Catherine Tate’s Doctor Who debut, evil spiders, mopey David Tennant, it had it all!
I’ll admit, choosing a Doctor Who episode as my favourite Christmas Special feels like a cop out. It seems ‘too mainstream’ or something equally ridiculous, but in my defence, I don’t really have much to draw on. I forget most festive television after I’ve watched it once, and I’m going to play the Young One card here. So the Runaway Bride is my favourite Christmas Special, and you can all just lump it.
The Runaway Bride was one of the first times I’d ever seen Catherine Tate on the television, having a vague recollection of not being allowed to listen to the swearing Gran a few years before. Needless to say, 11-year-old me was impressed. I really enjoyed watching a female character that wasn’t (and goodness me this isn’t an anti- Rose comment, let’s not get into that) designed to be companion straight from the off. Donna was brash and suffered no fools, whilst also playing the part of the distressed bride perfectly. I adored the way that she took the fact that she was travelling in a ‘magic blue box’ completely in her stride, her mind completely focused on other things: “I’m in my wedding dress!” (“Yes, you look lovely, now come on!”). It also forged lovely links with the previous year’s Christmas Special (The Christmas Invasion) with the robot Santas putting in an appearance.
I get the feeling that writing about this episode and singing its praises is a tad redundant, seeing as it was broadcast on what is probably the most watched terrestrial channel on Christmas Day so I’m not really promoting or recommending it since I’d wager most people have already seen it. Still, it was bloody good, wasn’t it?
Something that I’ve always felt Doctor Who does really splendidly is make the mundane seem terrifying (for the most part Moffat, I am looking at you), and with this episode it was very much the same. Spiders? Always a winner in frightening a sizeable chunk of the population. Really massive spiders who make up the core of the Earth? Well, there’s a new one. Doctor Who loves to make children paranoid, doesn’t it? As well as that, for several years after the episode was broadcast, I was distinctly wary of the Christmas lights on Oxford Street, given that they looked suspiciously like the Racnoss ship that came down from the sky and started killing people. Hey, I was only thirteen at the time.
It featured some really lovely emotional moments too, which I always thought was Russell T Davies’ forte, keeping the storyline delightfully human, like an episode of any other television drama with normal characters, except with more space and aliens. Donna’s disaster of an engagement/wedding to a traitorous fiancé was spared no tears, and Tate was once again brilliant, maintaining her abrasive humour whilst being a heartbroken bride (who, naturally, diverted all of her upset into jokes and shouting).
Of course, like every other episode of Doctor Who ever, it has its bittersweet ending, with Donna declining an invitation to join him (a surprise twist!) but telling the Doctor to find someone new. It provided a brilliant link between the previous series and the next, with some nice tips of the hat to previous episodes and, as it later turned out, episodes to come.
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