Did we like it?
Even just an extra 15 minutes was enough to dispel the hurried, frantic nature of the main series that has been its biggest blight so far. It was a pity then, that what could have been an unqualified Christmas treat was badly let down by perhaps the worst monster in the history of this august programme.
What was good about it?
• The extra time that allowed the narrative to ebb and flow between frantic action sequences and more reflective episodes as we lurched gloriously from the enjoyable farce of the Doctor and Donna (Catherine Tate) trying to get a taxi immediately into a thrilling chase along the motorway as the Tardis pursued the kidnapped Donna.
• That was then followed by the Doctor and Donna sharing a quiet moment atop a London skyscraper. And even here there was an unexpected comic twist when the Doctor put his blazer around the shoulders of the despondent Donna after she had missed her wedding. “God, you’re skinny,” she scalded, “that wouldn’t fit a rat.”
• And that was just one of a number of fabulous exchanges between the incongruous couple. One of the Doctor’s most alien traits is to suddenly become possessed by an urge to expound scientific psychobabble with little regard of whom or what it is about. Twice he forgot Donna was a person as he tried to figure out how and why she was transported aboard the Tardis and twice he received a welcome slap in the face for his insensitivity.
• While the disappointing denouement was broken up by the Doctor and Donna taking a dreamlike trip back to the creation of the Earth to discover the plot of the Empress of the Rachnos.
• The only time the sonic screwdriver was used with any imagination whatsoever was when the Doctor caused the cash machine to spurt out thousands of pounds in notes thus impeding the advancing robot Santas as the greedy public scrambled for the cash.
• The desperation and mediocrity of Christmas and how it is a pinprick of light in the miserable lives of millions of people enslaved in offices around the country encapsulated in that one instant when the dance floor was flooded at Donna’s wedding reception within the first few bars of Slade’s Merry Christmas Everyone.
What was bad about it?
• The ubiquity of the sonic screwdriver as a kind of magic wand to extricate the Doctor from every scrape. The consequence being that as soon as he or Donna became imperilled you were just waiting for the wave of the wrist and hey presto the sonic screwdriver has: made a pay phone work; drawn money from a bank; opened a taxi window; scanned Donna; accessed the Internet on a wedding guest’s Blackberry; short-circuited the robot Santas; accessed the secret floor at HC Clements (Donna’s workplace); got the Tardis to materialise around him and Donna; released Donna from the Empress’s web; and turned a wheel on the flood controls of the Thames Barrier.
• After a while you began to question the purpose of David Tennant’s presence; why not just let the sonic screwdriver be the star of the show and be done with all that Timelord nonsense. Russell T Davies has claimed that the sonic screwdriver’s purpose was to prevent the Doctor being stopped in his tracks by something as mundane as a door. Quite right, but it should not have morphed into a universal problem-solver.
• The absolutely awful Empress of the Rachnos, played by Sarah Parish. She was not at all terrifying despite looking like a gruesome crimson-scaled spider with a humanoid head and torso (ripped off rather nakedly from the demoness Lolth for anyone else who spent their teenage years throwing 20-sided dice on kitchen tables instead of ravishing young women/men on them).
• Any invasion of Earth the Empress had plotted would have been thwarted by her obligation for each winter to strap on a bouffant wig to play Widow Twanky opposite Joe Pasquale at the Playhouse, Great Yarmouth such was her laughable pantomime cackle and ludicrous rasping voice. Villains who laugh diabolically at their own evil, Machiavellian plans are at least 30 years out of date. And other than point at a screen with a leg, she didn’t seem to actually do anything.
• We could see the exact point the budget ran dry, and that was when the Empress’s “children” never came close to emerging into the world and remained nothing more than a blurry, unthreatening light at the bottom of a very deep pit until they were drowned.
• One attraction for kids of watching Doctor Who is that they feel they are seeing an adult programme, but this had a misguided attempt to make children feel included in the narrative by featuring children in the back of the Land Rover egging the Doctor on as he rescued Donna from the taxi and the little girl who narrowly avoided being split in two by a lightning bolt as she tiresomely screamed.