The Runaway Bride.



TV Sometimes it's great to be a Doctor Who fan. With all of the disappointment surrounding Torchwood, here was an exciting, confident, dare I say magnificent bit of comedy drama that was just the thing you need on Christmas night. If it'll never be conferred the classic status that already enjoys it doesn't really need to. This was Who with the volume turned up to eleven, hilariously funny and with all the ramshackle trimmings you'd want. This was old school Doctor Who, boiling down, despite all the Tardis chases to the Doctor having a shouting match a grotesque alien intent on destroying the Earth - and for once this didn't mean Catherine Tate.

As far as I could tell, Donna the bride had been fed some kind of particles which when fed into a space ship at the centre of the earth would release the offspring of the surviving member of a spider race from the beginning of time. I'd say this was purposefully complicated so that the viewer would be in the same position as Donna - one step behind the Doctor at all times which is just right because it increases the mystery surrounding. Not malevolent in a Seventh Doctor sense, just more aware of what's happening and what he needs to do to stop it. But as usual, this was just a big prickly Christmas tree on which to hang all of those lovely moments in what was, bravely for the timeslot, essentially a two hander, a screwball comedy of errors.

Russell T has said that so long as he's making the Christmas specials they'll have the festive season at their heart. The robotic santas make a reappearance and were a far more effective foe this time around as did the killer Christmas tree with its exploding baubles. There's nothing wrong with any of this. There's always something a bit weird about watching some sitcom's feature length edition set in the midst of summer, pulling you out of the holiday season. Shame to see that Christmas 2007 won't be a white Christmas either unless there is a handy type 40 lying around.

With all of the looking for taxis and visit to ancient history this actually had a ring of City of Death about it. So now we know that the Earth was created by the Arachnoss ship and Scaroth created the life on the rock. The Whoniverse version of this planet was a crowded place in pre-history wasn't it? This was the series suddenly being aware of its own history, with all of the references to the invasion the previous Christmas and the Battle of Canary Warf and Torchwood using the locksmiths as a front company.

And did anyone expect the sudden appearance of Gallifrey which was surely the most exciting part of the episode. It's reappearance here as a term suggests that actually it's going to play some part in the next season - in the closing trailer, the Face of Boe had a glint in his eye. His last words will be 'You are not alone...' or some such, you mark, and I'll say this again, you mark my words.

As the Doctor and Donna watched the creation of the planet Earth, it felt like a return to the roots of the show, to educate as well as entertain. Granted this was busted somewhat by the appearance of she space ship, later when Lance spat the trivia of Donna's like all X-Factor and showbiz gossip this felt like sea change, championing science and thought and Reithian values ahead of reality tv and pop culture.

With the exception of Paul Cornell's short story, this was our first chance to see the Tenth Doctor really alone and unlike the previous series, his guard was up, is energies fixed on the problem at hand. Still hurting from the loss of Rose (nice use of crosscutting with New Earth at the non-reception) he seems have pulled away again from the domestic, showing once more the slightly darker figure glimpsed in School Reunion. All the ticks were there, his mouth running off ten to the dozen and the shouting but that smugness, so criticised in the past series was gone. This was helped somewhat by all the face slapping from Donna when he was going too far with the babble.

Tennant's superb performance had the customary robustness, but also a fragility - with the slightly non-committal ending I wonder if this will be carried over into the next series. Assuming there's a gap between adventures that means that the Doctor will be traveling alone for the first time in ages, a handy continuity gap for the Big Finish spin-off cds of the future.

I was a bit unkind about Ms. Tate in the opening paragraph, and although her performance was certainly pointedly one dimensional in the opening twenty-minutes as the episode continued she demonstrated that she's an actress as well as a comedienne and perfectly deserving of the credit in the titles (it's a shame we know that Freema will be taking - how much greater the impact if they'd misinformed that Tate was going to be the permanent companion?).

Watching her crumpled at the realization that the last six months of her life were sham was really heartbreaking and by the end as she disappeared into the snow, although I wouldn't say I would have like to have seen the Doctor carrying her around the galaxy, shouting at everything that moved, my heart had certainly softened to her. This was aided by Russell T Davies clever writing, which carefully layered in material adding depth as the episode went on.

Poor old Sarah Parish though. Unrecognisable under ten inches of latex, she had the hardest job of all and if the episode did have a weak link it was this scarlet empress, half of her dialogue lost in the sound mix. Like the Sycorax, the real development of the character came from the Doctor's exposition rather than anything that they might be saying, Neil Gorton's design's biggest moment being the reveal with all the scale. It's a shame that Parish, such a great actress otherwise, wasn't given much room to develop the character. It didn't help that, except in the outstanding shots of the ship, she seemed rooted to the floor. How exciting would it have been to see her chasing the Doctor through the streets of Cardiff, sorry, London?

With Tennant and Tate and Parish taking the lions share of the action, the fourth wheel, Don Gilet as Lance acquitted himself well - I was surprised when it transpired that he was a turncoat which is a job done. The flashbacks to the actuality of the courtship were hilarious, although I did wonder whether, if Lance actually wanted to be put in the position of marrying Donna, why he played quite so hard to get. The rest of the Bride's family were perfectly fine, largely in the background, the mum nicely echoing Jackie Tyler without being a clone.

Euros Lynn proved once more that he's one of the series best directors, able to handle character and action sequences with equal clarity. That Tardis chase, whatever your views on its validity within Whovian physics, was really exciting, the cutaways to the kids in the back of the car reacting to the ensuing adventure perfectly chosen. And let's face it there nothing more exciting than a giant tank throwing missiles at a ship like that.

The Mill's work too was largely top notch providing the movie like feel we've come to expect, the highlight once again being the ship over London, added to which this time was epic shot of the draining of the Thames (those council tax bills are going to be massive again in 2008). Murray Gold was given the use of an orchestra again to great effect, dropping in a whole range of new themes which I'm sure will become familiar in the coming months - a big score is just what you need to this kind of story and that's exactly what we got.

Time marches on and I'm about ready for another mince pie and play with my new Radio Controlled Dalek so I'll sign off for the night. This was a shot in the arm, showing that actually Russell T Davies knows how to judge a script and the audience and that this show at least continues to be in safe hands. I just love that they can drop in such brilliantly unexpected gifts like the first mainstream BBC One sighting of a sedgway, with The Doctor and Donna laughing giddily on the back just as they should. But look also at the trailer for the next series, Freema looks amazing and good lord, the Daleks are back again. Hooray!

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