Newest Review: ... famous moments. It's also packed with other film references (particularly disaster movies) which are quite fun for film fans to try and s... more
Disaster Movie Doctor
Doctor Who - Voyage Of The Damned (DVD)
Member Name: SWSt
Doctor Who - Voyage Of The Damned (DVD)
Advantages: Some nice nods to other films; Clive Swift is priceless as an "Earth" expert
Disadvantages: A weak episode padded out well beyond its natural run time
We never learn do we? Ever since I was a little boy, I've got carried away by the hype of Christmas Specials. I've sat down in front of the TV, drooling with anticipation, only to emerge later feeling disappointed and cheated. You see (whisper it - there may be innocent young children reading) Christmas Specials often not actually very good. They're just longer episodes of your favourite show; and by longer, I mean the same amount of plot stretched out to double the amount of time. Oh and in a vain attempt to make them feel Christmassy, they usually feature Spielbergian levels of saccharin-sweet emotion and are overly reliant on "special guest stars".
In fact, you've pretty much just summed up the 2007 Doctor Who Christmas Special - Voyage of the Damned. However, whilst it is (at best) a mediocre episode, it does have moments when it sparks into life.
The plot sees the Tardis crash into the spaceship Titanic. With a name like that, disaster is inevitable and the ship threatens to crash into 21st century Earth, wiping out all existence on the planet. As if things weren't bad enough, The Host, an apparently servile race of robots suddenly turn hostile and start killing passengers.
In many ways, this episode is little more than The Poseidon Adventure set in space and, indeed, it deliberately apes some of that film's most famous moments. It's also packed with other film references (particularly disaster movies) which are quite fun for film fans to try and spot. These have been cleverly woven into the main story so that they are part of the plot or setting, rather than being forced in as a way of showing how cine-literate the writers are.
Unfortunately, this is about the nicest thing you can say about the adventure and the rest of the episode boils down to a lot of running around corridors and unlikely, last minute narrow escapes. At the end of the day, you can't get away from the fact that this is really a 30 minute storyline stretched out to over an hour. Everything feels thin, stretched and dragged out and little kids (and many adults) will start to get fidgety long before the final credits roll.
It's not helped by the fact that The Host are not actually that scary (presumably on the grounds that you don't want a Christmas Special putting you off all those turkey leftovers). There are two real issues: these angel-like creatures have their faces hidden behind gold masks, which makes them expressionless; it's always difficult to convey scary when your face is hidden or for other actors to respond convincingly to a blank face. Secondly, The Host are rather unoriginal, essentially being a weak mix between the Ood and the Weeping Angels.
There is also a fair amount of cheesiness to the plot. Probably the worst example comes late in the episode (shortly after the Doctor has witnessed yet another tragedy). Everything goes into slow-motion, flames burst into life around him as he strides purposefully towards his goal and stirring music roars from your TV speakers. All you need is some woman with big hair and you could be watching an 80s soft rock music video - it's that cheesy!
There are also times when the music is far too loud and drowns out the dialogue. This can make it hard to pick up on some developments or even miss out on some of the episode's better banter.
Even the cast don't look terribly engaged with the proceedings. David Tennant looks as though he is operating on auto-pilot and, whilst there are odd sparks, he lacks the life and vigour that he has brought to the main series. Geoffrey Palmer is typically lugubrious, but rather limited in his role as the Titanic's Captain and he too looks rather bored much of the time.
Where the episode really suffers, however, is in the choice of assistant. The departure of Martha Jones left a vacancy here and (inevitably) a big-name star - Kyle Minogue - was drafted in for the Christmas Special to make sure headlines were well and truly grabbed. Minogue has never convinced me as an actress (in truth, she's never convinced me as a singer either, but that's probably a discussion for another day!). As Astrid, a waitress on the floundering Titanic, she is rather vapid. Her facial expression remains the same for much of the episode, whether she is meant to be portraying fear, surprise, anxiety or tenderness, and this (combined with The Host's shortcomings) doesn't do a great deal for the emotional level of the show. Her relationship with The Doctor feels empty and false so that, come the show's climax, there's not the emotional intensity the writers seem to think there is.
Thank heavens, then for Clive Swift's superb performance as the "expert" on Earth culture; a stereotypical academic he might be, but his garbled, misunderstood explanations of Earth culture are just priceless. Whilst Swift only has a couple of "lecturing" moments, they are superbly constructed, possessed of a bizarre logic based on simple misunderstandings. Indeed, you wish that the brief sojourn on Earth could last so much longer, just so you could hear more of his theories.
Sadly, at the end of the day, this remains a weak episode. It might not be as bad as the Christmas Specials some shows churn out, but neither is it up to the standard we have come to expect New Who. Too little plot, too long a running time and an overreliance on a big name guest star means that that little boy in me still ends up disappointed.
On the plus side, it can be picked up now for around £2, which has got to be a bargain in anyone's book!
© Copyright SWSt 2011
Summary: Oh Christmas Specials, will you ever stop disappointing me?