Wow, it took me an age to get started on reviewing this odd beast of a Christmas special in which plastic santas make a come back and Donna Noble makes her debut entrance. Every time I re-watch, I oscillate wildly between enjoying the experience and passionate loathing (a not uncommon experience for me with RTD era Christmas specials). This time was no exception. Onwards!
The Pre-title Sequence
Maureen: Quick aside: God, I hate that Thirteen doesn’t have pre-title sequences. They are just so silly and fun. Anyway. The Runaway Bride. I love the earth shot they start with every new series y’all. It makes me unreasonably happy inside. Also, even though I think Catherine Tate took some time to find her feet and definitely over-acted in her opening number (vanishing from her own wedding in gold light, materializing in the TARDIS), she was at least refreshingly different in her reaction to finding herself with The Doctor. Also, the Donna theme is gorgeous. Go Murray Gold!
Ben: Yeah, this episode certainly started off with a bang, with Catherine Tate screaming her way down the aisle in a truly hideous wedding dress, followed by her screaming at The Doctor when she suddenly vanishes from her wedding and reappears inside the TARDIS mere moments after he said goodbye to Rose. Talk about whiplash! It was, I guess, an acceptably interesting introduction to the episode.
Maureen: LOL. My summary was, ‘The Doctor repeats ‘what?’ over and over like a right numb skull and CT overacts.’ Moving on.
Ben: Look, I’ll be honest, I hated Donna in this episode. She was shouty and over dramatic and scenery chewing in the worst kind of way. The best way for me to describe her is that she was acting as a caricature of the Donna we meet in Season Four with all the worst parts over-exaggerated. And the wedding dress was hateful.
Maureen: This is the first time in ages we’ve disagreed about something, Ben! When I was younger, I really hated Donna, including most of Series Four (the first time round I never finished it), but now I find her kind of refreshing. Yes, the humour was overdone this special. Yes, it took Catherine Tate time to figure out how to play things, but overall I liked Donna. What I didn’t like about her and about this episode was more to do with RTD’s writing, than the character herself.
Ben: Her ‘it’s smaller on the outside’ moment was all right, I guess, but it didn’t make up for all the attitude she gave The Doctor. Maybe she can blame it on the Huon particles?
Maureen: This is where we differ. I liked her saying the TARDIS was smaller on the outside (it’s a change!). I liked her being a bit freaked out by an alien and hey, if you were at a wedding and then suddenly on a spaceship, it would feel like an abduction. I thought a lot of the dialogue was quite funny upfront.
Donna: My husband, when he is my husband, him and I are gonna sue the backside of ya!
Donna: Yeah. Is that an option?
Doctor: For me it is.
Donna: Are you an alien?
Donna: How many women have you abducted? [in relation to Rose] … where’s she gone? For a space walk?
But even leaving aside the humour, I think sometimes Ten is a right wanker and he needs someone like Donna to put him in his place. I didn’t mind her slapping him. He deserved it.
Ben: I guess, but my main gripe was that none of the jokes/comedy involving Donna were remotely funny, and a fair few of them were just plain offensive. The joke about Donna missing all the previous alien escapades on Earth for ridiculous reasons was really the only exception to that, but it was then followed up with a ‘joke’ about how Donna is basically worthless and not special apart from the mysterious Huon particles, so it didn’t really count.
Maureen: OK, I see your point of view here. I didn’t like this either. Ten being a sanctimonious arsehat again. Woot.
Ben: And then there’s the scene with Donna harassing Lance into marrying her? Like, was that meant to be incredibly unfunny and cringe-worthy?
Maureen: Yeah, I don’t know what RTD was going for here. I quite liked Donna till this scene and then that turned me right off her. Harassment is never funny. I feel like aside from this moment however, the rooftop scene was quite beautiful and Catherine Tate calmed down enough to deliver her lines sans shouting. That whole scene was like a promise of what was to come with her friendship with Ten later. I wish the whole episode could have been this.
Ben: And honestly, the less said about the reception scenes the better.
Maureen: Oii, what was wrong with them? I didn’t like Donna’s Mum (does anyone?), but RTD has some weird thing about writing bitchy Mum’s so *shrugs.* I thought it was sad, showing how bland and poor Donna’s life is, but also the scene where she fake cried shows she is cleverer than she acts, another hint as to the depths she will achieve in Series Four.
Ben: Meh. The scene where Lance is revealed as a double crosser was incredibly brutal, and perhaps the only good scene in the first forty minutes of the episode. Really, this whole episode was like a ‘let’s everyone pile on Donna’ that everyone was in on except her. And the to add insult to injury she sees her fiancé die, and then is swung into a metal something by The Doctor. Which, again, is played for comedy and not ‘Gee Donna, you basically fell from the roof into a hard metal surface, are you all right?’
Maureen: I agree that the everyone piling on Donna thing for cheap laughs was weird and icky, but I think that was less about Donna the character and more about how the writer, RTD, positioned her in the story. Here is why I think RTD is more sexist than Moffat by the way. His sexism is far more insidious and permeates every story line. In my opinion, Moffat’s sexism comes down to crack writing nine times out of ten, rather than actual sexism, but that’s an essay you can read elsewhere.
Ben: At least by the end of the episode the caricature of Donna had settled down somewhat, and we got a good serious conversation between her and The Doctor. There may have been talk about how Donna was nobody special throughout the episode, but she fully has The Doctor’s number, talking about how he needs someone to travel with to tell him when to stop. Oof. Even the shouting at the end of the episode was better. All I can say is, I’m excited to see more of this Donna in season four!
Maureen: Me too! The end scene was aces!!! I loved Donna claiming she would go see the world (even though we know she won’t), I love Ten telling Donna to be magnificent and I love Donna telling Ten he needs human companions to keep him in line. Ironically, I think Donna understood The Doctor more than any other new who companion bar maybe Amy Pond.
Ben: The poor Doctor was really put through the ringer this episode by this over-dramatic woman who was hell bent on getting to her wedding. There were a few moments that I think were supposed to be funny? Or something? Like when the Doctor was in a hurry to get cash and had to wait behind some slow person using the ATM.
Maureen: I also had question marks over this scene. I really noticed The Doctor over-relying on the sonic this episode, but also with him getting cash from the ATM, who exactly was giving him that cash? Was he robbing other people? Inquiring minds wish to know. Also, when him and Donna flagged down a taxi and realised they didn’t have money so were turned out, my first thought was, ‘Y U no pay at the church?’ The amount of times I have paid a taxi driver at the end of a trip running into the house to find cash isn’t even funny.
Ben: Mostly, it felt like all these ridiculous scenes were padding out an episode that really had nothing going for it. I’m not sure if the TARDIS flying down the highway was supposed to be funny or impressive, but I just found it nonsensical. How did he even find Donna? The whole scene with the bio-dampener in the shape of a ring was just so on the nose, another scene with an attempt at comedy that just fell flat? I guess we’ll never know. Plus, the whole absentminded mutterings about how she’s not special as he scans her were really frustrating. Anywho, moving on to the reception, where the less said about the scene at the reception the better. You’re gonna supercharge a phone to find out more about HC Clements and then just hand it back?
Maureen: As usual, Ben thinks through the story logic more than I do (which is ironic really!). I didn’t think of any of this at the reception scene. I was more thinking, OH LOOK PLASTIC SANTA, OH LOOK CHRISTMAS TREE, OH LOOK BAUBLES FLOATING AROUND THE PLACE. IS THIS CHRISTMASSY ENOUGH YET, IS IT? Also, I feel like the reception song was significant. It sounded like its lyrics alluded to Ten/Rose with, ‘coz my body’s tired of travelling and my heart don’t wish to roam,’ and ‘Now, all I have’s this anguished heart, for you have vanished too. Oh, my girl, my girl, my precious girl, just what is this man to do?’
Ben: One thing I did appreciate is that the technobabble this episode had some logical consistency, e.g. The Doctor’s analogy and usage of the Huon particles made sense. And, on the plus side, Donna calls out The Doctor on him enjoying the danger too much and gives him a well-deserved slap or two.
Maureen: I counted three slaps in total this episode and I was cheering Donna on!
Ben: I appreciate that The Doctor treated Donna with kindness after the betrayal of Lance, and really after that scene I noticed a marked improvement in the overall quality of the episode. I’m not sure if the production team decided that because Catherine Tate, comedienne extraordinaire was in the episode they needed to ramp up the comedy, but it really just didn’t work in any way, shape, or form. Anyways, the conclusion of the episode was quite satisfactory, we got some good Dark Doctor faces as he drowned the Racnoss babies, and a touching conversation with Donna at the end where he asks her to travel with him.
Maureen: I actually hate that bit where Ten drowns The Racnoss. He just looks so damn whiny and I just know the angst gets dialled up to eleven in later episodes. I’m so glad Donna came back to call him out on his shitty behavior in a later season! PS: Sorry guys, I don’t like Ten.
The Alien of the Week
Ben: The Santa army is back! Such shenanigans and tomfoolery abound. And of course, the killer Christmas Trees return too. In continuing with the nonsensical slapstick humour, one of the party goers gets hit by one of the killer tree baubles and goes face first into the wedding cake? Time and place, people …
Maureen: Damn, I forgot about that! Thanks for bloody reminding me!
Ben: Also, how does the queen alien lady (correction, Empress of the Racnoss) know that it’s Christmas Eve? She has a strangely comprehensive knowledge of Earth. And what was with the over dramatic camera shots of her over acting at the camera? It was all very unnecessary. Plus!! She laughs at the ‘this time, it’s personnel’ joke. And then she makes a wedding joke! She really was a very naturalised alien.
Maureen: She was definitely not the strong point of the episode, that’s for sure. The SFX have really dated and her voice was grating and her jokes kind of weird. As you say, Ben, a lot of the jokes don’t land properly this episode. I did kind of lol at the ‘I do,’ ‘I don’t,’ bit in a cheesy B grade horror movie kind of way. Also, I dig the delivery of Catherine’s ‘a spider’s just a spider and an axe is an axe,’ line. I don’t know why actually.
Ben: I’m not entirely sure how the Racnoss babies and ship survived for billions of years under immense pressure inside the core of the Earth, or why it took the Queen of the Racnoss so long to initiate her plan for global domination, or even why Lance decided to be her consort or whatever, but she did come to satisfying end. But like, is it not worth checking out the Racnoss ship to disable things or something? Surely that can’t be the end of that.
Maureen: The Lance thing is really under-developed. Like the episode claims he did it because the Queen showed him how small human life was in the scale of the universe or some shit, but like, what? Surely he’s smart enough to know she’s going to bump him off at the first opportunity. I really feel like Lance got short-changed in the characterization department. My notebook comment on The Racnoss storyline is, ‘the whole alien of the week storyline is a bit ridic.’
Ben: I really didn’t enjoy this episode (except for the last 20 minutes or so). Donna was awful. None of the jokes have aged particularly well. And like, why could the Doctor not just take Donna back to just after she vanished? This ‘not going back on someone’s personal timeline’ is such rubbish and is only used as a clumsy plot device whenever the writers get lazy. The whole episode just reminded me of Rose. The Doctor rescues a damsel in distress, there’s her boyfriend that she has no chemistry with, the ditzy caricature of a mother, a secret base hidden underneath a London landmark, and an alien who’s the last of their kind and has decided Earth is the ideal planet from which to repopulate. Unoriginal, unfunny, and just horrendous treatment of Donna as a character. And why, oh why, did they think having them use Segways as transport was going to age well. Another example of a scene that I think was supposed to be funny when it aired but just reeks of disappointment and wasted air time now. Things picked up in the final twenty minutes, and we got some really good moments from Donna and The Doctor, but it really wasn’t enough to make up for the truly awful first forty minutes. I’m giving it a 3/10
Maureen: This is the first time in quite some time I’ve disagreed with Ben. I don’t think this was a good episode. I think it highlights a lot of RTD’s more problematic writing styles and choices. I think the alien of the week story was silly and that Lance and Donna’s Mum were boring caricatures, but I like Donna, even with Catherine Tate over-acting in parts. I liked the scene on the roof-top when Donna gives up on making her wedding, and the scene at the end, and I like that Donna doesn’t just succumb to Ten’s charms immediately. She displays some critical thought, which I liked. Also, I liked the Torchwood references and re the use of segways as transport. I liked it. My notebook comment is, ‘Donna/Lance/Ten riding segways is true zany Who personified and I unreasonably love it.’ I oscillate wildly between hating and enjoying this episode every time I re-watch it so I’m going to give this 5/10 inky stars.