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Dec 27, 2006

Spider Nonsense... Tingling!

Context, mateys. It's all a matter of context.

All the preview signs, from Catherine Tate at the end of Doomsday, to the four-minute taxi chase preview, to the robot Santas and Racnoss Empress in the Radio Times, were pointing to The Runaway Bride being absolutely dreadful. Little individual scraps that make no sense whatsoever when taken on their own.

And I think that's really what's wrong with New Who. It's too media-savvy, too up-itself and eager to please the vastly overstated ADD-generation that Russel must believe - the evidence being many of his own scripts - has had its brains bollocksed with XBox games, text messages, 24-hour channel-hopping and whatever assorted chav culture springs to his mind. It's Russel himself backed by Auntie Beeb who keeps feeding us these blipvert instant-images and memes - I still bear the mental scars from the extemporal post-it note that was Bad Wolf - and thus his own fault if he ends up screwing with the expectations of the rest of us in advance. 9 million is a great viewing figure but it still leaves the other 51 million, god knows how many of which must be suffering from stress fatigue from the constant blink-and-it's-gone synaptic barrage from today's media.

"New Who feels too media-savvy, too up-itself and eager to please the vastly overstated ADD-generation that Russel believes has had its brains bollocksed with whatever assorted chav culture springs to his mind"

It's just as well then that Russel at his scripting peak is also so good at confounding those same expectations. Put it all together and The Runaway Bride is a marvellous piece of festive entertainment. Yes, it's mainly earthbound for the 2,074th time since 2005. Yes, it's completely daft as a brush. Yes, it cocks about with the Whoniverse in ways J-NT and Andrew Cartmel could only have dreamed about in in their wildest budgetary nightmares. Yes, you'll probably wince when you watch it again on DVD during the summer months. But you know what? Stuff it. No offense to anyone, but really; if you're going to analyse The Runaway Bride in nauseating geek-detail then you pretty well deserve to. Doctor Who, with one foot that's always been firmly grounded in present-day Earth, is one of the few 'real' (so to speak) sci-fi shows you can do this kind of thing with. Can you imagine a B7 Christmas special with Blake and Travis round the table, eating reconstited turkey protein, wearing officially-sanctioned funny hats and chuckling at Federation propaganda thinly-disguised as Christmas cracker jokes? IT DOESN'T WORK. "Thiiiis iiiiis the voooooice oooof the Myyyyyysteroooons. Meeeeerry Chriiiiistmas Eaaaaaaaarthmen." NO.

At the very least, be thankful it's not The Feast Of Stephen, which is so ridiculously stilted and out of place it may as well have the Steptoe & Son theme running through it.

Is there honestly much point in stating the blindingly obvious, that it's an absolutely atrocious piece of science-fiction? It's not like we haven't been here before. The Girl In The Fireplace was hardly Isaac Bloody Asimov, was it? As a story, The Runaway Bride at heart is the damn space bus from Delta And The Bannermen, except this time done right, with a genuinely witty script and slick production values that make it lovably goofy instead of merely embarrassing. Exploding Christmas tree baubles directed with an XBox controller? Season Seventeen Douglas Adams. Lasering a hole to the centre of the Earth with no apparant side-effects like, say, massive volcanic activity in the middle of London - then dumping the whole of the Thames down it? Why would you even try to make sense of this when The Underwater Menace did almost the exact same thing without an intentional sense of humour?

Silly plot aside then, there are three things that characterise Runaway Bride as a festive RTD episode. There's the obligatory grand cosmic spectacle (though Lord only knows what kind of cheap crappy fillers we can expect to gum up the tailend of Season Three as a consequence); the self-parodying juxposition of same with the minutae of everyday life, much to the delight of Nathan Barleys everywhere with column-inches to fill; but above all, running jokes. The irritating do-it-all magic wand that is the sonic screwdriver becomes genuinely funny when it's used fifteen times in the space of an hour. Pockets - big stupid grin as memories of Patrick Troughton and Tom Baker come flooding back. The fact that nobody ever pays attention to the invasion of the Earth no matter how many times it happens. The throwaway 'Martian' lines that lead up to that single SPUNK EVERYWHERE "Gallifrey." Clearest indication yet - if any were needed - that the Time Lords will be coming back. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but soon and for the rest of your actually that sounds a bit wank.

"Self-parodying juxposition of grand cosmic spectacle with the minutae of everyday life, much to the delight of Nathan Barleys everywhere with column-inches to fill"

That spectacle. Tanks! Missiles! Blammo! I'd like to think that was UNIT in action since Torchwood (PLEASE let this be the end of that from the Who side) would have used a poncey beam weapon instead, the tossers. How much better was the final edit of the taxi chase than the preview version? There's still a million and one things wrong with it from a Whovian perspective and it's shit to watch as a teaser, but cracking good fun once the episode has kicked your suspension of disbelief into high gear. I love the how the kids in the cars cheer and encourage our hero while the adults take little or no notice of the police box bouncing down the motorway; it's the perfect metaphor for Christmas telly itself, without ever dwelling on Christmas any more than the episode needed to. The creation of the Earth? Permit me to add my voice to the four-hundred-million-year chorus in proclaiming how City Of Death that sequence felt, though in actuality it was far more like Underworld. RTD earns a dozen respeck points (payable in gift card form at all branches of WHSmiths) for making us think of the good Tom Baker story and not the rubbish one. I could even forgive the other gratuitously self-indulgant TARDIS effects.

Can't say the same about the Racnoss Empress though. Was that the most pantomime villain ever, or what? Sarah Parish managed to make Richard Briers as the Chief Caretaker seem low-key; from From the first "I'll get you my pretty and your little Doc too" to the last "I'm melting! I'm melting! My children are meeeeeltiiiing!!", it was one part Power Rangers to three parts Wizard Of Oz. It was disappointing that we never got to see what her children actually looked like; she also looked pathetic in the numerous profile zooms that really should have been kept to a minimum. All that expensive CGI and prosthetics, and up close it's some red facepaint, fake Dracula fangs and stuck-on eyes. They could at least have airbrushed her nose out. Craaaaaaaaaaaap.

"On the one hand the Doctor is a benign wizard who can make it snow; on the other, who died and made him arbitrary judge and jury?"

Other than that, Runaway Bride was well-directed, properly paced - though I rather think that's as much to do with the extra ten minutes to fill - and with a definite sense that important things really did develop over the course of the hour, not least of which was Catherine Tate's transformation from shouty, obnoxious and - well, Catherine Tate - to more sympathetic and eager and open to the wonders of the world. How gratifying was it as well to see a potential companion do what almost no other ever dared to prior to the New Adventures books; turn down the Doctor's lifestyle for entirely realistic moral reasons? On the one hand he's a benign wizard who can make it snow; on the other, who died and made him arbitrary judge and jury? Surely no sensible human being wouldn't have a problem rationalising the two sides. The Doctor himself has migrated through every personality imaginable over the years to justify his actions - the cynic, the lunatic, the gentleman, the arrogant twat - and he's finally given up because without the shadow of the High Council over his shoulder, there is no point to it anymore, compared to the simple grounding in the oridinary and everyday that's the one thing the Doctor craves but knows he can never keep. He's still in mourning over Rose, but at least by the end we know too he'll get over it now.

Frankly, I NEEDED that Christmas special. I've been a right jaded shite from so many weeks of Torchwood's nonsensical delusions of grandeur - when even when it's not about saving the world, it pretends to be deeper than it actually is - but in one hour, Russel T Davis succeeded in putting it all back in perspective for me... which the Beeb then promptly cancelled out with the annual wrist-slitting misery that is Yuletide in Walford.

And thus was the true meaning of Christmas explained.

The Bumper Book Of Made-Up Doctor Who Facts has this to say about The Runaway Bride: BBC Enterprises hope to cash in next year with the Sonic Segway toy with 'realistic gravity-defying action'.

Comments

Dave, as always your review pretty much sums up why I love this blog so much - the infinite capacity to see the wonderful in the mundane.

Much like Doctor Who itself, dontcha think..?

Sarah Parish was definitely in total panto-mode, yeah, but it didn't grate with me.

This episode was...it's kinda like Five Doctors all over again with me. Yes, you can pull the thing to absolute pieces if you want, but go into it with the right spirit of just wanting a bit of fun, and it works. And yes it might look a bit embarrassing and crap come Summer, but by next Christmas it'll fit in nicely again.

It's funny that you can have a knockabout fluffy episode of Christmas hijinks which also puts forward that the entire Earth was created by (and around) an alien species that resided at its core for billions of years. Only in Who indeed, that's a pretty audacious thing to just lay down but they do and then move on...heh, what a show.

The mention of Gallifrey may be indication of the speeding up of old Whovian lore into the show, something that's really been limited so far to Daleks, Cybermen, Sarah Jane and a couple of other minor references. Not that I think the general viewing masses need to be overwhelmed with the lore, it's a nice nod to the fans. We have to share this show with the new folk now, though.

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