Doctor Who, "The Runaway Bride"

BBC One * 7.00pm, Christmas Day
Director: Euros Lyn
Starring: David Tennant, Catherine Tate, Sarah Parish
Rating:

Last year, the big question hanging over Doctor Who’s maiden Christmas special was: “Can Doctor Who carry on without Christopher Eccleston”? “Yes!” came the reply, followed by a whoop. This time, it has to prove that Doctor Who has a future post-Billie Piper. Signing up a marquee name as her stop-gap replacement seems like a good insurance policy…

So, “The Runaway Bride” picks up exactly where “Doomsday” finished all those months ago, with Catherine Tate’s mardy madam, in her wedding dress, screaming “Where am I?”s at an incredulous David Tennant. Seems she was beamed into the TARDIS halfway through her wedding. An impossibility, reasons the Doc. But he’s been around too long to believe himself when he says that. Soon, in classic tradition, the race is on to get her to the church on time…

Doctor Who’s never really done anything like “The Runaway Bride” before. There’s a bit of The 39 Steps in there and a heavy dumping of screwball comedy too. And at one point it suddenly becomes a Hollywood action movie… Never in two years of peacock Doctor Who and in 26 years of pawn shop Who have we seen anything as jaw-slackening as this sequence. Russell T Davies knows that for Doctor Who to compete on Christmas Day it has to run with its balls out to compete for people’s attention in a pissed-up living room, in a way Saturday Who doesn’t have to. When Sarah Parish’s villain turns up it becomes as big and as visual as Who’s ever been. It’s a masterpiece of prosthetics and visual effects: slightly naff but at the same time brilliant.

Catherine Tate’s a curious celebrity in that she wins awards and has hit TV shows, and yet a sizeable amount of the public not only can’t warm to her, but actively dislike her. Her gnarly, sarky Donna won’t win over those people, but it’s her who really makes “The Runaway Bride”. Tennant, meanwhile, is as good as ever, and has even toned down some of the face-gurning and Over Emphasis Of Certain Words.

“The Runaway Bride” doesn’t have quite the festive feel of last year’s “The Christmas Invasion” – it doesn’t feel so in love with the season. Sillier in tone than last year’s special, this is Russell T Davies indulging that voice inside of him that most seems to grate with certain members of the viewing public (the voice that whispers “farting Slitheen”). But few writers have that tone of voice that fits so snugly with what you want at 7.00pm on Christmas Day after a couple of Baileys and a snooze.

Reviewer: Steve O’Brien