The Titanic! What? Astrid! What? Bannakaffalatta! What..? He’s the Doctor, he’s a Timelord, from the planet Gallifrey, in the constellation of Kasterborous, he’s 903 years old and he’s the one who’s going to save your life and all 6 billion of the lives on planet Earth; got a problem with that? This suit must be unlucky…
Voyage Of The Damned – where to begin? 2007 was a very good year for Who. Martha Jones (Freema Ageyman) had successfully filled the hole left by Rose Tyler (Billie Piper), Captain Jack (John Barrowman) had returned for three more episodes, The Master (John Simm) had finally returned victorious to our televisions and hugely popular stories such as Blink and Human Nature/The Family of Blood had received wide critical acclaim – the show and its production team were on a high (and rightly so). Now the year was set to be capped off with a Christmas special guest-starring pop sensation Kylie Minogue and with an extended running time – it was a very good year.
Kicking off precisely where Last Of The Timelords left viewers (or Timecrash for those fans who like to be technical), The Doctor is once again on his own after Martha’s departure and he has, after an encounter with his past self, forgotten to raise his shields. This, of course, leads a ship with the same name and likeness to The Titanic to crash into the time machine. The cliff-hanger is resolved quickly and (naturally) not being one to let opportunity pass him by, The Doctor hops on board for a quick look around – donned in his black suit last seen in The Lazarus Pit – and discovers that it is in fact a space ship on a cruise. “Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Christmas…”
The Doctor soon discovers that the cruise is run by a company owned by one Max Capricorn, and partly staffed by angel-shaped robots called “the Host” who act as tourist information providers. Capricorn’s company is going down the drain, the Captain, chillingly played by Geoffrey Palmer (probably best known for the role of Lionel Hardcastle in As Time Goes By), is acting strangely and the mysterious Host are malfunctioning; what could possibly go wrong?
We are introduced to Astrid (Minogue) and the other main characters of the story fairly promptly including the Van Hoffs, Captain Hardaker, Midshipman Alonso Frame (Russell Tovey, best known for his roles in The History Boys, Gavin and Stacey and Being Human), Bannakaffalatta (“talking conker”), Rickston Slade and Mr Copper and it soon becomes clear that it’s the classic disaster movie plot. Characters are picked off one-by-one as the group navigates the damaged space liner and the deaths of the Van Hoffs and Bannakaffalatta are particularly hard to not feel.
Bannakaffalatta declaring “Bannakaffalatta, cyborg! Bannakaffalatta proud!” before sacrificing himself to save the others from the Host is particularly heart-wrenching and Astrid’s sacrifice later on is also high on the list of the show’s greatest heroic moments: “Mr. Capricorn, I resign!”.
A mention must go to Clive Rowe and Debbie Chazen, Mr and Mrs Van Hoff respectively, who are a pleasure to watch on screen and really make a convincing hard-up couple. A lovely scene, featuring just the two of them, where they are fixing a Host robot together was a favourite for me.
Russell Tovey ‘s also plays Alonso (prompting the long-awaited in-joke “Allons-y Alonso!”), the fresh-out-of-naval-school recruit, perfectly and handles the scenes after he is shot by the Captain particularly well. There is also a particularly epic moment for Tennant’s Doctor that involves lots of walking away from explosions and ends with the heavenly Host carrying him into the air in an almost messianic fashion – a scene that was to be criticised by the Church as “inappropriate (but don’t let that ruin it for you: it’s great).
But Voyage Of The Damned isn’t all woes. The episode balances a surprisingly good amount of humour with sadness and there are more than a few moments that will bring a smile to your face such as The Doctor meeting the Van Hoffs, Astrid setting foot on her first “alien” planet (Earth) and of course – even after all that’s happened – the ending when The Doctor tells the ex-travelling salesman Mr Copper he is rich and can start a new life on Earth. Astute viewers will have noticed that in the next series, Harriet Jones mentions the Subwave technology was developed with the help of the “Mr Copper Foundation”, proving that he keeps his word to the Doctor when he says he’ll lead a good life and make him proud.
Favourite moment: After all that has happened, the Doctor has realised that by using the teleport recall system (intended to rescue users from accidents) he can save Astrid. However, the ship’s systems are too damaged and he can’t bring Astrid back properly. Losing it, the Doctor defiantly exclaims: “I can do it! I can do anything!” before realising that, this time, he really cannot save this life. Astrid stands in glittery form before them all, trapped in the moment of her fall (“I’m falling… I’m falling…”) as Mr. Copper confirms it is not really her – just an echo, just stardust. The Doctor walks over to her, opens a window panel in the room and smiles. “You’re not falling, Astrid, you’re flying”. Astrid’s spectral form fades away and her twinkling essence leaves the ship to go and mingle with the stars and be part of the universe she wanted to see.
Voyage Of The Damned is a mixed bag. When I first watched it, I don’t remember being particularly impressed, but revisiting it has softened my criticisms. While Minogue’s acting isn’t consistently strong, and it does seem like everybody dies, you can’t help but love Bannakaffalatta for being so brave, feel for the poor Van Hoffs when the rich smirk and laugh at them, smile when Astrid describes her trip to Earth as “ the best”, sympathise with Mr Copper when he tells The Doctor and Astrid that he lied and hate that the only one who survived was the cowardly Rickston Slade. In that respect, Voyage is poetic. It shows us that the Doctor can’t always save everyone or choose who survives. (Well, maybe until he snaps in Waters of Mars, but steady on; that won’t happen for a whole series yet!) While certainly not the best of the Christmas Specials, there’s still plenty to like in Voyage: definitely worth a watch/revisit.
Next reviewed episode: http://goo.gl/IwlPK