Voyage of the Damned
|Production Code||Christmas 2007 special|
|Dates||Dec 25 2007|
With David Tennant,
Written by Russell T Davies Directed by James Strong
Executive Producers: Russell T Davies, Julie Gardner.
|Synopsis: The starship Titanic is doomed from the start. And this time, the Doctor won't be able to save everyone.|
Voyage of a Lifetime by Stuart Cottrell 17/1/08
Unofficial figures say that over 12 million people sat down on Christmas Day to watch the Doctor's latest adventure aboard the Titanic. It's not hard to see why.
Russell T Davies had surpassed himself this time, with a much darker, more mature storyline, brought beautifully to life by a stunning cast. I myself was extremely grateful for this. I am fourteen years old, and I know that a lot of writers, when writing for children, tone their work down in the most horrible patronising way because they think children can't understand things. Russell T Davies has shown great respect for the younger audience, by putting forward some very challenging issues, and the response I have seen and heard from children has been one of great excitement and deep thought.
The story begins where we left off, with the Titanic wedged in the TARDIS, and the Doctor yelling 'what' a few times. (Isn't it nice when he doesn't know something for a change?) A slight anti-climax as he sorts that out very quickly, but then, within 30 seconds, we are on the phenomenon that is the Titanic. A beautiful set, with amazing costumes on every extra. And then we look out the window, and see the Titanic sailing through space. Words cannot describe the brilliance of the art department. It looks stunning. And then everyones jigging up and down to the newly arranged theme tune, much funkier, but does lose a bit of the TARDIS sound to it. And then, there she is. A quick flick, and it's Kylie. Double take, yes, it is her. The Doctor meets her very soon as well, and soon the two of them are helping each other in and out of scrapes already. (How does he click so easily).
Geoffrey Palmer plays an amazingly real charcter, who you can really understand. Everything that follows does so for a reason, and you can almost sympathise with him. (It's so hard to write this without spoilers). Because before long, the Titanic is sinking, having been hit by meteors. The Doctor, Astrid and their little survivor group are amazing. You have Bannakaffalatta, the little red alien (don't you just love alien good guys?), Morvin and Foon van Hoff, the most adorable couple who won their tickets, Mr Copper (Clive Swift), the slightly eccentric tour guide and the loathsome Rickston Slade. Just like traditional disaster movies, you can see charcters from different social backgrounds having to integrate, and respond to each other. In true Doctor Who style, not everyone survives, and just like life, it is usually the nicest people who die. There are moments when you really just want to cry, especially at the climax, where you can really feel the Doctor's hearts break again.
Having slightly sidetracked, the effects are amazing, definitely the biggest budget yet. The Heavenly Hosts are amazingly creepy, yet do not distract from the bigger picture, and Murray Gold's score is divine. The solution is so ridiculously funny, and you come away from it feeling thoroughly entertained. There will be a moment's pause from everyone as they finish watching it, as everyone sits back and takes it all in. Sadness, laughter, darkness, joyfulness... they all create a perfect Doctor Who.
And of course, the amazing Coming Soon trailer...
Your 903 year-old SUPERHERO, Good for Something on Christmas by Graham Pilato 24/3/08
It's a little tired and very depressingly familiar for it. More subtle continuity-bursting goes on. It's very, very, very pretty. And it's Shame about the lost opportunities.
When the Christmas Special is all there is of new Doctor Who in the many months between new seasons, it's easy to be both very forgiving and very frustrated about anything that bothers one due to the special nature of the Special.
And, dammit, this Special was pretty fucking special. It really irks one that it does irk so. So many little things bother me (and I'm sure they bother many other Doctor Who enthusiasts) about Voyage of the Damned that I think I may have to resort to some pretty rant-shaped comments. I hope this doesn't just become a long list of gripes with an eventual inevitable guarded recommendation at the end and the kind of apologist remarks I've already written for a rather embarrassingly kind-despite-the-faults Time and the Rani review. Hope not, but it's going to be very tough to stop exactly that from happening.
You know, the greatness of being a fan is that you don't have to apologize for hating things you love and making more contradictory statements than a socially conservative Republican running for president in the 21st Century. It's a relief. But I'm going to show a lot of my true colors here, 'kay? Not at all like a Titanic going down, it's not too pretty.
Now, getting into it: One line that's dead wrong... unless it's fixed eventually retroactively due to some sense actually being made from this... "903 years old"?!
Back to Time and the Rani for a second. Totally fannishly, sorry, as this is perhaps the little niggle that gets me most annoyed the at the second: The last time on the TV series that the Doctor actually revealed his age was right there, back in 1987, with cartoony Mel at his side and in the clutches of the cartoony Rani. He says that 9-5-3, the combination for a doorlock, is the same as his age, and the Rani's. Fans took permanent note twenty years ago. We thought. But RTD was a Pertwee/Tom Baker fan, and David Tennant is an out-of-the-closet Davison fan. Guess they didn't notice. And the Tenth is undoubtedly a good deal older than the Seventh. Say that it's so.
I don't know who was going to point out to RTD that the Doctor turned 1,000 in the novel Set Piece -- brilliant as that NA was, and surely during the period of Russell's awareness of the novels, seeing as he wrote one around that time -- or that the Eighth Doctor lived for at least a century and a half or so more in the later novels. I don't even care that much if he's ignoring all the novels' continuity, he's certainly not ignoring the existence of the established Seventh and Eighth Doctors thus far, as they did turn up in the Human Nature journal in drawings and the Tenth is admitting himself that he is the "Tenth". The 900 year-old Time Lord bit was something that could easily be glossed over previously because it was strictly a case of pointing out the alien, but this time it's not simply an unspecified 900-something years-old bit of alienness. It's a rather striking moment of "I'm your superhero" that just barely works if one is able to keep from thinking about "903 years old."
This is a case in point of a detail that has not been thought through at all well yet by a busy team of producers and writers trying to make magic all the time. And the most frustrating and forgivable thing about it, the "bitch of it" as they who do say do say, is that this is a detail that can easily be overlooked as long as it's not a part of a greater problem, which, on the face of it, it's not. But, in the guts of it, it is. Dammit. This is a key to a show that is being lovingly recreated and exalted on British television without the kind of intelligent detail that really matters when it comes to filling up the imagination and the continuity. And let's face it, you can't ignore all of the massively long series continuity. Who would want to, anyway? Certainly, it need not be paid worship every moment, but I'd hope that someone could at least have mentioned to Russell that his proper Doctor Who fandom might need a backup of sorts; some experts in the necessary details could be employed without pay, surely?
It's the creeping sense that this is a really strangely warped ordinary superhero we're looking at now, who wants to be that and do that, a Spiderman with no secret identity left, getting called in to save the day. It's the moldering of a hero that never would have had this presence in the past. It's a kind of betrayal that this is a guy with exactly three years of experience since he was last announced to be 900, not something like it, but it. A kind of shrugging admittance that what you see is exactly what you get, now that we can show you anything we want with our big new shiny hit show with the money.
Did that make any sense? I'm saying that I think forgetting about the age of the Doctor is about as small and glaring an error as misspelling your own middle name on an exam. You didn't have to put the middle name there, but you did, and you got it wrong. You really suck.
Regarding expectations not lived up to, though: nice they aren't Axons. I'm talking about the robotic hosts. And it's clear from the previews what the fans are being expected to think these guys are. Just like the Titanic misdirection from the end of the third season, these guys are so obviously not what we were thinking. Everything in the first three minutes of Voyage of the Damned is utterly divine in that respect. It's as beautiful as the ads made it look and here were all of the shiny weird dramatis personae on display. It started so well.
Too bad they're inferior to the Voc robots, or the "Robots of Death" -- well, inferior because they're less creepy by far than what was created in one of the truly classic Doctor Who stories of the mid-seventies. And this means that we get another opportunity to look at the new series as inferior when it's riffing on some earlier greater things, eating its own tail, chomping at the business of making a good story for the sake making a familiar one. The moment-for-moment recreation of a couple of scenes from the 1976 original comes off not a little awkwardly, though, as the disembodied hand just doesn't seem to be half the horror here, nor does the "kill the humans" bit. We're looking at certain doom for most of the ship, for certain, and it's all in the title that we've known about for months.
These folks are eponymously "damned" and the robots and their cyborg counterparts are surely into creating disasters, but what exactly is going to happen when the golden discus comes? Plot. These robots do whatever weird stuff they need to be able to do, and it doesn't half destroy their mystique. Of course they can fly. Yet again, Russell T. Davies pushes his limited ingredients to the impossibility point for the sake of making wacky Doctor Who. It's never 50,000 when it can be 5,000,000,000 with him. And we love him and hate him for it.
Let's call for a moratorium on all characters ever again who are cute and say things without verbs, like "me Tarzan", "you cute", or "Bannakaffalatta proud!". It's not cute if you keep thinking that the character should be able to say a verb and is just choosing not to because it looks cute. It's frightfully annoying.
How about that midshipman healing from that bullet? Maybe a little line of dialogue -- already asked for at this point, surely -- describing the alienness of these so very human looking aliens could have justified this miraculous oddity of survival of the most-needed characters for Plot. But no, I don't think there was even one. Despite so much damned groaning on the part of our little good guy young middy.
So, do these aliens actually look like humans? Is this the first time the new series has done that particularly embarrassing cheat? I think it is. Did I miss some line of exposition about how this is how they look just when they're visiting Christmas? Wouldn't it be nice if RTD made these guys just a little bit like the Navarinos in Delta and the Bannermen, who simply turned into human-looking people for the fun of the trip, looking a lot more like giant purple blobs with pseudopods and eyes most of the time?
A beautiful opening and a wonderful first half, quick though it is to get to the predictable inevitable "iceberg", must not be forgotten. What a ride, in the end, like the last two slaphappy Christmas Who specials, this is. For the most part, let it be remembered, this is still such a pretty 70-something minutes of fun TV. It's just that it's so incredibly familiar a thing, this ride, that I think I may be missing something new that I thought might have been coming... but is just not here yet, not until this dashing Tenth is actually given a reason for being so damn enamored with fake snow and maybe it's coming. The acting on the part of the popular lead is still as good as it was last year.
The best bits are certainly all in the first half. Although, the bit when the Doctor gets flown up to the bridge via a pair of golden hosts was just mighty heavenly. Though, that awe didn't last as long as it was supposed to, as the whole will-they-collide-or-won't-they bit just comes off terribly cheesy, especially once the queen gets her remarks in. From the departure of most of the extras upon the big slaughterhouse section of the middle act of the story to the end, with the bizarre celebration of falling particles, and the chance to have a kitchen and chairs for an old alien fraud with quite the credit card, we get some truly weird and inexplicable themes. Well, the one theme being: you can't always save the ones you'd prefer. And that's solid, but so meaningless to a Time Lord who knows better. And it really makes one wonder what was the point of getting so inexplicably fixated on Rose in the second season... especially as that came off so poorly.
Prettier and far more cinematic than The Runaway Bride, this is, but a lot less fun to think about, actually; a bitter aftertaste sets in just moments after you begin to think about what in the world that was all about. Here's hoping the madness means something later, because I believe we have a great example here of a story pulled in many directions in theme, none too clear but one and that one is a retread. The pictures were so pretty and Christmas got its due adventurous representation here, just what does it mean?
Christmas itself is perhaps best not returned to by Doctor Who after this, at least not so literally. This story was all corn. The fantasy world of present-day RTD-era Who has finally turned the Doctor into the kind of superhero of comic book lore that I never associated with Doctor Who. He's getting to be well known and loved or hated by society just for the sake of humor and fitting a sort of traditional heroic mould. People on Earth do know him well, and his adventures. That Elizabeth I wants him dead, Victoria wants him exiled, and now Elizabeth II wants him to go on saving the world just makes me feel a little bit sick, actually. I don't want my Doctor to be famous, at least not in the present day.
I was still reeling from the weirdness of a present day that seems to keep getting hit by impossible-to-deny alien attacks that doesn't seem to change much at all when the maybe-silliness of this new "London Deserted" premise fell upon me. What do we do with that? Would we run? Who are these people in this London who hide from nothing?
Part of the problem of making huge changes to the "real world" of a story in sci-fi is that it automatically makes everything about the change from the norm that much more compelling to an audience, dwarfing whatever other pretty spaceships may be orbiting in the story for consequence. Once the Titanic doesn't kill everyone on Earth, I think we're looking at a huge potential unrealized and the more frustrating for it. We need to know what's going on here. Maybe it's more Torchwood's purview, but I don't expect them to get their heads out of their own scandalous asses for very long over there. Plus, they're in Cardiff.
God, I hope the fourth season of new Doctor Who can finally deal with the new world that it has made out of the present day. We've seen the profound impact of the Doctor on individuals in this new series -- with the likes of Rose, Mickey, Elton, Jackie, LInDA and Martha -- but we do need to know about the new world as a whole, I think. So far, the 21st Century -- the time when everything changes, according to Captain Jack on Torchwood -- is. Let's see what that means please. Change us.
We did have Rob Shearman's Dalek, where we learned that, like it was often suggested by Who in the past, e.g. John Peel's novelization of The Power of the Daleks, the alien technology being discovered and harnessed gradually by today's humans is having an impact on progress and responsible for so much advancement. That's happening already, and that's good, but what about all the wonder and the religious significance? Where is our Childhood's End moment? Will we have Sontarans teach us a lesson this coming year? Something worthy of the build up from so many disastrous Christmases?
And, finally, will Kylie Minogue, so very much another Rose stand-in, ever live up to the fact that we're all going to think of her as Billie Piper's inferior from now on? The less we get manipulated to cry about that best-forgotten Rose, I say, the better.
A Ship That Sank by Greg Long 9/6/08
The episode takes place on a spaceship. Only it doesn't really. Davies doesn't like spaceships and such science-fiction nonsense. So, while the episode is ostensibly set on a spaceship, it really, and unimaginatively, takes place at a 1930s English Christmas party on a steamship floating in space. That way, they can easily evoke movies like Titanic and The Poseidon Adventure, without actually having to put in the thought required to make sense.
There is nothing innately clever about referencing other material, despite what Davies seems to think, though there is something very lazy about lifting symbolism without putting it into some sensible context. Doctor Who at its best is groundbreaking, but in Davies' hands, it all too often follows where it should lead, content to copy rather than be inventive. Never is this clearer than when the program is cannibalizing its own history, such as when it deliberately copies the magnificent Robots of Death.
Such arbitrary "homage" isn't myth building as logical continuity would be; it is illusion-destroying, reminding us, yet again, that it is just a television program. It goes without saying that, since we are constantly reminded that this is TV, there is no tension in the episode and nothing feels like it is at stake. It also goes without saying that the plot is resolved by a dues ex machina, as always in Davies' scripts. Out of nowhere, for the first and last time, it is decided that cyborgs have the power to destroy robots. Oh, and the Doctor guesses what you have to say to the robots to stop them from attacking, a weakness that their programmers have inexplicably built into them. Oh, and there just happens to be a forklift at just the right place and time to shove the villain into a pit.
I am not surprised that a lot of people watched this episode at Christmas. After all, not only is it Christmas themed, it is also empty, mindless fluff, full of motion and packed with sumptuous eye-candy, like a hit, bubblegum pop video. However, like hit, bubblegum pop, there is nothing here to provide longevity. This is disposable, throw-away television not worth revisiting, and Doctor Who is capable of being so much more than that.
It is ironic that the episode is dedicated to Verity Lambert. What she gave us was simple but startlingly original, a vision of something new. Voyage of the Damned is flashy but derivative, an unimaginative rehashing of old movies.
A Review by Finn Clark 2/9/10
I didn't particularly like Voyage of the Damned back in 2007, but rewatching it was a revelation. I was expecting a shallow action movie, but what I got was whole orders of magnitude beyond that. It's ironic. It's gleefully sadistic in its subversion of the disaster movie formula and that's what let me enjoy the kitsch. By the time the Doctor's ascending to heaven in the arms of golden angels, I was on board with every second and relishing all the scenes in which the story would top its own macho silliness.
I should emphasise that I could hardly have been more surprised by this. I think it's great now yet, on first viewing, I only saw what was on the surface and dismissed it as an action movie. What's more, I think this reaction is fairly predictable. Exactly how much irony do you expect from a Christmas audience, bloated with turkey and in large part tuning in for Kylie Minogue? 13.3 million people watched, you know. Unbelievable. Put in that context, Voyage of the Damned is doing something appallingly dangeous. It's sticking a knife in disaster movies, but doing so by deliberately being glossy, overblown kitsch. That's why I love it, but it's also exactly why I didn't in 2007.
Of course it's obviously deliberate. Even haters surely couldn't deny that the episode's setting out to subvert the genre. Rusty marks all out his victims as "nice" and "nasty", then goes out of his way to kill the wrong ones in the wrong order. He spare the obvious "marked for death" characters and kills the people the Doctor promises to save. The slimeball survives and learns nothing from his experiences. Mr Redemptive Death gets a beautiful, heartbreaking scene in which he... um, lives. Meanwhile the Doctor is going around doing that action hero thing of making big dramatic vows, only for reality to bite him in the arse. "We'll get you out of here, I promise." "I am coming back for you." "I promise." "No more."
All this I adore. It's sadism as an art form, deliberately setting up cliches in order to blow their brains out with a shotgun. How often does the hero of a Hollywood movie make this kind of impossible promise to the girl, but then get called on it by the script? Not nearly enough, that's how often. As for the deaths... ooooh, I love those deaths. The first to happen to one of our heroes is basically the equivalent of tripping on a paving stone. It's the kind of thing Jim Mortimore would like, that's how evil it is.
Then there's the kitsch. Of course, this is tempered by the knowledge that New Who is perfectly capable of drowning in schmaltz with no irony at all, but even so I was astonished to find myself loving the "heavenly ascension" scene. No, not just tolerating. I actually loved it. The sequence that starts with Astrid's "I resign" is overpitched just right, if that makes sense. In particular, what leads up to the death is perfect, with the overblown music and the slow-motion somehow managing to work both ironically and sincerely. This episode is taking the biggest movie cliches in the book and making this a worthwhile experiment by turning them up until the knobs fall off. See what I mean about all this probably being a bit much for a Christmas audience?
I wasn't so sure about the Doctor's "I am the Doctor" speech, mind you.
Nevertheless, despite all that, a story that's deliberately aping one of Hollywood's stupidest genres somehow manages to include some of the most touching scenes to date in New Who. Both the deaths and the later goodbyes can be lovely. The first farewell is yet more gratuitous authorial sadism. Hey, I can be the hero and save the... um, actually I can't. Er, sorry. Nevertheless it's still "tear in the eye" time, as is the last scene on Earth. Who'd have thought that old idiot could be so touching? This is a story full of tragedy and sadness, yet it manages to end on a note of hope. Of all the scripts Russell T. Davies has written for Doctor Who, this is probably the one that posed the greatest challenge in terms of tone and was the most likely to crash and burn. I'm in awe that it didn't.
The cast is noteworthy. Kylie Minogue is the big guest star and does everything asked of her, i.e. she's beautiful, sweet and wears a maid's outfit that in the eyes of, er, someone, makes her look like a prostitute. I thought she was fine. Geoffrey Palmer is magnificent, managing to be at once both sad and sinister. Clive Swift astonished me, David Tennant is great as always and there's even Bernard Cribbins.
The story deviates from the disaster movie formula. Doctor Who tends to require a villain, so here we have... um, some guy. It feels like a surprise that he's not the Daleks or the Cybermen. He's fine as well, though. If nothing else, his presence gives Tennant one of my favourite lines: "You can't even sink the Titanic!" Oh, and while I'm discussing the characters, what was the deal with Red Spiny Midget Alien? The steward keeps making him sound like a hermaphrodite or something. "Ladies, gentlemen and Bannakaffalatta." Admittedly he has a secret, but I'm not convinced that the steward would have gone referring to that in public even if he'd known about it in the first place. Maybe he really was a spiny red hermaphrodite after all?
The production is of course spectacular, even for New Who. It had to be. It's a blockbuster. It helps a lot that they have a clear design hook on which to hang the production, i.e. the real Titanic. My favourite bit of design was the angelic Host, who reminded me of The Robots of Death and had one of the nastier murder methods I can imagine being allowed on BBC1 at teatime on Christmas day. Admittedly it's not exactly Texas Chainsaw Massacre, but it's a million miles from the usual CGI light ray. Those metal discs might cut through bone if you threw them hard enough. Get one in the face and you'll lose half your skull. Ewww. We don't see any blood, but we don't have to.
Overall, a triumph. What's particularly stunned me is that I'd never expected to be having this reaction. Until today, I'd have written this off as overblown tosh. Of course, it still is, but in a way that means that's only half the story. This story isn't just "less painful than I thought", but genuinely interesting. It has the disaster movie stuff, but also some of the best character moments in New Who. One goodbye in particular is strange and a little magical. She could yet come back, you know. Right now I'd half agree that she was a companion.
Hugely underrated. If you think I'm off my head after reading this review, I'd seriously recommend a rewatch.
"Video game blues" by Thomas Cookson 11/11/14
Voyage of the Damned stands at the centre of the unholy trinity between Last of the Time Lords and Partners in Crime. Three stories that either individually or collectively caused even some of the more pro-RTD fans to feel betrayed and dismayed, and keen to see Russell leave.
But pinpointing what's wrong with it is as difficult and frustrating as pinpointing what's wrong with the blockbuster film its apeing.
After James Cameron's Titanic was a huge hit, it was inevitably followed by a heavy backlash of people who hated the film and all it stood for. I used to think it was a technically brilliant film with an astute authenticity and which hit all the right emotional notes. Then, after watching Confused Matthew's brilliant evisceration of it, it suddenly hit me all that was wrong with the film. Not just that the characters and romance were simplistically trite, half-baked and two-dimensional and that the running length was self-indulgent, but also the cold, mechanical ways that the film tries to overcompensate for its deficit by being so crassly and bullyingly manipulative. And, with that, I realized there was a reason I'd long found the film far too uninviting to want to give it repeat viewings.
So what's that got to do with this? Well, on paper Voyage of the Damned should be great. It's derivative of Enlightenment and Robots of Death, but at least it's stealing from the best, rather than RTD's usual shameless Reality TV pilfering. On paper, it should have a bit of everything that makes the show endearing and charming. It should be the very encapsulating story you can show to people as an example of why you like the show. Instead, what we get is a rather sour mix.
If this story's problem can be summed up in one word, it's 'overkill'.
Now Doctor Who has never been a stranger to overkill. In fact, arguably some of its best episodes were laden with overkill. Inferno, Genesis of the Daleks, Earthshock, Caves of Androzani, Remembrance of the Daleks. Doctor Who's often about tying stomachs in knots and producing savage beauty from its own controlled chaos. Sometimes it goes down well. But sometimes, like with Resurrection of the Daleks or Let's Kill Hitler, it just makes you feel a bit queasy and dirty. Sometimes there's a soggy middle-ground like Children of Earth, which is immediately riveting to watch, but on reflection it's so overpacked with incident that with hindsight you realize Ghost Machine or From Out of the Rain were far more interesting.
I'm not sure what the trick of mastering it is, but Voyage of the Damned undeniably fails at it. As is often the problem with RTD's writing, it suffers from a case of too much too soon. The Doctor gets acquainted with his gang of new friends so quickly and easily that it feels kind of insipid, and there's no real conflict between the team from there. At the other extreme, the Doctor having 60 surviving passengers to save after the initial devastation of the impact is as good a dramatic stake as any, but then RTD quickly starts killing them off with rapid succession, so that the stakes instead become the Earth and the few expendables left.
That last point is typical of RTD, particularly at this point. We'd just come off the modern Master-returns trilogy. A story that began in Utopia, and frankly should have been the natural home for the entire trilogy. The last numbers of humanity enduring the final days of the universe, needing a scientific visionary like Professor Yana to save them. But unfortunately Yana has relapsed back into being the Master. The entire story could be about the Doctor and Master's final battle in this apocalyptic environment, and the Doctor having to also weigh up the fate of future humanity, and it could explore existentialist questions of whether the Master's intellect can redeem him or rather whether it gives him the power to perform a redeeming act. The Doctor being unable to kill the Master because he knows only by turning him back into Yana does humanity have a hope.
But of course RTD never met a compelling sci-fi story he couldn't throw under the bus based on the philistine notion that the masses can only relate to the world of modern Earth. So the story was forced to shift location back to 2007, sweeping the question of Utopia under the carpet and turning the Master into a lobotomised moron. And then finally erase itself from having happened at all.
Basically the same thing happens here. Where our stake should be is on the ship's people. But RTD decides to kill them off because he thinks the audience won't be interested. They'd only be interested in what happens to Earth (well, by Earth, I really mean London). Recall his moronic remarks about being emotionally uninterested in 'the people of the planet Zog' or 'the Zog monster', and weep for a world in which RTD always called the shots and thus Genesis of the Daleks, Brain of Morbius, State of Decay and Snakedance would have been rejected from production without a moment's thought. Yes, RTD's vision of Doctor Who. It's all about empathy, but empathy dictated by the limits of what's fashionable. Empathy only as long as everyone in the show (including the Doctor) is exactly like you.
In much the same way, this story is Enlightenment with an RTD lobotomy. Stripping the hedomistic Eternals of anything remotely alien or spooky, and even giving them mobile phones just so these aliens are just like us. There's no limits to Doctor Who but the imagination. Unfortunately, we're dealing with RTD's imagination, in which case Doctor Who is in a pitiful and barren state, almost choking for a breath of life. As a result, the awe at the heart of a story about a space-faring Titanic shrivels away fast.
The worst example of overkill though is the trek over the collapsing scaffolding, whilst being attacked by angels. Worse, attacked by flying angels with razor frizbees. The trek across the scaffolding would have been suspenseful enough, but having the angels attack is just punishing our characters needlessly. And in a way that forms the action climax of the story. Had all or most of the characters made it across against the odds, there might have been a sense of elation. Instead they never had a chance and three of them die in quick rushed melodramatic succession. One of them even kills herself, which just cheapens the deaths and makes the struggle meaningless.
And why should the robot angels need the capacity to fly and throw deadly frizbees at people? It makes no sense from a plot perspective why they'd have this feature when they're designed as benevolent servitors and nothing more. Plus surely they'd weigh too much to be able to fly. But it also makes no sense in terms of their villainous presence. The fact that they have robot strength should make them formidable enough on their own, but RTD just has to add superpowers too, like he always does, thus conveying a sense of a good concept contemptuously stripped bare and perverted and turned into something it inherently isn't. A villain or enemy should have limitations as well as strengths. It's what makes them and the conflict they present interesting. When things gets too one-sided, things get boring.
This is a horribly undisciplined plot. Like Ewen Campion-Clarke said of Resurrection of the Daleks, the story feels bored, and laced with too many pointless deaths.
And, as usual, RTD just can't resist poking holes in the premise, or stretching it beyond breaking point. In Classic Who, maybe Mr Copper's inaccurate details about Earth customs would be a background detail, but RTD just has to unsubtly rub it in that this is a really long gag that he thinks is so funny and so brings it centre stage. As such, it becomes impossible to ignore or avoid the absurdity of just how ludicrously wrong he gets every aspect of the Earth culture of Christmas. He could have guessed all of it and got half of it right. And so it jars with everything else this story is presenting of not only how similar this alien culture is to ours, but how detailed their efforts to emulate the Titanic precisely are. Either they know everything of our culture or nothing. But it can't be both.
The ending is terrible. Max Capricorn makes a late arrival in one scene and is a far too hammy villain to be believable, and his motivations are cardboard at best. But why is he even here? Factoring in his plan to crash himself with the ship and hope he survives, it makes no sense, and just becomes unbelievably moronic. A villain like this never had a chance and was doomed the moment he decided to come onboard, so why should I care? Surely it would be better - and bleaker - if Max Capricorn was speaking to them in a pre-recorded message and was utterly absent and unreachable. And even have him escape justice at the end if you wanted to be really bleak about it, and convey that surviving was as good as it gets. That way he'd possibly be abstract enough a foe to work, whilst conveying the coldness of space.
Instead, we get Kylie driving him over the edge in a forklift truck and stupidly failing to jump to safety before going over, because RTD has less understanding of basic human survival instincts than Eric Saward did. But thinks he can still sell it as a tragic moment. RTD still can't write a solid action sequence to save his life, even though sometimes his giving it a really good go can be exhilarating; here it's just sloppy and horrid.
Oh and I'm fed up of the deification of the Doctor. The whole "I'm the Doctor, I'm 900 years old, and I'm the man who's going to save all your lives" is so bad that I think even Ian Levine could have written something better. And then there are the robot angels carrying the Doctor. This was perhaps an inevitable byproduct of someone like Russell having too much power and control over the series. Cinema and TV is replete with messianic imagery, but usually it gets filtered down through a process of script editors and directors who decide how to play or present it. Till in the end you usually get something that's subtle or subtextual enough a piece of imagery to not jar, or even be noticed unless you're looking carefully. Under RTD, however, if he wants it in just so he can piss off Christians, it goes in, and there's no filtering. It's long, heavy-handed and pretty nauseating (as is the bit with the Queen and her corgis). It also completely diminishes all previous tension by revealing the angels could've broken into the navigation bridge section at any point, but were apparently playing nice all along. Either that or RTD doesn't care about the established rules of his plot or jeapordy, so why should we?
The whole thing's a live-action-platform video game, and it's just as unfulfilling and hollow. It wants to be a more downbeat version of Horror of Fang Rock, where the nastiest, most self-serving toff survived and never got his comeuppance, whilst nobler characters braved death and lost. I applaud that. But RTD can't resist spelling it out. The moment should speak for itself, but Mr Copper has to brag about RTD's dramatic decision by proxy. Furthermore, having Mr Copper survive demonstrates how RTD just can't resist having his cake and eating it. RTD liked Mr Copper so he survives as our consolation prize, Astrid dies but doesn't really, and Alonzo survives as yet another consolation prize because I guess RTD fancies him. Rather than a genuinely downbeat ending, we get a safer cop-out ending that's bragging about its own downbeatness.
Allons-y, Alonso! by Evan Weston 7/9/15
The evolution of the Russell T. Davies Christmas special is fascinating. You start with The Christmas Invasion, which is just a padded version of a standard B-level Davies story. It's also the only Davies Christmas special to feature the regular companion, if you can believe it. The Runaway Bride went down the "very special episode" route a bit more, casting Catherine Tate in a central role and pulling off some pretty excellent action set pieces, most notably the TARDIS-taxi chase down a highway. With Voyage of the Damned, Davies continues the path he set up with The Runaway Bride, packing everything together to make it as very special for his drunk-on-nog and/or high-on-sugar audience as possible. The result is a mixed yet ultimately enjoyable take on disaster movies, with plenty of cheese and casual-fan-pleasing moments sprinkled throughout.
The subversion of disaster movie tropes on display here is fairly admirable, and it's probably the episode's greatest strength. Turning the Titanic into a space cruiser was really quite brilliant, and it sets up all the fun that follows. The way in which the ship goes down - the terminally-ill captain is paid off to save his family - is poignant and unexpected, and most of the resulting plot points come off the same way. The adorable overweight couple are the first to go down, Kylie Minogue gets a fairly touching death, the ultimate villain is an obvious surprise (if that makes any sense), and the only detestable principle character, Rickson Slade, not only lives but becomes rich and learns nothing from the experience. It keeps things fresh, though the script tends to emphasize its themes through unnecessary expository dialogue a bit too much. Maybe Davies was just trying to keep the adults in step with the fast-paced story.
Voyage of the Damned is told very quickly: this is really a 90-minute two-parter condensed down to about 70, and, while that helps the fat get trimmed down, the childish way the script explains every detail of the story still makes some parts feel bloated and others feel slight. The set-up to the crash is done at a nice pace, complete with a trip to meet Wilfred Mott, but once the ship goes down, the episode takes on a video-gamey feel of the characters encountering levels of suck as they climb through the ship. It gets both repetitive and gives you a bit of whiplash, so that you're unable to get to know the characters more, especially Astrid. More on her later. The final confrontation with Capricorn is fine, but the ordeal leading up to it feels very rushed. There's also a good deal of sap going on here, as you'd expect, and the quickly-paced script doesn't always give it enough room to breathe.
Most of that sap comes from the deaths of the characters themselves. Much was made at the time of Kylie Minogue's casting, with critics (and some fans) calling it an overt publicity stunt that didn't belong on Doctor Who. Overall, it's hard to disagree with that. Minogue is fine, and she doesn't really offend at any particular point that I can remember, but Astrid is very thinly drawn and she does nothing to help provide any backstory or weight to the character. As a result, the initial Astrid death scene just feels routine, and the Doctor's anger and passion are incredibly forced. She's far too bland and helpless for him to ever invite her along as a companion, and the relationship between the two is far from believable. Her second death scene is much more successful, but it could have been a true tearjerker if the character was written or played better. Speaking of the Doctor, David Tennant is an odd mix of compelling and annoying in Voyage of the Damned. He rarely has a worse moment in the whole run of the show than his gratuitous made-for-the-trailers speech into the camera, but that's more on Davies and director James Strong than Tennant. I'm not sure where to put this performance; he's been both better and worse.
Among other characters that mostly fail, Bannakaffalatta's sacrifice is a nice moment, but he basically exists so Davies can offer crude commentary on gay rights. While I appreciate what he's trying to say, as usual, the social comments feel totally out of place. Alonso Frame is nicely characterized by Russell Tovey, who would turn this role into a breakout on BBC Three's Being Human, but he pretty much saves what should have been a very bland character. The other characters tend to work better. Morvin and Foon are utterly adorable, and their deaths are the only ones that legitimately angered me while watching. I really wanted them to make it through, and they were the first to die. Come on, Russell. Mr. Copper is an unqualified success, helped out by the best performance of the episode from Clive Swift. His story is the only one in the whole story that truly convinces, and his character receives a wonderful finish. Slade is never more than a one-note jerk, but he works fine in that role, and George Costigan's Capricorn is a great mix of camp and production design.
Capricorn's agents of death are a group of robotic angels called the Heavenly Hosts, which end up being fairly emblematic of Voyage of the Damned as a whole. The Hosts are at times wonderfully creepy, and they feel like a genuine threat the whole way, especially when characters start to die at their hands, er, halos. However, they're so obviously designed to be the perfect mix of Christmas and scary that at times they feel sort of packaged into the story. They're also sure to please the crowds, as they are totally derivative of Steven Moffat's far-superior Weeping Angels from Blink. They adapt to the needs of the script - the three questions thing was just stupid - they have a gimmick ("information") and they turn good at the end; it's all just so telegraphed the whole way, which is the story's main problem.
None of it is necessarily bad, but Voyage of the Damned feels scientifically put together, rather than organically written like the best of Doctor Who. You get the sense that Russell T. Davies has perfected what he believes to be the perfect Christmas special formula, and he wrote every beat of the story according to that formula. It left me feeling both enthralled and a bit cold. Voyage of the Damned mostly succeeds on the strength of its themes and its parody of disaster movie cliches, and some of the supporting characters are truly great, but the way the episode forces its emotional cues on you are at times too much. But I guess drunk people need that.