Did we like it?
Far superior and more consistent than the previous first-half brilliant/ second-half awful Christmas specials, but it did suffer from the resurrected Doctor’s enduring bane of trying to squeeze a two-hour plotline into little more than half the time.
What was good about it?
• We had lazily assumed that because it was cruise liner disaster that it would resemble The Poseidon Adventure. But this was futile conjecture as there were only a couple of similar impediments – and neither is exclusive to cruise liners, ocean- or space-faring.
• The centrepiece was the thrilling part when the Doctor and the survivors had to clamber across a slender piece of wreckage spanning a chasm within which the nuclear engine furnace raged. As they scrambled across they were attacked by the Host, the robotic psychopaths under the control of deranged shipping magnate Max Capricorn who had staged the whole catastrophe for insurance compensation.
• The Host were an effective mirror for the cold villainy of Capricorn, assassinating the crew and passengers who survived the initial asteroid bombardment while also managing to win first prize in a Robots of Death (adversaries of Tom Baker’s Doctor) look-alike contest, and first prize in an Ood sound-alike contest.
• Kylie Minogue was good as the starry-eyed Astrid Peth, who longed to be whisked away from her life of drudgery on board the Titanic but who ended up being fried in a nuclear furnace.
• Clive Swift as the wretched Mr Copper, who despite a rubbish backstory invested his character with sympathy and pathos.
• While it was quite corny, the bit where the Queen emerges from Buckingham Palace after the Doctor has steered the Titanic away from colliding with Earth, and then waving the vessel on its way with a “Merry Christmas” was pretty funny.
• Rickston Slade (Gray O’Brien) at least provided a resident hate-figure upon whom the viewers could focus their abhorrence.
What was bad about it?
• Four characters committed suicide. Admittedly, they sacrificed themselves for what they saw as a noble cause – even Captain Hardaker (Geoffrey Palmer) caused the atrocity to ensure his family was looked after as he was suffering from a fatal illness anyhow (which, given this civilisation could fly across space, seems unlikely) – but even so this was an interstellar spacecraft orbiting the Earth not Lithuania.
• In order to economically coerce the viewers into feeling sympathy for the characters who would almost all soon be deceased most were given a facile sob-story making this episode of Doctor Who resemble an early episode of The X-Factor; all we were missing was the insincerity of Dermot O’Leary. The likeable “walking conker” Bannakaffalatta was really a cyborg, Mr Copper had a qualification with less credibility than ‘Dr’ Gillian McKeith, while Foon had spent a fortune entering the contest that won her and husband Morven the voyage on the Titanic in the first place without telling her husband.
• Once again, the Doctor’s febrile libido gets the better of him. That he gets instantly attracted to his companions, acerbic humanoid trees, heaving, historical French concubines and now unhappy waitresses means his unkempt, gruesomely Kafkaesque metamorphosis from inquisitive David Attenborough-type icon marvelling at the wonder of life across the universe to a grimy, licentious, priapic intergalactic version of Calum Best is complete. It’s also very, very dull.
• Max Capricorn’s dull capitalist motivation for crashing the Titanic into the Earth in order to fund his retirement with the insurance pay out. Now we’re not expecting Professor Moriarty or Raskolnikov, but an adversary with a pinprick of deviousness would be appreciated, but in about three minutes (which was all the screen time he got) what else can be done?