(NOTE: I will try to keep this review as spoiler-free as possible)
To be honest, I didn't have high expectations for Voyage of the Damned - coming off the major disappointment that was "Last of the Time Lords", it seemed like a continuity - and historical - nightmare. Although "Time Crash" did provide some hope, quite honestly...I thought that Russell T. Davies simply had burned out. In fact, I ended up watching The Christmas Invasion on Christmas Eve, just to put myself into a festive mood.
Luckily, having viewed Voyage of the Damned on the Beeb's own electronic online video player, I can say...Mr. Davies, you've redeemed yourself, oh so slightly.
In fact, even though the ship is named Titanic, this story takes place on contemporary Earth - the Titanic being an alien ship used to visit "primitive cultures". (Mr. Copper, an "expert" on Earth culture, is one of the best things about this episode). The Doctor finds himself involved with Astrid - a waitress played by Kylie Minogue. You see the beginning of some light banter, some flirtation, with the Doctor taking a well-deserved holiday after an extremely busy year. Soon, however, the story takes a darker turn - think of the Adams-esque whimsy providing light moments in a story that combines The Poseidon Adventure with the Baker-era Robots of Death, and you won't be too far from the truth.
(And I'm not exaggerating about that last reference - the Heavenly Hosts are extremely reminiscent of that story, from their design to their behavior. So much so that you almost expect one of them to say, Please do not throw arms at me. Granted, as the plot plays out, we soon learn that the motives behind the goings-on within the ship are...well, not as noble as robotic freedom. Plus, there's another sequence which is a logic puzzle reminiscent of Pyramids of Mars. It's good that there's references to other stories that aren't so blatantly obvious, providing a nice subtle thread of continuity. Plus, a subtle Blake's 7 nod.)
As the number of survivors decreases, we find the Doctor and Astrid becoming closer...so much so that, in certain shots (and this is my major quibble with it), Astrid is framed as being a Rose Tyler surrogate. (I really wish that the production staff would let go of their slightly fan-wanky obsession with her. It's almost as annoying as Mike Sterling's constant championing if the incredibly lame All-Star Batman & Robin come. Ok, we understand how you feel...but you need to let it go). Although the relationship "works" in the story...the way it is handled feels forced. It's one of my minor quibbles with Mr. Davies' writing - at times, he throws away solid motivation in order to be "charming".
(There is one moment, however, that knowing Mr. Tennant's personal situation at the time of feeling....seems extraordinarily poignant. Probably one of the top 10 television moments of 2007).
Ultimately, like much of Season Three (available, along with the other mentioned stories, through our Amazon store), this is a dark, forbidding story with flashes of humor. In fact, when the story cannot seem to get any more darker...we get the last ten minutes, which are absolutely beautiful. I wish I could describe what happens without spoiling it...but in many ways, serves as one of the major themes of Davies' run. At first, we see one character seem to demonstrate redemption...but we find that he doesn't. In fact, quite the opposite is true...
But back on Earth...well, it seems to show that possibly the Doctor doesn't want so much gratitude, as to see that people have been affected by him. Seeing the Doctor beam as a character announces, "I'll make you proud of me, Doctor"...was well worth the price of admission.
Personal Favorite - the Season Four Trailer at the end. Key highlights include, "I need a mate"/"Well, you're not mating with me, sunshine"...scenes from the Agatha Christie episode...and a nagging feeling (not a spoiler, just a feeling) that we'll be seeing the return of this gentleman.
Note: Thanks, Tony, for linking to these YouTube posts. Watch it before it goes away!