The following contains MAJOR SPOILERS for “Voyage of the Damned,” the 2008 Christmas Special of the BBCs “Doctor Who.”
When the Titanic burst through the wall of the Tardis at the tail end of “Doctor Whos” third season in “The Last of the Time Lords,” it looked like this Christmas fans would get to see David Tennant setting off on an exciting voyage across the Atlantic as part of the first and final journey of the infamous unsinkable.
But Russell T. Davies does like to mix things up and, as the camera pans out of the blue police box, we are treated to a wonderful shot of the starship Titanic – an alien cruise liner filled with upper-class tourists from a variety of alien worlds – as it soars above Earths atmosphere.
Its a wonderful shot with some fantastic effects from the talented people at The Mill and carries with it some of the romanticism of the original Titanic story with a slightly magical touch that comes with Christmas.
And just like last Christmas, Voyage of the Damned introduces another guest companion to assist the Doctor on his festive adventure.
It has been almost a decade since Kylie Minogue has appeared in a substantial production outside of her singing career, and so it was a pleasant surprise to learn that she still carries the same charm and elegance that helped make her a superstar.
Davies effortlessly works her character of Astrid into the show as the hired help aboard the luxury liner and manages to create a fresh and fun relationship between her and The Doctor that is both fresh and different from Rose, Donna and of course Martha.
Unfortunately, the fun doesnt last forever because after the rocked out Christmas version of the opening credits, it becomes clear that there is something more sinister at work other than intolerance towards the working classes of the galaxy. Queue a meteor storm, a captain with nothing to lose and a galactic billionaire looking for revenge and the voyage of the S.S Titanic is destined to become the voyage of the damned.
As the meteors hit, The Doctor and Astrid embark on a Poseidon-like adventure in a desperate attempt to survive the disaster and learn who exactly is responsible.
From that moment on, it was clear that the small group of survivors rallied behind The Doctor would dwindle one at a time in a series of bizarre obstacles not too dissimilar from 1997s James Cameron epic. The biggest surprise of them all however was that guest companion Minogue would be among those stricken down in the fight for survival, leaving The Doctor once again the lone wanderer without a home.
Having the S.S. Titanic a spaceship rather than the infamous unsinkable is one of those interesting twists that only Doctor Who seems to be capable of throwing into the air with a degree of believability.
The special effects of the ship were better than expected for the Beeb, and the overall plot of the episode was certainly more carefully constructed than last years The Runaway Bride.
Gone are the convoluted threads involving left over Torchwood experiments and aliens from the dawn of time — what Voyage of the Damned delivers is a very singular story with a fantastic performance from the Queen of pop herself.
Introducing a new companion is always a very difficult thing to do on the series and previous experience has shown that this can be accomplished with mixed results — it took several weeks before critics and the public alike were able to warm up to Billie Piper as Rose Tyler, Freema Agyeman may have won critical acclaim for her performance but according to the BBC, viewers didnt quite warm up to her as expected and there are still some fans out there who were never completely won over by Catherine Tates stint last year. But Kylie pulled it off and created a very likeable character that could have continued as a time travelling assistant a little longer than one special.
There was also something deliriously twisted about having a group of angels killing people on a cruise designed to allow aliens to experience the Christmas holiday of planet Earth and the Earthologists’ concepts of our planet may have been a little stupid, but you couldnt help but laugh at some of the ideas.
What Didnt Work
As is also becoming a tradition with the new Doctor Who series, some episodes still struggle with the big reveal that so much of the threads are devoted to building.
Max Capricorn is an awful name for a villain and from the instant his face appeared on an animated poster it was clear he was calling the shots from the belly of the craft. The not-so-shocking realization was at least a little more tastefully done than the great reboot in Last of the Time Lords.
I suppose all shows are allowed to borrow a clichÃ© every once in a while. The worst however is that an entire space-liner of aliens look far too human to be believable.
The final fight was a little reminiscent of the final fight of Aliens as Ripley comes storming into the hanger in a mechanical load lifter only with a very large dose of odd surrealism instead of the infinite coolness. Swap Ripley for the sensational Kylie and replace the load lifter with a common forklift. Its not exactly the epic confrontation of the year, but it does have its merits.
After the battle, another goodbye to a series companion realigns the show so that The Doctor is once again in the same vulnerable position he was in when he first encountered Donna in “The Runaway Bride” — hes lost someone he had a connection to and now he needs to move on. The whole situation is a very convenient positioning of the series for Donnas return to the Tardis at the beginning of the fourth season.
Giving Credit Where Credit Is Due
Voyage of the Damned was written by Russell T. Davies and the episode was directed by James Strong. Doctor Who stars David Tennant and Kylie Minogue.
Doctor Who is expected to return to the BBC for its fourth season in March.
Alan Stanley Blair is the assistant news editor for Airlock Alpha and its sister site Rabid Doll, contributing from his home country of Scotland. He is currently studying for his diploma in Freelance Journalism and Feature Writing as a distance student at the London School of Journalism. He can be reached at any time at firstname.lastname@example.org.