“Voyage Of The Damned”
The starliner Titanic has been sabotaged by its own captain as part of an insane insurance scam by a head in a jar. The Doctor comes on-board to save the day but instead a lot of people are killed, including a fat couple and a robot midget who resembles an embarrassed cactus. Merry Christmas!
Re-watching the episode for this review, I was amazed by just how much there is to dislike about “Voyage Of The Damned”. It’s as though Russell T Davies took all the very worst ideas that he’d come up with over the previous 3 series, all those ones written at 4am in a fit of insomnia that end up in the bottom drawer, and just stuck them together and called it a Christmas special. This story features some of the worst characters I think I’ve ever seen in Doctor Who, with a plot that wouldn’t be out of place in a 1960’s disaster B-movie and one of the worst instances of The Doctor being totally ineffectual. The only positive difference that his presence makes to the outcome of events is that there is someone to steer the ship at the end. Other than that, his presence probably contributes to more people dying than the disaster itself.
The first part of the episode introduces us to this luxury starliner and The Doctor noses about a bit, having just survived a collision between the Titanic and the TARDIS. We meet The Hosts, a bunch of robotic angels who serve the ship’s crew and guests and who will, inevitably, turn evil later in the story. The key players are then introduced but, unfortunately, most of them are just horrible stereotypes – “Oh look, a fat couple eating too much! haha! Look at the fat people being fat! Oh, and there’s the arrogant wealthy prick who doesn’t care! lolz! Look at him being all dickish to everybody! And, oh, look! Don’t forget the starry-eyed waitress with the heart of gold played by an 80’s pop star! She’s so adorable and one dimensional!” When the characters aren’t stereotypes they settle instead for being plain bizarre, exemplified perfectly by Bannakaffalatta. He’s a Zocci, a small red cactus man basically, but he’s also a cyborg. There’s really not much more to say. The only purpose for Bannakaffalatta’s inclusion in the story is so that he can provide a useful deus ex machina later on – and because his name sounds funny when David Tennant says it, I suppose.
Geoffrey Palmer returning to Doctor Who should be a good thing but here he is absolutely wasted as the suicidal Captain Hardaker, who sets in motion the disaster that will then become the focus for the rest of the story. He disables the ship’s shields and magnetises the hull, causing nearby asteroids to hurtle into the starliner and cripple it. Once the disaster itself is out of the way, “Voyage Of The Damned” quickly confuses its cinematic references by shifting from Titanic right into The Poseidon Adventure, with The Doctor leading a quirky team of wacky characters through the damaged ship in order to reach the control room so that they can prevent it crashing into the Earth.
Of that team of stereotypes, only the annoying prick survives as our cactus friend uses his cyborg EMP to disable a group of attacking Hosts and kill himself in the process, the fat husband falls to his death (because he’s fat) and his wife then jumps after him, also taking one of the Hosts with her. Even though we don’t connect to any of these characters because they are so blatantly written as stereotypes, the way that they all just drop dead like this makes for a depressing affair. And when we finally meet the villain of the story, it’s a bloke named Max Capricorn who is a head in a jar. His diabolical plan was to crash the ship into the Earth whilst he was safely tucked away in a starliner-crashing-into-a-planet-proof room and then claim the insurance. Yeah, this has all been part of an insurance scam. It’s just…I don’t have the words to describe the level of stupidity on display here.
The stunt casting of Kylie Minogue does not pay off. She’s serviceable as one-time companion Astrid but the fact is she just doesn’t bring anything interesting to the role. When she sacrifices herself to kill Max Capricorn and save The Doctor, it’s an empty gesture because there’s little about her personality that gives the audience reason to invest in her. And, of course, we have the schmaltzy bullshit of her ghostly atoms being turned into starlight and sent off into space. Even an actor as skilled as David Tennant can’t elevate that scene above cringeworthy.
I had to rewatch the episode in two sittings, because watching it all the way through was just too gruelling in the end. Even if you are a completest, I really can’t think of a good reason not to skip this one. It’s badly written, badly performed, badly directed and serves as a melting pot for everything bad that you could possibly associate with New Who.
At best, “Voyage Of The Damned” could be described as “horribly misjudged”. At worst, the best description for it would be “fucking stupid”. Either way, it’s one Christmas special that will have you reaching for the mind bleach pretty quickly. A truly deserved 1/10 for a truly ruined Christmas.
Written and edited by Richey Hackett