Doctor Who: The Runaway Bride
(1 episode, Christmas Special, 2006)
It’s the balance between character chemistry and chewed scenery.
Starting with that RTD Earth-zoom shot – you know the one – we meet bride-to-be Donna Noble as she’s walked down the aisle on Christmas Eve. As she approaches her groom, she’s transported away in a cloud of gold energy and appears on the TARDIS right where we left the Tenth Doctor, orbiting a supernova, at the end of Doomsday.
Donna immediately confronts the Doctor, demanding to know where she is. The Doctor is confused since she doesn’t belong on the TARDIS, and Donna thinks it is a practical joke by her friend Nerys. Donna opens the doors in an attempt to flee but stops cold at the sight of outer space beyond the TARDIS’s walls.
Then she finds out that the Doctor is an alien. Mind blown.
The Doctor investigates Donna while she demands to be taken back to the church. She spots one of Rose’s shirts and wants to know how many women the Doctor has abducted, but his attitude shifts to a combination of somber and angry as he replies that he lost her. Back on Earth, the church is in chaos as the Doctor drops Donna near Oxford Street. Donna has her “bigger on the inside moment” while the Doctor tends to the TARDIS, and she sets out on foot. The Doctor pursues, adamant that he’s not a Martian, and the pair have considerable difficulty hailing a taxi.
Especially since neither of them has any money.
Donna uses a sonic-screwdriver hacked pay phone while the Doctor stands in line for the automatic teller machine. He sonics some cash and then notices a trio of sinister Santas, including one that just drove off with Donna. She figures out that the Santas are the bad guys after she is abducted, and the Doctor runs for the TARDIS. He materializes on the roadway, flies alongside the taxi, and rescues Donna while driving the time capsule with a length of twine. The whole sequence is solid edge-of-your-seat action.
The TARDIS touches down on a rooftop and, in a burst of smoke, takes some time to cool down. The Doctor and Donna talk about her wedding and time machines, and the Time Lord gives her a ring that acts as a bio-damper to confuse the Santa-bots. They also talk about the events of last Christmas, during which Donna was hung over so she missed the whole affair. The Doctor muses about Rose for a moment before turning back to the mystery at hand.
Donna works as a secretary at a local security firm where she met Lance, head of Human Relations and her husband-to-be, as he offered her a cup of coffee. They went out for a while before they decided to get married (after Donna pestered him for a really long time). The Doctor takes her to the wedding reception, which Donna is furious about since they’re partying without the bride. Donna’s mother Sylvia counters, prompting a furious storm from the assembled guests, and Donna silences them with a quick cry. The party carries on and the Doctor investigates H.C. Clements.
It turns out that the security firm was owned by Torchwood before the institute was decimated. The Doctor asks the wedding videographer if he caught Donna’s disappearance on tape, and figures out that she was infused with Huon particles. Unfortunately, those particles cannot be shielded by a bio-damper and the Santas are on the march. The building is surrounded, and the Doctor sees that the Santas are using the Christmas trees as weapons. The ornaments explode, providing a diversion as the Santas take aim on the Doctor. The Doctor replies by plugging his sonic screwdriver into the DJ’s mixing board and blowing the robots apart.
The Doctor realizes that the Robot Santas aren’t being controlled by the Sycorax this time. He analyzes one of the robot heads and tracks the controlling signal to a star-shaped spacecraft in orbit. Lance gives Donna and the Doctor to H.C. Clements – Donna missed the Torchwood event as well – and the Doctor tracks the Huon particles to a secret sub-basement. Those particles, which haven’t been seen since the Dark Times, connected Donna to the TARDIS since the time capsule is the only other place where they exist. The trio take Segways to a door marked with the Torchwood logo, and the Doctor ascends to the Thames Flood Barrier. The secret base is underneath the landmark river.
They find a series of water capsules in a lab. Someone has been using the river to create the particles and store them in liquid form. The Doctor explains that the Time Lords stopped using Huon particles because they were deadly, and he promises to help rid Donna of them. They’re interrupted by a legion of robots and a sinister voice belonging to a half-spider half-humanoid being, the Empress of the Racnoss. The Racnoss were supposed to have gone extinct during the Dark Times.
They also find a pit dug all the way to the center of the Earth. Chekhov’s pit, perhaps? Spoiler: Not quite.
Above the pit is a giant web, inside which is the corpse of H.C. Clements. The Doctor and Donna try to distract the Empress as Lance sneaks up with an axe, but Lance’s identity is soon revealed. He made her coffee everyday, spiking it with Huon particles while tolerating her obsession with pop culture. He’s been promised a chance to see the stars, and that was enough to betray Donna. The Empress decides to dispose of the Doctor, but he reverses the particle activity and draws the TARDIS around them so they can escape.
The Doctor sets a course back in time as Donna grieves about Lance’s betrayal. They arrive at the creation of the Earth, making Donna the first human to ever see it. Together, they watch as the Racnoss starship arrives, acting as the nucleus for the planet’s formation. At that moment, the TARDIS rocks and is pulled forward to the present day as the Empress floods Lance’s body with Huon particles. To avoid a direct return to the lab, the Doctor smacks the extrapolator and shifts the TARDIS into an abandoned corridor. Unfortunately, they are both soon trapped by the robots.
The Empress extracts the Huon particles from Donna and Lance, projecting the energy into the pit and awakening the sleeping Racnoss below. She then releases Lance as food for her growing horde as her spaceship descends and attacks the city. The Doctor arrives and saves Donna before offering the Empress one last chance to save her people by surrendering. The Empress, of course, declines, and the Doctor warns her that what follows is her own doing.
The Doctor disables the robots before telling the Empress where he’s from. It turns out that the Time Lords were responsible for the extinction of the Racnoss, so the name Gallifrey sparks fear in the Empress. The Doctor uses the explosive ornaments to breach the Thames walls, flooding the complex while the Last of the Time Lords watches with sinister intent. Donna brings him back to his senses as the Empress transmats back to her ship.
On the roads above, tanks roll in and – under orders from Mr. Saxon, who we saw referenced last in Love & Monsters – destroy the ship. The Doctor and Donna surface to find the threat over and the Thames drained. They take the TARDIS back to a nearby road and the duo say goodbye. The Doctor uses temporal energy to start a Christmas snow before offering Donna a chance to travel with him. She declines, despite the adventure they just shared, but she encourages him to find someone because they can help balance the darkness in him.
The Doctor briefly tells Donna about Rose before taking off for his next adventure.
For a fun Christmas tale, this one does the trick. Donna and the Doctor together are amazing, playing off each other in pseudo-confrontational snappy dialogue as they work together to solve the mystery. The source of that threat, on the other hand, was way over the top: The Racnoss Empress chewed the scenery into splinters.
The Doctor is taking some time to mourn for Rose. It seems like just the right amount instead of going to the extreme with a depressed and/or mopey Doctor. He also knows when to set aside his grief to save Donna’s life and stop the Racnoss from destroying the Earth. I also really enjoyed the discussion about the Doctor needing a companion to balance him and rein him, particularly in the post-Time War trauma that the character is experiencing.
Following the episode airdates, we go back to Torchwood at this point and will remain there until the end of the show’s first series.
Rating: 4/5 – “Would you care for a jelly baby?”
UP NEXT – Torchwood: Captain Jack Harkness
The Timestamps Project is an adventure through the televised universe of Doctor Who, story by story, from the beginning of the franchise. For more reviews like this one, please visit the project’s page at Creative Criticality.