Damned If You Do, Damned If You Don't
Welcome aboard the good ship Tachyonic. Please blog carefully
Voyage of the Damned
Christmas time. Good will to all men. Peace on Earth. Except, it seems, on the Doctor Who spitting boards. Another episode, another ruckus amongst the ming-mongs to claim intellectual superiority in the I love/ I hate RTD and all that sail in him brigades. If Doctor Who is a religion to some then it’s about time that the more fundamentalist of its followers took a deep breath and stepped back.
Me? I cringed for at least half of this bloated seventy-minute farrago of disaster movie clichés and trowel-laden moralising that would make even Steven Spielberg at his saccharin worst blush. But that’s okay. Because if there’s two things I’ve learnt from watching Doctor Who these past three years it’s that a) you can’t argue with the mass majority who probably loved this and b) what’s the point anyway, as they’ve not watching the show in the same way as you are anyway. And thus hangs the eternal dilemma of being a card-carrying Whovian in the 21st Century: hiding your head in shame as the latest RTD epic rewrites all known laws of logic and narrative coherence, whilst at the same time hearing that it’s the second most watched programme on Christmas day and being unable to wipe the enormously proud grin off your face.
If Doctor Who is a religion to some then it’s about time that the more fundamentalist of its followers took a deep breath and stepped back
So the only way to view these things seems to be in the spirit of Christmas itself. Accentuate the positive and brush all your misgivings under the carpet where the pine needles are starting to gather. And Voyage of the Damned is nothing if not choc-full of positives, starting with that bombastic new mix of the theme tune which almost blows you out of the armchair with twangy guitars and Keff McCulloch drum bass. Though it’s a bit of shame that they didn’t take the opportunity to revamp the title sequence as well; the stars’ names zooming out at you like in Superman the Movie is already starting to look so 2005.
And still on the positive that opening half-hour pretty much tricks all the boxes when it comes to disaster movie-aping dramatics with a Who spin. A group of broadly drawn clichés each with a secret to hide; some nicely sinister robots who have clearly been watching The Robots of Death too much whilst getting a vocal makeover from Alexander Armstrong; and the Mill going to town with some startling eye candy which genuinely would not look out of place in your modern multiplex blockbuster.
But then the meteors hit and it all goes horribly wrong.
Now, I dunno whether to blame RTD or director James Strong more for this. Okay, the plot of any disaster movie tends to peter out once the proverbial hits the fan; but are they usually as threadbare and head scratching as this? And Strong’s direction at times is so pedestrian that you’d be forgiven for thinking that this was a disaster movie set in a supermarket rather than on board (nominally) the most infamous passenger liner of all time. Tasteless of just fair game? I can’t honestly see how the BBC need to apologise for evoking bad memories for 1912 survivors, myself. Though as for apologising to the campaigners for quality drama, now that’s another matter.
But what’s most mind-numbingly, spirit-crushingly disappointing about Voyage of the Damned is that it’s another RTD script that reaches for the stars and grabs a load of old cobblers instead. I’m all for him having his Christmas fun each year - I mean, would you rather a Moffat or Cornell masterpiece being wasted on the post-turkey indulgers - but for once I’d like to see him try for something within his narrative scope. Something small and intimate, perhaps. And without a shoe-horned-in threat to six billion people. Small is beautiful, Russell. Remember that.
Strong’s direction at times is so pedestrian that you’d be forgiven for thinking that this was a disaster movie set in a supermarket
And then there’s the schmaltz. Now nu-Who has given us some of the most emotional TV of the past three years, but too often in RTD’s hands such ventures into the touch-feely just have you reaching for the sick bag. We know it’s a terrible thing when unsuspecting, innocent people die horrible deaths through no fault of their own; we don’t need the moral equivalent of a sledgehammer around our bonce whilst Murray Gold sets the controls for meltdown. Is it heartless of me to say I felt absolutely nothing at the deaths of Bannakafallata, thingy or whatsisame (though at least Shelly Winters a.k.a. Foon the Balloon fulfilled her remit as doomed fatso)? Or am I just a little tired of TV thinking that it has to slice the emotional equivalent of onions in front of my eyes before I can have empathy for a character? Answers please on a used tissue to the usual address.
And that final twenty minutes is just taking the piss, isn’t it? Astrid does the slo-mo self-sacrifice as Michael Bay takes over behind the lens, followed by arguably the most embarrassing crossover between sci-fi and public figures since the end of For Your Eyes Only. So, our Maj is a Who fan; does that really warrant some sub-June Brown cameo that completely shits over any attempt at gravitas the episode previously had? And what in the name of sweet Jesus is Max Capricorn about? A failed businessman reduced to a Davros wannabe in a power loader, whiling away his time between insurance scams and impressions of Brian O’Blivion from Cronenberg’s Videodrome.
And that final twenty minutes is just taking the piss, isn’t it?
But on the whole it wasn’t all bad, just less than it should have been. Cameos from the likes of Geoffrey Palmer’s hangdog expression were so note perfect as to make you tear your hair out that they were so brief. And as for Ms Minogue, she hardly put a foot wrong; the only surprise coming from the fact that when given the pulling power of arguably one of the world’s most famous women, RTD instead reduces her to the part of bit player when even Catherine Tate got her fifteen minutes. But at least wee Jimmy Vee got something more to do than cement his reputation as the John Scott Martin of vertically challenged bit-parting; even if it was as a Twiki-wannabe with a novelty dildo for a head.
Which only leaves one more question: if everyone bar the Queen and Bernard Cribbens has quit London for Christmas, then who the bloody hell is gonna buy all those newspapers, eh?
Coming Soon: some pulse-pounding snippets of Season 4 set to a Murray Gold musical explosion. Donna. Martha. Sontarans. Agatha Christie. And Raquel from Coronation Street doing the hard-faced Apprentice bitch thing. But what, no Daleks?!?