The Good: Good onscreen chemistry between David Tennant and Catherine Tate
The Bad: Mediocre plot, Terrible initial characterization for Donna Noble, Car chase filler
The Basics: Donna Noble begins her erratic tenure on Doctor Who in an episode that is a tough sell for the character.
Over the course of the current run of Doctor Who, there has arguably been no Companion that has been more controversial (in a “love her or hate her” way) than Donna Noble. Donna Noble is the Companion that had the least amount of romantic interest in The Doctor and her story was both introduced awkwardly and was truncated (the number of episodes with only Donna Noble as a Companion are actually remarkably few). Donna Noble was introduced at the climax of “Doomsday” (reviewed here!) and her first real episode was “The Runaway Bride.”
“The Runaway Bride” makes passing reference to “The Christmas Invasion” (reviewed here!) and “Doomsday” and part of the characterization of Donna Noble is that she is essentially oblivious to the important events in the outside world. This is somewhat unsatisfying as major events on Earth have rocked reality over the course of recent history in the Doctor Who universe. Even if Donna Noble was scuba diving during the Cyberman attack on Spain, the nine months of “ghosts” appearing that preceded the attack could not have gone unnoticed by even her! So, the first big strike against “The Runaway Bride” is that it demands fans have some understanding of recent Doctor Who without actually paying enough attention to those details.
As Donna Noble begins walking down the aisle toward her fiancée, Lance, the Heart Of The TARDIS envelopes Donna and teleports her into the TARDIS, much to the shock of The Doctor. As Donna accuses The Doctor of abducting her, and on Earth her wedding guests freak out, The Doctor tries to figure out why the TARDIS took Donna. His search for answers is cut short by his abrasive visitor who insists he simply deliver him to Earth. But while the Doctor is getting money, Donna gets into a cab driven by an alien robot, truly abducted.
After The Doctor rescues Donna from the Santa robot, he tries to learn about her and figure out why the TARDIS chose her. Donna Noble is a temp secretary at H.C. Clements, which she describes as a glorified locksmith. After checking the wedding videographer, The Doctor realizes that Donna cannot be cloaked from the device he gave her and moments after his realization, the wedding party is attacked by the robot Santas. Researching H.C. Clements, which is a Torchwood subsidiary, the Doctor, Donna and Lance head to the company headquarters. There, The Doctor discovers a hidden basement as Earth comes under attack by a spider-like alien.
While the Empress Of Racnoss is an intriguing villain and writer Russell T. Davies beat Steven Moffat to the punch on the idea of major celestial bodies being eggs, as Moffat tried with “Kill The Moon” (reviewed here!), there is startlingly little to recommend “The Runaway Bride.” Davies, smartly, makes references to Rose Tyler. The Doctor has lost Rose, thanks to the events of “Doomsday” and while much of the relationship might have been built up more by fans than what was actually seen on-screen, the loss is very real and in “The Runaway Bride” The Doctor realizes that loss in palpable ways that connect this otherwise random episode to the rest of the series.
As well, “The Runaway Bride” features great on-screen chemistry between David Tennant and Catherine Tate. Tate delivers a wonderful monologue at the climax of the episode that makes one of the better arguments against anyone becoming a Companion, but more than the interesting dynamic of Doctor and Companion, “The Runaway Bride” illustrates well just how two people who like one another can play brilliantly off each other.
But “The Runaway Bride” makes for a quick healing arc for The Doctor and in that way, it is somewhat unsatisfying. Similarly, the plot is a ridiculously straightforward “creature of the week” episode and with all of the major assaults on Earth by serious villains, remote control robots and a single spider woman are far less compelling. The chase sequence near the episode’s middle feels like filler crunch in between plot explanation and exposition that serves only to justify the anger The Doctor seems to have for the Racnoss.
Attentive viewers will note that the Doctor Who strategy of making long arcs is well-preserved here as the tank commander at the climax references getting orders from Saxon! But even that and the introduction of Donna Noble make “The Runaway Bride” a necessary episode of Doctor Who, but not a particularly satisfying one.
[Knowing that single episodes are an inefficient way to get episodes, it's worth looking into Doctor Who - The Complete Third Season on DVD or Blu-Ray, which is also a better economical choice than buying individual episodes. Read my review of the second season of the Tenth Doctor here!
For other Earth invasion stories, please check out my reviews of:
“Yes Men” - Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.
“Conspiracy” - Star Trek: The Next Generation
For other Doctor Who episode and movie reviews, please visit my Doctor Who Review Index Page!
© 2015 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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