Voyage of the Damned follows on immediately after the events of Time Crash, a brief but charming interlude that takes place just after Martha leaves the Doctor in the Tardis but just before the Titanic smashes into it, in which the fifth Doctor (played by Peter Davison) appears aboard the Tenth’s Tardis due to some timey-wimey mishap. It’s also the only good thing I’m going to mention in this particular article because, by and large, Voyage of the Damned is a load of rubbish.
Quite honestly, I don’t even remember much about it from the first time I watched it. It’s not that there’s anything insultingly bad about it (like, say, a robotic Anne Robinson zapping contestants with a deadly laser), it’s just so mind-numbingly bland and by-the-numbers. I think this is true of most Christmas specials. They can’t dare to be interesting or different because the audience is likely to be stuffed full of turkey and alcohol and unable to parse a challenging plot. So everything happens in a boring and routine way. The Doctor arrives, someone is plotting something, there are some baddies to beat, there’s a crisis to avert, and would-you-believe-it, it’s averted in the nick of time by some babbling reason explained in passing. And now it’s snowing. The end.
Kylie Minogue plays the hastily-introduced and killed-off sort of maybe love interest for this episode. Apparently Russell T. Davies really wanted to cast her and wrote the part of Astrid specifically for her, but I can’t tell why. She’s a perfectly fine actress and I can’t blame the shortcomings of the character on her so much as the writing, which is just so bland and forgettable that it’s a waste of her talent and (presumably) high salary. Her death scenes (yes, plural) are supposed to be tear-jerkingly sweet but I found it all sickly and horrible. Wikipedia insists Astrid is an official Doctor Who Companion™, but I’m hesitant to count her as such because she never travels in the Tardis or survives past one episode or is ever mentioned again. She’s no more a companion than Bernard Cribbins’ character is.
Voyage of the Damned certainly doesn’t help itself by reminding me of one of my all-time favourite serials, The Robots of Death. In that, robot slaves kill off wealthy travellers, but that had a cracking story, well-written and believable characters and robots that were actually quite frightening. These robo-angels are not scary, the cast of characters are more like caricatures and the writing leaves a lot to be desired. It’s very one-dimensional, the villain plotting from below deck (why?), the insurance scam, the bribed captain, no-one has any substance to them. Everyone has one or two personality features and then just runs around for an hour getting killed. Weapons conveniently present themselves and the ship is saved in a way unrelated to anything that they’ve been trying to do for the past hour (something-something atmosphere, something-something-reignition). Pure fluff.
But hey, you know, it’s Christmas. It’s a time to be silly and not worry so much about things like plot and character and drama. We want to slouch in front of the telly on Christmas evening and watch the Doctor doing cool stuff, like walking away from explosions in slow motion (this actually happens) and flying through the air carried by angels like a Jesus figure (this also actually happens). We want to see the Queen waving to him as the Titanic flies over Buckingham Palace (this, inexplicably, also happens). We want “funny” jokes about the UK going to war with Turkey and eating them at Christmas. We want cackling evil villains with stupid plans and no morals. We want to the message of Christmas to be “money solves everything; here’s a credit card, go away and don’t bother me anymore”. That’s what we want at Christmas, apparently.
Well, it’s not what I want. Christmas is not an excuse for sticking any old rubbish on the telly. These should be stand-out episodes, the best of the best, but I am annually dismayed by how poor they are, and this is something that continues to happen even on Steven Moffat’s watch. Maybe they should stop making these so-called “specials” if they’re going to be anything but. Voyage of the Damned Poor, more like. Thank you, I’m here all week, try the veal.