It’s not Christmas without Doctor Who. There’s been a special episode on Christmas Day every year since 2005, and they never fail to delight me. Since I’m all excited about tomorrow’s new special, I might as well burn off some of the accumulated pressure with a trip back to the David Tennant era. The Doctor and Kylie Minogue fight robot angels, and that’s what Christmas means to me.
Doctor Who – “Voyage of the Damned”
Original airdate: December 25, 2007
There are two kinds of Doctor Who Christmas episodes. The David Tennant Doctor has adventures that just happen to take place on Christmas but aren’t holiday related. Matt Smith’s Christmas episodes are more like Christmas-centric fables about the Doctor. (And given that Peter Capaldi is set to meet Santa Claus this year, it seems that he’ll definitely land in the Smith camp.) This is maybe the most Christmas-y of the Tennant specials, since they get around to mentioning it a few times at least.
I know people who really didn’t like this episode, but I dig it. It’s silly and cheesy, but in a way that’s totally charming. Plus, it introduces one of my favorite supporting characters, so you “Voyage of the Damned” haters can suck it. (And by “it”, I mean a candy cane. Christmas Eve and all.)
The episode opens just after Martha leaves the Doctor (and if you watch the “Time Crash” short first, after he meets his past self and almost destroys the universe). Tennant’s Christmas episodes all come just after he loses a companion. The Titanic smacks right into the TARDIS, so clearly that’s something he wants to check out. He quickly learns that this is actually a spaceship that mimics the original (the people involved are a little fuzzy as to why that’s such a famous name). I really like the early 20th Century furnishings sitting next to robots.
In short order, the Doctor meets Astrid Peth, a waitress/maid and takes her under his wing. He also meets the Van Hoffs, a middle-class couple who won a contest to be there; an “Earthologist” named Mr. Copper who is not very good at his job; Bannakaffalatta, a spiky red alien who’s actually a cyborg; and a douchey rich guy named Slade. They get to beam down to Earth to witness Christmas Eve in London, only to find that the streets are empty other than one old man who runs a newsstand. After aliens attacked London on Christmas two years in a row, people evacuated for the holiday. Hee!
Then, once everybody is back on board, the Captain magnetizes the hull to draw a meteor to it, killing almost everybody instantly. Also, the TARDIS falls through the hole and drifts off into space. It’s programmed to head to the largest gravitational pull in the vicinity, which means it’s headed to Earth. The Doctor and his group make their way to the bridge, Poseidon Adventure-style and fight off the Host, an army of robot angels. The Van Hoffs and Bannakaffalatta die on the way, but the little red guy is powered by an EMP core that Astrid can use to fry the Host. By manipulating the Host with clever questions, the Doctor gets them to take him to their leader, one Max Capricorn.
Capricorn is a famous billionaire, but contrary to his public appearance, he’s really just a head mounted on a machine that keeps him alive. His board of directors voted him out, so he planned to slam the Titanic into Earth, wiping out most of the planet and bankrupting his former company. Astrid steals a forklift and knocks him into the reactor core, sacrificing herself in the process. The Host accept the Doctor as their new leader and fly him to the bridge, where he helps a heroic midshipman take control of the ship and pull out of their dive at the last possible second.
Then, the Doctor learns that Astrid was wearing a teleportation bracelet (which they used to beam to Earth earlier) and that it saved a copy of her molecular pattern. But with the damage to the ship, he couldn’t reconstitute her from that copy – the only thing he can do is release her essence into space where she can travel forever. Slade learns nothing from the experience (and figures into a Doctor Who tradition of saving the most unlikable character in the group), but the nice Mr. Copper moves to Earth to be a millionaire with his space money. The Doctor finds the TARDIS, safe and sound in London and disappears into space and time, alone again.
Best Line – “Astrid Peth, citizen of St. The woman who looked at the stars and dreamed of traveling. Now you can travel forever. You’re not falling, Astrid. You’re flying.” — The Doctor
Runner-Up: “Christmas is a time of peace, and thanksgiving, and… oh, what am I on about? My Christmases are always like this.” — The Doctor
Christmas Decorations – The Titanic state room is tastefully appointed with wraths and tinsel.
Angels – The robotic angels serve as walking information kiosks until the crash, when they become an avenging army using their halos as weapons. Later, two of them fly with the Doctor so that he can literally descend from the heavens to save the day. The previous season ended with the Doctor as sort of a Space Jesus, so this is a nice resolution to that thread.
Christmas Shopping – Mr. Copper gives the group credit cards to buy some trinkets when they take their trip to Earth.
Christmas Star – At the end of the last scene, the Doctor looks up to see Astrid’s trail lighting up the night sky. That’s close enough to a star to count.
Celebrity Guests – Kylie Minogue plays Astrid, and I think she’s really good in the role. Much better than her work in the Street Fighter movie. Bernard Cribbens plays Wilfred Mott, the newsstand guy. He’s a famous character actor in England, including a role in one of the non-canonical Doctor Who movies. Mott later becomes a big part of the show when he’s revealed as Donna Noble’s grandfather and he’s even a full-fledged companion in “The End of Time”, where the Doctor gives his life to save him. He’s one of my favorite characters from Who and it’s neat to go back and watch this episode with full knowledge of what he’ll become.
Holiday Cheer-O-Meter – I love Doctor Who Christmas specials. And this is the most explicitly Christmas-y of the Tennant run. (Even the one titled “The Christmas Invasion” only briefly references the holiday.) But there’s a high body count, which dings the score. But then the bit where he can’t save Astrid but releases her atoms so she can see the universe makes me cry… I’m going to give it an 8.