Ranking the Doctor Who Christmas Specials

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David Tennant and Catherine Tate in “The Runaway Bride”. (Photo: Doctor Who, BBC)

5. The Runaway Bride

“The Runaway Bride” introduces Donna Noble as a Doctor Who companion and that alone is almost enough to make it great. Granted, this first version of Donna is much more one-note (and, to be fair, kind of irritating) than the one we would all come to know and love in Season 4. But David Tennant and Catherine Tate have great chemistry with another from jump. And Donna’s presence — abrasive though it occasionally is — feels necessary to kickstart the Doctor’s story again after the heartbreaking loss of Rose Tyler in the Season 2 finale.

This episode revolves around the Tenth Doctor’s attempt to get a confused Donna back to her fiancé after she randomly materializes on the TARDIS. There’s a lot of silly holiday-related business, including the return of those murderous Santas from “The Christmas Invasion” and another world-threatening attack. The Doctor must ultimately face-off with the Empress of a spider-like species called the Racnoss. She’s attempting to repopulate Earth with her “children” because, of course, she is.

The story itself is ridiculous, but there are so many great character moments here. Tennant’s Ten gets to go to one of his darkest places as he floods the underground lair of the Racnoss. He’s quite terrifying, actually, and a great reminder that while the Doctor is wild and wondrous, he is the furthest thing possible from safe. Tate is, as ever, particularly great at playing comedy shot through with pathos. Donna’s heartbreak when she realizes that her husband-to-be not only hates her, but is using her as a tool to help an alien spider to destroy the world, is very moving. (And a sign of great things to come.)