Dec 31, 2007
"Voyage of the Damned" is an episode of the British science fiction television series Doctor Who. It is 71 minutes long and was broadcast on BBC One at 6:50pm on 25 December 2007. It is the third Christmas special of the revived Doctor Who series by Russell T. Davies, and the first episode to be made available for free on the internet by the BBC iPlayer service immediately after its first showing (the internet version is available in the UK only). The episode introduces a new variation on the opening and closing Doctor Who theme tune and companion Astrid Peth and is dedicated to the memory of the founding producer of Doctor Who, Verity Lambert.
On its original airdate, 25 December 2007, "Voyage of the Damned" attracted 13.8 million viewers at its peak, with an overnight rating of 12.2 million viewers earning the episode 50% of the total television audience. It was the second most-watched program of the day, being beaten by the 8 p.m. episode of EastEnders. These were the highest viewing figures for Doctor Who since 1979's City of Death.
This story continues from the final scene of "Last of the Time Lords" and "Time Crash", in which a luxury space cruiser called the Titanic breaches the walls of the TARDIS console room. The Doctor teams up with Titanic waitress Astrid Peth in order to fend off a new enemy called the Host.
As the Doctor leaves Earth, the bow of the Titanic crashes through the TARDIS' wall. Though momentarily stunned, he quickly pushes some buttons to repair the TARDIS walls and push the ship out. The TARDIS then materialises aboard the ship. The Doctor soon learns the Titanic is a large luxury spaceship from the planet Sto, orbiting present-day Earth. He decides to stow away to enjoy the party, only confessing his unauthorized status to lively waitress Astrid Peth, who reveals her own desire to travel the stars.
Astrid has found her new job disappointing, as she is not allowed off the ship to visit destination planets. The Doctor cheers her up by sneaking her onto an excursion to London via teleport, along with couple Morvin and Foon Van Hoff, and a small alien with a red head, called Bannakaffalatta. This is not a problem since London is all but deserted, an atmosphere of fear having been cultivated from the alien attacks on the previous two Christmases. Queen Elizabeth, Nicholas Witchell, and newspaper seller Wilfred Mott are among the few that remain. Ship's historian and guide Mr Copper gives the excursion party a bizarrely inaccurate explanation of human society, especially Christmas, despite the fact that he claims to be an expert on the planet. Meanwhile, on the Titanic's bridge, Captain Hardaker dismisses all the officers so they can take a break. Only one, Midshipman Frame, refuses to go, citing the rule that at least two officers must be present on the bridge.
The party returns to the ship just as Hardaker reveals his true motives and commits an act of sabotage, causing meteors to collide with the ship. Midshipman Frame is shot and wounded when he attempts to prevent the disaster. Hardaker is killed in the resulting collision, as are the bulk of the crew and passengers. The meteors cause three major hull breaches, one of which sucks the TARDIS into space. The Doctor notes that it will just land on Earth automatically. With the teleport system offline and the engines losing power, the Titanic is heading for an extinction-level collision with the Earth. The Doctor makes contact with the injured Midshipman Frame, and leads a small group of survivors in a climb through the shattered vessel to reach him.
Complicating matters are the Host, information androids resembling angels that have been reprogrammed to kill everyone onboard. The Doctor's party is harassed by Host all the way, and the Doctor's sonic screwdriver proves to be useless against them. Bannakaffalatta reveals to Astrid that he is actually a cyborg, something considered shameful in the society on Sto. Bravely, he saves the party from a Host attack by transmitting an electromagnetic pulse from his cybernetic implants, killing himself in the process. The Van Hoffs also die: Morvin falls from the ledge into the nuclear engines, and Foon subsequently commits suicide while pulling a surviving Host down with her. The Doctor makes a grim promise that "no more" will die. The survivors take Bannakaffalatta's EMP unit with them as their only effective weapon against the Host.
The Doctor sends the remaining survivors on ahead with the EMP unit and the sonic screwdriver, while he attempts to reach the place from which the Host are controlled. Using a security protocol, he convinces the Host to take them to their leader. This turns out to be the cruise line's owner, Max Capricorn, who is hiding in an indestructible impact chamber on Deck 31. Capricorn is also revealed to be a cyborg, a human head set in a small wheeled vehicle. Having been forced out by the company's board of directors, he is seeking revenge. The collision of the Titanic into a heavily-populated world will not only break the company, but see the board charged with murder. Outnumbered by Host and faced with death, the Doctor is saved by Astrid, who has made a short-range teleport to his position. She rams Capricorn with a fork-lift truck until both are forced off a precipice and fall into the fiery engine of the ship.
Assuming control of the Host upon Capricorn's death, the Doctor grimly makes his way to the bridge just as the ship plunges into Earth's atmosphere. Working with Frame, he uses the heat from the re-entry to try to re-start the ship's engines, but discovers that they are headed straight for one of the few places in London currently inhabited: Buckingham Palace. Calling through with a security code, he manages to get the Queen out of the building, which the Titanic narrowly misses as the ship pulls up, now back under control. The Queen, in her dressing gown, is heard thanking the Doctor as he pilots the ship back into space.
With the danger over, the Doctor suddenly realises that there might be hope for Astrid after all. A safety feature of the ship's teleport system is that in case of accident, it automatically holds in stasis the molecules of the affected passenger. As she was wearing a teleport bracelet at the time of her death, her pattern might still be stored in its buffers. However, despite desperate efforts, only a shadow of Astrid can be generated due to extensive damage to the teleport system. The Doctor watches her dissipate into motes of light that float free into space. This way, she can at least fulfill her dream of exploring the universe, forever.
The Doctor teleports back to earth with Mr Copper, who is no expert on Earth, but a former salesman who lied his way onto the ship to explore the stars. The Doctor leaves him on the planet to build a new life, funded by the ship's expenses card, which contains £1,000,000. The Doctor then heads off in the TARDIS, alone.
Before its broadcast, the episode drew criticism from Millvina Dean, the last living survivor of the 1912 Titanic sinking, who stated that it was "disrespectful to make entertainment of such a tragedy". The organisation Christian Voice expressed offence at the religious imagery of a scene in which the Doctor is lifted through the ship by robot angels. The episode's Christmas Day UK broadcast received 13.8 million viewers, an audience narrowly exceeded by the 13.9 million who watched the BBC soap EastEnders. The average across all 70 minutes was 12.2 million viewers. This was the highest total of viewers for the new series, exceeding the previous record set by "Rose", and the highest for Doctor Who overall since 1979 (specifically, the final episode of "City of Death" which aired while rival network ITV suffered programming disruptions due to a strike).
Gareth McLean, reviewing a preview screening for The Guardian's TV and radio weblog, appreciated the episode's use of "the disaster movie template" and came to a favourable overall conclusion: "For the most part, The Voyage of the Damned is absolutely smashing." Its main flaw, in his view, was the "blank and insipid" acting of Kylie Minogue. James Walton of The Daily Telegraph called the episode "a winning mixture of wild imagination and careful writerly calculation".