Doctor Who: The Runaway Bride

Doctor: "With this ring, I thee bio damp."
Donna: "For better or for worse."

I always tell myself that Doctor Who is fantasy, not science fiction. Torchwood cannot drill a hole to the center of the earth. Spider babies cannot exist in a molten core. The Doctor cannot pinpoint a moment however many billion years ago it was when the bits of rock that make up our planet began to coalesce; I tend to think that would be a very slow process, too.

But when the story is really good, I just go with it. Unfortunately, I couldn't go with this one.

Donna had "new companion" written all over her, a companion completely different than Rose. Taking on a new companion is indeed a bit like a marriage. The Doctor pulls people (mostly young women) out of their lives and carries them off, like the Sabine.

But what they did with Donna in this episode fed into all of those tiresome old stereotypes about women having only one goal in life – catching a man – and playing it for laughs because she wasn't young and pretty. I found it sad that Donna repeatedly begged Lance to marry her. That her mother didn't miss her. That her own wedding reception went on without her. When she finally showed up after nearly being killed, they all yelled at her. She was valued so little. When Lance told her the truth, he was deliberately, viciously cruel to her.

I didn't like Donna the first time I saw this one, but I like her now. Catherine Tate can pull off a line and make me laugh. "And that goes double for your mother!" "Help me, I'm being driven by a robot!" I particularly loved Donna's reaction to the inside and outside of the Tardis. Like Paul said in an earlier review, it never gets old, and she did it very, very well.

And she was brave, when she stopped being obsessed with her wedding and began getting involved in the adventure. She left Lance behind and followed the Doctor with great enthusiasm and joy. I liked that the Doctor asked her to come along with him in the end, even though he seemed relieved when she turned him down; it gave her back some confidence. Although it again fed into that negative stereotype that a woman only has worth if a man wants her. And I'll stop with the feminist frenzy now.

Donna said she wanted to travel. What a mistake you just made, Donna.

What else? Let me see.

I loved the Tardis chasing the taxi through traffic, bonking cars on the roofs. There was something really fun and exuberant about it. The Auton-like Santa robots and flying Christmas tree balls were a callback to "The Christmas Invasion." Reminders of a better episode while you're in a bad one are never a good idea, though.

The Empress of the Racnoss was too much; a hissing, overacting, mountainous red spider, but what else can you do in a costume like that but overact to beat the band? I'll admit it was hard to take my eyes off her, though. Another nasty female stereotype. Defeated by flying Christmas ornaments. At least she didn't fart. Can spiders fart?

Bits and pieces:

-- Donna oblivious to the Christmas Invasion and to the Daleks and Cybermen battling as they tried to take over the world, was funny. Although what sort of Companion would Donna be if she didn't even notice all that?

-- The Doctor just brushed off all of the people hurt at the reception. That bothered me. Big picture? Yes, okay, saving the earth, but come on.

-- You just know throughout that Lance will turn out to be a shit, and he most certainly was. At least he got his.

-- H.C. Clements was owned by the Torchwood Institute. Is "H.C. Clements" an anagram? I've been watching too much Lost.

-- Donna slapped the Doctor twice when he got carried away. That was different.

-- That wedding dress was outright ugly. I bet Catherine Tate got very tired of wearing it, too.

-- This week's Most Obvious Symbolism was the pockets. Donna had none, meaning she had nothing to offer, no worth at all, while the Doctor was able to cram big stuff into his, even bigger than the pocket itself.

Paul Kelly says...

"The Christmas Invasion" is the standard by which all Christmas episodes are judged. It was our first Christmas Special, and by my reckoning, still ranks up there as the best. So, how did "The Runaway Bride" compare? Not very well, sadly. Apart from the Pilot Fish Santas and some artificial snow, it felt decidedly un-Christmassy. Russell T. Davies originally intended this episode to air during the show's second season. Instead, it was inexplicably elevated to a Christmas Special, and was replaced in the running order by "Tooth and Claw" --  which perhaps explains why the festive bits felt a little tacked on.

I started off not liking Donna. Part of it was my inability to see beyond Tate's Lauren persona ("Am I bovvered?"). Most of it was she spent the first 15 minutes shouting at everyone and everything, which quickly became annoying. But by the end of the episode, I found myself liking her. In reality, her life was pretty awful. Her relationship with Lance turned out to be nothing more than a fa├žade -- the by-product of a scheme designed to poison her with Huon particles and then use her to awaken the Racnoss. So, what should have been the happiest day of her life, sadly, turned out to be a nightmare. Not that anyone seemed to care -- they were too busy partying-it-up at her non-reception -- but by the end of the episode, it was virtually impossible not to feel some sympathy for Donna. The girl's had it tough.

This was also the Doctor's first episode without Rose. Understandably, he's pensive and brooding -- unable to speak her name until the very end, and even then, with difficulty. But when the writing's good, Tennant's Doctor sparkles with panache, and tonight Russell T. Davies got the characterisation and dialogue mostly right. It's just a shame that the story itself was a tad yawnsome.

Quotes:

Doctor: "Human?"
Donna: "Yeah. Is that optional?"
Doctor: "Well, it is for me."

Donna: "I said St. Mary's. What sort of Martian are you?"

Doctor: "Do you have this effect on everyone? Why aren't they stopping?"
Donna: "They think I'm in fancy dress."
Taxi driver: "Get off the sauce, darling."
Donna: "They think I'm drunk."
Boys in car: "You're fooling no one, mate."
Donna: "They think I'm in drag."

Doctor: "Who are you getting married to? Sure he's human? He's not a bit overweight with a zip around his forehead, is he?" Actually, the Doctor was on the right track, wasn't he?

Doctor: "Whatever that thing is, it needs you, and whatever it needs you for, it's not good. Now come on!"
Donna: "I'm in my wedding dress!"
Doctor: "Yes! You look lovely! Come on!"

Doctor: "Sorry."
Donna: "It's not your fault."
Doctor: "Oooh, that's a change."

Donna: "God, you're skinny. This wouldn't fit a rat."

Doctor: "Weird. I mean, you're not special, you're not powerful, you're not connected, you're not clever, you're not important..."
Donna: "This friend of yours. Just before she left, did she punch you in the face?"
---
Billie Doux loves good television and spends way too much time writing about it.

7 comments:

shawnlunn2002 said...

One of my biggest problems with this episode was that Donna came across as too belligerent to begin with and I didn't think Catherine Tate was suited to a show like Doctor Who at the time. I was wrong.

In some way, the Doctor needs a companion like Donna. Someone who isn't blinded by a crush or a geekboy fantasy. Someone who can call the Doctor out on his BS and take him down a few pegs but at the end of the day, still respects. I think that's why Donna and Season 4 go hand in hand with awesomeness.

I wasn't blown away with this special but it's better on rewatches and I kind of don't mind the Empress. She looked good and we got that Dark Doctor moment too which is interesting.

Needless to say, I didn't feel all that bad for Lance when he got his.

Mark Greig said...

I don’t like Catherine Tate, but I love Donna Noble. She was the ideal companion to follow after Rose, someone who isn’t in awe of the Doctor or madly in love with him but still adores him. It also helps that Tate and Tennant have brilliant chemistry and really enjoy playing off each other.

Plus she’s got the best granddad, ever!

Sadly, she was just supposed to be a one off at this point and we got stuck with Martha Jones. I’ll save that little rant for ‘Smith and Jones’.

Bob said...

Catherine Tate's got a right gob on her. Donna Noble's got a right gob on her. So no surprises there. Not the best of episodes but by no means the worst. Based on this outing I'm not sure how she got the gig. Thankfully things get better in season four.

Michael Colvin said...

I am surprised for certain about how sad The Doctor was in this episode. Surprised in a good way. Surprised that they felt the need in a Christmas special to follow up from Rose's departure. So kuddos to that.

I also like the subtle reference to "aliens under major landmarks" and the Ferris Wheel from the first episode back. Clever wink.

I also like that they found someone in Donna Noble who wasn't Rose. Wasn't warm and huggy. Was confident in the task at hand and off-balance everywhere else. It was a nice bit of symmetry between her and the Doctor.

The spiders - so not for me. It was supposed to feel grand and felt well silly. Shame, because the episode plot hinged on the villain and we just didn't care. Luckily a Sad doctor more or less distracted.

Josie Kafka said...

A-ha! This was the episode that I caught 10 minutes of a few years ago, that turned me off Who forever.

And, watching it again, I see why. I happened to stumble on the loud music, running around, screaming in the streets of London, yelling at each other, completely obnoxious part. Now that I've seen more Who, I get the joke.

But, wow. That was bad luck on my part, all those years ago.

Kenneth Serenyi said...

Hi everyone. Love these reviews! This is my first time through Doctor Who (better late than never, right?) Who knows if anyone will ever see this comment this late in the game...I look forward to reading all these Doctor reviews and ones for the other shows as well.

Billie Doux said...

Welcome to the site, Kenneth! And feel free to leave comments on anything -- it's never too late. Even though we cover new stuff, classic shows are definitely our thing.