New Who in Conversation: Voyage of the Damned (2007 Christmas Special)

David is coming to New Who for the first time, having loved Classic Who as a kid. Tehani is a recent convert, and ploughed through Seasons 1 to 6 (so far) in just a few weeks after becoming addicted thanks to Matt Smith – she’s rewatching to keep up with David! Tansy is the expert in the team, with a history in Doctor Who fandom that goes WAY back, and a passion for Doctor Who that inspires us all. We’re going to work our way through New Who, using season openers and closers, and Hugo shortlisted episodes, as our blogging points. Just for fun!

“The Voyage of the Damned” – 2007 Christmas Special

The Doctor – David Tennant

Astrid – Kylie Minogue

TANSY:
Before we get started, can I just ask – have you both watched “Time Crash”, the Children in Need special which takes place between the farewell of Martha and the collision of the TARDIS with the Titanic?

TEHANI:
I have! But I went and watched it again to remember. So cute seeing Tennant fanboy over Peter Davison (er Moffett – that’s not confusing at ALL).

DAVID:

I hadn’t, but I have now! I wish I had watched it first, because it makes the start of “Voyage of the Damned” a little more understandable. I know it is one of those things that if you aren’t a fan would make very little sense at all and would seem very self indulgent, but I LOVED it. My strongest memories of Doctor Who are Baker and then Davison and it brought back a lot of memories.

I really enjoyed the little jokes about aging and the obviously heartfelt bit at the end, and Tennant was clearly thrilled and a little awed to be working with Davison. It’s great to know that he is a fan at heart too, and so are the writers. I’ve really appreciated that New Who hasn’t just thrown out or tried to disown Classic Who and this is a great example of how most of the people in the new show wanted to be involved because they loved the old show.

On to Voyage! For me, this is probably the strongest of the Christmas specials so far. I have to admit, for a moment I was thinking that is was actually set on the real Titanic, and then I started to notice all the odd little features of the setting and twigged. In my defense, I was distracted when I caught of a glimpse of someone and thought, “OMG, is that Kylie?!”

TANSY:
I’ve had mixed feelings about “Voyage of the Damned” in the past but on this rewatch was interested to see how technically good it is – so tightly plotted, and cleverly put together. Things that are vital later are telegraphed early on, such as the forklift, or the undercurrent about cyborgs being seen as an underclass (though they can get married now!) I think it’s held up very well, and I would agree it’s the best of the Christmas specials though I still *like* “Runaway Bride” more, purely because of Donna.

TEHANI:
I even think there’s some telegraphing of things to come in season four, which was impressive. But agree, it’s well put together!

TANSY:
And yes, Kylie! It was such a big deal when this came out, and casting Kylie Minogue was almost a parody of extravagant casting – a sign that the show was big, bigger than we had ever imagined it would be. She even posed with a Dalek, though unlike Katy Manning, she kept her hot-pants on. But despite the evident stunt-casting, I think her performance works really well – she brings a wistful sweetness to Astrid, and I like the depth she gives to the character, which as written could have been played by someone half Kylie’s age.

David … did you REALLY not know Kylie was in this? How had you possibly remained unspoiled about that?

DAVID:
I’ve tried very hard to avoid spoilers, which has been rather difficult! Obviously there are a few things that I can’t help but know about, like that there is someone called River Song in the future and that Neil Gaiman wrote an episode, but I have managed not to pick up too many details. Imagine how tough it was sitting on two Doctor panels at Worldcon!

So, I probably heard that Kylie was in an episode at some point, but I would have just let it go in one ear and out the other, and definitely wouldn’t have remembered which episode it was exactly.

TEHANI:
I just did about my fourth rewatch of this episode, and think that this is probably the strongest acting I’ve ever seen from Kylie. Still a little cringey at times, but I think that was more about the instant Doctor-adoration than the Aussie-ness of her performance! Solid!

TANSY:
I love that in the last year you’ve gone from someone who’d never watched the show to someone who has watched some episodes FOUR times!

TEHANI:
Instant fangirl, just add Doctor! 🙂

DAVID:
The cast in general is very strong, quite a few actors who, even if you can’t put a name on them straight away, you know that you have seen them before. Clive Swift will always have a special place in my heart and Geoffrey Palmer is excellent as the doomed Captain. And, it’s good to see that they’ve kept up up the Christmas Special tradition of a villain who relished the chance to chew up the scenery (and a few other traditions I am sure we will come to later!). George Costigan appears to channelling Doctor Evil at some point!

TANSY:
Yes there are some great parts and casting choices considering that it is basically a disaster movie with a limited time for each of the roles to shine. I love that they got in someone with Geoffrey Palmer’s track record to play what amounted to a couple of scenes, but didn’t he sell those scenes gorgeously?

TEHANI:
I adore Geoffrey Palmer! He’s a fantastic actor and it was really cool to see him in this.

Tansy, you’ll have known this of course, but I have just been surprised by the Doctor Who connections of many of the cast, listed in the Wikipedia entry for the episode:

Clive Swift and Geoffrey Palmer have had previous roles in the classic series. Swift portrayed Jobel in Revelation of the Daleks, while Palmer played Undersecretary Masters in Doctor Who and the Silurians, and an administrator in The Mutants. Jessica Martin had played Mags in The Greatest Show in the Galaxy. In addition, Bernard Cribbins played Tom Campbell in Daleks’ Invasion Earth: 2150 A.D., the second Doctor Who feature-film adaptation starring Peter Cushing as well as Arnold Korns in the audio play Horror of Glam Rock.

And of course, we’ll see more of Bernard Cribbins later (no spoilers David!).

TANSY:
I knew about Bernard Cribbins and Geoffrey Palmer (if you want to see a young Cribbins, the two Peter Cushing Dalek movies make great family viewing fare for Saturday afternoons, and the DVD release for them was super cheap)! I remember Jessica Martin as Mags too but had forgotten she was in this in the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it role of the Queen’s voice. I had no idea about Clive Swift, probably because I haven’t watched “Revelation of the Daleks” for 15 years or more – it was one of the few stories they didn’t include in the big ABC rescreening of classic stories in the three years before New Who began.

The casting choice that leaps out at me is young Russell Tovey, who is even more famous now than he was starting to be back then, thanks to Being Human and other prominent roles. This was the first thing I ever saw him in and the first time I’d even heard of him, but he is adorable as the baby-faced and steadfast midshipman Alonso Frame.

DAVID:
I thought Kylie was wonderful in this, but it seems the Doctor only has to look at someone before they want to jump on the TARDIS! Not that the Doctor can talk, his loneliness is very apparent in how eager he is to replace Martha. One can’t help but wonder how much fun it might have been had Mr Copper become the new companion, but that was never on the cards. Shame.

TANSY:
Ha yes, the Doctor totally gave Mr Copper the brush off, didn’t he? Funny how he tends to only encourage the young, hot ladies for the most part… I do like the Astrid-Doctor relationship, and the fact that she obviously has saucy designs on him (love the crack where he says she should see him in the morning and she is TOTALLY up for that), even though it is the third companion who has fancied the pants off him (thank goodness for Donna!)

But I also like how much of a story we get to Astrid, through only a few telling details. Her longing to travel and her wonder at walking the “alien” streets of London is very touching, and you get the sense that she would have been a very good companion in the classic sense. While she has nothing else in common with Ace, I was reminded of her with the set up of the waitress who ends up waiting tables no matter how exotic the location she travels to…

Oooh and another tidbit – there were huge rumours ahead of time about what Astrid’s role would be, because her name is an anagram of TARDIS. But that was a total red herring.

TEHANI:
This is what I love best about these reviews with you two – all the little tidbits (even when they were red herrings)! 🙂

DAVID:
The rest of the characters are all very well realised (if quite stereotypical), from the oily rich man to the midshipman whose sense of duty shines through. I particularly loved the Van Hoffs and was devastated when they died. There is a very high body count in this episode actually! The whole secondary characters dying in noble self sacrifice is very Classic Who, seemed to happen almost every episode.

TANSY:
From what I have heard, disaster movies are actually a big TV tradition in the UK, and so this was constructed with that in mind. It’s the first time (except maybe for 1996) that Doctor Who has really felt like an action movie rather than a TV show. And of course the high body count goes along with that – bumping everyone off one by one.

I really liked the Van Hoffs too – I wince at the ‘comedy of fat’ elements that I think go too far, but it’s pretty clear that everyone who mocks them is an ass. They’re a great example of a sweet, loving couple. It’s a sign of how great their relationship is that Morvin laughs his head off when Foon confesses her terrible secret. And oh – you really feel for her when he falls, and later when she sacrifices herself in such a heroic fashion, and you know that it’s because she doesn’t want to be without him.

TEHANI:
After multiple watchings, I thought the “comedy of fat” elements were actually quite well done – like you said, anyone who mocks is obviously an ass, and the way the Van Hoffs handle the mockage is great. Just my thoughts though 🙂

TANSY:
Ha yes I agree with you after this viewing but I think in the past I was wincing too much to notice – and Russell T Davies does have something of a habit of writing fat characters that are figures of fun.

Bannakaffalata was a lovely alien addition to the crew of survivors – I like how many of these characters had a comic dimension to them, balanced out with the horror and drama of what’s happening to them.

TEHANI:
Back to David’s point about the high body count: for some reason, I had it in my head that midshipman Alonso also bit the dust at the end of the episode, until I rewatched again today. There’s so many people who die, it just must have stuck that he did too!

As an aside, the Doctor’s glee at being able to say, “Allons y Alonso!” was just delightful.

TANSY:
He totally seems marked to die, doesn’t he? I had a similar experience with the movie American Graffiti, where I misremembered the ending for years and was deeply upset at the death of a character in a car crash … and then later watched it and discovered that he came out of it just fine!

The Allons y Alonso line actually really confused me the first time I heard it, I think because “Allons y” had not registered with me as a true Doctor catchphrase – he’d only used it a few times before this special, maybe only once – and I’d forgotten about it. Now of course, it makes sense! I think I was annoyed at it originally as a blatantly tacked-on catchphrase, but as with many things Whoish, familiarity and nostalgia has swept away the irritation.

I have to say one of my favourite bits of this whole episode is the Bernard Cribbins cameo, and the whole reference back to the previous two Christmases and why everyone in London has evacuated. It’s just brilliant! I enjoy these details that show how the stories we have watched have changed the perception of the world around them in these high media days. I also like the Doctor trying to defend Christmas from Mr Copper’s slanders, only to break and admit, “What am I saying, my Christmases are always like this.”

DAVID:
The idea that all these alien invasions have consequences has been touched upon quite a bit in New Who, from the Christmas invasions to the alien museum, and it is an idea that I like. Once things go public, it makes sense that these things would change the perceptions and worldviews of the average person. It doesn’t seem credible that they would just exist in isolation, or be so easily covered up. I’ve also liked the little nods to the idea that there would be groups that might notice the Doctor cropping up throughout history and build conspiracy theories around it, as well.

TANSY:
The Christmas (disaster) special was something that we got entirely from New Who rather than Classic, and to me really sums up the RTD era as a whole – I love how quickly and easily it formed a tradition, and one which we take completely for granted. Not sure that we really needed the running joke about pretendy snow, though – yes they always make it snow in Christmas movies, and yes it never snows in London at Christmas but I seem to recall around about the time this special was released that they DID have a massive cold snap, and London had snow at Christmas. Time to retire the joke, Russell T…

We’ve already reviewed:

“Rose”, S01E01

“Dalek”, S01E06

“Father’s Day”, S01E08

“The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances”, S01E09/10

“Bad Wolf/The Parting of the Ways”, S01E12/13

Season One Report Card – DavidTansyTehani

“The Christmas Invasion”, 2005 Christmas Special

“New Earth”, S02E01

“School Reunion”, S02E03

“The Girl in the Fireplace”, S02E04

“Rise of the Cybermen/Age of Steel”, S02E05/06

“Army of Ghosts/Doomsday”, S02E12/13

Season Two Report Card – DavidTansyTehani

“The Runaway Bride”, 2006 Christmas Special

“Smith and Jones”, S03E01

“The Shakespeare Code/Gridlock”, S03E02/E03

“Human Nature/The Family of Blood”, S03E08/E09

“Blink”, SO3E10 (with special guest reviewer Joanne Anderton)

Utopia/The Sound of Drums/Last of the Timelords (S03E12/13/14)

Classic Who podcast – Spearhead from Space (1970)

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