Where last year's 'The Christmas Invasion' was about rebirth, renewal and starting again, 'The Runaway Bride' finds itself faced with the task of getting the Doctor past his grief over the loss of Rose.
As far as that goes, it is quite successful since, as ever, the real gold in this Russell T Davies episode is the emotional payoff at the end.
However, it says a great deal, I think, that halfway through the episode I found myself feeling sure that I would find the ending hugely touching and was willing most the episode away so that end would come sooner. This wish came mostly from the presence of two other RTD mainstays - the 'knockaround' opening full of chav jokes and the relatively simple main plot.
Davies proved last season with 'The Christmas Invasion', 'Doomsday' and 'Love and Monsters' (to some extent - it's great writing, just not necessarily Doctor Who writing) that he can develop an interesting plot in an interesting way but once again he seems to have fallen back into the habit of simply writing lots of chase sequences and having a villain do some posturing before he can finally get to the emotional payoff which he really wants to write. The TARDIS road chase set a new benchmark for the series and the trip to the beginnings of the Earth was lovely, but neither made up for the fact that the majority of this story was set around a wedding reception disco and a poorly-realised, rather bland basement.
Just when I thought the plot was taking a nice twist as the Empress of Racnoss (beautifully put together and played but, again, oddly written - a primal creature from the beginnings of the universe who does little more than make poor jokes throughout) ascended back into her ship, Davies goes for the cop-out option and has the Doctor rattle off an explanatory line about her power being used up so she can be very easily shot out of the sky.
'The Runaway Bride' isn't bad, as such, and the numerous glowing reviews in the press seem to put me in the minority, but it just felt very by-the-numbers and uninspired to me. When the Doctor and Donna are bantering or sharing their pain it is a beautiful piece. It's just a pity that the main bones of the story are so reminiscent of a bad Christmas present - very prettily wrapped but the present inside is nowhere near as exciting. And whoever came up with the ridiculously incongruous moment on those two-wheeled motorised things should be let nowhere near a TARDIS again ...
As far as the rest of the production goes, the crew struggle mightily with Davies' expectations and only half-succeed in finding locations which don't just look like large empty spaces given 'spooky' lighting. They are also fighting against the time of year, the summer's heatwave clearly interfering with the Christmassy feel which last year's special enjoyed. Tennant and, surprisingly, Catherine Tate are both very good and Sarah Parish's Empress is extremely watchable. Murray Gold's score, after the searing beauty of last year's highlights, is a little annoying in places but it is entirely possible that is due to Davies' direction that this episode feel like a 'romp'.
As for the season 3 trailer - didn't give much away, did it? The shots of The Globe and the black Dalek were very pleasing but the rest just seemed to be lots of running and screaming all spliced together. It does look like season 3 will be a darker one, though, giving Tennant more to play with.
Overall, then, the show seems in very good shape. It can do breakneck adventure in its sleep now, which is exactly why it should be pushed further into darker, edgier scripts. I'm not forgetting the intended family audience but there's a world of difference between a 'Girl in the Fireplace'/'Satan Pit' and a 'New Earth'/'Runaway Bride', so lets hope for more of the former.