Despite its single, Kylie-shaped flaw, Voyage of the Damned is absolutely smashing.
Don't switch off just because of Kylie .... David Tennant and Kylie Minogue in Voyage of the Damned
On an Imax screen the size of Birmingham at London's Science Museum and in front of audience that included, curiously, Peter Hain MP and celebrity chef Tom Aikens along with Doctor Who alumni Camille Coduri, Noel Clarke, Shaun Dingwall, Michelle Collins and Anne Reid - though not Kylie Minogue, Catherine Tate, Freema Agyeman or Billie Piper - The Voyage of the Damned made quite the impact. Though it will be seen on smaller screens come 6.50pm on Christmas Day, jaws will likely still drop, seat edges will still be perched upon and hands may well be hid behind. The latest - and at 71 minutes, the longest - in what has become an institution after only three years is the epitome of Russell T Davies's re-imagining of the timelord's adventures. It's also the best of the three Christmas specials.
If you've seen the trailer, you'll know that the Titanic that crashed into the Tardis at the end of the third series wasn't that Titanic but a space-going cruise ship, circling the earth so its passengers can witness the planet's tradition of Christmas. Waiting upon said passengers is Astrid Peth, aka Kylie. Astrid, you'll have noticed, is an anagram of Tardis and Peth is Welsh for 'thing'. This may or may not be relevant.
As plain sailing would be dull, it isn't long before rum doings on the bridge and strange energy doodahs on the lower decks conspire, along with some meteors, to wreak havoc on the ship. With the earth at risk should the ship crash and the motley passengers struggling to reach safety, The Voyage of the Damned is a 1970s disaster movie in space. In homage to The Poseidon Adventure and its ilk, the Doctor leads his ragtag band of survivors through the wrecked ship, along corridors full of twisted metal and along a really narrow gangways over churning nuclear engines. I won't tell you who plays Shelley Winters. But the disaster movie template works well by dint of the Christmas special's stand-alone status. Other than the Doctor, no one need survive at all.
For the most part, The Voyage of the Damned is absolutely smashing. David Tennant's Doctor is commanding and hardly ever OTT, while the supporting cast are, mostly, dandy. The script nips along nicely, the jeopardy feels real, the CGI is grand and the humour, though in shorter supply than in previous years, glimmers still - and is only occasionally cheesy. After previous years' sinister Santas, the Hosts, the footsoldiers of the Big Bad, once again hail from near the Uncanny Valley and though the Big Bad itself doesn't have the malignant majesty of the Empress of Rachnos, such is the investment you've built up in the story by its unveiling, it feels churlish to complain about that. (Those who know the story of Voyage of the Damned (1976) will know that the ship in it was never meant to dock safely and the passengers were doomed from the outset. This too may or may not be relevant.)
In fact, The Voyage of the Damned's biggest flaw is its unique selling point - the presence of Kylie Minogue. She's just not that good. Truth be told, she's blank and insipid. There's no chemistry between Astrid and the Doctor, she delivers her lines with a real lack of conviction and thus we never really believe in Astrid as a character. Where Catherine Tate's Donna in last year's special was overbearing, Kylie Minogue's Astrid is hardly there at all. It does make you wonder why casting Kylie was regarded as a coup. She's a pop star - of course she's going to say yes to being beamed into millions of homes in the run-up to Christmas. She's got a duff album to sell. In truth, Kylie should be grateful to Doctor Who. I know I am.
I’m hoping to catch up with the RSC’s Noughts and Crosses in Stratford and the Lyric Hammersmith’s Beauty and the Beast. Early next year I'm looking forward to How it Ended at the Camden People's Theatre. I’m also very much looking forward to seeing The Kite Runner starring Khalid Abdalla - not only one of his generation’s finest actors, but also a phenomenally talented theatre director and all round great guy.
Outside theatre, I still haven’t got round to reading Ariel Levy’s Female Chauvinist Pigs or Nick Cohen’s What’s Left? And there’s a daunting critical biography of Fassbinder to get through. Not to mention the fact I have still never read Great Expectations, Vanity Fair or Being and Nothingness. I’ll probably just end up re-reading London Fields or Money again and cheering myself up afterwards by dipping into Luke Kennard’s brilliantly funny collection of poems The Harbour Beyond the Movie.
Mostly I’ll be listening to Radio 4, interspersed with Jeffrey Lewis’s incredible album 12 Crass Songs - alt.folk covers of songs by the anarchist punk band Crass, to cover those annoying scheduling gaps created by You and Yours and Moneybox Live.
My tip of the week: I’m going to go and see Katie Mitchell’s incredible new production of Women of Troy at the NT for a second time. It has divided opinion, but for my money it’s the most exciting play in London by a country mile. Everyone should put their preconceptions on hold and see it at least once.