Voyage of the Damned was, if we’re being honest, a bit of a muddle. A jamboree of ideas, set pieces, characters and effects, it lacked the coherence of the 2005 Christmas special that introduced David Tennant to Doctor Who, and shared some of the daft thinking that underpinned last year’s tepid The Runaway Bride.
But I liked it.
And I liked it for a simple reason: it was bursting with ambition. Blatantly loaded with the kind of budget that Doctor Who single episodes aren’t supposed to get, Russell T Davies’ script had the feel of a kid in a candy store, pulling in elements such as Douglas Adams’ Starship Titanic (note the overt ‘42’ in the script!), a monstrous amount of special effects, some quite effective robotic baddies in the form of the Host, and a star cast. Restraint? There wasn’t a bit of it in sight.
But let’s deal with that list of issues in reverse order. The casting of Kylie Minogue as Astrid was, in many ways, unnecessary, but that proved to be a good thing. Casting on Who has gone more and more unnecessarily over the top in some episodes, and fears rose when Minogue’s name was mentioned that it would be a showcase for her. But here, she was part of an ensemble, and while she had a couple of key moments (that we won’t spoil here), she was fine, not showy, and left to get on with things. The casting of the likes of Clive Swift and Geoffrey Palmer was far more in the tradition of the show, and it’s perhaps unsurprising that these two impressed the most.
The Host, meanwhile, who proved to be robotic angels armed with killer halos, were routinely effective. Granted, as the back story emerged as to who was really pulling the strings, it got a little less interesting, but some fast-paced action sequences made a lot of them as foes.
And then there’s the story. It was a messy mix of a floating Titanic starship, sabotage, corporate greed, and, ultimately, a ragtag bunch of passengers trying to survive. Naturally, a broad range of social and cultural groups were represented, but less expected was how willing the show was to kill them off. No Christmas cheer here, Voyage of the Damned was funerals all round.
One more surprise in the script: Davies usually does his comedic moments better than he did here. The insertion of the royal family raised a clumsy chuckle or two, but the one-liners were a bit flat.
Yet it almost seems churlish to talk about all the problems by the end credits, not least the fact that a good ten minutes could have been excised. Because, in the scheme of things, Voyage of the Damned was still, at heart, a rollicking old-fashioned adventure, that never threatened to break into the top third of Who stories, but just delivered easy entertainment in a comfortable, Yuletide package.
And that’s more than Doctor Who managed this time last year…
PS The new theme tune…? We might need a separate discussion on that…