"I'm not the first, am I? How many women have you abducted?"
IN THIS ONE... On Christmas, Donna Noble's wedding is interrupted by robot Santas and a big freaking spider.
REVIEW: Doctor Who's second Christmas special has its firsts - mention of "Mr. Saxon" and of course, Donna Noble - but it recycles a lot of the previous special. Someone's blubbering about a missing TARDIS crew member, it's Christmas and some kind of (public) alien invasion is underway, there's a scene with the TARDIS flying and crashing, the Pilot Fish are once again dressing as Santas and using Christmas trees to kill, a secret base under a famous landmark, a party underscored by an original song, vertiginous falls, the Doctor doesn't give a second chance to the featured alien menace, and fake snow at the end. The fun is in how those elements are tweaked. The TARDIS highway chase is fun, the Pilot Fish designs more amusing, the killer Christmas trees use a different shtick, and so on. Because it's a special with the whole family likely to be watching, a lot of The Runaway Bride is an exercise in seeing what silliness the audience will accept on the basis of holiday cheer, which includes a pointless Segway scene, for example, and the stunt casting of the guest companion.
Now, I didn't know Catherine Tate before this, but I gather a lot of fans objected (of course they did) to a shouting sketch show comedienne shouting up a storm on Doctor Who. And that's really how Donna Noble starts her journey. She's a shouty, ignorant ingrate with only one basic joke - she's not awed by the Doctor's magic and finds the whole situation annoying. She's Tegan cranked up to 11. She's Jackie Tyler (and gets to slap the Doctor often). And the comfort is that we know she won't stick around for more than this episode. But Donna proves to be more than this, and soon settles down. There's a sense that she IS impressed by the Doctor, but won't give him the satisfaction of letting it show. This creates a playful banter between them, punctuated by anger or grief when the Doctor fails to empathize with her situation, from the humorous (she doesn't have any pockets, dude) to the tragic (failing to notice she's just been cruelly left at the altar for a gross alien, for example). In the final 10 minutes, Donna makes the Doctor snap out of his vengeful frame of mind (and according to Turn Left, saves his life), rejects his offer of more travel, but advises him to find someone. We love her in those moments, moments where clueless, oblivious, INCONSEQUENTIAL Donna proves to be perceptive, empathetic and even a little sweet. The Runaway Bride seemed, in many ways, to be about Rose's absence (and when Tennant finally says her name, he completely nails it), but Donna steals the show in the end, and though you couldn't imagine sitting through more Donna Noble episodes after the first 15 minutes, you're sorry she DOESN'T follow the Doctor into the TARDIS after the last 8.
I'm a fan of Sarah Parish and like her very physical performance as the Empress of the Racnoss. A visually striking monster (practically created too, I think only the blinking eyes are CG), Parish gives her a sense of humor and even makes her sympathetic at the end, when her babies are drowned. The script lets her down though. RTD prefers the odd joke or holiday reference to things making sense, so this creature from the edge of the universe and the dawn of time seems to know all about Christmas and our wedding traditions. Sure, she's been in contact with Lance, but these aren't things the Empress would assimilate into her dialog so readily even if they DID spend all their long distance calls talking about Earth culture. Lance, now there's a character with rather slim motivation. But then we have things like a beautiful sequence at the beginning of the solar system, and the Doctor confirming his pockets are dimensionally transcendental, and it feels like Christmas again.
VERSIONS: Deleted scenes on the DVD include a car sequence inside Donna's comically small car, and Lance going on longer about why he would betray humanity.
REWATCHABILITY: Medium - As much as I love the last 10 minutes, I can't in good conscience give the episode a higher score. Not when so much of it feels unoriginal, silly and/or indulgent.