Earth vs. The Spider
Well, blast! I've been away too long, and, now that I've suddenly found the time to contribute, they've decided to put the poor blog out of its misery, giving me but a scant few days in which to post some reviews. I know many of you have been eagerly awaiting my imminent missives on "Inferno" and "The Revenge of the Slitheen". Unfortunately, I'm afeared that I can't get to those quite yet, as I'm eager to write this timely review of the 2007 Doctor Who Chri'tmas Special. I'd better get going, before it's too late and no longer "of the moment"...so, without further ado, here's my second ever review.
I must admit that I had a certain amount of trepidation going into the Christmas Special for a number of reasons: a new stunt-casted guest companion; yet another a script from the inconsistent hand of Russell T. Davies; a comic-cliffhanger to resolve from the end of the season finale, the inevitable dash of religion...danger at every turn.
Despite my understandable misgivings, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that, aside from a few major missteps, Davies has penned a tightly-scripted, enjoyable romp with room for character development, some clever humour, and relatively few gaping holes in the plot. Sure, there were some familiar stock plot items (pursuit by killer robots controlled by a broadly-drawn malevolent antagonist, a threat to the entire population of the Earth, David Tennant gurning and shouting, use of a sonic scwoodwivah), but I wasn't that bothered by this lack of originality...who knows, they may well end using these elements for two or three Christmas specials in a row?
This year's yuletide festival of Doctor Whoness begins with Catherine Tate (as Donna Noble) getting sucked into the TARDIS just as she's about to get married to a smarmy git named Lance. The flabbergasted Doctor returns her to Earth, where she is promptly pursued and captured by the previous year's robotic scavengers, still in period costume as department-store Santas. The Doctor heroically saves her a couple of times before figuring out that the robots were under someone else's control the entire time. The villain is revealed to be a creature from the "dark times", the Queen of the Racnoss, some sort of cross between Gozer the Gozerian and a 1975 Volkswagon Beetle.
Following the Battle of Canary Wharf the Queen of the Racnoss has apparently squatted an abandoned Torchwood facility and, with the help of Lance (who has thumbs), is sifting ancient "huon" particles out of the filthy water of the Thames (you'd be amazed what you can find in there), and using it spike Donna's coffee. (If you think Torchwood's only huge shaft belongs to John Barrowman, think again--this place has one that penetrates all the way to the center of the Earth.) Donna, now the Keymaster, is intended to help bring about the end times, and if it weren't for
you meddling kids The Doctor, she'd have gotten away with it, too.
Overall I was pleased that Davies managed to reign in his more extravagant tendencies with the plot, and actually managed to turn out a story that was largely internally consistent, much like good science fiction. Rather than resolve the plot with deus ex machina supernatural powers, the Doctor relied on mechanisms that were plausible within the already-established setting of the story. In order to have the TARDIS materialize around them, he used the same property of huon particles defined earlier in the programme. ("If you think about it, the particles activated in Donna and drew here inside my spaceship. So, reverse it...the spaceship comes to her.") Even using the sound system at the reception to amplify a sonic screwdriver isn't as arbitrary as it might seem.
(Okay...here's a niggling plot-hole sort of thing...if they didn't need Donna to be "the key" anymore, then why did they bother to use the huons to bring her and the TARDIS back from billions of years earlier? If they could bring Donna back, why did they bother to do the whole foie gras thing with Lance to make him into the new key?)
While there seems to have been substantial controversy surrounding the TARDIS "chase scene", I found it to be quite exhilarating. It's always nice to watch the Doctor (any Doctor) operate the TARDIS: pulling levers, twisting knobs, wheels, gears, sparks, hammers, etc. (I'm glad the doctor hasn't replaced his console with a new "laptop" version, where we can only watch him crouch over a tiny mouse-pad thing and click at things on the screen. This is why the laptop has killed electronic music....) Then we got to see the police box bounce and careen its way down the M4 for a dramatic rescue. When the kids in the back of the car punched the air at the successful rescue, so did we at-home viewers. Even the accompanying music was thrilling. We also got the excellent exchange: "I'm in my wedding dress!" "Yes! You look lovely! COME ON!"
If there was one particularly glaring weak point in the 2007 Doctor Who Christmas special, it was the over-the-top scenery-chewing of the antagonist, as portrayed by Sarah Parish, pictured here:
While Parish's performance may have had less subtlety than electrodes on the genitalia, she was also clearly limited by the script, which forced her to utter cartoonishly ridiculous lines such as, "By the Great Parrot of Hades, you shall pay for this with the last drop of your blood! Every corpuscle, do you hear? Mister Fibuli!" and "By the curl-ed fangs of the Sky Demon, how I have looked forward to this moment!" Every "Moons of Madness!" or "And your little dog, too!" or "By the bursting suns of Banzar, Mr. Fibuli, where are my crystals?" had me cringing.
Months before this Chri'tmas special found its way onto our televisions, irate fans were pulling their hair out about Catherine Tate's casting and predicting utter disaster. While the character of Donna ends up being a somewhat mixed result, I don't think most of the problems lie in Tate's portrayal so much as they stem from writing that can't decide whether she's a genuine character or low comic relief. For the first 10 or 15 minutes of the programme Tate's character just brays at the top of her lungs like she's having difficulty being heard over a shouty David Tennant. When the character finally starts to deepen, as she and the Doctor are chatting on top of some roof after she's missed her own wedding, it's sabotaged by a flashback that's at least as misguided an idea as "Alien vs. Predator", where she's annoyingly hounding Lance to marry her. The script continuously throws obstacles in the path of character development, alternately giving the character some emotional depth and then going to ridiculous lengths to portray Donna as both shallow and thick (I can remember when those were opposites....) Her obliviousness to the Christmas and Cyberman invasions and "I thought July" were clever bits of fun, but "can't find Germany on a map"? "A woman who thinks the height of excitement is new flavour of Pringle?" It's like RTD wants us to find her annoying. Nevertheless, in less than an hour she's actually been able to develop from a bellowing, arm-flailing caricature into a character with some degree of depth and pathos that I could actually care about, and a damn sight faster than Mickey Smith, who took more than a season to overcome his annoyance status. At least some of this is the result of Catherine Tate doing some genuine acting when the script gave her something to work with.
And at least they didn't do anything ridiculous like have the Doctor immediately fall in love with her before she sacrifices herself and an innocent forklift plunging the Racnoss Queen into the bottomless pit; that wouldn't work at all.
There were a number of other fine things to enjoy about the 2007 Doctor Who Christmas special. As one would expect, Euros Lyn's direction and pacing were excellent. The Mill turned in some excellent special effects, particularly in the sequences depicting the formation of the earth and the Thames flooding the shaft. I even rather liked the spidery parts of the Racnoss.
Incidentally (no pun intended) I rather enjoyed much of Murray Gold's rollicking contribution to "The Runaway Bride". High points include the upbeat bit while The Doctor is waiting impatiently for his turn at the cashpoint and the outright lifting from Gershwin while he's looking out over the Thames flood barrier. Come to think of it, I think Gershwin haunted much of the proceedings.
Other random items that deserve a mention:
- The best David Tennant character moment in the entire programme was the Doctor's exasperated "I'm...I'm not...I'm not, I'm not from Mars...."
- Another fine line: "Only a madman talks to thin air...and trust me, you don't want to make me mad. Where are you?"
- This exchange was a lovely in-joke: "What...there's, like, a secret base hidden underneath a major London Landmark?" "I know! Unheard of."
- I rather enjoyed seeing a religious symbol like the "Star of Christmas" turned into an instrument of destruction. Maybe next year they can depict the baby Jeebus as the bloodthirsty spawn of an alien abduction, or even, dare I imagine, the cross as some sort of torture device.
- The pockets! Bigger on the inside than the outside! It's like two references to earlier in the episode in one!
- While I quickly tired of Lance once he became an abusive asshole, he does get the clever "Director of Human Resources"/"This time, it's personnel!" quip.
- Why does everything seem to happen to the Earth? This time not only is there some event happening on the Earth with galaxy-spanning ramifications, but the entire planet only exists as a hiding place for baby Racnosses.
So, in conclusion, while there was certainly room for improvement in "The Runaway Bride", my overall impression is positive. It was an entertaining slice of well-plotted fun.
Well, at least they didn't pad the bloody thing by another ten minutes, and turn it into a bloated, hamfisted, cliche-ridden disaster-movie panto with piss-poor science, massive plot-holes, the Queen of England, and an annoying tiny red metaphor named after a coffee drink. That would be bad.
The biggest disappointment I'm coming away with after this programme is that, after the development the character has had in just these short 60 minutes, Donna has declined to become a companion of the Doctor, and now we'll never see what might have resulted from that possibility.
I guess now we'll never know.