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.