Tuesday, 18 May 2010

Doctor Who: Time Crash / Voyage of the Damned

Time Crash

“You mostly went hands-free, didn't you? ‘I'm the Doctor! I can save the universe with a kettle and some string. And look at me; I'm wearing a vegetable…’”

Hooray! At last I get to watch this with subtitles and catch all of Tennant’s dialogue! Not to be churlish, though; this is fantastic, and his performance is too.

Peter Davison’s appearance is a powerful and wonderful moment, and all the more so in the context of the Marathon. Although I can’t help wondering why he’s wearing a hat, what with it being indoors and all…

It’s interesting how different Davison’s performance is here. Partly it’s the fact that he’s older, more authoritative and, well, more authoritative. But there’s also the obvious point that this is the version of the Doctor he plays in Big Finish these days.

But just as good as Davison himself is this fantastically witty script from the Moffmeister General, in which Tennant’s Doctor gets to make some great quips about his predecessor. I love the digs at the celery, and the revelation that both of the Doctors wear glasses for purely cosmetic reasons. Davison gets the best line, though. (“You’ve changed the desktop theme, haven’t you?”)

It’s hard to believe, as the Fifth Doctor heads back to times of “Nyssa and Tegan, Cybermen and the Mara, Time Lords in funny hats and the Mara”, that this has been just eight minutes long. It’s pure joy. 5/5, no contest. Oh, and I do believe this is only our second every “wibbly wobbly, timey wimey”.

Voyage of the Damned

“Any day now they start boxing!”

Ah… there’s nothing so surreal as reviewing a Christmas special in late May as the Spring blossoms are behind us and the hay fever drugs are starting to kick in…

It’s the Christmas Day blockbuster: time for something light in mood yet exciting and action-packed for the post-Christmas Dinner hours, and easy to follow for the benefit of those of us who had a little bit of wine earlier cos it’s the one day of the year you can start drinking in the early afternoon. And this delivers splendidly; before the credits roll we’ve already established that this is indeed the Titanic, there are apparently aliens on board, Kylie Minogue is on board, and, oh, said ship is flying through space. How very Enlightenment. Not only that, but those angel robots look suspiciously Robots of Death to me. That’s two conscious homages in the space of a minute!

The first third of the running time, before the peril kicks in, are devoted to introducing us to the situation and to the characters who are soon going to be struggling for their lives. The script sparkles here, giving exactly the sort of humour the festive circumstances demand. The highlight of all this is of course the dodgy history lesson given by Clive Swift’s Mr Copper, along with the brief trip to earth which helps the Doctor to bond with Kylie’s Astrid Peth- and her joy at what we would think mundane is wonderful. We also meet a newspaper vendor (it’s London, innit?) played by Bernard Cribbins, but there’s no need to dwell on him as he’s probably just a one-off cameo.

Incidentally, we’re told again that Earth is indeed a “Level 5” planet. That settles it; there is indeed a consistent system.

Oh, and Geoffrey Palmer’s in it, too, as the Captain, and Russell Tovey’s in it, too! But here’s when things start to turn serious as the Captain deliberately allows the ship to be hit by meteors, and the Heavenly Host turn nasty. Not only that, but they have haloes of death! It’s now, in true disaster movie style, that every character has a secret and all the nice characters die, mostly nobly (I love our sweet competition-winning couple, but knowing RTD’s scripting I feared for their life expectancy the minute they opened their mouths…). Unfortunate that the black guy dies first, but probably not a deliberate use of the trope…

The Doctor’s big speech, in response to Rickston Slade’s sneering, seemed a bit over the top at the time, but in the context of what’s to come (I know that’s not really in the spirit of the Marathon!) it now looks far more like a part of a character arc with, in hindsight, a defined direction, than it ever did at the time. I also love his Christmas quip soon after (“I was there. I got the last room”).

Things are going well with Astrid until she agrees to be the Doctor’s companion; at that point you know she’s doomed, just like Lynda with a “y” in a similar scene. This is where it starts, though: RTD, awesomely great writer though he is, has been writing the series for three years ago, and from this point onwards we’re bound to get little bits like this where he repeats his earlier tricks. It can’t be helped, and it in no way undermines RTD’s stature as a genius, but it’s there.

Still, RTD is often criticised for his climaxes but there’s nothing to criticise here. The doctor’s plan to get himself to the bridge is genuinely clever, Max Capricorn is a great villain, superbly played by George Costigan (yes, I know his performance is a tad broad, but so it should be- that’s the character, and it’s appropriate villainy for a Christmas special). The final revelations tie things up nicely- and were even foreshadowed earlier. Unfortunately, Astrid has to die at this point. Even more unfortunately, the Doctor ascends to the heavens with two angels. Now, I’ve been quite tolerant of this pretentious Christ imagery, but this is the point where, for me personally, the screaming starts. Please let there be no more…

Again, it’s interesting in the light of later events (not strictly in the spirit of the Marathon, again!) to see the Doctor trying so hard to bring Astrid back, insisting that “I can do anything!” Importantly, though, he fails. Not yet is he the Time Lord triumphant, but he’s travelling alone, and certain tendencies are going unchecked…

The last scenes with Mr Copper are splendid. I love the metatextuality of Mr Coppers comment, after Rickston Slade again shows himself to be an obnoxious git, that “Of all the people to survive. He’s not the one you would have chosen, is he?” But anyone making such a choice (ie, the writer) would be “a monster”. Is this RTD commenting on his own rather more than usually homicidal tendencies as a writer?

Good to see the recently departed Verity Lambert get an acknowledgement, too. Casts me back to the early days of the Marathon, that does.

Brilliant. Not quite up there with the 5/5, but one of the very top 4/5’s.

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