The Good: Themes, Acting, Most of the special effects
The Bad: Banal plot, No genuine character development
The Basics: Russell T. Davies and James Strong create a Doctor Who Christmas special that is all right, but in no way extraordinary.
Following the third season of Doctor Who (reviewed here!), The Doctor once again found himself adrift without a Companion. At that time, the BBC released a new Christmas special, "Voyage Of The Damned" without committing to the next Companion. The result is a bottle episode and it is not really exceptional, despite having some real veteran talents from the BBC - in the form of Geoffrey Palmer and Clive Swift - and guest starring some very popular individuals like pop star Kylie Minogue and Jimmy Lee.
Perhaps what is most notable about "Voyage Of The Damned," outside a couple of fun one-liners, it the return of the greed theme to Doctor Who. The first season of Doctor Who featured villains who were almost exclusively motivated by greed. Davies took a couple of seasons off from beating viewers over the head with negative impressions of commerce and avarice, but it comes back with a vengeance (along with his predilection for killer robots) in "Voyage Of The Damned." That, at least, makes the otherwise disconnected episode feel like part of the larger Doctor Who continuum.
Abandoned again, The Doctor finds himself (and the TARDIS) collided with the space vessel Titanic. Going aboard, The Doctor familiarizes himself with the people and setting. In 2007, an alien vessel run by the businessman Max Capricorn has taken up orbit around Earth. The Doctor befriends a waitress, Astrid Peth, two people who won their tickets and a diminutive alien named Bannakaffalatta. After a brief trip down to the surface of Earth, The Doctor and Astrid return to the Titanic where The Doctor discovers the shielding is off-line and a meteor storm is rapidly approaching.
Captain Hardaker knows the shields are down and he lets the Titanic get hit as part of an insurance scam which will allow his family to survive his imminent death from health problems. The meteors pummel the Titanic and lead to mass casualties, though The Doctor is able to save most of his little group. The Doctor sees the TARDIS drifting outside the Titanic and realizes he has to do what he can to save the ship in order to survive. With the robot angels that serve the Titanic for information going on a killing spree, The Doctor, Astrid and the other survivors of the meteor impacts must move through the ship to keep the Titanic afloat to save the citizens of Earth!
"Voyage Of The Damned" is a fair mix of horror (in the form of killer robots) and humor. The humor comes in the form of Mr. Copper's misconceptions about Earth and Christmas. While The Doctor calls him on some of the information he claims to have about humans and Christmas (every year on Christmas, Mr. Copper claims, the country UK goes to war with Turkey and eats the Turkey people!), the episode's funniest moments come when Copper has the chance to just spout complete b.s. Unfortunately, some of what passes as humor in "Voyage Of The Damned" is just cruelty for the episode's two resident poor hicks (the overweight Van Hoffs).
Opposite the humor is unadulterated greed in the form of Rickston Slade and Max Capricorn. Slade is overtly cruel to the Van Hoffs and greedy with phone conversations about his investments giving him an excuse to be mean to everyone else (like poor Astrid). "Voyage Of The Damned" is essentially one big fraud scheme from Max Capricorn and the episode illustrates well the human (or alien, in the case of Bannakaffalatta) cost of unrestrained greed. "Voyage Of The Damned" has a ridiculously high body count for a Christmas special.
"Voyage Of The Damned" is also a pretty straightforward episode in terms of plot and character. The Doctor loses a number of people around him (he makes a lot of promises he cannot keep in this episode!) and Astrid Peth is hardly given enough time to develop as a character to justify a big named guest star like Kylie Minogue. The plot is pretty direct as a story of survival. This is a muted chase story and it doesn't really have much in the way of surprises.
The acting in "Voyage Of The Damned" is fine, but unremarkable. Geoffrey Palmer is not given a chance to shine and Kylie Minogue running around in a French maid outfit with director James Strong focusing on her legs at any opportunity is hardly considered a great performance. The guest stars play opposite computer generated settings wonderfully and they all react to virtual weaponry fine. But there are few opportunities for big, great, performances, even as David Tennant is forced to emote big as part of The Doctor's reactions.
There is something unsatisfying, though, in the over-the-top reaction The Doctor has to Astrid compared to his lack of reaction to Martha Jones leaving him. That makes "Voyage Of The Damned" feel more forced and fit less well than it could have. And the ascension The Doctor makes with the angels at the end is just ridiculous. The result is a little more than an hour of average television, as opposed to a special that is actually bad.
[Knowing that single episodes are an inefficient way to get episodes, it's worth looking into Doctor Who - The Complete Fourth Season on DVD or Blu-Ray, which is also a better economical choice than buying individual episodes. Read my review of the final season of David Tennant as The Doctor here!
For other works with Geoffrey Palmer, please check out my reviews of:
The Pink Panther 2
Tomorrow Never Dies
"Goodbyeee" - Blackadder Goes Forth
For other Doctor Who episode and movie reviews, please visit my Doctor Who Review Index Page!
© 2015 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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