by Catriona Mills

Live-blogging Doctor Who, Christmas Special: "The Runaway Bride"

Posted 17 August 2009 in by Catriona

I’m here! I’m here! I’m not too late or anything!

I was fretting that I’d be a little late to this, since we’ve been frantically watching True Blood. But no! I’m right here!

Though, actually, we never did finish the episode of True Blood. I need to watch the last ten minutes of that after I finish live-blogging this Christmas episode.

I wonder if they’ll go straight on to season three after this? That might be intriguing, though I do have a late, late teaching day on Tuesdays. I wonder if I could petition ABC to move this to Sunday nights?

Too late! Here is the beginning of the episode coming up now—though this jumping over walls lark is taking quite some time.

No, here we are—that looks like Earth. And there’s the blushing bride, about to be escorted down the aisle of a seriously enormous church—what’s the point of a veil when it’s worn thrown back like that, I wonder?

Of course, now the bride is literally glowing. And screaming. And disappearing, much to the shock of her guests.

And she reappears in the TARDIS, to the astonishment of a Doctor who really doesn’t need this, having only thirty seconds earlier failed to tell Rose that he loved her. (Or at least I assume that’s what he was going to tell her.)


And now the Doctor’s wondering how she materialised in the TARDIS when it’s in flight.

The bride demands to know where she is, and the Doctor says, “The TARDIS.”

“The what?” she says, before saying, “That’s not even a real word. You’re just saying things.”

The bride’s assuming that “Nerys” is responsible for this, and threatens to sue the Doctor. But when she throws the doors open, it’s obvious she isn’t getting back to the church any time soon, since there’s a nebula outside the doors.

The Doctor introduces herself, and Donna herself: the Doctor asks if she’s human, and she says, “Yeah. Is that optional?”

“It is for me,” says the Doctor, off-handedly.

The Doctor starts babbling about how impossible it is for Donna to even be there, but Donna slaps him—and I don’t really blame him, since she’s been quite hysterical about the idea of missing her wedding.

The Doctor says he’ll get Donna to the church, but Donna finds one of Rose’s T-shirts, and freaks out about whether the Doctor serially abducts women. But the Doctor says no: “I lost her.”

“Well, you can hurry up and lose me,” says Donna.

Back at the church, Donna’s mother is saying this is typical of Donna: “First day of school, she was sent home for biting.”

The TARDIS doesn’t land in Chiswick as planned, and while the Doctor is babbling about what Donna might have eaten or drunk or touched, Donna is freaking out about the dimensions of the TARDIS.

She’s well freaked about missing the wedding now, and the Doctor asks why she isn’t carrying a phone. She rants about the absence of pockets in the average wedding dress. The same goes for when they manage to hail a taxi, and she realises she isn’t carrying any money.

The taxi decants them on the pavement, as Donna shouts after the driver, “And that goes double for your mother!”

She’s such a shock to the system after Rose, is Donna.

The Doctor’s caught up in the “get me to the church on time” mode now, as he makes it possible for Donna to phone and goes to get some money.

But Donna, not trusting him, borrows a tenner from a woman in the street and grabs a taxi—a taxi being driven by one of those plastic Santas from “The Christmas Invasion.”

The Doctor freaks out, but he’s back to the TARDIS in a flash.

The taxi driver, oddly enough, isn’t taking the most direct route to St Mary’s, Chiswick, which makes more sense when Donna rips his mask off and sees what’s underneath.

The TARDIS is in “full explosion” mode.

NICK: Time machines shouldn’t be doing this, Doctor. It ain’t right, though it looks awesome.

But here comes the TARDIS, spinning down the freeway behind the taxi. The Doctor manages to keep the TARDIS running alongside the taxi while he opens the door (by controlling the TARDIS with string), but Donna’s unwilling to just jump out of the taxi).

NICK: Get some fuses, Doctor.

The integration of special effects in this scene is rather awesome.

Donna doesn’t want to jump.

DOCTOR: Trust me.
DONNA: Is that what you said to your friend? The one you lost? Did she trust you?
DOCTOR: Yes, she did. And she’s not dead. She’s so alive.


Donna jumps, much to the delight of the children watching ecstatically from the cars nearby.

The TARDIS is a little burnt out by all this—the Doctor points out that for a space ship, she doesn’t do that much actual flying: they need to give her a couple of hours.

Of course, they’ve missed the wedding by now, anyway.

Donna wishes that the Doctor had a time machine, because then they could go back and do it properly. The Doctor says yes, but no: he couldn’t go back on someone’s personal timelime. “Apparently,” he adds, diplomatically.

He gives Donna a ring/bio-dampener (“Do you have to rub it in?” she asks), to cover the signal that the robots are tracking.

DOCTOR: With this ring, I thee bio-damp.

The Doctor is still wondering why the robots are tracking her: he’s running a machine over her, and insisting, “I mean, you’re not special or anything.”

DONNA: This friend of yours, before she left, did she punch you in the face? Stop bleeping me!

Donna explains to the Doctor that she used to work somewhere called H.C. Clemens—“a fancy name for locksmith,” she reckons—and that’s where she met Lance, her intended.

But before the Doctor can figure out how this makes her attractive to the robots, Donna says it’s time to face to music—won’t everyone be annoyed at missing out on the huge reception she had planned?

But, no: they’re having the reception without her.

The Doctor’s not much fun at this party: he’s not wearing a tie on his head or inventing banana daiquiris or anything. What he is doing is flashing back on memories of Rose and generally feeling sorry for himself.

Fair enough—Rose only left about two hours ago.

So he wonders over to the videographer, and works out that what made Donna disappear were huon particles (oh, I’ll check the spelling later)—but they’re ancient, he says. So ancient that they can’t be hidden by a bio-dampener.

And sure enough, there are the robot Santas, and the Doctor now notices the Christmas trees everywhere. So Donna and the Doctor are screaming at everyone to get away from the trees, when Donna’s mother tells them not to be ridiculous.

Sure enough, the Christmas baubles start exploding.

I love Christmas.

I love long sequences in which things explode, because it allows me to catch up with the live-blogging.

The Doctor manages to make the robots explode—and various guests’ brains bleed out their eardrums—by plugging his sonic screwdriver into the sound system.

Donna tells the Doctor to stop rabbiting on: he’s a Doctor, she says, and people have been hurt. He could help. But no: he says he has to think of the bigger picture, the signal.

And Donna, like any good companion, barely pauses a moment before dashing out into the street after him.

The Doctor says that the signal is coming from above the planet, and we see a sinister red-skinned figure ranting and raving about the cleverness of the Doctor and the desire to descend to earth, as we see a wheeling shape that is half spiderweb and half Christmas ornament.

Somewhere in the next scene, the Doctor describes Donna as a pencil in a mug, which is a neat way of describing the way huon particles attract each other.

But on the computer, the Doctor can see something evident beneath the H.C. Clemens building where Donna, Lance, and the Doctor are looking for clues.

LANCE: Are you telling me there’s a secret floor in this building?
DOCTOR: No, I’m . . . showing you there’s a secret floor in this building.

Ah, narratology jokes. I love them.

The Doctor plans to descend, but Donna won’t let him out of her sight, and she orders Lance to go down, too.

Meanwhile, the red-skinned creature is a little too keen to see Donna coming, saying the bride is her key.

There’s an entire secret base under here, much to Donna’s surprise. (DOCTOR: I know. Oh, I know, love.) To the Doctor’s surprise, there’s a room devoted to building huon particles, which are inside Donna.

The Doctor gets a little too excited describing how the particles are activated by the chemical overload incited by the wedding-day excitement, and Donna slaps him again.

DOCTOR: What did I do this time?
DONNA: Are you enjoying this?

And the Doctor can’t say anything. And that’s why the Doctor needs Donna around: she can bring him down to earth (so to speak) in a way that his other companions can’t.

But the red-skinned creature speaks to the Doctor, and he taunts and taunts until the creature agrees to come down to earth: she is, the Doctor says, one of the Rachnos.

Empress of the Rachnos, she insists. And the last of the Rachnos.

The Doctor says that the Rachnos are ancient, but they should all have been wiped out. All but the Empress.

Lance is sneaking up on the Empress at this point, with a fire axe over his shoulder, and Donna distracts the Empress’s attention so that Lance can get close enough.

But Lance, of course, is in the Empress’s employ. He’s been dousing Donna with huon particles in their morning coffee for six months—he moans about the “never-ending fountain of fat, stupid trivia” that he had to put up with, agreeing to Donna’s proposal so she didn’t run off.

He’s a highly unpleasant character, is Lance.

Donna’s crushed here, but when the Empress asks her robots to shoot the Doctor, Donna jumps in front of him, telling them she won’t let them hurt him.

But the Doctor has a plan: just as the huon particles in the TARDIS drew Donna in, he can draw the TARDIS down to cover them.

And he takes them back in time to the beginning, to see what is buried at the planet’s core that could possibly be drawing the Empress of the Rachnos’s attention.

So they go back 4.5 billion years, to the moment when the Sun is brand new and the Earth is just now beginning to coalesce from the dust and rocks around them.

Donna says it puts the wedding in perspective, and that Lance was right (when he ranting about why he was betraying Donna): they’re so tiny.

But the Doctor says no: that’s what humans do, make sense out of chaos by marking it out with weddings and Christmas and calendars. All this is marvelous, he says, but meaningless if there’s no one there to observe it.

He’s such a scientist.

But, sure enough, the core at the centre of the new Earth is a Rachnos ship.

Meanwhile, the Empress is force-feeding Lance huon particles, to make him the key in Donna’s absence.

And the Empress activates the huon particles to draw Donna back to join Lance. The Doctor manages to keep Donna way from the Empress, but, as he’s explaining the Empress’s plan, Donna is kidnapped by robots.

The Empress really has a terrible, terrible sense of humour.

NICK: She must have been watching a lot of television while orbiting the Earth.

But her sense of humour isn’t necessary when she’s activating the key: she uses it to awaken her children, buried in the depths of the Earth for 4.5 billion years. As the children start climbing, and the Empress summons her spaceship to her, she also drops Lance down the tunnel to feed her starving offspring.

This is also what the spaceship is there for, to harvest humans for the omnivorous, starving Rachnos.

The Doctor manages to release Donna, though he doesn’t manage to catch her as she swings down from the web on the roof.

And the Doctor offers the Empress a chance: he will find her a planet on which she and her children can co-exist. When she rejects his offer, he tells her that what happens next is her own fault.

She tries to have her robots destroy him, but he has the control he took from Donna’s reception.

Then he reveals himself as a Time Lord—much to the Empress’s screaming horror—and blows up the Thames flood barrier above them, pouring water through the facility and into the tunnel up which the Rachnos are climbing, drowning them all as the Empress keens, “My children! My children!”

This is the most implacable we’ve seen the Doctor up to this point. This broke my heart the first time around.

But Donna talks the Doctor down from the ledge (metaphorically speaking): the Empress transports back to her ship but—under orders from Mr Saxon (hmm, I wonder who that could be?)—the army fires at will and blows her ship from the sky, as the Doctor and Donna climb up onto the Thames flood barrier, now in the middle of a completely dry river.

The Doctor drops Donna back at her house, but she points out that the absence of huon particles is a small blessing, considering everything else that has happened.

So the Doctor makes it snow for her. (“Basic atmospheric excitation,” he says.)


The Doctor asks what she’s going to do now, and she says she doesn’t know: “Just go out there and do something.”

You’re breaking my heart, Donna! Retrospectively.

The Doctor says she could come with him, but Donna doesn’t even pause before she says no. He’s hurt, but she explains that she couldn’t live her life like that every day.

DONNA: That place was flooding and burning and they were dying, and you stood there like, I don’t know, a stranger.

That’s why the Doctor needs you, Donna. You could always talk him down from the ledge, couldn’t you?

Donna talks the Doctor into having Christmas dinner but he, saying he just has to park the TARDIS properly (“She might drift off to the Middle Ages, or something”), slips into the TARDIS and starts to dematerialise.

Donna calls him back (“Blimey, you can shout”) and she tells him to find someone, because he needs someone to talk him down.

He leaves again, with parting words:

DOCTOR: Be magnificent.
DONNA: I think I will, yeah.

And you were, Donna. And then the Doctor stripped your mind and your memories and left you with nothing.

And I cried.

Share your thoughts [10]


Nick wrote at Aug 17, 01:17 pm

Apart from the even-by-RTD-standards bonkers science, that one holds up quite well as a Christmas special. Possibly better than any of the others (though I’m very fond of David Morrisey’s anchoring performance in “The Next Doctor”).


Catriona wrote at Aug 17, 01:27 pm

I thought David Morrissey was very good, as well—and Sarah Parrish (just to continue the Blackpool casting call) is completely bizarre and awesome in this—but I haven’t been really blown away by any of the specials this season.

I’m pinning my hopes on “Waters of Mars,” as I think I’ve mentioned before.

It seems a shame, though, when Torchwood did (no spoilers!) brilliant things with their five specials for the year.


Wendy wrote at Aug 17, 09:19 pm

I agree – little bit strange watching this in hindsight – after seeing donna become the companion. The magnificent line got me too!


Tim wrote at Aug 18, 06:45 am

> So he wonders over to the videographer, and works out that what made Donna disappear were huon particles (oh, I’ll check the spelling later)—

I’d never thought of this until now, but there’s a possible pun here in ‘who-on’.


Catriona wrote at Aug 18, 11:26 am

And I’d never noticed to till this point that I wrote “wonders” instead of “wanders.”

We’ll just pretend that’s a terribly witty pun, shall we?

(Psst, Tim? Thanks for not pointing that out!)


Tim wrote at Aug 18, 01:22 pm

(My pleasure!)


Drew wrote at Aug 19, 05:41 am

hmm, your anti-Rose, pro -Donna bias is showing slighly. :)

What happens when Martha appears, hmmm?

Personally, I never warmed to Donna. I thought the characterisation and development was brilliant, that it was the best of the four new companions but, maybe it was the actor, I never quite took to her. Of course, that could be the result of my pro-Rose bias. :P


Catriona wrote at Aug 19, 06:10 am

Oh, I don’t think that’s entirely fair, Drew!


I did try not to be anti-Rose here, and emphasised that it’s so immediately after she disappeared that it’s not surprising that the Doctor is a little shell-shocked.

And I don’t have an anti-Rose bias. Not at this point. (Yes, I did at the end of season four, I admit.) I just don’t have a particularly strong pro-Rose bias.

But what’s going on here isn’t about me not liking Rose; it’s about me liking Donna. Re-watching this episode for the first time after the events of season four just made me realise all over again how horrified I was by the end of that season. I did love Donna—she took a while to grow on me, but she did, and when she was lobotomised, I was devastated. I didn’t expect her to last more than a season, but she could have had a happier ending than that.

I still maintain, though, that Rose didn’t talk the Doctor down from the ledge like Donna does. Part of that is that I don’t think she entirely realised that there was a ledge, sometimes: she was very young, and very much in love, and she saw the Doctor as omnipotent.

But Donna’s a different type of companion—and what I hear, when she talks about how hard it is to see the Doctor standing there among the fire and the flood like that, is an echo of my own disturbance at that implacability.

Martha? I think Martha was badly served by the show. She was the post-Rose companion, and she suffered by comparison, because she was too Rose-lite, in many ways. Making her in love with the Doctor was a serious mistake, I feel.

Not all companions have to be in love with the Doctor. They weren’t when I were a lass.

Rose? Fine: no arguments here. But make it every single one, and you end up weakening the impact of Rose’s love and really, really annoying me.


Drew wrote at Aug 19, 06:37 am

Just teasing Treen, just teasing. :) I agree with you about Rose and Martha. I love Martha but the romance thing bothered me. I can accept that sooner or later one of the Doctor’s companions was going to fall in love with him (though Davies seemed to want all of them to), but following one straight after the other does cheapen it.

Obviously I have a pre-Rose bias; first new companion of the revamped Who and introduced quite originally I thought, the 3-part time trilogy of the first 3 three episdoes are still among my favourites of the 5 year series.

That said, (and I’m sure I’ve said this here before) I’ve never been comfortable with the Rose/Doctor love affair simply because she is a child. He overwhelmed her as any older man has the potential to overwhelm a much younger woman, he had a power over her and that he used it without consciousness and that the show never reflected on it disturbs me somewhat.


Catriona wrote at Aug 19, 06:54 am

The age difference is rather extreme, I admit.

I also wondered, sometimes, what other aspects of that relationship were not fleshed out (so to speak).

When the Doctor mentions that he had children (or a child, at least), it’s obvious from Rose’s expression that he’s never mentioned this before.

She doesn’t ask him, but that doesn’t surprise me. I wouldn’t ask him either, under those circumstances. (And Rose is shown as being intensely jealous of the Doctor’s affections: I don’t blame her for that and I can understand it.)

But, at the same time, they must talk about this at some point, surely? Not only does she now know that he is a father (and, as we know, a grandfather), but she must know that his children are dead. She knows he’s the last of his people.

I can accept Rose being in love with the Doctor. I wasn’t in love with that concept myself, but meh: I’m not the only fan out there. But I can’t accept it as a grand, true, happy-ever-after, fill-in-the-cliche love when it seems to lack any kind of awareness of (or perhaps interest in) continuity or history or actual shared, lived experience.

It’s all so immediate and ephemeral.

Ah, I’m not explaining myself well. It’s just something that always struck me.

(And, forget grand love affairs or even frustrated companions: the one moment that always, always brings tears to my eyes is—peripherally—a Martha moment, and that’s when the Doctor talks about Gallifrey for, really, the first time in the re-booted series.)

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