‘Tis the season to be… invaded, apparently. Earth doesn’t have much luck at Christmas, having narrowly escaped the Sycorax the previous year and now under attack from a Racnoss Empress’s spaceship and her legions of spidery children buried deep within the heart of the planet. The Doctor doesn’t get a tea break either, as this story follows directly on from the season 2 finale, and a mysterious bride has materialised aboard the Tardis. Which is impossible! Except where ancient ‘huon particles’ are involved. Right.
Donna is… well, Catherine Tate. Almost exactly as excruciating as you might imagine. I say “almost” because, when she’s not blustering and yelling and being obnoxious, she’s sort of okay. If nothing else, she’s completely down-to-Earth, less concerned with the impossible things happening around her than she is by her own life and love. She has no idea about the Sycorax invading last year (she had a hangover), and no idea about the Cybermen and Daleks battling it out over Earth (she was scuba diving in Spain), which is pretty funny actually, and it sums up humanity in the new series of Doctor Who quite nicely – oblivious, ignorant, self-absorbed.
I’ll have more to say about Donna in season 4, but for now, it’s noteworthy that she’s not a Rose replacement. This isn’t a doe-eyed young potential love interest. Donna is her own person, here for her own reasons, and is not afraid of bossing the Doctor around. After fifty years of Doctor Who, a new companion doesn’t seem like a significant event, but bear in mind this was the first change of supporting cast since the show’s revival. Rose was Doctor Who for a large part of this new audience, and now that focus has to change. Thankfully, David Tennant plays a strong enough role to carry it, whomever he’s paired with. Donna tells the Doctor he needs somebody to stop him from doing terrible things, and as we’ve seen and will continue to see, that much is true.
As this is a Christmas special, it has a bigger budget to play with. This has produced some impressive sequences such as the Tardis chasing the taxi along the motorway and the formation of the Earth from bits of rock in space. The Empress’s make-up and prosthetics are similarly-impressive. The whole planet may be in danger again, but the collateral damage is isolated to a small area of London (the residents of which will probably dismiss the spaceship as a Christmas themed stunt). The order for the tanks to fire on the ship comes from Prime Minister Saxon, who will be very important in the next season, but for now is just some subtle foreshadowing.
The Runaway Bride hasn’t improved with age, but it’s not terrible either. It’s a solid and well-paced adventure that successfully introduces a new companion without feeling too contrived. It’s good-humoured but with some emotional moments too. There is, however, far too much use of the sonic screwdriver. I know that it’s shorthand for “move the plot along”, but it’s overused now. The villain is striking, but never evolves beyond a carnivorous monster with a disregard for life. Her origins speak of darker times in the ancient universe, and the beginnings of the Earth itself. Like anything else, though, this is brushed off and will likely be forgotten about. For Donna Noble, life goes on… until they meet again.