Good old disaster movies, they’re… not my thing at all, but they do often get shown around Christmas, so the next Christmas Special being very much a Doctor Who version of that makes sense. It also has Kylie Minogue as a sort-of companion, which is pretty much all the advertising was leading into it, but hey-ho. It was a big deal! So let’s have a look at “Voyage of the Damned” and see if it holds up past the big guest!
Businessman Max Capricorn seeks revenge on his company after it votes him out and sets a starship replica of the RMS Titanic on a collision course with Earth to frame the board of directors. Unluckily for him, a new stowaway called The Doctor has just arrived on board…
*spoilers appear from here on out!*
There she is, pretty much the entire reason this special exists!
As mentioned in the opening paragraph, “Voyage of the Damned” is a straight up disaster movie, set on a “sinking ship”, though a crashing spaceship to make it a bit more Doctor Who-y (the spaceliner being a replica of the Titanic is perhaps a bit too on-the-nose, but there you go). The ship actually crashed into the TARDIS console room, albeit briefly, at the end of the previous story, though that’s soon handwaved (and was clearly just for “shocking funny cliffhanger”-s sake) and The Doctor arrives on the ship itself. He meets several of the guests and staff, including a small red alien named Bannakaffalatta (Jimmy Vee), the Captain Hardaker (Geoffrey Palmer), Midshipman Alonso Frame (Russell Tovey) and waitress Astrid Peth (Kylie). Things start going wrong quickly as the robot angel hosts start removing their super-sharp halos and killing people, and Captain Hardaker takes the shields offline and allows meteors to strike the ship, revealing to Midshipman Frame (who he shot to make he didn’t stop him) that he was dying anyway and was offered a large sum of money to be delivered to his family if he took down the shields. He died in the resulting blasts, fittingly.
This leads to a long sequence of The Doctor and a band of survivors doing the usual disaster movie things, like having to cross a perilous chasm, moving up various decks of the ship via non-traditional means, and … dodging flying angel robots throwing gold halos (okay, maybe that’s not THAT usual). The Doctor watches as various disaster movie cliché survivors drop one by one, including the lovely old couple (classic!) until they eventually find the culprit of the whole affair: Max Capricorn (George Costigan) Now just a head on a motorised body, Max had been kicked out of his own company after 170-odd years and had arranged the Captain to make the ship get hit with the space rocks with the hope of it crashing onto Earth and killing billions, destroying the company for no other reason than spite. He was in a crash-proof box and has complete control over the host angels and the engines, so when The Doctor stabilises the ship Max just turns the engines off.
Suddenly Astrid appears and drives a forklift into Capricorn’s box, soon dropping it and herself into the fiery depths of the engine. The Doctor, now made about her sacrifice, gains control of the Angel Host and gets them to take him up to the deck where Alonso had been barely keeping it “afloat”. The Doctor manages to save the Earth by pulling the ship up just in the nick of time, then tries to save Astrid via a teleport bracelet, but it doesn’t work, and she soon turns into light particles that spread across the stars. He lets Midshipman Frame take the Titanic back home while the two survivors (a down-on-his-luck old man and an unpleasant rich-type) are dropped off on Earth.
This scene apparently caused something of a minor uproar in some religious circles… can’t think why, I would’ve thought angels killing with their halos would’ve been more worrisome for them!
I’m just not a fan of disaster movies, so while I got the clichés and references, I just don’t particularly enjoy them. Kylie isn’t the best actress either, which doesn’t help the overall package. A scene where The Doctor gives a big speech and walks towards the camera with explosions in the background is where RTD went a bit far with making the character a big hero, that and the scene where the angels carry The Doctor into the sky… it’s all a bit too cheesy for my tastes, for The Doctor anyway. Also the idea that Max Capricorn would conceal himself on the ship he planned to crash and explode on a planet (with apparently enough force to wipe out all life on Earth) is a bit farfetched, especially for someone as obsessed with staying alive as he was. That was just… stupid, even for a cartoony villain.
Overall though, it’s an unfortunately feature-length parody of a genre I don’t enjoy anyway, so it’s not really “my bag”.
Hmmm… seeing a still frame does make it look quite a bit more crap than it does quickly flying by on the TV…
An unnamed old newspaper salesman ends up being Donna Noble’s grandad Wilfred, appearing regularly from “Partners in Crime” onwards. Alonso reappears briefly in a scene during the Tenth Doctor’s final story “The End of Time”, where he sets him up with Jack Harkness.
The angel hosts reappear in the Twelfth Doctor comic story “A Confusion of Angels”.
“I am a harmless robot who only serves humans.” “Yeah, no offence, but I’ve heard that one before… MANY times.”
Voyage of the Damned is a fun take on the disaster movie, but I don’t like disaster movies, so it doesn’t really work for me. The hosts aren’t that interesting, and Astrid in a bit flat due to Kylie being more of a singer than an actress (yes I’m aware she was on Neighbours first, but… you know…) so overall I won’t be watching again, but I can’t call it bad really…