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Doctor Who - The New Series

sp.04: "THE RUNAWAY BRIDE"

TX: 25 December 2006

Written by: Russell T. Davies

Directed by: Euros Lyn

Running time: 60' 14"

Location: London, Earth/the solar system

Date: 25 December 2007/the creation of the Earth

Monsters and villains: The Empress of Racnoss (a giant spider-alien), The Santas (nasty robotic Santa Clauses).

Plot Synopsis: The mysterious appearance of a bride in the TARDIS control room distracts The Doctor from his grief, but she is no ordinary stowaway - and something inside her has the power to threaten the Earth itself.

Saxon spotting: The tanks open fire on the spaceship under the orders of Prime Minister Saxon.

Trivia: (1) Mr Saxon is the Prime Minister in this episode, although he had not been elected in the next episode, 3.01, "Smith and Jones". Since that episode occurred after sp.01, "The Christmas Invasion", this episode must be set in Christmas 2008. Saxon was first mentioned on the cover of a newspaper being read by Victor Kennedy in 2.10, "Love & Monsters". He becomes important in the third series.

(2) The opening scene introducing The Bride (named in this episode as Donna Noble) was originally seen at the end of 2.13, "Doomsday". However, it was re-shot for this episode as a new lighting supervisor had lit the TARDIS set differently.

(3) Originally this story was to have been the sixth episode of the second season, but when a second Christmas special was commissioned, Davies decided to use it for this slot and created 2.02, "Tooth and Claw" to replace it.

(4) Henrik's department store is seen once again. It was introduced as the place of work for Rose Tyler in 1.01, "Rose" and had made intermittent appearances thereafter.

(5) Waterstones, a British book chain, appears in some shots. This caused a brief problem during shooting when copies of Doctor Who spin-off novels had to be removed from the window display.

(6) Mrs Croat, the elderly lady who told Elton Pope where Rose Tyler lived in 2.10, "Love & Monsters", was originally to appear in this episode, in a scene where The Doctor and Donna catch a bus to the wedding reception. Bella Emberg reprised her role as the old lady, but the scene was dropped from the final cut.

(7) Another cut scene showed The Doctor and Donna driving to the HC Clements building and would have featured David Tennant's parents, sister-in-law and nieces.

(8) The Doctor mentions the spaceship from sp.02, "The Christmas Invasion", and the Cyberman/Dalek war from 2.13, "Doomsday".

(9) The TARDIS taking off like a rocket has happened before, in the Second Doctor story "Fury from the Deep".

(10) The shot of the camera zooming in on London from space was also used in 1.01, "Rose", sp.03, "The Christmas Invasion" and 2.12, "Army of Ghosts".

(11) The Huon particles in this story are also mentioned in the spin-off The Sarah Jane Adventures in episode 1.01, "Invasion of the Bane".

(12) The tribophysical waveform macro-kinetic extrapolator mentioned in the episode first appeared in 1.11, "Boom Town", and was last seen in 1.13, "The Parting of the Ways".

(13) This episode marks the first time that Gallifrey, The Doctor's home planet, has been mentioned in the new series.

(14) A reference is made to the Slitheen, introduced in 1.04, "Aliens of London", when The Doctor asks if Lance is fat and has a zip in his head.

(15) There is a technical glitch when The Doctor and Martha are looking out of the TARDIS at the formation of the Earth; two rocks vanish a second before the shot ends.

(16) During the episode, Donna finds a piece of Rose's clothing in the TARDIS. The Doctor snatches it away from her and then sets the TARDIS's controls. Originally, he first threw the garment out of the TARDIS and into space. However, although this was filmed, it was later deemed too melodramatic and was cut.

(17) The episode features "Love Don't Roam", a song written by series composer Murray Gold and sung by Neil Hannon of the band The Divine Comedy.

(18) Filming of the tank sequences caused some difficulties for Cardiff residents as they involved gunfire and explosions late at night.

(19) Dozens of fake banknotes were created for the scene in which The Doctor messes with a cash point. The £10 notes featured The Doctor's face and were inscribed with the messages "I promise to pay the bearer on demand the sum of ten satsumas" and "no second chances - I'm that sort of a man" (both references to dialogue in sp.03, "The Christmas Invasion". The £20 notes featured a picture of producer Phil Collinson and the phrase "there's no point being grown up if you can't be childish sometimes" - a reference to dialogue from the Fourth Doctor story "Robot".

Spoiler Synopsis: A wedding in Chiswick goes awry when the bride disappears into a golden glow. The glow shoots away into space, where it passes into the TARDIS. She reappears, much to the bafflement of The Doctor. The bride, Donna Noble, demands to know where she is and The Doctor says that she's inside his ship. He's baffled as to how she got onboard when it's in 'flight'. As The Doctor fiddles with the controls to return her, she opens the TARDIS doors and sees that she is standing on the threshold of space. The Doctor explains that he is an alien and she demands to be returned to the church.

The Doctor complies, but the TARDIS plays up and they land in a different part of London. The Doctor wonders if Donna has been in contact with anything alien, but she's already run away to catch a cab. However, their lack of funds leaves them high and dry. The Doctor uses the Sonic Screwdriver on a public phone to allow Donna to call her parents while he goes to get some free money from a cash machine. However, he is distracted by the sound of the robotic Santas from sp.03, "The Christmas Invasion". Donna borrows some money and drives away from The Doctor in a cab. Meanwhile, the Santas level their weapons (disguised as instruments) - but The Doctor uses the Sonic Screwdriver on the cash machine to make it spit hundreds of notes into the air. The Santas lose The Doctor in a flurry of notes and greedy shoppers, while he runs for the TARDIS.

In the cab, Donna discovers that the driver is a robot. She screams at it to stop, but instead it continues to drive her down a motorway. Suddenly, she sees the TARDIS flying up behind her. The Doctor uses his Screwdriver to unlock the cab door and fritz the robot. Donna jumps into the TARDIS and it carries them away from the motorway. They land on a skyscraper, where the TARDIS recuperates from the exertion of travelling through three dimensions rather than the fourth. The Doctor gives Donna a dampener ring that will stop the Santas from tracking her and asks her about her fiancé, Lance. She says that on her first day at the HC Clements company. Lance made her a cup of coffee despite her just being a secretary and him being the head of human resources. They started dating and were soon engaged.

The Doctor takes her to her wedding reception, where Lance is getting rather too comfortable with some of the female guests and nobody seems to mind that she's gone. She pretends to cry, thus getting everyone on her side. As she and the rest party, The Doctor uses his screwdriver on a mobile phone, using its internet connection it to research HC Clements, which he discovers was owned by Torchwood prior to the events of 2.13, "Doomsday". He then checks the video of Donna being 'beamed up' and realises that the golden glow is created by Huon particles, which have not been seen for thousands of years. Worse, they can be detected despite the dampener ring. He looks outside and sees that the Santas have the building surrounded.

Remembering the events of last Christmas, he tells everyone to get away from the Christmas tree just as the baubles begin to float off it and dance in the air. Everyone is mesmerised until the baubles start slamming into the floor and exploding, sending the crowd scattering. The Doctor uses the DJ's speakers to transmit a wave that causes the Santas to fall apart. He takes the control pad for the baubles and examines a Santa's head, noting that someone else was controlling them. In space, the Santas' secret controller sits in a star-shaped, webbed spaceship, watching.

Assuring Donna and Lance that the baubles were only designed to concuss and disorient, he convinces them to drive him to the HC Clements building. There, they find a secret basement that is connected by a huge corridor to the piers running alongside the Thames river. They continue up the passage and find a laboratory that was manufacturing artificial Huon particles. He says that Donna's body was somehow saturated with the particles and it was them that drew her into the TARDIS, since the particles also exist in the heart of the ship. He says that although the particles can be deadly, he will save her. One of the room's walls then rises, revealing a huge chamber with a giant pit in the middle, stretching down to the centre of the Earth. Unfortunately, it is also filled with gun-wielding robot Santas.

Lance, unseen by the robots, slips away quietly. On the Doctor's command, the creature - a ten-foot-tall half woman/half spider - teleports into the chamber. She is the Empress of the Racnoss, a species thought to be wiped out billions of years ago. Quietly, Lance appears behind her armed with a fire axe. For a second it looks like he is about to chop off her legs, but he suddenly puts down the axe and begins to laugh.

It turns out that he is working for the Empress and had been using Donna's daily cups of coffee to load her up with the Huon particles needed to turn prime her for the Empress's sinister plans. In return, she will take him into space. She orders the robots to kill The Doctor, but he uses the particles in Donna to call up the TARDIS, which materialises around them and then vanishes. The Empress says that now she knows the correct dosage of particles required, she can use Lance instead. She orders the robots to start force-feeding him the spiked water.

The Doctor takes the TARDIS back to the creation of the Earth, hoping to find out what's at the bottom of the Empress's tunnel. He watches as a Racnoss ship identical to the one seen earlier in the episode appears. Its gravity proves strong enough for the particles floating in space to be attracted to it. Slowly, the infant Earth forms around the Racnoss ship. The Huon particles in Lance pull the TARDIS back to the secret lab, but The Doctor manages to shift it to the adjacent corridor. However, two robots manage to capture the travellers. Donna is taken away while the Doctor is held at gunpoint.

Stuck in webbing above the pit, Donna and Lance can only watch as the Empress activates the Huon particles, which stream out of their bodies and into the centre of the Earth, waking up the children that she left there. To punish Lance for being rude to Donna, the Empress cuts away his webbing and he falls into the pit, where he is presumably devoured by the Racnoss who are rapidly climbing upwards. She then commands her spaceship down above London, where it begins firing lightning bolts into the city, causing panic and chaos.

The Doctor arrives back in the room wearing robot parts as a disguise and frees Donna with the Sonic Screwdriver. She swings on some webbing and lands safely - if clumsily - on the floor. The Doctor offers to find the Empress and her children another planet to live on, but she refuses and orders the robots to shoot them. The Doctor uses the robots' remote control - the one he grabbed at the wedding reception - to shut them all down. He then uses the remote to arm some of the baubles and blows a hole in the side of the building, letting water from the Thames to flood in. It drowns the Racnoss infants like spiders in a plughole and, while Donna and the Doctor flee, the Empress teleports back to her ship. But with no more Huon particles she is defenceless to stop the British army tank shells that rip her ship apart, scattering webbing down onto the city.

With the Racnoss defeated and the Thames drained (!), The Doctor takes Donna back to her parents' house. She is miserable at losing her fiancé and job on the same day. To cheer her up, The Doctor uses the TARDIS to create some suitably Christmassy snow and offers her a place in the TARDIS. However, she turns him down saying that kind of life is not for her. The Doctor climbs into the TARDIS and it rockets off into the sky.

Review: Despite a tremendous end to Doctor Who's second season with the fan pleasing "Army of Ghosts"/"Doomsday" two-parter, I was still a bit unsure how this one would turn out. Firstly, writer Russell T. Davies had created my least favourite new Who episode ever in "Love & Monsters". Secondly, last Christmas's episode, while tremendously fun, did suffer from the usual Davies pitfalls: logical inconsistencies, silly plot holes and contrived set pieces.

Happily, most of those problems don't turn up in this episode, which is a solid hour of excellent entertainment. Okay, so some fans complained about it being even more lightweight than the main series, but that's exactly right for this kind of show - moreso than any other episodes, the Christmas specials have to be bright, fluffy mainstream fun. After all, the episode is inevitably going to attract a wider audience on Christmas day than its sister episodes do at 7pm on a Saturday night so it makes sense that it should be suitable for everyone. Thankfully Davies is smart enough to know this. He's also smart enough to keep the confirmed body count to a minimum, because nothing spoils Christmas like horrible genocide.

In a way, however, "The Runaway Bride's" unrelenting lightness does make it feel a little underwhelming compared to the previous Christmas story. There, the whole story was given some dramatic weight with Rose's doubt about the new Doctor and the growing sense of impending doom. Here we get a piece that's incredibly throwaway and wouldn't look out of place as a midseason filler (indeed, the episode was originally going to appear in the middle of season two). Still, it's a small complaint when the episode is as entertaining as this.

I mean, exciting set pieces aside - and I'll be amazed if there's anyone who didn't get a kick out of the TARDIS car chase - the script fairly crackles with energy and wit, the Doctor gets plenty of good lines and the twist with Lance was a genuine surprise. There's even a nice little (very little) spot of psuedo-education for the kids as The Doctor explains how the Earth was formed. Granted, the actual mechanics of the plot - Huon particles, spiders at the centre of the Earth and so on - are guff, but at least they do hang together with their own (slightly shaky) logic.

And there's Donna. Now I'm no fan of The Catherine Tate Show, which I found to be horrendously overhyped and about as funny as herpes. Or, rather, herpes that's happening to you. That said, she is a competent comic actor and perfectly suited to this role. It's a shame for her that the character is so unlikeable (if not unsympathetic), but that's exactly what this story needs, and kudos to Davies for realising that. Donna is effectively companion sorbet - a sharp but fleeting taste to cleanse the palate and prepare it for new tastes to come. The character works perfectly in that regard and Tate is perfectly well suited to the role.

Also splendid is the charismatic Don Gilet as Lance. He's better known to some UK viewers as the star of cop drama 55 Degrees North and is as good in the role as he is anywhere else. It's just a shame that he's used in this one-off episode instead of in a recurring role, but that's pretty much becoming a standard 'complaint' since the show attracts top quality Brit stars like flies to honey. Slightly less excellent is Sarah Parish as the Empress of the Racnoss, who is obviously trying to scoff the scenery but has sadly bitten off more than she can chew. She's a proven actress, so I can only assume that she's misjudged Who's level of acceptable campness (see also Annette Badland in "Aliens of London").

Just a few last words - while the usual Davies-ian leaps of logic are fairly few and far between in the episode, there are a few that I can't resist mentioning. First up, there's the question of why Mister Saxon would send out tanks to take down an aerial threat above London, considering that - as shown in the episode - the shells are liable to miss completely and blow up houses and other buildings. Also, one would think that fighter jets would be quicker to scramble than tanks, especially considering the congestion that you get in London all year round.

I also have to wonder why there's no basement on the Torchwood plans, but there is a basement button in the lift. Wouldn't it make more sense for it to be the other way around? And of course the damaging effect of the Huon particles is forgotten the moment it's mentioned, making you wonder why they left it in at all. And that final scene with the TARDIS, while a lovely image, doesn't make a whole lot of sense. I mean, it wouldn't be hard to stick in some dialogue about Donna wanting to watch his 'space ship' take off and The Doctor doing it for her benefit, would it? Sure that would be silly, but it would be fun-silly rather than baffling silly. But these are itty-bitty tiny questions in an episode that's fun enough to make that kind of questioning irrelevant.

And that's about it, really: a great bit of entertaining TV that does everything it sets out to do, but never really aimed high in the first place.

8/10

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Sources:

http://www.gallifreyone.com - Outpost Gallifrey http://www.physics.mun.ca/~sps/9doc.html - A Brief History of (Time) Travel

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