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"Voyage of the Damned": A Look at the "Doctor Who" Christmas Special

If there's one television-related thing I look forward to each year at Christmas time (besides the gleefully charming repeats of A Charlie Brown Christmas), it's the return of Doctor Who, even if it is just for a brief blip in time at the holidays.

Thanks to a thoughtful reader in London, I was able to watch this year's Doctor Who Christmas Special, entitled "Voyage of the Damned," just shortly after it aired in the UK. I was faint with anticipation. When we last left the Doctor, he had been trying to repair the TARDIS when it ran into the SS Titanic, which spectacularly breached its hull. Or did it?

While I had secretly hoped that the Doctor had traveled to the past and encountered the actual Titanic on its fatal voyage, the truth of the matter is that the Titanic on display here isn't that doomed ocean cruiser, but an intergalactic spaceship on a tour of planets' native civilizations. I will admit that, while the sight of the new Titanic floating through the darkness of space was a rather neat image, I was slightly disappointed, especially after that killer Season Three cliffhanger.

So what is "Voyage of the Damned" about then? The closest thing I can think of to approximate it is to say that it's Doctor Who meets The Poseideon Adventure, with an emphasis on the latter rather than the former, sadly. Which means there's a great deal of running around aboard a fractured ship, trying to keep a small band of survivors alive. Some will live, some will die, and all that. There's a bit of a love story, a few snogs, a bunch of aliens, and some homicidal robots dressed as angels with a penchant for throwing their halos around like beacons of death.

But even with that mix of elements, there's something missing here, a feeling of something... well, special, for lack of a better word. I wanted a grand and timeless adventure and I felt slightly disappointed overall.

I still think that the first Doctor Who Christmas Special was arguably the best of the bunch as it introduced the Tenth Doctor and included a huge alien invasion of London on Christmas Day and forced the newest incarnation of the Doctor and Rose to quickly trust one another and work together. In other words, it advanced the plot. The second Who special, "The Runaway Bride" was more of a standalone story, but there was an emotional core to the story as it dealt with the Doctor's survivor guilt, especially in the face of losing Rose forever. As for "Voyage of the Damned," it feels quite a bit like a spaceholder. It's not bad, but I was hoping for more from it than just a futuristic Poseidon Adventure.

Which isn't to say that there aren't some redeeming qualities about this special, because there are. Kylie Minogue is absolutely charming as the Doctor's temporary companion Astrid Peth, a wanderlust-suffering waitress aboard the Titanic. And there's a whole slew of notable talents among the supporting cast, including Clive Swift (Keeping Up Appearances), Geoffrey Palmer (As Time Goes By), and Russell Tovey (The History Boys).

While it was an engaging distraction from the pomp and circumstance of the holiday season, this Doctor Who special, written by executive producer Russell T. Davies, just lacked a certain... sparkle and wit. It's a rare complaint to have that, given the pedigree and creative heights of the series, and it's a small misstep among several seasons of superlative installments.

It will be quite some time before Sci Fi airs "Voyage of the Damned" here in the States (most likely just before the launch of Season Four of Doctor Who, if the pattern from the previous installments continues), but in the meantime, sit back and enjoy this sneak peek at what lies ahead for the Doctor, his new companion Donna (Catherine Tate), and Season Four.



What's On Tonight

8 pm: Ghost Whisperer (CBS); 1 vs. 100 (NBC); Friday Night SmackDown (CW; 8-10 pm); Grey's Anatomy (ABC);
Bones (FOX)

9 pm: Moonlight (CBS); Friday Night Lights (NBC); Women's Murder Club (ABC);
House (FOX)

10 pm: NUMB3RS (CBS);
Las Vegas (NBC); 20/20 (ABC)

What I'll Be Watching

8-11 pm: BBC America.

If you happen to be staying in after a long work week, why not do it in true Anglophile style with back-to-back episodes of Coupling and The Catherine Tate Show?

Comments

I actually quite liked this Chritmas Special. It may not have had as much emotional resonance as some episodes but I thought that it was fun, sweet, and delightfully entertaining...everything you want for Christmas.

It was also very pretty to look at. I loved the image of the Titanic floating in space and the empty streets of London just as much as I enjoyed the fabulous guest cast. Kylie Minogue sparkled like tinsel, Clive Swift was charmingly humorous, and Russell Tovey gave a lovely, fresh performance.

It wasn't my favorite Doctor Who, but it was a fun ride!
Anonymous said…
Completely agree with you Jace. I thought I was watching Poseidon Adventure the entire time with not much of the humor or magic I associate with Doctor Who. Sad.

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