The return of the Robot Santas! The Doctor finds himself with a new companion, and they uncover an ancient alien plan.
By a really weird twist of fate, I will have been best man at a wedding the day before this blog post goes live. So, with that in mind, all the best to Charlie and Lydia – and I hope that nothing like this happens on the day!
I like The Runaway Bride a lot more than I did on original broadcast. I will admit that I was in the crowd that was unsure about the casting of Catherine Tate, and was even more unsure when she was cast as the full time companion for Series 4, but will admit that I was wrong.
As Russell T Davies made the decision not to feature the Time Lords, having a story that features a foe in the Racnoss that harks back to the Dark Times of the Universe and also into the mythology of the TARDIS, as the TARDIS is the only other source of Huon particles. It is an interesting choice to see the show start with that shot of the Earth and zooming in, as we did with the beginning of Rose, it’s almost indicative of a new beginning, but the shadow of Rose Tyler hangs heavy over the show. It is arguably one that the show would struggle to shake off going into its third series, which is a shame as Donna has the potential to be a pallet-cleansing companion in the immediate aftermath of the departure of Rose, before there is a kind of break between Rose and Martha. This is quite an intricately plotted story, hinting at the eventual solution with shots of the Thames Barrier or Lance slipping something into Donna’s coffee hinting at how this story will end.
The direction of Euros Lyn is fairly solid throughout this episode, but it is exemplified in the TARDIS chasing the taxi down the motorway, which remains really frenetic and exciting to this day. One of the things that is quite nice about the sequence is how ramshackle the Doctor’s rescue is. The string holding a lever down and the Doctor having to hold that between his string, whilst his faithful ship protests Those cheering kids in the car watching the situation unfold cheering might as well be the watching audience. Perhaps Lyn’s greatest triumph is making the story feel like it was shot at Christmas time, despite the story being shot in the height of summer!
If The Runaway Bride has a problem, it lands squarely at the door of its villains. The return of the Pilot Fish and their spinning Christmas trees and exploding baubles feels largely superfluous and almost feels as though it’s simply the case of saving money for the Racnoss costume. We learn nothing new about them, even if they do get more to do here than in their prior appearance. Whilst the Empress of the Racnoss costume is impressive, Sarah Parish’s performance is so scenery-chewing that it becomes distracting to the extent that she doesn’t feel at all threatening.
Oi! No stupid Martian is going to stop me from getting married. To hell with you!Donna Noble and the Tenth Doctor
I’m, I’m not, I’m not, I’m not from Mars.
David Tennant is pretty great in this episode. He really shines in the quieter moments in the initial moments of the episode, which makes them land much more resonantly than if he matched Catherine Tate’s energy in these scenes. The way he tells Donna that Rose is gone and that he lost her works much better than the story than going into all the details and feels much more realistic for someone who has just gone through that loss. It would be all too easy for the Doctor to become comedic in response to Donna, but instead he goes the other way. This is the first time we see this Doctor at his lowest ebb, and it is almost a call back to that “no second chances” moment from The Christmas Invasion. It emphasises the importance of the companion in Doctor Who, to stop the Doctor from going too far, and Tennant’s quiet menace in these scenes as he begins to drown the Racnoss babies with the water from the Thames makes him feel like a real threat – a Doctor who would really go through with it and wouldn’t stop without Donna’s insistence.
Donna does still grate on me in this episode, though she does improve as the episode goes on. Her attitude towards the Doctor is understandable, but Donna seems to spend a lot of time yelling in the first half of the episode. I’m wasn’t a fan of Catherine Tate’s comedy show, but Donna is capable of being quite funny, especially as she recounts to the Doctor how she met and courted Lance, whilst the flashbacks show the truth was the opposite. Donna’s relationship with Lance highlights Russell T Davies’ interest in highlighting class divides. Whilst Donna is probably not as working class as Rose, she is later highlighted as being obsessed with celebrity gossip and reality television, as Lance reveals the behaviour that he has had to tolerate whilst maintaining that he deserves a medal. Lance looks at her in this moment as though he has stepped in something unpleasant. Regardless of your opinion of Donna up until this point, it’s hard not to feel sorry for her and Tate does brilliantly in this scene and the one that follows, when the Doctor takes her back to the formation of the Earth.
Verdict: The Runaway Bride is an episode that I’ve warmed to considerably since it was broadcast. Donna softens as the story goes on and it is hard not to root for her by the end of the story and it is a well-plotted, acted and directed story. 8/10
Cast: David Tennant (The Doctor), Catherine Tate (Donna Noble), Sarah Parish (Empress), Don Gilet (Lance Bennett), Howard Attfield (Geoff Noble), Jacqueline King (Sylvia Noble), Trevor Georges (Vicar), Glen Wilson (Taxi Driver), Krystal Archer (Nerys), Rhodri Meilir (Rhodri), Zafirah Boateng (Little Girl) & Paul Kasey (Robot Santa).
Writer: Russell T Davies
Director: Euros Lyn
Original Broadcast Date: 25 December 2006
Behind the Scenes
- This is the first episode since the revival that features an entirely different cast from the series opener, Rose.
- This story features the first reference to Gallifrey by name since the revival.
- The cliffhanger from the end of Doomsday had to be reshot for the reprise at the beginning of this story due to a change of cinematographer and changes to how they wanted the TARDIS set to be lit.
- The first appearance of Donna Noble, as played by Catherine Tate. Donna was originally only ever intended to be a one-off character, however, she returned in Series 4 as the full-time companion. This started a one-off companion status for the specials, which saw actors like David Morrissey, Kylie Minogue and Lindsey Duncan guest star.
- The decision for the Empress of the Racnoss not to be a CGI creature was made so that the character could fully interact with other characters. It weighed half a tonne and was operated by four technicians, as well as actor Sarah Parish, who could move the body using a see-saw mechanism in the costume.
- Don Gilet played Streatham and Fleshkin 2 in Big Finish audio story The Hunting Season.
- Howard Attfield was supposed to reprise the role of Geoff Noble in Series 4, however, died early in production. His role was ultimately replaced by Bernard Cribbins playing Wilfred Mott, and a reference was made to Geoff in The End of Time, Part Two as a tribute to Attfield.
- Jacqueline King has reprised the role of Sylvia Noble for Big Finish Productions for Donna Noble: Kidnapped!, The Tenth Doctor Adventures and The Tenth Doctor Chronicles. She has also played numerous other roles for them in plays such as Scenes From Her Life, The Exxilons and Eyes of the Master.
- Krystal Archer reprised her role of Nerys in The End of Time, Part Two.
The taxi chase down the motorway.
You had the reception without me?
Hello. I’m the Doctor.
They had the reception without me!
Yes, I gather.Donna Noble and the Tenth Doctor
Previous Tenth Doctor review: Doomsday