Apparently I’m not great with Fridays. This should have been posted last Friday.
We’re back, continuing our New Doctor Who rewatch! This week, we’re watching the 2007 Christmas special, Voyage of the Damned, guest starring pop musician Kylie Minogue as one-off companion Astrid Peth. As well, we’ll look at that year’s Children in Need special, Time Crash, guest starring Peter Davison as the Fifth Doctor. Let’s get started!
Spoilers ahead for anyone who has not seen these episodes!
Time Crash picks up exactly where Series Three ended, or rather, minutes earlier, as Martha exits the TARDIS. The Tenth Doctor activates his TARDIS, but immediately crashes into…another TARDIS?! Or not really, as he bumps into himself. It’s the Fifth Doctor…and he is unconvinced that this intruder into HIS TARDIS is a later incarnation of himself. After considerable banter, Five realizes the truth, and Ten realizes that the collision of their TARDISes is about to create a black hole that will rip a hole in time and space the approximate size of Belgium. With some quick manipulation of the controls, Ten creates a supernova at the same moment, and the two disasters cancel out. When Five asks how he learned to do it, he admits that he didn’t—he remembered it, because Five will remember it (eventually, anyway). After a few moments of reminiscing, they go their separate ways—but the Tenth Doctor’s delay in reactivating his shields causes him to crash into…the Titanic?!
Voyage of the Damned picks up immediately, as the Doctor sets the TARDIS for self-repair, and goes to check out the ship. It’s not the original Titanic, but rather, a starship styled after the original; it is owned by Max Capricorn Cruise Lines, and provides pleasure cruises for interplanetary tourists with a fetish for Earth. This is their Christmas cruise, and they are nearing Earth at the moment. The Doctor meets some of the passengers—Morvin Van Hoff and his wife Foon, a cactus-like Zocci named Bannakaffalatta—and a waitress named Astrid Peth, as well as the angelic robot Host who serve the ship as labor and data points. Astrid joins the Doctor for a clandestine side trip to Earth via teleport bracelet, led by Earth “expert” Mr. Copper. On the ground, he finds London strangely empty; but an elderly newspaper vendor explains: Londoners have gotten used to alien invasions at Christmas, and this year, they’re not taking any chances. Well, other than the Queen, that is; SHE chose to stay. Abruptly, the group is teleported back up to the ship, due to an unexpected electrical fault. On the bridge, new Midshipman Alonzo Frame insists on staying, per regulation, when the captain dismisses the bridge crew for the evening. However, he is shocked when the captain lowers the shields and magnetizes the hull, drawing in a group of passing asteroids. The Doctor notices it, just before the asteroids strike the ship, doing extensive damage and killing many of the passengers and crew.
The Doctor is only able to isolate a few survivors—Morvin and Foon, Bannakaffalatta (who insists on his full name at all times), Astrid, Mr. Copper, and a rich blowhard named Rickston Slade, who owns consider stock in Max Capricorn’s company. He also sees the TARDIS floating free of the ship, and notes that it will relocate to the nearest source of strong gravity—Earth. He begins to work his way up to the bridge with the survivors, surmounting obstacles. Meanwhile, Frame—shot by the now-dead captain just before the impact—overcomes his injuries enough to scan for survivors. He finds about sixty, but discovers they are dying—the Host robots have become murderous. The Doctor encounters a group of the robots, as does Frame, who seals off the bridge to escape them—but the deadlock seal means the Doctor cannot enter. Meanwhile, the Doctor narrowly escapes the robots, and manages to learn that their command structure originates down on Deck 31. Astrid, meanwhile, forges a bond with Bannakaffalatta, and learns his secret—he is a cyborg, which is a source of shame to him as society is not kind to cyborgs.
The Doctor redirects his group down to Deck 31. Nearly there, they must cross the ship’s nuclear storm drive system—and the Doctor realizes that if the ship strikes Earth, the exploding drive will destroy all life on the planet. They are confronted there by the Host, but Bannakaffalatta sacrifices himself by activating an EMP generator in his cyborg systems, crippling the robots. Morvin falls to his death by accident; and when the one surviving Host onscene recovers from the EMP, Foon sacrifices herself to take it down.
Mr. Copper salvages the now-empty EMP unit and gives it to Astrid; if recharged it can be used again. The Doctor sends them on ahead, giving Astrid his sonic screwdriver as well, and he proceeds down the drive bay to Deck 31. There he meets the cyborg Max Capricorn, who admits to planning the whole thing. His board of directors had forced him out after he ruined the company’s finances; he seeks revenge by crashing the ship into a populated world, thus ruining the board. Meanwhile, he has a crashproof chamber which will survive the destruction, and enough money in his personal accounts to buy him a life of luxury. The Host arrive to kill the Doctor; but he is saved when Astrid arrives via her teleport bracelet. She uses a forklift to push Capricorn into the drive bay, but she falls to her death as well.
The Doctor takes charge of the Host and breaks into the bridge, meeting Frame. He uses the heat of atmospheric re-entry as the ship falls to restart its auxiliary drive. He takes a moment to call Buckingham Palace and get the Queen evacuated; and then he narrowly manages to pull up the ship and get it back into orbit, just missing the palace. With the situation saved, he attempts to save Astrid by reconstituting her molecules from the teleport; but he is unable to do so, and allows her to disperse into space, fulfilling her dream of exploring—in a manner of speaking.
Only the Doctor, Slade, Copper, and Frame survive. Frame remains to meet the salvage crews and the investigation; Slade is elated, as he recently sold all his shares in the company, making him rich. Copper laments that it would be wrong to choose who can survive, even if it means allowing a man like Slade to survive…and he laments his own future. The Doctor, taking pity on him, takes him to Earth and lets him go to find a new life there—and notes with shock that the credit card Copper fabricated to fund his tourism business contains a million pounds, more than enough to sustain him. The Doctor, however, goes on…alone.
The Children In Need mini-episode Time Crash is one of my favorite bits of the new series. It was the first time a classic series Doctor appeared in the new series in any capacity (and really, it stands as the only time to date if you don’t count Paul McGann in Night of the Doctor as a classic series Doctor—the appearances we’ve had have been flashbacks and cameos composed in almost every instance of stock footage). Yes, it is absolutely a fanservice moment, but that’s okay—the show itself even acknowledges this by having the Tenth Doctor take the part of a fan here (and the Fifth Doctor even calls him that!). His “you were MY Doctor” speech is something that most of us can sympathize with; we may have said something similar ourselves, if not for the same Doctor. It gets added depth in hindsight from the real-life relationship between David Tennant and Peter Davison: Tennant is married to Georgia Moffett, Peter Davison’s real-life daughter, although they had not entered their relationship at the time of this mini-episode’s release. There’s a lot of dialogue, inside jokes, and references crammed into this short episode, including a possible reference to Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide series (“Blow a hole in space and time the exact size of…Belgium?” where in Hitchhiker’s Guide, “Belgium” is one of the most offensive words in the universe on every planet but Earth); and Steven Moffat’s slightly-infamous gay joke about the Master: Five asks Ten if the Master still has “that rubbish beard”, and Ten replies “No—well, a wife”. Moffat later commented about this: “I’ve got the record for gay jokes. I’ve got the gayest joke of all time in Doctor Who — I’ve got the ‘beard’ joke about the Master.” In slang, a beard can mean a woman who joins a gay man in a marriage or other relationship in order to mask the fact that one or both partners is gay. Overall, the entire mini-episode is a brilliant piece of composition and dialogue, and a great tribute to the classic era, and especially the Davison era, which is sometimes overlooked. To borrow the Tenth Doctor’s phrase: “All my love to long ago.”
Before moving on to the Christmas special, I should at least list some of the continuity references in Time Crash. There’s the aforementioned reference to the Master, who last sported a real beard onscreen in Survival; “Time Lords in funny hats” last appeared in the Fifth Doctor era in The Five Doctors, though we’ve seen them since in Trial of a Time Lord. He references the LINDA fan group from Love and Monsters (interestingly, it’s Five who mentions them, indicating the Doctor was aware of them long ago). Time differentials were introduced in Mawdryn Undead, though not applied to the Doctor, as was the related concept of the Blinovitch Limitation Effect. The cloister bell was last heard in The Sound of Drums. While the Tenth Doctor’s homages to the Fifth Doctor are obvious, his use of the word “snap!” when putting on his “brainy specs” is more a tribute to The Two Doctors, where Six and Two used the phrase. Ten makes reference to the loss of the Sonic Screwdriver—and Five’s decision not to replace it—in The Visitation. The mentioned leopard-skin console room desktop theme will get another mention a few years later in the seventh-Doctor audio Klein’s Story (I haven’t reached this one, but I’ve been listening to the related UNIT: Dominion over the weekend, and I’m looking forward to it).
I can never decide whether to consider the Christmas specials to be part of the season just ended or the season about to begin. The production team seems to go back and forth about this, especially given that we get the occasional year without a series, like 2016. In this case, however, I would definitely connect this special to the preceding Series Three. More than just flowing directly from it, it carries over some themes and imagery from Series Three. I spoke the last few weeks about religious metaphors connected with the Doctor, comparing him to a Christ figure and the Master to an antichrist figure; it continues here, with a very literal ascension scene near the end of the episode (when the angelic Host robots fly the Doctor up through the floor of the sealed-off bridge of the starship Titanic). It’s not nearly as much imagery as in the previous episodes, but it’s a nice little coda to the idea (though I am honestly not sure whether it was intentional).
It’s become normal for specials to have one-off companions. I won’t say the practice started here, as Donna’s appearance in the previous special is really the first instance of it; but Donna’s appearance as a one-off is soon to be negated by her promotion to regular companion. Pop singer Kylie Minogue puts in a charming performance here as Astrid Peth. Unfortunately, being a companion in a Doctor Who special doesn’t usually end well; and Astrid doesn’t make it to the end. (Hardly a spoiler after all these years, but just in case, I won’t get into how she meets her fate.) She’s surrounded by a decent supporting cast; the cyborg Zocci Bannakaffalatta (who always insists on his full name) is cute and sympathetic, and married couple Morvin and Foon will appeal to anyone who has ever had a good romantic relationship. (I’d have to research to be sure, but we really don’t see many happily married couples in Doctor Who, or at least not in the new series.) Midshipman Alonso Frame isn’t very remarkable himself, but it’s worth noting that we’ll see him again at the end of Tennant’s tenure. Tour guide Mr. Copper is a mild comic relief despite remaining fairly dignified; and we get introduced to future companion Wilfred Mott, played by Dr. Who (NOT Doctor Who) veteran Bernard Cribbins, though his name isn’t given (as I understand it, the decision to make him Donna’s grandfather had not yet been made). With such a great cast, it’s easy to overlook the fact that this is a supremely bloody episode; of the entire crew and passenger complement of the Titanic, only four people survive.
In addition to a good one-off companion, we get a few good one-off villains, in the form of Max Capricorn (who has definite parallels in both John Lumic from Rise of the Cybermen and Davros) and the Host robots. For once, they really are one-offs, or very nearly so, as Capricorn has yet to reappear, and the Host only appear in one other story (the comic story In-Flight Entertainment). The Host, especially, are a clever bit of imagery; they start out as angels, complete with halos, but when they have their figurative fall from grace, they remove the halos, leaving the support pegs to look like demonic horns. It’s worth noting that there are two versions of the episode; the BBC America version is considerably shortened, and it’s worth your time to look up the original version if you haven’t seen it.
This episode is one of several that will be revisited in next series’ “Doctor-lite” episode, Turn Left. I’m getting ahead of myself here, and I may even be remembering wrong; but this episode makes it clear that if the ship strikes Earth, it will wipe out everyone on the planet. In that episode, the tragedy is not averted, but the damage is MUCH more localized, only affecting London and its area. I’ll have to look into it when we reach that episode.
I don’t really have any serious complaints about this episode. It’s a good, self-contained (mostly) story, with little to tie it to the surrounding arcs, especially as the Doctor is without a regular companion at this time. In its favor, it doesn’t linger or mope over Martha, as previous episodes did to Rose; and I like to think that Ten’s character has grown a bit since Rose left. I especially like times like this when there is no established companion, simply because they create gaps in the narrative into which other media can insert stories; in this case I’m thinking of the events of Day of the Doctor from Ten’s perspective, though that’s technically the same medium, and we don’t know for sure that it happens in THIS gap. Perhaps some of Big Finish’s upcoming Tenth Doctor Chronicles may fit here (and I don’t think mentioning the title counts as a spoiler, even by Reddit’s rules, as it’s been properly announced already). One…I’ll call it a concern, not really a complaint…is this: It’s very odd that we often see contemporary, spacegoing societies—such as that pictured here—that look like Earth society, despite the lack of shared origin or contact. It’s true that here, the Titanic is intentionally rendered as a mock-up of the earthly Titanic, and there is a lot of intentional homage to Earth culture (some of it humorously erroneous). However, conversations among the characters indicate that their home lives are also very similar. One has to wonder just how human these human-appearing people are, and how they managed to evolve in such exacting parallel, both physically and culturally. Even with the Time Lords as a possible progenitor race (as some other media suggest), it seems very farfetched.
Some references for this episode: The Doctor comments on his tuxedo being unlucky (Rise of the Cybermen, The Lazarus Experiment).The Doctor’s hinted friendship with the Queen was mentioned as far back as Silver Nemesis, and will reappear in Planet of the Dead. Earth is called Sol 3 by non-Earthlings (The Deadly Assassin, Last of the Time Lords) and a Level 5 planet (City of Death, Smith and Jones, others still to come). Wilfred uses a Magpie Electricals television (The Idiot’s Lantern). The Doctor’s attempt at shortening Bannakaffalatta’s name is reminiscent of Romanadvoratrelundar, aka Romana (or Fred if you prefer; The Ribos Operation). There’s a very inadvertent reference to the War Doctor (Day of the Doctor, Engines of War) when the Doctor uses the phrase “No more” in regard to the ongoing deaths.
As Christmas specials go, this one is pretty good, and its ratings at the time agree with that assessment. It’s an excellent bridge between Series Three and Series Four.
Next time: We’ll begin Series Four, which I have extended for convenience’s sake to include the “year of specials” that followed it. Therefore it will take longer to get through this series, but that’s to be expected. In the meantime, we’ll open with three episodes: Partners in Crime, The Fires of Pompeii, and Planet of the Ood! See you there.
All episodes may be viewed on Dailymotion; links are below.