Aired 25 December 2006
Doctor Who returns with its second Christmas special in what is quickly becoming a holiday tradition with ‘The Runaway Bride’ as the Doctor tries to carry on after his stunning loss of Rose. While the return of elements such as deadly ornaments and killer Santas masking a an alien attack may turn some viewers off, the addition of Catherine Tate’s Donna Noble alongside a slightly more sombre tone and the smaller London-centric scope still put on offer a very distinctive and enjoyable story.
Indeed, Catherine Tate is one of the biggest reasons that the story does succeed so well, especially once the real Donna is slowly revealed as she slowly gets to know the Doctor, a far cry from the bombastic and abrasive character initially presented as she tries to get to the church in time for her wedding. Quite quickly, Donna proves herself to be a great match for the Doctor, not scared to speak her mind and to challenge him when she feels it’s necessary. Despite the bluster, this is a refreshing change of pace for the companion compared to Rose’s complicit viewpoints in the second series.
Of course, the haughty demeanour is simply a cover for a rather insecure woman, seemingly trying to compensate for the relative lack of real friends she has as her mother complains about her to her face, her best friends rolls her eyes behind her back, and even her husband Lance simply uses her as a pawn in his role as the Racnoss Queen’s lackey. This is quite sadly best reinforced as Lance goes on and on about her shortcomings and lack of general knowledge, and so it’s not surprising that Donna would have to resort to such boisterous behaviour to feel as though her actions have meaning. However, as she speaks to the Doctor as a real person and starts to open up about her past- including some more comically tragic moments such as her montage of begging Lance to marry her- that insecurity comes more to the forefront, In a sense the adventure she takes part in here and her brief trip in the TARDIS mean more to her than to anyone else in the programme’s history, as she realizes how big the universe is and how much there is to see and do, promising to travel more and to become a better and more well-rounded person as a result.
Given Tate’s background in comedy, it’s unsurprising that she can deliver the humorous moments so adeptly, the taxi hailing scene being a certain highlight, but it’s the subtle moments that she surprisingly does the most with, and her very slow realization of her fiancé’s betrayal is absolutely superb. However, ‘The Runaway Bride’ is undoubtedly just as much about David Tennant’s Tenth Doctor as it is about its guest start in the titular role. While Tennant certainly gets to deliver a few comic moments such as with his reactions to Donna’s constant yelling at him, the Doctor on display here is in a much more wounded, contemplative, and subdued state than ever before, and Tennant proves amazingly proficient in delivering these scenes as well. This is perhaps the Doctor at his darkest, not only deflecting questions about Rose but emotionlessly killing all of the Racnoss children with fire and water with such intensity that it takes Donna stepping in and begging him to stop to get him to finally relent once the deed is done. The Doctor had proclaimed ‘No second chances’ in ‘The Christmas Invasion,’ but the extent to which he goes is staggering and suggests that this Doctor, in particular, needs a human conscience to watch over his actions. Some may disagree, but the writing and portrayal of the Tenth Doctor here is in its definitive version, mixing together humour and levity with darkness and despair.
While it is Tennant and Tate who highlight the episode, the Racnoss Queen and her story are thoroughly enjoyable as well. The necessity of dosing Donna in Huon particles for such a long period of time is never thoroughly explained and it’s fairly clear from the start that Don Gilet’s Lance is going to betray Donna, but the Queen’s desire to save her children is a very relatable story and the makeup work on Sarah Parish is stunning. The raspy and deliberately over-the-top manner in which she speaks is hauntingly effective as well. There are a lot of seemingly disparate items thrown into the script early on that become extremely relevant early on, and overall this a very well-paced and well-directed script that quickly and logically flows to its conclusion.
The Christmas specials are obviously something distinct from the proper series, and while ‘The Christmas Invasion’ did a fantastic job in introducing the Tenth Doctor and revelling in hope and renewal, ‘The Runaway Bride’ perfectly defines who the Tenth Doctor truly is as he struggles to do his best after another harrowing loss.