Thursday, 6 December 2012

Review: Doctor Who 4.X: Voyage of the Damned

I'm The Doctor, and my characterisation is rapidly going downhill!
Doctor Who - Season 30, First Christmas Special - Voyage of the Damned
Written 21/10/12

I'm sorry. Like, I really am. I just don't seem to get "fan opinion". Because I'm the guy who thinks that Blink is overrated. I'm the guy who not only loves Colin Baker, but will defend his era and his character to the grave. And on this universally derided example of RTD's worst recesses... I come up positive. I like this story. I like how overblown it is, how hammy it is, how so little of it makes sense. I like how all the right elements are there but how they've been jumbled up and only sometimes resemble anything coherant. And I liked how seriously it took its own bullshit. Of course I know that Voyage of the Damned does, for many various reasons, stink to high heaven, but for whatever reason, I look past it all and find some damn entertaining Doctor Who.
     Having just had what looks like the Titanic somehow crash through the indestructable TARDIS exterior and into the dimensionally transendental interior, The Doctor doesn't bat an eyelid and decides to hop on board to see what's going on. It turns out that the ship is a space-liner from the planet Sto, orbiting Earth as tourists come to enjoy the Christmas Spirit. There, The Doctor makes friends with maid Astrid (pop starlet Kylie Minogue) and they get to pop down to earth, where they meet the erstwhile Wilfred Mott (Bernard Cribbins). All is not as it seems, however, as the robotic Heavenly Hosts start malfunctioning and the Captain (Geoffrey Palmer) deliberately causes the ship to run into some asteroids. Only The Doctor, Astrid and some other stereotypes make it through, each one of them being picked off one by one as they make their way through the ship. Soon, The Doctor faces hammy villain Max Capricorn, who was planning to crash the ship for an insurance scandal, but Astrid saves the day by sacrificing herself to stop Capricorn. The Doctor stops the ship from crashing and, frustrated at all the death, tries (unsuccessfully) to bring Astrid back.
     RTD just throws so many characters at us, and then gives the episode extra time to make sure that they all get developed in a sorta-satisfactory way, and then he either lets the jackasses win or kills them off. The sole nice-guy left, sans The Doctor, who's behaving for once, is Mr. Copper, played by Clive Swift (Keeping Up Appearances, as well as playing Jobel back in Revelation of the Daleks), whose performance delivers much-needed charm. It's slightly odd that RTD does what he does with the characters in question; there's a Billy Zane type who acts like a dick for the entire episode and whose survival is used to mark some kind of weak tragedy, a fat couple who are constantly used for comic relief despite being shown to be funamentally good people (to this rather chubby reviewer's chagrin) and a small, red, prickly cyborg with a funny name who doesn't really seem to have any purpose beyond providing a reason for the story to ham-handedly show that Sto is prejudiced towards them. And this isn't even necessary in the end, because Capricorn's primary motivation wasn't to escape/avenge prejudice - no, that'd actually be sympathisable, gasp - but for cheap monetary gain and petty revenge over his business partners.
SYMBOLISM!!!!11!
      For many an RTD hater, this was, burping bins and farting Slitheen aside, the first point where it started to click that he might be a bit of an extravagant writer. There are many setpieces and weird moments which are clearly supposed to be more impressibe than they end up being, with Murray Gold's music drowning out the other senses and cinematography that is rather baffling (this from the same director of Cyberwoman and the dreadful Daleks In Manhatten two-parter). The two worst examples are ones that big-up Ten in a way which is gonna eventually lead to the shit-fest of The End of Time, and both are frankly embarrassing. The first is a speech used for the trailer, which features The Doctor responding to a rather spot-on queery by Billy Zane with a series of pronouncements about his origins which really shouldn't make much sense but is responded to with awe. The second is the semi-finale, where The Doctor reacts to the death of Astrid and Capricorn by grasping hold of two of the Heavenly Hosts and flying in what is a painful, painful Jesus comparison. (Almost pictured.)
    Voyage of the Damned is in no way perfect, but at the same time its silliness is also it's main charm. Had this been done with an ounce more compentancy, and ounce more care and attention, it would have bombed harder than the Germans on Portsmouth. But it didn't, and thus Voyage of the Damned is one of RTD's more entertaining flops. It has a lot of annoying things in it, but the panache and style with which it is filmed makes it a comic masterpiece greater than all of Moffat's comedy work combined. I love Voyage of the Damned for the very reason that I hate it - it's badly made, badly written, but it just doesn't care.

Thanks.

P.S. 600TH POST! Gimmie some!

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