...a blog by Richard Flowers

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Day 2186: DOCTOR WHO: The Runaway Bride

Boxing Day:

Here’s an idea for NEXT year’s Christmas Special:

Millennium Elephant in association with the BBC proudly presents a Russell T Davies television production: Murray Gold’s DOCTOR WHO: THE MUSICAL!

Sing along with the roller-blading Time Lord Chorus as they perform their medley of musical hits – “Ra Ra Rassilon (inventor of the Time Machine, there was a Cat that Really was Gone!)”; “How do you Solve a Problem like The Master?”; and “Raxacoricofallapatorius (even though the sound of it is something quite atrocious)”!

GASP at OMEGA as he sings the “Antimatter Rhapsody”:

“I’m just a poor boy, from a poor Gallifrey… Gravity-oh Gravity-oh Gravity won’t let me go! (oh… oh… ohhh ohhhhhh) The Gel Guards haaaaaave the Doctor and his Sidekick!”

THRILL to the Phantom of the Panopticon singing Android Lord Webber’s classic “The Music of the Night…mare of Eden”:

“Softly, slowly, it’s a great big muppet…”

And GUFFAW as the Fourth Doctor goes down the pub to the tune of:

“Ma Ma Ma… Ma Baker he taught his four chums…

“Ma Ma Ma… Ma Baker how to handle their gins…”

With full CHOIR of Daleks and Chancellor Flavia doing her whistling…

Oh, all right, here’s Daddy Richard’s review:

The Christmas Special, it’s something new for Doctor Who and this is only the second ever.

Oh, all right third ever, “The Feast of Steven” while technically being a part of “The Daleks’ Master Plan” is still a comedy cross-over with Z-Cars cut-and-shut with the Keystone Cops that they could only ever have thought of getting away with for broadcast on the one time Christmas Day and Saturday tea time coincided during the series first twenty-six years.

But this is the second of the new breed for which Russell T Davies has been responsible. It seems that to really capture the Christmas Spirit he has gone for that big post-Queen’s-speech movie feel. Last year – all huge spaceships, doomy music and last minute saving the world – it was The Disaster Movie; this year he’s reaching for The Screwball Comedy.

You know the sort of movie: she’s a zany uninhibited modern woman; he’s an uptight prim and proper man; they can’t stand each other but can’t get away from each other and you know they’ll finish with a snog. And he’s usually Cary Grant, for some reason.

In fact, the comedy works very well: it’s never intrusive and is lightly handled and often laugh out loud funny. You’ve got to admit, Catherine Tate in a wedding dress swinging on a spider web thread to the Doctor’s arms only to… CLONG! Is probably going to be the best pratfall of the season.

No, actually it’s the Screwball that doesn’t come off because it’s clear that actually the Doctor and Donna would get on very well if only her wedding hadn’t been totally ballsed-up. Yes, in fact, Russell’s writing of character is too good for this sort of thing as neither of the central characters is sufficiently two-dimensional.

That slightly throws the tone of this Christmas adventure and makes some of the more dramatic moments seem a little too much for what we expected. Particularly the Doctor’s moment of darkness at the end when – without Rose or anyone else to restrain him – he decides on genocide. That’s a really heavy dramatic arc for the character and one I think will better suit the DVD box set viewer who will be able to place it into a context between the tragi-triumph of “Doomsday” and the start of season three. Rather than the Christmas day viewer trying to place it between “Monsters Inc” and “The Vicar of Dibley”.

There is a slightly missed trick by having the adventure set a year after “The Christmas Invasion” – the events of “The Runaway Bride” could have been simultaneous with last year’s special. It would have tied up the loose end of the Sinister Santas just disappearing from the plot last year. As it is, they appear to have been loitering around on Earth all year, with nothing to do but retool their festive disguises. The opportunity was there for “Back to the Future II” style running around avoiding his own past adventures and poignant “I could go and see Rose” moments.

It also means that the Christmas elements feel a little shoehorned in to an already busy plot. Santas again, Christmas trees again, snow again. At least last year’s snow was blackly comic, this year it is a bit treacly (I suppose that’s what you get for having an evil Christmas star instead).

I should say that the acting of the two leads is terrific (if not Screwball) with both of them having to face their “loved-and-lost” moments: the Doctor realising that Rose is lost but still very much alive and Donna realising that there is more to see walking in the dust than she could have had with duplicitous Lance.

David Tennant gives one of his best performances as the Time Lord, getting all the notes right: the darkness and danger that he always does so well, but not too over the top on the enthusiasm this time which plays better, like he means it. And, of course, there are those moments of perfect sadness for his lost Rose when the loneliness comes back and haunts his eyes.

Catherine Tate is also terrific. Far too many people were criticising her in advance because she is a comedian without remembering that she is also an actor. This is a dramatic role albeit with comedy moments and she plays it straight down the line. Donna is a lovely character, with all her hugely apparent flaws, and Tate brings a warmth to her so that by the end you are really pleased that she has met the Doctor and he has given her the inspiration to turn around the hand that life has dealt her. She would have been great as a continuing companion – she’s said she would have done it – but at least we are left glad to have known her for this one off.

Russell is known to be a big fan of the books and audios from the, ahem, sixteen-year fallow period, and for nicking their ideas to use on the telly. An ancient and terrible enemy of the Time Lords buried in the middle of the Earth is very “Interference” (though that in itself is a reference to the Great Vampires of “State of Decay” who – like the Racnoss – devour whole worlds and are defeated by the Time Lords). The scarlet Empress is however nothing like the Scarlet Empress in the book “The Scarlet Empress” apart from being an empress. And Scarlet.

Incidentally, the Empress who is the last of her kind hiding in the Dark Space at the edge of the Universe looking for a chance to restore her species after they were destroyed in a War with the Time Lords in a story with shimmery, golden Time Lord energy… does any of this sound at all like “The Parting of the Ways”?

(Or you might prefer “City of Death” where the last of the Jagaroth, whose spider-like ship exploded to cause the start of life on Earth, tries to resurrect his war-like species while in “The Runaway Bride” the last of the spider-like Racnoss, whose web-like ship caused the formation of the Earth itself, tries to… oh hang on! They both feature the Doctor travelling back in time to find out what is going on too!)

The Empress looks spectacular. At last! A Doctor Who spider that isn’t just rubbish. To be really greedy, it would have been nice if she did a bit more – seeing her just leap across that pit to pounce on the Doctor, or at least move around a bit would have made her seem threatening. But that would have involved some CGI rendering – completely defying the point of the terrific prosthetic.

Her character seems a little… odd though, both ranting like a maniac and cracking really bad jokes. Is she just the very worst relative visiting for Christmas ever?

You do feel pretty awful for her at the end, though, and maybe there are just too many cries of “My Children!” for comfort. But then you are supposed to get that the Doctor has gone all Harriet Jones on us there.

Interestingly, she appears to have offered Lance basically the same deal that the Doctor offered Rose: sign up with me and I’ll show you the universe. They even have the same (rubbish) sense of humour. Lance gets a great (evil) scene effectively dumping Donna at the altar, but otherwise seems unusually undeveloped for a Russell T Davies character. Almost certainly too gruesome for tea-time on Christmas, would have been to follow the logic of Lance being offered the role of consort to the Empress. Female spiders eat their mates.

We could also have done with a shot of the Racnoss spider-lings skittering up the bore from the centre of the Earth before being washed back down the drain again. But the budget probably wasn’t going to run to it.

But in fairness, that is because they have spent the CG budget on the TARDIS / taxi chase and it is worth every penny. It is terrific: one of the best special effects in anything ever. The spinning, bouncing TARDIS is perfect, particularly the interaction with cars around it. There are even moments where you are seeing it and the taxi from in front and the bouncing movement of the TARDIS lets you see through the open doors into the interior. It is astonishingly good. And it is great drama: you can feel the tension, see the other drivers realising Donna is in trouble and even the shouting cheering kids actually help. And it is also great comedy: “Santa’s a Robot!” is another killer line. (And yes, the Santa’s face falls off moment is another reference – this time to the police officers turning out to Autons in “Terror of the Autons”. There were questions in the House about that, you know!)

I suppose, being so very good, the chase does give “The Runaway Bride” a bit of a “Superman Returns” vibe of the best stuff being up front. Which is a bit unfair on the Empress and the explosive conclusion (that – golly – doesn’t reuse the explosion of the Nestene lair from “Rose” this time!)

So on the whole a very mixed stocking this year, all the presents that you want but strangely not necessarily in the right order, and yes a funny old Satsuma in the toe. It will be interesting to view in hindsight once the new season begins in April how it works as a dramatic bridge from Rose to Martha. Not as brilliant as last year’s “The Christmas Invasion” and rather closer in tone to “New Earth” (though pulling off the mix of drama and comedy a lot better), this is still great television and well worth the licence fee.

They haven’t announced a third Christmas Special for 2007, but let’s hope that this becomes a tradition. Although, maybe let’s not commission Millennium’s musical episode just yet, all right?
(Daddy Alex whispers quietly in my big fluffy ear: actually, it sounds rather fun to me!)

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