Sunday, December 31, 2006

Doctor Who - The Runaway Bride

Another Christmas, another Doctor Who Christmas Special, and for 2006 it was The Runaway Bride by Russell T Davies. I was really in two minds about this - first of all I like the idea of a Christmas Day episode very much, it provides some much needed focus for the evening, but I really was not looking forward to Catherine Tate in it as I have always found her to be monumentally un-funny, and what little I have seen of her own show marked her for me as a one-trick pony, with her 'Am I bovvered' character being iconic and hilarious, but everything else being very mundane and pointless. But this is Doctor Who, not a so-called comedy sketch show, and so maybe everything would be OK. We kick off in the same way as Rose and The Christmas Invasion did with a pan from space down to Earth, and to a wedding. Donna (Tate) is dematerialised as she walks down the aisle and appears on board the TARDIS. Why? Well this is where the technobabble starts, and on close examination, it really doesn't stand up to much thought. Seems she is full of Huon particles and they are attracted to the TARDIS (and vice versa). The problem is that Huon particles don't exist any more, according to the Doctor, and so he decides to investigate further. There's a few quickfire elements in the TARDIS scenes worth mentioning. How can the TARDIS door open into space? The Doctor says that they are protected ... but then five minutes later the TARDIS is racing along a motorway with the door open to the elements ... so this protection can presumably be turned off then. Seems a little dangerous to me. There's a reference to the Slitheen in there, and a comment that the TARDIS is sluggish as it's digesting ... what is it digesting I wonder? The moment with Rose's shirt is also very well done, though exactly what prompted Rose to leave it casually in the console room may raise a few eyebrows ... or if it wasn't Rose who put it there, why is it there? What has the Doctor been doing with Rose's clothes! Perhaps we shouldn't go there. It's Christmas eve (why is Donna getting married on Christmas eve - no-one gets married on Christmas eve - because it's Christmas eve!) and the Doctor and Donna race around Cardiff-pretending-to-be-London trying to get a taxi to take her to St Mary's Church in Haver Road, Chiswick (there is no such place). There's a lot of running about, breaking cashpoint machines, and then the spooky Santas appear. Why? Okay, so we know they were in last year's Christmas Special, but they were ... seems they want Donna for some reason (can't think why as she's been nothing but annoying and shouty so far). Needless to say after some derring do and a magnificent set-piece chase between taxi and TARDIS, the Doctor gets Donna to the reception where they are promptly attacked by Santas again, and also by remote controlled exploding Christmas tree baubles ... this begs the questions of how the Santas knew they'd need them and how they got them onto the tree in the first place ... Meantime the Doctor discovers that the company Donna was working for - A C Clements - is wholly owned by Torchwood (yawn). The Doctor destroys the Santas and discovers that they were robots being controlled from somewhere above the Earth. Cue a massive eight-spired webstar-spaceship and an unseen Empress of Racknoss slavering over the Doctor and Donna. The Doctor, Donna, and Donna's earstwhile groom, Lance, head of HR at Clements, go to the offices to explore. They discover a hidden 'Torchwood' floor (complete with Segway scooters to get about on) which extends under London and which in part emerges on top of the Thames Flood Barriers. They find a laboratory which is making Huon particles (so why didn't the TARDIS get attracted there when they first arrived on Earth?) and it transpires that the particles need a living human to catalyse them. However Huon particles are deadly ... Are you with me so far? To be honest, by this point on first transmission I had no idea what was going on. Nor did the folks I was watching with - which included two six-year-old Doctor Who-mad boys. Suddenly vast hangar doors open revealing more robot Santas and a hole drilled down to the centre of the Earth ... why? Because a Racknoss spacecraft was buried in the centre of the Earth when it was formed 4.6 billion years ago and now the Empress wants to free her children and to do this she needs catalysed Huon particles ... Seems that Lance is in league with the Empress and had been feeding Donna Huon particles with her coffee every day for six months. The Empress teleports from her spaceship to the underground lair, and she is a maginificent creation. Sarah Parish plays her with no subtlty at all and she is a raving, snarling, vicious mother from the word go. Wonderfully over the top and a great performance. But why didn't she move!! The spider body and legs looked great, but she just stood there. To have seen her scuttling about and actually interacting would have been awesome and creepy, but it seems that the CGI budget had all been used up and there was nothing left for the Empress but to animate all her eyes flickering. A great shame. The Doctor and Donna nip back in time to check out what is at the centre of the Earth (using what looks like the Slitheen surf board thing to avoid being dragged to the Huon particles on the way back - I refer you to my earlier comment) and so the Empress turns on Lance and force-feeds him Huon so he can catalyse it and free her kids instead of Donna. At this point my brain popped. If it was that easy - all the Empress had to do was pick any human, make them drink Huon and then extract the catalysed particles from their body to free her kids, then why all the plotting and robot santas and chase and so on with Donna? Why bother? Why not just kidnap someone, tie them up, feed them Huon, job done. I dunno, these megalomaniacal crazed giant spider women just can't think straight can they? Anyway, Donna is recaptured and her catalysed Huon is used to free the kids (are you still with the plot here?) and Lance is instead thrown down the hole to feed them. The Empress makes her webstar spacecraft begin 'harvesting' humans as food - it looks like it just kills them if you ask me - and so the Doctor uses the Santas' remote control and a handful of explosive baubles to blow a hole in the wall, letting the Thames flood down the hole, neatly flushing all the spiders down the plughole (which as we know, never works anyway). The Empress transports back to her webstar, at which point the Army move in and on 'orders of Mr Saxon' fire at it and blow it to smithereens. Meanwhile the Doctor has drained the whole Thames into the Earth's core. Well that's not going to do much good is it? So there's now a concentrated geyser of super-heated steam erupting back up the hole is there? And what about the North Sea ... has that been drained as well? Not to mention previously noted Who-facts about the Earth, like the presence of Stahlmann's gas, or the magnetic core that the Daleks were trying to mine ... So the world is apparently saved (we have to assume that emptying the planet's seas into the molten core has no ill effects, and that the loss of the Thames is a temporary glitch) and the Doctor asks Donna if she wants to go with him. What!!! The man must be desperate or addled or both. She is so annoying. My fear was played out - Tate basically played Donna as a riff on her 'bovvered' character throughout, with annoying shouting included. There is no way that the Doctor would want to take her with him. Oh well. At least she declines and has the uncharacteristic perception to note that the Doctor did nothing as the Empress died (shades of Cassandra's death in The End of the World) and also that he needs someone with him to stop him ... The final shot is the TARDIS shooting off up into the sky like a firework ... nicely done :) So what to make of all that ... As a Christmas special it was great. It was fast paced and kept everyone glued to the TV (except for four slow points: on the rooftop; in the TARDIS in the distant past; at the reception; and at the very end - showing that on Christmas Day it really needs to be action all the way) but the plot was a complete mess. Very complex and hard to follow. Afterwards I asked my six-year-old nephews what it had all been about and they had no idea! Something about spiders was the best I could get. But then came the thing that electrified the room ... The trailer for 2007's forthcoming series. Wow. A flash bang collage of images and sounds, introducing Martha ... Was that Cybermen? ... Rhino people ... the Face of Boe ... Cat people (again) ... what seemed to be a Space Pig in the woods ... you could hear a pin drop as all this played out. But then. Crash to silence. And a very familiar throbbing sound starts up. Then a black Dalek is on screen for a second. "DALEKS!!!!!" Screamed two six-year-olds in unison and the room erupted into excited chattering about the Daleks coming back again. "When's it on?" was the only question they wanted answering and the anticipation was electric. So well done Russell T Davies and everyone involved for a very entertaining Christmas Day evening. Okay, so the plot needed work. A lot of work. But the action sequences were awesome, and as long as you disengaged your brain from thinking, you were fine. But it's the Daleks ... what is it about that particular creation which kids find so fascinating? An hour of fast paced, well produced telly, yet it was a one second shot of a Dalek which electrified them.