say “I’m afraid I’m going to have to decline” with the exact same delivery at some point.
  4. Although I should declare that I don’t like spiders.
  5. Or “.2” if you’re a Cyberman.
  6. Or “Boxing Day”. Just to pick another day at random.
My home planet is far away and long since gone. But it's name lives on... Gallifrey! — The Doctor

9 Responses to “The Runaway Bride”

  1. The ending was similar to the first episode, Rose, in which … sob … Oh, waily, waily, waily. Why do the pretty ones always die so young?? sniff erm excuse me. I don’t know if I’ll get used to a show that rotates the main characters so quickly.

  2. Can’t stop, got to keep moving! You miss Rose now, but I know your sort. You’ll have forgotten her within 3 episodes of Martha. Besides, we’ll have had the Doctor the same for two years running, soon. That’s impressive.

  3. If it’s impressive it’s only because the shows set the bar so damn low. Two years English time is only a year American time anyway.

  4. I like the feeling of safety you get watching Who. You know that whatever goes wrong, or has gone wrong, with the show, at least it’s not going to end with the same characters making the same bad jokes and having the same character development as they do every season.

    You get 1,290 minutes of TV from two British years of Who. One American year gets you only 902. So it’s more like a year and a half of British time. I’m hoping for a third year from Tennant; just long enough to make the kids almost forget that Doctors tend to die.

  5. In unrelated news (cos I couldn’t find this thread) new cadidate for best episode of anything, ever. Atlantis ‘Sunday’. Awesome, but sucky at the same time. I won’t talk about it til you’ve all watched, but hurry up and watch. I feel a commenting coming on.

  6. If it’s awesome and sucky, how can it be as good as things that are just awesome? People were speaking similarly peculiar things on comments elsewhere. I’ve only just caught up so I’ll look tomorrow. I’m curious.

    And how about that Bride, eh? Always running. Away.

  7. Yes, in hindsight it’s no “Becoming” or “Girl in the Fireplace” or “Berrisford Agenda” but its up there for the best Atlantis episode yet certainly. And the sg1 ep was really good too. They’re on a roll over in the Stargate franchise office at the moment – two weeks running with both series’ being some of their best episodes

  8. I’m going to write a blog about Atlantis so we’ve got somewhere to talk about it. But that was definitely the best Atlantis I’ve seen. Felt like a different show, though, in places — much more human and character based than Stargates usually are.

    What was sucky?

  9. Isn’t it obvious??