TARDIS File 04-00: Voyage of the Damned

TARDIS File 04-00: Voyage of the Damned

The Big Idea: The Titanic. In space. Guest starring Kylie Minogue.

What’s So Great…

  • The Titanic. In space. Guest starring Kylie Minogue.
  • The witty dialogue, sprinkled throughout the episode like maraschino cherries in a fruitcake, reminds us of why we love Doctor Who. The Doctor may be the only hero who, given three questions with which to save his life, can convincingly use up two of them by accident while checking to make sure he understands the rules.
  • And yet despite this, he’s a flawed hero. Despite his stirring line-of-the-week speech to the survivors, promising confidently to save their lives, all but two of the people he’s speaking to will die.
  • The deaths are beautifully, tragically staged, whether the characters die with jaw-dropping suddenness, or in silent slow-motion over a mournful Murray Gold dirge.
  • And in the middle of it all, we get the introduction of Wilfred Mott. Bernard Cribbins does such a wonderful job bringing this minor walk-on role to life that one immediately understands why they brought him back.

Some Quick Bits of Trivia: Several Doctor Who veterans appear in this episode: Bernard Cribbins (Daleks Invasion Earth 2150 AD), Clive Swift (Revelation of the Daleks), Geoffrey Palmer (The Silurians, The Mutants; and his son Charles directed several episodes of the 2007 series), and Jessica Martin (The Greatest Show in the Galaxy). Russell Tovey has since gone on to play George the werewolf in the series Being Human. Doctor Who‘s incidental score composer, Murray Gold, appears in person as a member of the ship’s band. This episode’s original broadcast was dedicated to Verity Lambert, the first producer of Doctor Who in 1963, who had passed away the previous month. David Tennant’s mother also passed away during the filming of the episode, and the production was rescheduled to allow him to attend her funeral. The Doctor had already referred to Kylie Minogue in the episode The Idiot’s Lantern.

Things to Geek Out About:

  • The Doctor comments that his tuxedo might be really bad luck, given what happened when he last wore it in Rise of the Cybermen and The Lazarus Experiment.
  • The Doctor once denied, in The Invasion of Time, that the sinking of the original Titanic was his fault; however, Rose and The End of the World both imply that he was indeed on the ship, which occurs in the 1993 novel The Left-Handed Hummingbird.
  • The Doctor finally gets to say “Allons-y, Alonso,” a line that he first came up with in Army of Ghosts.
  • The blank-faced appearance and pleasant tones of the Heavenly Host are strongly reminiscent of the killer robots in The Robots of Death.
  • The Doctor claims to have been present at the original Christmas (“I got the last room.”) In the episode Planet of the Dead, he also claims to have been present at the first Easter. Perhaps wisely, the writer does not go into detail in either case.

Not to Complain, But… One of the deleted scenes on the DVD would have explained why Rickston carries his vone throughout the entire episode without using it to call for help. A production crew member appears in shot while Astrid is struggling to push Max into the engines.
And why exactly did Max hide himself aboard the Titanic? It can’t have been to ensure that everything went right, as he seems surprised that the ship hasn’t crashed yet when he does emerge.

All Things Considered…Formula is only a bad thing when it becomes *too* formulaic. There’s pushing the envelope and breaking boundaries on one hand, and on the other, there’s eating mustard and peanut-butter soup out of a shoe by dipping a banana peel into it. Voyage of the Damned ticks off all the boxes of the standard disaster-movie checklist, but it does it all so gloriously, exuberantly right that you can’t help but be swept along for the ride.

Russell T Davies was given 72 minutes to play with in this episode, making it one of the longest of the relaunched series, and he takes full advantage of the extra time to establish his characters before plunging them into chaos. His talent for painting a full picture with a few brushstrokes is clearly in evidence here; we know all we need to about Rickston Slade and the van Hoffs within seconds of meeting them, but Davies now has the room to expand on them later in the episode. Everyone with a speaking role is given a moment to shine; the tiny detail that the captain closes his eyes moments before impact tells us worlds about his character.

Perhaps the best part of all, in a way, is the revelation of the villain’s motivation. Doctor Who has always been at its best when mixing the miraculous with the down-to-earth, and here, the sheer pettiness and banality behind the “sinking” of the Titanic enhances the horror and cruelty of the deaths caused. And yet even at his lowest point, the Doctor is still able to pull himself together and save the day. Witness the expression of joy on the Doctor’s face as he spins the ship’s wheel. This is why he’s a hero; even when he fails, he refuses to give up.

In the end, Voyage of the Damned is just sheer glorious fun, which may be an odd statement to make about a story that involves the brutal pointless deaths of at least 2,000 extras and most of the supporting cast. But that’s really the whole point of the best of Doctor Who; it’s a cruel, heartless Universe, but not all the time.

Line of the Week: “I’m the Doctor. I’m a Time Lord. I’m from the planet Gallifrey in the constellation of Kasterborous. I’m 903 years old and I’m the man who’s going to save your lives and all six billion people on the planet below. Got a problem with that?”

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Writer Gary Russell to visit Toronto June 9th

Who Party Toronto Presents:
An Afternoon With Gary Russell
Sunday June 9th, 2013 from noon until 6:00pm
Paupers Pub (second floor), 539 Bloor Street W.
Cost: $15 for the afternoon

On Sunday June 9th, 2013 join The Doctor Who Information Network and Who Party Toronto for An Afternoon With Gary Russell on the second floor of Paupers Pub at 539 Bloor Street West.

The afternoon will feature a Q&A session with our guest Doctor Who writer and Script Editor Gary Russell as well as a live video commentary of a Doctor Who episode that he worked on, an autograph session, a trivia competition and an afternoon of discussions and socializing with other Doctor Who fans.

Issue 169

The Snowmen Cometh (Christmas Special Reviewed!) : The 2012 Christmas special gets a look-over! Plus…

  • Can good Doctor Who be bad television, and vice versa?
  • Robots with human souls
  • News and reviews

Doctor Who returns in UK, Canada and US on March 30th!

It has been announced that the final eight episodes of Series Seven of Doctor Who will be airing on BBC1, SPACE and BBC America starting on Saturday March 30th, 2013.

Issue 168

Archaeology Tomorrow (Season Reviews and Benny’s 20th!) : The 2012 season review issue, and the importance of being Bernice Surprise Summerfield! Plus…

  • Why Doctor Who is Steampunk
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Doctor Who returns in Britain, Canada and US on September 1!

The seventh series of Doctor Who comes to our screens on September 1 at 9 pm on SPACE!

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