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Ghosts of Doctors Past, 2: “The Runaway Bride”

If pressed, I think I’d have to say that “The Runaway Bride” is my favorite of all the David Tennant Doctor Who Christmas Specials. It is also probably the least Christmassy of all the David Tennant Doctor Who Christmas Specials. Coincidence? Or something more sinister?

Oh, alright; it’s probably just coincidence, considering just how much I truly love all the schmalz and sentiment of most yuletide programming. And yet, what little Christmas tie-ins there are in “The Runaway Bride” are disappointing and seem oddly out of place; identical Santa robots from the year before for no immediately obvious reason – Something that’s brought up, but never really explained, in the dialogue, as if Russell T. Davies thought “Well, I should say something, I guess” but didn’t want to admit that he hadn’t thought up any new suitably exciting new minions in time for the show – or the “It’s snowing” scene at the end both seem like afterthoughts to try and seem more Christmassy, instead of anything that’s actually integral to the show itself. But, really, that’s okay, because we still get the first appearance of Donna Noble, and she really makes the entire episode worthwhile all on her own.

It’s not just that Catherine Tate and David Tennant have an amazing chemistry on-screen together – Although, they really do; there’s such a sense of fun watching the two of them spark against each other that, by the time the Doctor says that he’ll be lucky if he sees Donna again, it’s hard to imagine anyone watching who doesn’t automatically agree – but also the fact that Donna’s bluntness (and, as the show takes a weird and uncomfortable glee in pointing out, stupidity) undercuts the Doctor’s (and the show’s, in general) straight-facededness about its more outlandish elements: “That’s not even a proper word! You’re just saying things!” remains my favorite reaction to someone hearing about the Tardis for the first time. Unlike other companions, Donna spends this entire episode dealing with all the danger and disaster relatively well, if only because she refuses to really think it all through; it’s just something else that she has to deal with, and that just makes her mad. I kind of love her for that attitude.

(Something that is rather odd about this episode now that I’ve seen what follows it is watching the Doctor tell Donna that’s she’s not special and ordinary… That seems oddly out of character, not to mention just plain rude. Also surprising: Harold Saxon got a name check! Did I miss that the first time out?)

Of course, as in almost all RTD large scale stories, everything kind of falls apart in the end: If the Empress of the Racnoss could just instantly dose Lance with the Huon particles, why didn’t she just kidnap someone and do that earlier, instead of go through the lengthy process of conning Donna? If the Doctor could transport the Racnoss across the universe, why did he have to kill them all when the Empress refused (ie, Couldn’t he have done it by force? Or by knocking them out?)? And, of course, the very heavy-handed “The Doctor is dangerous and therefore needs companions to ground him” scenes at the end, which feel shoehorned in, and showing Donna to have a far-greater sympathetic side than she’d displayed up until that point. But, by that point, it almost doesn’t matter; the first half of this ep is so good that you’re caught up in everything that’s going on, and wanting to see what happens next (The shameless pandering of things like the flying Tardis/car chase works, dammit!).

Maybe it’s fitting that “The Runaway Bride” is my favorite RTD/David Tennant Christmas Special – It is, ultimately, all about family, and is a show where what actually happens isn’t as important as the affection you have for who it’s all happening to. It may leave me feeling fairly unenthused about jolly mistletoe and holly, but as a Doctor Who romp…? It’s pretty great, really.


  • Cpatmaier

    Interesting thing is the guy who plays Donna’s father was going to have a larger role in season 4. However, he died early in production and his scenes were reshot with Bernard Cribbins reprising his Wilfred Mott role from Voyage of The Damned and also retroactively becoming Donna’s grandfather. So season 4 and End of Time could have been very different.

  • Jacob

    I really hated Donna in this episode. Like, really, really hated her. I was dreading series four when I found out she was the companion. She gets better, but in this episode, I just wanted to smack the shit out of her.

  • Jason S

    This is actually my favourite of ALL the Christmas episodes of Doctor Who, (Including Matt Smith’s.) I always have a little bit of a smile when I think of all the people who wrote off Donna coming back in the 4th season, and were dreading the prospect of seeing her as a regular companion. As I’d really liked her in the Christmas episode, and could tell that Catherine Tate and Tennant had great chemistry. So it made me actually look forward to the 4th season when I saw the trailer with her in it. (Maybe I wasn’t prejudiced because I’d never seen her comedy show, as it didn’t look like it was really my type of thing..)

    Plus after that really boring third season with Martha’s would be romantic attachment to the Doctor, I was aching to have a companion who was just that, and not y’know hankering after the doctor again.
    I actually bought the seperate dvd for The Runaway Bride as I really didn’t want to buy the 3rd season box set that it was on. (I hate the Master 3 parter that ends the season)

    But anyway, yeah I too loved the Tardis/car chase. I’d been wanting to see something like that since I was a kid, and the effects certainly didn’t disappoint! :)

  • Faust

    Loved this christmas special, and I agree its the best one by RTD. Gotta say that Donna is still my favorite companion to date. I love that she didn’t take the doctors crap, and just said it like it is. And the best thing?… no romantic connection at all!! The other 3 all wanted to get into his pants at one point or another.

    One thing I will say, is that I hated Donnas final appearance in those specials. They were some of RTD worst episodes! A complete waste of Catherine Tates talents playing that bit part. After such a sad farewell at the end of season 4  – a huge opportunity was missed to get her memory back. Hopefully Moffet will use her again! :)

  • Matt D

     I completely agree with whoever hated Donna in this episode. She (and Tate as an actress) gets a little better later on,but not much so. But she’s the absolute worst here. Grating. Annoying. And in context terribly frustrating since this came right after the series 2 finale. They followed heartwrench up with a screaming harpy.