Channel: BBC One
Recurring Cast: David Tennant, Catherine Tate, Don Gilet
Seeing as Christmas episodes looked like they would become a regular occurrence after the second festive outing from the Doctor, trademarks needed to be set. One of the better ones was the teaser for the upcoming episode being shown at the very end of each season. The one for Runaway Bride was a little bit worrying. It was hinted that Catherine Tate would be taking over companion duties from Billie Piper and not many people were pleased about that revelation.
Let’s begin this review by talking about Tate. First off, the actress is much better than we thought she would be. Catherine Tate uses this Christmas special of Doctor Who to act as a star vehicle for herself. This became her stepping stone from comedy to more serious ventures. Sure, there are a few Tate trademarks – you don’t cast Catherine Tate and not use any of them. Donna Noble is stubborn, aggressive and purposefully seems to trip the Doctor’s attempt to rescue her. That usual brand of Tate comedy comes into play, as she portrays the narrow-minded Londoner, thrown into a situation that requires her to face off against Santa Claus assassins and giant arachnid aliens. Most of the episode consists of the Doctor opening up this self-obsessed human to the wider galaxy out there – this could be read as an indirect link to ‘A Christmas Carol’. As the episode plays out, Catherine Tate lets a softer side leak out, especially when her entire world goes crumbling around her. She does win you over and part of the charm of the episode is the fact that our perception of Tate changes, throughout the episode. She even ends the episode saving the Doctor from himself, as he gets wrapped up in the (admittedly been-there/done-that), internal battle of how big a Time Lord he has become. A lot of your appreciation of this episode hangs on how willing you are to accept Tate into the show. Sure, it is a good thing she doesn’t become a major part of the canon just yet, but for this Christmas Special, we don’t mind spending it in her company.
The episode, in itself, is a little bit thrown together. This is a common problem with the Christmas specials; it is tough to write a strong story arc into the proceedings, so Russell T. Davies has little choice but to write a one-off episode that happens to be ‘bigger’ and ‘better’. It simply means that the set-pieces have little behind them. Doctor Who has always been a family fun experience, so it means that while the TARDIS chasing after a taxi looks awesome, it holds few surprises for the viewer. The monster looks awesome, but she doesn’t really do anything. Sarah Parish’s performance is a little pantomime, because the budget and script doesn’t really allow her to put anything else into the monster. It is a shame that the show isn’t ready to handle these sorts of aliens yet, because anyone drawn into this episode to watch an alien that is a giant spider will be severely disappointed. The Runaway Bride isn’t a bad episode; it has a neat, little conspiracy to try and get to the bottom of and while the Arachnid bad guy is a little held back by financial restraints, she isn’t a necessarily awful character for the Doctor to face off against. I think that our expectations have grown considerably since these early days in the Doctor Who series. However, we could have done a lot worse.
Final Verdict: A little predictable and once you’ve scratched the surface, there isn’t too much there, but Runaway Bride makes for a dependable Doctor Who episode.