When I first saw the "pirated" clip of the chase sequence, I choked on the score, as is usual for me with this production team’s Doctor Who efforts: MURRAY AT FULL THROTTLE™ (and a bit). The physics of the thing also raised an eyebrow, until I was reminded by fellow loafers that this Doctor Who, and as far as Physics is concerned at the moment, Einstein’s Theories of Relativity forbid faster-than-lightspeed travel, one of the cruces of the whole show. Which makes guffawing at the TARDIS’s looping about suspect. Except that, of course, that it was funny.
Fitted into the context of the episode, however, it worked seamlessly - except for MURRAY, of course. To be fair, even MURRAY was seamless at that point, but only because he was, as usual, like that all the way through. I’ve said if before, and unhappily I’ll no doubt say it again: bashing people’s eardrums relentlessly for an hour does not make for good drama. Except, of course from the tension developed because it is so bloody relentless. Like being beaten on the head repeatedly with a hammer, but not nearly as much fun. Less is more, OK? (Speaking of which, I had hoped to present a shorter review tha last time, but I had a couple of things to get off my chest.)
But I’m preaching to the converted here, so I’ll shut up about MURRAY for a bit. Probably. Bah! Bollocks to that, where’s the baseball bat! It really detracts from the drama. He also had a field day ripping off - sorry, paying homage to - Johann Strauss Jr, George Gershwin (fragments from Summertime and Rhapsody in Blue) and 60s cop dramas/James Bond movies. Don’t worry MURRAY - when you stop hammering nails through my ears, I’ll probably start applauding you (for turning down the volume, if nothing else).
Still, he and the Who production team are not alone. I recently had the misfortune to (attempt to) see the movie Happy Feet. It looked spectacular and appeared to be a story about some Antarctic penguins, but I can’t tell what it was really like because we spent most of the time with our fingers jammed in our ears, and didn’t walk out only because our daughter would have kicked up too much of a fuss, fingers-in-ears notwithstanding. You could hear the speakers breaking up, even with fingers firmly implanted. I dare say that the theatre’s rationale was along the lines of "It’s a disco sound track, let’s give 'em a disco volume level". We weren’t the only people who complained to the management - although apparently one complained (I suspect sarcastically) that it wasn’t loud enough. The cinema wrote back to say that they had wound the volume down later, but I think they’re going to have to get some new speakers before too long. Fortunately, with MURRAY, we can turn him down. Unfortunately, however, you then miss the dialogue. Well, you miss it even when the volume’s up so what’s the difference?
OK. Having sated my MURRAY-bashing for the time being, I must confess that I enjoyed The Runaway Bride against my expectations. It wasn’t Doctor Who so much as a Christmas pantomime starring the Doctor. This is looking to be Mr Davies’ approach to the Who Christmas specials, which is fair enough. Laughs, hi-jinks and a at least one villain are usually the order of the day there. Last year’s offering was more of the same, so to speak. Sort of like a shorter version of an nth Anniversary Doctor Who Special. So, given that we’re apparently watching a pantomime, the usual level of criticism as applied to mainstream Doctor Who should probably be replaced with something more appropriate. Like a complete, no-holds-barred Torchwood-style demolition. Er, just kidding.
With the bad press that Catherine Tate has had from her TV comedy show (I still haven’t seen her in anything else yet, for one reason and another), I was anticipating a dire performance. In the event it seemed to me that she gave a pretty good run for the BBC's (and the viewers') money.
The story’s pantomime nature was fully revealed with the appearance of the Empress of the Racnoss. She was something of a cross between the hissing cloaked Panto-villain and the creaky old Panto-horse, with an overdose of Sid Vicious added for just a bit more fun. I squirmed with embarrassment at the first sight of this creature, but when I realised its function, I relaxed and continued to enjoy the show as much as was possible, what with MURRAY blasting me up against a wall at every opportunity. I would never in a pink fit have guessed that it was Sarah Parish of Blackpool fame though, had I not known beforehand.
Tennant’s and Tate’s parts gave a much-needed edge to the show's flummery: both are playing this one for real, and in Tennant's case this was an exceedingly welcome sea-change. Gone was the flippancy and smugness that torpedoed the 2006 season of Doctor Who for me, and his performance developed logically from the events of Doomsday. There is more darkness, and it was closer in timbre to some of Eccleston's best Who performances, e.g., in Dalek and The Empty Child. Interestingly, his performance had undercurrents of Detective Inspector Carlisle from Blackpool, which he did with Parish and David Morrissey (the "clip" with him, Parish, Morrissey and some "coppers" over the top of The Clash's song Should I Stay or Should I Go was electric). I found him far more satisfying in this than in the entire 2006 season, which really came, dramatically and character-wise, as a complete non sequitur to the 2005 season. The real payoff was the word Gallifrey, which didn’t come out of the blue, as some have suggested - it was prefigured throughout the entire episode. And best of all was the dignity with which it was spoken. In my opinion it is this episode more than any other that shows that Tennant has got what it takes to be the Doctor.
Tate neatly played off Tennant, at times counterpointing his performance, at others reflecting it, and all the time giving a nicely-timed dramatic progression to her character. The slap across the Doctor's face was a turning point in the episode, and hopefully a real one for the series as a whole. I for one would be happy to see Tate return to the series at some point - some time soon, in fact.
The shots of the proto-Sun’s "nursery nebula" were good, which means that someone on the production team does actually know where to retrieve Hubble telescope or similar snaps from, and that stars are born from vast clouds of interstellar gas and dust.
Oh no! I think I’ve just exhausted my positive comments - I feel a sudden and irrepressible urge to get out the baseball bat, so help me!
I just wish that Davies and Co. would get themselves some decent scientific advisers, or do some minimal background research. The Wikipedia alone is full of stuff, for heavens' sake! How about a chat with some of the staff in the BBC's Natural History Unit? Doesn’t Cardiff have a university with a Physics (or related) department? I was waiting for a jet of super-heated Thames steam (complete with charboiled dolphins) to come shooting back out of the hole to the centre of the Earth, but maybe the Doctor closed it off with the Sonic Plotbender when we weren’t looking. Just as well, too - it would probably have taken London with it, and then some. At least Inferno was on the right track here, and was one of the strongest parts of that story.
Was the bogus science to keep us in mind that we were watching a pantomime after all? Probably not - the whole 2006 season was full of examples of this lack of discipline. That’s not to say (for the umpteenth time) that the original Doctor Who was defect-free in this area, but that’s no excuse either.
Unfortunately, the mosaic of inconsistency that seems to bedevil current Doctor Who, et alia, rears its ugly head yet again. Marks gained in clearly delineating the scientific and most probable theory of the creation of the earth are immediately lost by the cloth-headed idea of drowning - or flushing away - the spiders using the River Thames. To have flushed them, the spiderlings would have had to have been sufficiently close to the Earth’s surface. If they weren’t sent down the straight U-bend, then they would have been sorted by the jet of super-heated steam (but see above for the most obvious drawback here). Which would have occurred whether the spiders were washed down the spout (thanks, Flick :) or not. At least it resulted in Flick's "incy-wincy spider" review, so it’s an ill wind :).
And while I’m being critical, I wonder how many people were killed/maimed/severely injured by bits of shattered spider web falling out of the sky on them? Not to mentioned the demolition of quite a few buildings, &c. Although I suppose that to "float" in the almost-boundary layer without "visible means of support", it would have had to have been made from an "almost lighter than air substance" And if not, then people definitely would have been killed, etc. Oh, sorry, it’s a pantomime, je regrette.
I wonder whether the collective amnesia caused by "psychotropic drugs in the water supply" (yeah, thanks, "Rhys", good one) will attack the worthy burghers o' London yet again. Probably. That little leitmotif is being done to death, however. Time for a new tune I think thanks, Mr Davies (and don’t let MURRAY anywhere near it either, thank you so very much as well, too).
To sum up, even with all my criticisms I found The Runaway Bride nowhere near as lamentable as the debacle that was Torchwood, the latter being literally off with the Faeries at the Bottom of the Garden After Imbibing Some Nice Psychotropic Substances. 'Gad, that show is casting a pall over the Whoniverse: The Runaway Bride, and Invasion of the Bane, have fortunately provided a much needed antidote to it. At least for me and my long-suffering family - we all really enjoyed it.
Here’s hoping for a better season of Doctor Who this year.
The Bumper Book of Made Up Doctor Who Facts has absolutely nothing at all to say about Runaway Bride.