I’m not quite sure where to begin with this one. It is very much a mixed bag, and I honestly can’t quite decide whether there’s more good or more bad, but I’m leaning towards the latter. “The Runaway Bride” is full of ideas, but not all of them work. And the villain of the piece is embarassingly over the top.
I suppose I’ll hit the low points first, just to get them out of the way and allow me to end the review on a high note as much as possible. The entire premise of the story is ridiculous, quite frankly. The rather crudely named Racnoss (from arachnid, because they are spider people – get it?) have a spaceship at the core of the Earth, because the Earth formed around it in prehistoric times. “Underworld”-haters the world over ought to be laughing themselves silly at RTD’s reuse of the idea. The Racnoss queen leaves them there for some reason and goes out to hide at the edge of the galaxy, returning four billion years later. Huh? Why the long wait? How long do these things live?
But it gets better. Or worse, depending on your point of view. The queen somehow makes contact with a human named Lance, who rather than run away screaming at the sight of a giant alien spider thing, agrees to help her by slowly feeding Huon particles into a woman at the office named Donna, the runaway bride of the title. Huon particles are apparently not very small, because the Doctor can recognize them from a video recording. And as a plot device, they’re mighty useful, because they can also disassemble Donna on her wedding day, transport her thousands of light years to the TARDIS (because the Huon particles want to be with other Huon particles that only exist in the TARDIS) and reassemble her.
Have you turned off the TV yet? This is the craziest, most ill-concieved plot I think I’ve ever seen in Doctor Who, a show not known for being down to earth. The willing suspension of disbelief is stretched well past the breaking point. And even if you can swallow the absurd plot, all viewer good will goes out the window when the Racnoss queen appears. She has to be the most stupidly melodramatic villain ever seen in Doctor Who, and that’s saying something. I was, for the first time ever, a bit embarrassed to be watching the show any time she was onscreen. There’s no subtlety to her performance at all. It’s terrible to watch. And to add insult to injury, the makeup and effects used to create the queen look quite good, but she does nothing except stand in one spot. No walking, no running, no attempting to stab the Doctor with her huge blades for hands, nothing.
And the Doctor drains the Thames down into the center of the Earth to drown the baby Racnoss. HE DRAINS THE THAMES. Do I really need to comment on how stupid that is? Time to go back and apologize to Professor Zaroff then. And we never see the hole filled in either, so the Thames can return to its normal course. How a hole leading all the way to the center of the earth could be filled in is another pressing question.
The sheer stupidity of this plot boggles the mind.
Oh, and the Doctor spends way too much time pining away for Rose. Ack, gag. He’s the Doctor, blast it, not a lovesick teenager! Enough already! I literally could not believe that the Doctor stands there during the reception and imagines himself dancing with Rose. Has it come to this? The Doctor daydreaming about and pining away for a lost love? Pure character assassination.
So, what do we have so far? Ridiculous plot contrivances and cartoony villains. Is there anything worth watching in “The Runaway Bride”, or are you better off just skipping it entirely?
I’d lean toward skipping it, but there is one thing that makes large swaths of this episode worth seeing, and that is Catherine Tate as Donna Noble, the bride-to-be. I remember reading a lot of groans and moans about her casting when it was first announced. I’ve never seen her in anything else, so I had no feelings one way or the other on my viewing of the story. And frankly, I thought she was very good. Her character was spirited and played well off of David Tennant’s Doctor, and she came across as sympathetic and likeable. Yeah, she’s bad-tempered at first, but having been kidnapped (sort of) on her wedding day, one can hardly blame her. Tate’s acting is good, and her comic timing excellent. The news that she’ll be back for season four is good news as far as I’m concerned. Her performance is the one thing that salvages “The Runaway Bride” and gives it any real entertainment value at all. Not that I’ll be watching it again any time soon, regardless. But it’s nice to know my hour wasn’t entirely wasted.
Oh, and the TARDIS chase on the freeway was quite good, and something we’ve never seen before.
Overall: what were they thinking? What a waste of the talent involved. Last year’s Christmas special had problems, but it was a minor masterpiece compared to this year. “The Runaway Bride” is just about as bad as “Boom Town” or “Love and Monsters”, it’s just bad in different ways. If you must watch it, the first half and the last five minutes are the better bits. If you don’t see it, you haven’t missed much.