Voyage of the Damned.

TV The original cancellation of Doctor Who dovetailed nicely with the period when I first started to like the girls and the girl I tended to like was Kylie Minogue. She seemed perfectly attainable despite such impediments as apparently living Australia (or the UK it was very confusing), being nothing like her character in Neighbours (at least as far as I could tell from a rather stilted interview she gave on Get Fresh) and being a much older woman (all of six years). But I bought the all the records, filled scrap books with articles and lyrics from Smash Hits, covered my wall with posters and kissed her calendar every night before I went to bed. It was a level of dedication which some religions would consider unhinged and yet there I was praying at the alter of Locomotion (see this post at my own blog for further devotional tales).

Of course, the teenage heart is a fickle thing and when it decided that Better The Devil You Know wasn’t a great single and that Lost In Your Eyes sounded purer, it was down with the Kylie posters and up with the Debbie Gibson ones. But you never forget your first love so it there was no more curious experience watching the two merge into one another last night. Post Charlene, Kylie’s not really had a respected acting career (my heart died a little when I sat through Street Fighter – oh yes I’ve seen everything) but she was really good in this, totally holding her own within the ensemble and particularly against Mr Tennant, not afraid to make fun of her height by standing on a box to kiss him. These one-off companions are difficult because they have to mark themselves out in a very short space of time and make us care and I do think she did that, imbuing Astrid with a likeable wonder but also making her sacrifice entirely plausible.

Plus it’s Kylie dressed as a waitress. What’s not to like?

Elsewhere, writer Russell T Davies was playing the genre game, tossing the Doctor into a disaster movie to see what that would be like. Apparently he’s always wanted to do this since The Poseidon Adventure was the only VHS he had to hand as a kid. Oddly enough, it’s not the first time the franchise has attempted something like this. Fans with long memories might remember that Christopher Bulis’s Vanderdeken's Children, an Eighth Doctor novel, had many of the same figures you’d expect in an Irwin Allen spectacular eventually scuppered by a far too complex plot. It’s not an impossible fit though; Doctor Who stories tend to develop through set pieces and that’s exactly what you find in something like The Towering Inferno and indeed that’s exactly what you got in Voyage of the Damned as the Doctor led a band of familiars from one end of the ship to the other, with the monetary scam and villain an added appendage to explain the disaster.

These were good set pieces, the bit in the corridor, the bit in the stairwell, the bit on the strut. If anything the template was used too well; disaster films are about death; so is Doctor Who apparently but did this really have to be so unremittingly grizzly? Here’s something being served up as pre-watershed family entertainment on Christmas Day which featured mass murder and suicide. I shuddered as I wrote that since it’s clearly what Mediawatch UK were thinking too as they scribbled down all of their criticisms in crayon but I can’t lie and say I didn’t cringe a little bit as the Doctor amongst other things failed to save Astrid and provide a happy send off. Perhaps we should be excited that the show is still willing to bounce off the curve letting the hateful character lives, but the last thing we need at this point is to lose the family audience because parents think the show is too scary, too raw, too ugly, particularly on the holiest of holies.

That said, The Poseidon Adventure is a PG these days.

But as I said in the introduction still managed to raise a chuckle and not just during the closing moments. As well as Mr Copper’s bizarre verbal mincing of Christmas traditions (which when you consider what we actually do aren’t that odd – apart from the boxing) there was the discovery that the residents of old London town had taken the logical step of deserting the place around the festive period based on previous experience. It’s not the first time they’ve done this – remember Invasion of the Dinosaurs – but in a way it’s a shame that the episode couldn’t have been expanded to explore that idea instead; it felt thrown away here but perhaps that’s the big new arc story which will be looked at in the new series, Cribbins included. And wasn’t he marvellous – weren’t all of the guest cast? Some will say that Geoffrey Palmer was wasted but it needed and actor like that for you to believe that Captain would be capable of what he did, just as it needs George Costigan to turn up at the end and be plausibly villainous.

It was certainly one of the best designed episodes of the new series. Some money was clearly spent on the interiors and although the geography of the ship wasn't too clearly defined the strut area may well have been one of the best sets of the series, recalling the propeller room from The End of the World. The exterior shots of the Titanic itself are majestic too although I had a soft spot in particular for the shots of the TARDIS hurtling towards the Earth. It really does make a change to see the Earth from a non-North American point of viewing, seeing Europe and UK floating below us. There’s no denying that the design of the Hosts must have been inspired by some other robots of death – particularly the hair – and it’ll be very surprising if they don’t inspire some merchandise partner to create tree decorations for next Christmas.

I really liked Voyage of the Damned. It wasn't perfect, but as a Christmas Day post everything slice of action adventure with a dash of heart it was fine and in the end I laughed like a drain because sheer audacity of it all. I mean really what else could you do at the sight of the Titanic dodging the roof of Buckingham Palace with her Madge, in her rollers, thanking the Doctor for saving the world one more time, with Nicholas Witchell reporting on events. Sure it’s pretty camp and arch and typical of many of the things that some despise nu-Who for, but it’s also hilarious and doing everything which you never thought you’d ever see in a television programme, least of all the one you were brought up on. If it didn't quite make up for some of the darkness which had gone before, at least it prepared some viewers for the shitstorm that was about to hit them in the episode of Eastenders that followed.

If it wasn’t quite as affecting as either of the other two specials it's because it didn’t feel like part of the fabric of the series. The Christmas Invasion was clearly all about the regeneration and The Runaway Bride dealing with the loss of Rose. Even though he’d only just dropped off Martha, this felt like a very separate story, rather like an example of spin-off fiction in that you didn’t really need to know about anything else which had happened in the series to enjoy it. Certainly that was the case for the first two or three decades but it threatened here to make the piece inessential. Despite all the murder and mayhem there wasn’t anything as gut busting as the moment when the Prime Minister ordered the destruction of the Sycorax ship or the Doctor watched as the Queen’s children drowned at least not with the sense that it’d have consequences.

But then again, for all we know this could have been the most important episode of the lot, especially as it proved that actually even though he is the Doctor he can't do everything. Roll on the fourth series – “What d’you mean miss? Do I look single?” etc.

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