Monday, 27 March 2017

Story 178 - The Runaway Bride

In which the Doctor, having just said farewell to Rose Tyler, is confronted by a woman in a wedding dress standing in the middle of his TARDIS. Her name is Donna Noble, a secretarial temp from Chiswick, West London. She had just been walking down the aisle, about to get married to fiance Lance on Christmas Eve, when she was suddenly transported here. The Doctor runs a number of tests but can find no explanation for how she came to get inside his ship. She is naturally furious, believing she has been abducted, and she orders the Doctor to take her to the wedding. The ship lands several miles away, so they decide to get a taxi. As the Doctor secures some money, he sees a group of Santa Claus-costumed musicians, and recognises them as the "Pilot Fish" he had encountered the previous Christmas. Whilst he creates a diversion, Donna gets into a cab and drives off alone - but the Doctor spots that her driver is one of the Santa figures. He gives chase in the TARDIS whilst the driver fails to take Donna where she wants to go. The ship sweeps down to fly alongside the cab and the Doctor deactivates the driver - which turns out to be a robot. Donna is forced to leap from the speeding cab into the TARDIS.

The TARDIS materialises on a rooftop in the City, where the Doctor and Donna get a chance to discuss what might be going on. It is obvious that some alien power is trying to kidnap Donna. The Doctor gives her a ring, which acts as a bio-damper. This should prevent her being traced. She has missed her wedding, and so the Doctor takes her to the hotel where the reception is taking place. She is livid that they have gone ahead and started the party without her. To avoid awkward questions, she feigns distress. The Doctor borrows someone's mobile phone and uses it to look up the firm H C Clements, where Donna has been working. He discovers that it is a security company, which is a front for a Torchwood operation. He notices a guest filming the festivities, and asks to see footage from the point when Donna was taken from the church. He sees her surrounded by a bright yellow glow, which he recognises as Huon Particles. These are ancient in origin and the bio-damper will not shield against them. The function is attacked by the Santa robots, using explosive Christmas Tree baubles, but the Doctor destroys them with amplified sound. He uses their control device to locate a craft in space above the Earth.

The Doctor and Donna go to H C Clements with Lance. Donna explains how she first met her fiance, when he made her a cup of coffee, which he then did every day. She claims that Lance pursued her, whilst his recollection was the other way round. They discover that there is a hidden level beneath the building. Here they find that Torchwood have been drilling a shaft down to the centre of the planet. In a lab, Huon Particles are being created. They are confronted by the Roboforms, and then a massive scarlet spider creature materialises. She is the Queen of the Racnoss. The Doctor believed these ancient creatures to be extinct, having been wiped out by the Time Lords and the other races from the beginning of the Universe. It transpires that Lance is in league with her - charged with dosing Donna with Huon Particles in her daily coffees. The excitement of her wedding day activated these and drew her to the only other source of Huons in the vicinity - the TARDIS. The Doctor and Donna escape in the TARDIS and travel back to the creation of the Earth in order to discover what the Racnoss might want at the centre of the planet. They see one of their Webstar spacecraft become the gravitational focal point for the matter to form around and so create the planet. The Racnoss Queen intends to use the Huon Particles to resurrect her millions of children hibernating in the ship.

On returning to the drill shaft chamber, Donna is captured. Thinking Donna had been lost to her, the Queen has dosed Lance with Huons and she uses him instead. He plunges down the hole, and the Racnoss children are awoken. The Doctor sneaks back disguised as one of the Roboforms, but is spotted by the Queen. He gives her an ultimatum to leave the Earth or face the consequences. She refuses to obey, so he employs some of the explosive baubles to begin destroying the chamber. They are beneath the Thames, and the river breaks through. Flood waters pour down the shaft, drowning the Racnoss children. The Queen teleports to her Webstar and brings it down to the skies above London. It begins to attack the city. The army arrive, with orders from a Mr Saxon to destroy the vessel. Combined firepower blows it up. The Doctor takes Donna to the street outside her home. He offers her the chance to travel with him, but she declines. Knowing that he recently lost someone who travelled with him, she recommends that he find somebody else, as when he is on his own there is no-one to keep him in check.

The Runaway Bride is the second Christmas Special to be written by Russell T Davies, and it was first broadcast on 25th December, 2006. Under no circumstances should it be mistaken for the 1999 rom-com starring Richard Gere and Julia Roberts - though that sort of screwball comedy was precisely the feel that Davies was trying to get with this episode. Hollywood has a long history of movies about odd couples being thrown together by adverse situations, antagonistic towards each other at first but who end up good friends, if not romantically involved.
It introduces the character of Donna Noble, who is played by comic actor Catherine Tate. The Santa Claus Roboforms return from the previous special, but with a different mask design - more plastic than metal, and this time we get to see what lies beneath.
The plot was originally developed to be an episode for the second series, but Davies saw how the bride character could be enhanced to provide a good role for a special guest artist once he found out that there would be a second Christmas Special. It was never envisaged at this point that Donna would return as a companion, as a journalist character named Penny was developed to eventually replace Martha Jones.
This episode, had it been in Series 2, would have been second - so was replaced with Tooth And Claw.
Davies had populated his first  Christmas Special with a lot of festive icons, so this time he brought back the killer Santas, and had them employ the exploding tree baubles. The Racnoss spaceship was designed to look like a star.
Unfortunately, the filming in the summer of 2006 is apparent on screen, and it never convinces the viewer that events are taking place at Christmas time. We see great swathes of greenery in a number of early scenes.
As with last year, the TARDIS gets to do a bit of stunt work, and the motorway chase is certainly one of the highlights of the episode.

Joining Tate we have Sarah Parish playing the Racnoss Queen. Her costume is purely physical, the main body operated mechanically. Parish had starred alongside David Tennant in a BBC drama about a family man recuperating from head trauma (Recovery) as well as the excellent Blackpool. Donna's parents are Jacqueline King, as her mother Sylvia, and Howard Attfield as dad Geoff. Lance is Don Gilet. Donna's arch enemy, Nerys, is played by Krystal Archer. Some of these characters we will be meeting again in a year or two.

Story Arcs:
The tank commander announces that Mr Saxon has given orders to fire on the Webstar.
This episode picks up directly from the closing moments of Doomsday. One of Rose's tops is still in the console room. The Doctor reminisces about her as he watches the guests enjoy themselves at the reception.

Overall, not quite as good as the previous year's special, but it has a lot of good points. The DWM 50th Anniversary poll had it at number 153, out of 241 - 5 places ahead of the Kylie Minogue Christmas episode that follows it. Much depends on your opinions about Catherine Tate's Donna. She's certainly extremely abrasive when we first meet her, but her experience with the Doctor changes her, and she is a much more likeable character by the conclusion.
Things you might like to know:

  • The central character in Russell T Davies' recent drama series Cucumber worked at a company called H C Clements.
  • There's a sign for a Manchester Suite at the reception hotel. There was a Manchester Suite on Platform One in End of the World.
  • It is revealed that the Doctor still has Margaret Slitheen's tribophyscial waveform macro-kinetic extrapolator on the ship, and it gets used here to escape from the Roboforms.
  • When the Doctor looks through the mobile phone for information about H C Clements you can see glimpses of the BBC "fake" websites set up for previous episodes. This sequence was achieved on screen by Tennant playing a video of the websites on the phone.
  • Catherine Tate could not attend the read-through, so her place was taken by Tennant's then girlfriend Sophia Myles, who had recently played Mme De Pompadour.
  • Bella Emberg returned to reprise the role of Mrs Croot, from Love & Monsters, but the scene was cut. There was to be a whole light-hearted sequence showing the Doctor, Donna and Lance travelling from the wedding reception to the company HQ - using a very small, slow car, and then taking a bus, in which Mrs Croot would have been a passenger. The car section would have shown members of David Tennant's family in the background - including his parents.
  • The fake bank notes which the ATM spews out as the Santas attack featured an image of either David Tennant or producer Phil Collinson instead of the usual historical personage. Tennant was on the Tenner, appropriately enough, and Collinson on the Score (£20). The £10 notes had 10th Doctor sayings printed on them, whilst the £20 had a Fourth Doctor quote. There were a couple of stories later claiming that these had been used to defraud people - taxi drivers being particularly gullible. As a piece of TV memorabilia, they now trade around the £50 mark.
  • The TARDIS motorway sequence was chosen to accompany a piece of music from the story at the 2006 Children In Need Doctor Who concert in Cardiff. It cut out just as Donna was about to make the jump from the taxi. Highlights from the concert were broadcast as a Doctor Who Confidential special - Music and Monsters - shortly before Christmas. The full concert appears as an extra on the solo DVD release for this episode.
  • Some of Lance's criticisms of Donna include her getting excited by a new flavour of Pringles, an obsession with Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, and not being able to point out Germany on a map.
  • Donna missed the Battle of Canary Wharf as she was scuba-diving. She claims that her honeymoon will be in Morocco. These seem strange, as they don't fit the character of someone who doesn't seem to be interested (or should I say bovvered?) in expanding her personal horizons. Her missing the Sycorax invasion attempt due to a hangover seems much more in character.
  • The opening scenes were reshot, as you will notice by the lack of the heavy green lighting seen at the end of Doomsday. This was due to there being a different cinematographer for the Special.
  • The attack of the Webstar sequence hadn't been properly advertised in the location where it was filmed - causing local hotel guests to be alarmed at the sounds of gunfire and explosions in the middle of the night.
  • As with the 2005 Christmas Special there is a new song featured. This one is called "Love Don't Roam" and it is sung by The Divine Comedy's Neil Hannon. It is used for the reception scenes where the Doctor has flashbacks of Rose.
  • The Doctor mentions Gallifrey for the first time in the revived series.
  • This story obviously has an important part to play in future continuity. In Turn Left, Donna never meets the Doctor and he dies in the Racnoss lair - so a whole alternative timeline is created. The Doctor will meet someone who turns out to be Donna's grandfather next Christmas Day, before being reunited with her and inviting her once more to join him in his travels. Granddad Wilf will be instrumental in the demise of the Tenth Doctor, when he knocks four times - but that's for another time...

Saturday, 25 March 2017

B is for... Black Guardian

Some time after the departure of Leela and K9 Mark I, the Doctor and K9 Mark II found themselves drawn off course by an incredibly powerful force. This was the work of the White Guardian, who sent them, with new companion Romana, on a mission to collect the six segments of the Key to Time. This had to be reassembled in order to restore balance in the universe between the forces of light and darkness. The White Guardian warned that he had an equal but opposite peer who represented the forces of chaos - the Black Guardian. Should the Key fall into his hands, the cosmos would be plunged into eternal strife.
Of the various foes encountered by the Doctor and Romana on their quest, it is not known how many were knowing agents of the Black Guardian. It seems that he simply waited until it was time to collect the final segment and complete the Key. The sixth segment was a living being - the Princess Astra of the planet Atrios. The Black Guardian had an agent here - the Shadow - working to foment and prolong a war between Atrios and its twin world of Zeos. This would lead to the destruction of a computer which the Shadow had commissioned from the captured Time Lord Drax - Mentalis. The machine's destruction would trigger a cataclysmic explosion that would spread out far from the warring worlds.

The Doctor defeated the Shadow and completed the Key, and the White Guardian appeared on the TARDIS scanner to request that it be handed over to him. His apparent disregard for the loss of Astra prompted the Doctor to smell a rat, and he quickly activated all of the ship's defences. The Guardian on the screen was really the Black Guardian, hoping to trick him. The Doctor scattered the Key back through Time and Space, reconstituting Astra. The Black Guardian vowed to have his revenge on the Doctor, so he fitted the TARDIS with a Randomiser on its navigational circuits to make it harder for him to be tracked.

In his next incarnation, the Doctor met a schoolboy named Turlough, at a school where the Brigadier now worked following his retirement from UNIT. Turlough was really an alien, who had been exiled to Earth. Following a car crash, the Black Guardian contacted the boy and offered him his freedom if he killed the Doctor. He explained that he could not directly involve himself - as Guardians can only act through agents. Turlough agreed, albeit reluctantly, but his efforts to kill the Doctor failed. Turlough had been given a crystalline device through which the Guardian could contact him, but it could also be made to inflict punishment. At one point the Guardian took on the appearance of the school headmaster to learn Turlough's true thoughts and feelings.
The Guardian's first plan was for the Doctor to be forced to relinquish all of his remaining regenerations. When this did not work, thanks to the timely intervention of two Brigadiers from different time zones, the Guardian then set Turlough to work sabotaging the TARDIS. The defences would break down, but the ship locked onto another vessel which was bound for the Terminus space station, which lay at the very centre of the universe. Turlough's further sabotage should have triggered a second Big Bang that would have destroyed everything.

The Guardian's final gambit with Turlough was to have the Doctor encounter the Eternals, who were about to embark on a race to gain Enlightenment - the knowledge to do anything they desired. Turlough finally rejected the Guardian when he threatened to leave him stranded on the Eternals' sailing ship for ever. He threw himself overboard, only to be picked up by pirate Captain Wrack, who proved to be another agent. The Guardian had given her the power to destroy her competitors, knowing that were she to win she would relish seeing the cosmos in chaos. The Doctor and Turlough were able to win the race, and they found themselves facing both the Black Guardian and the White. Turlough was offered a share of Enlightenment, if he handed over the Doctor to his foe. He rejected it, as he had come to admire and respect the Doctor. The Black Guardian disappeared, consumed in flames.
The White Guardian warned the Doctor that his opposite number would try to destroy him again, and that he should always remain vigilant. Whilst he existed, so too did the Black Guardian.

Played by: Valentine Dyall. Appearances: The Armageddon Factor (1978), Mawdryn Undead, Terminus, Enlightenment (1983).

  • The idea of the Key to Time / Guardians was one of the first which new producer Graham Williams had when he took over the series from Phillip Hinchcliffe. Story development on the next season was too far advanced, so he had to wait until the following year to realise it. In hindsight, he thought it a mistake as it did not allow for any flexibility in moving around the story order. His successor, who was working on this season, took note - and so only ever allowed limited story arcs - such as the three part Black Guardian arc for Season 20 outlined above.
  • The exact nature of the Guardians has never been explained. Williams envisaged a pyramidal structure to the Universe, with the Time Lords high up, but the Guardians above them. 
  • It is never specified, but the implication is that the Black and White Guardians are actually different aspects to the same being.
  • Fan fiction has come up with a whole rainbow of other Guardians, however, and predictably Big Finish have had a third encounter for the Doctor with the Black Guardian.
  • Turlough the killer? A bit rubbish. You would have thought that the Black Guardian could have picked a more reliable assassin from all of Time and Space.
  • Dyall - best known for villainous roles thanks to that voice - had one more connection with Doctor Who, in the radio adventure Slipback. He died shortly after it was recorded. His appearance in the horror movie City of the Dead (US title Horror Hotel), alongside Christopher Lee, is about to get a Blu-Ray release. He was Dr Noah in the 1967 Bond spoof Casino Royale. He didn't just play evil characters, though. In 1960, he co-hosted a musical variety show on the BBC with Dusty Springfield, now sadly wiped from the archives.

Friday, 24 March 2017

B is for... Black, Dr.

An English art historian who gave guided tours of the Musee D'Orsay in Paris. He had a particular love for the works of Vincent Van Gogh. The Doctor and Amy met him when they visited the museum shortly after Rory had been apparently killed and removed from time by the crack that was spreading through all of Space and Time. Spotting an anomaly in one of Van Gogh's paintings, Black gave the Doctor the date and location it was painted so they could travel back and investigate. The Doctor was particularly drawn to Dr Black as he wore a bow-tie.
Later, the Doctor and Amy brought Vincent to the museum so that he would come to know that his life and work had not been in vain. Dr Black not only thought him one of the world's greatest artists, but an incredible human being. Little did he know that he was being thanked for his words by his artistic hero.

Played by Bill Nighy. Appearances: Vincent and the Doctor (2010).

  • Nighy's name has been flagged up as a potential Doctor ever since it was announced that the series was to be revived in 2005, one UK newspaper even announcing his winning of the role just as it was revealed that Christopher Eccleston was to be the new Doctor. He is a long-time collaborator of the writer of this story - Richard Curtis. Series 5 is lacking the emotional punch of the RTD era - until we get to Dr Black's summation of the life and works of Van Gogh.

B is for... Bishop

In the run-up to the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in June, 1953, Detective Inspector Bishop was tasked with suppressing knowledge of strange events taking place in the area around Florizel Street in Muswell Hill, North London. People were being found in a zombified state, and who had no faces. Bishop and his men rounded them up and kept them hidden in an abandoned warehouse. Many were informed on by a local man named Eddie Connolly - including his wife's mother. Bishop was at a loss to explain the cause of the affliction, or to stop it spreading. Even Torchwood were unable to help.
The Doctor broke into the warehouse and was arrested by Bishop. When another victim was brought in, the Doctor recognised her as Rose Tyler. He quickly manipulated the policeman into following his guidance, and they went with Eddie Connolly's son Tommy to the electrical goods shop of Mr Magpie, where the Doctor suspected that the answers lay. They were attacked by the Wire, and Bishop had his face removed. He would have been restored once the Doctor trapped the Wire on a video tape, to be recorded over later.

Played by: Sam Cox. Appearances: The Idiot's Lantern (2006).

B is for... Binro

On the planet Ribos, when conman Unstoffe went on the run from the Graff Vynda-K and the local militia, he sought refuge in the city concourse. He was sheltered by an impoverished old man named Binro. Binro revealed that he had once been a well-known and respected figure in the city - a scientist and a philosopher - but he had fallen foul of the authorities due to some of his theories. These included his opinions about the lengthy seasons on Ribos, and the true nature of the lights seen in the night sky. Religious orthodoxy claimed that the seasons were caused by the struggle between the Sun and Ice gods, and the lights were ice crystals. Binro believed the lights to be other suns, that might have other worlds circling them. He was persecuted and branded a heretic, and ended up homeless and destitute.
Unstoffe was able to prove to him that his theories were true. Binro accompanied the young man into the catacombs beneath the city when the Graff and his men began to close in. The old man sacrificed himself to save his new friend, dying in the knowledge that his beliefs had been vindicated.

Played by: Timothy Bateson. Appearances: The Ribos Operation (1978).

  • Binro is based on the Italian philosopher-monk Giordano Bruno, a Dominican friar whose cosmological theories offended the Catholic Church in the latter years of the 16th Century. Imprisoned by the Roman Inquisition in 1593, he was eventually sentenced to death and was burnt at the stake in the Campo de' Fiori on the 17th of February, 1600. The square continues to host a vibrant food and flower market, at the centre of which stands an imposing cowled statue of Bruno, erected in 1889.

B is for... Billy

A young man who worked as a handyman at the "Shangri-La" holiday camp in South Wales in the summer of 1959. He was also the lead singer of the band which entertained the campers, and had a great love of motorcycles. When a Navarino tour bus - really a disguised spaceship - crash landed outside the camp, Billy became infatuated with one of the passengers. She was Delta, Queen of the Chimeron race, who was on the run from the genocidal Bannermen.
Billy discovered Delta's true nature, and took it in his stride. He quickly accepted the baby Chimeron that had hatched from an egg Delta was carrying - a Chimeron princess. Billy took Delta and the rapidly growing child on a picnic, but they were tracked down by his friend Ray and the Doctor, come to warn them that the Bannermen had landed nearby. Ray carried a torch for Billy, but his heart obviously now belonged to Delta. Learning about the special food which Delta gave to the child, Billy took some for himself. After helping the Doctor capture the Bannermen, using his technical skills to boost the loudspeaker system to stun them, Billy transformed into a partial Chimeron. He gave Ray his treasured motorbike, but kept his guitar, and left Earth with Delta and the princess.

Played by: David Kinder. Appearances: Delta and the Bannermen (1987).

B is for... Bigon

An Athenian citizen whom the Doctor and his companions encountered on an alien spaceship which was rapidly approaching present day Earth. Bigon was apparently over 2000 years old. The spaceship belonged to Monarch, leader of the Urbankan race, and he had been visiting the Earth for millennia, collecting Bigon on his last trip. His great longevity was revealed to be due to him having an artificial body, with his memories, personality and intelligence saved on micro circuits.
Bigon quickly joined forces with the TARDIS crew, leading Monarch to temporarily de-circuit him due to his act of rebellion. The Doctor talked fellow android Lin Futu into reactivating Bigon, once Monarch's plan had been revealed. Bigon and the other androids set off to find a new home once Monarch had been defeated.

Played by: Phillip Locke. Appearances: Four To Doomsday (1982).

  • Some of Locke's more villainous roles include the henchman Vargas in the Bond movie Thunderball, and a mad optician in the Avengers episode that featured Jon Pertwee as a Brigadier - From Venus With Love. He also played Prof. Moriarty in a Sherlock Holmes Broadway stage production in the mid 1970's.