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Feature: Doctor Who (2000s)
Get your tickets for the Titanic as the Doctor picks up a pop star for the Voyage of the Damned. Director James Strong reveals all, well nearly…
Doctor Who has set itself some big targets in the past, attempting to stage a Dalek invasion of Earth at the small Riverside studios by the Thames and a thousand year war at Television Centre. But, even by those standards, taking on the Titanic is a bit of a challenge. Particularly as there’s a good chance many viewers compare the Christmas special Voyage of the Damned with the Oscar-winning 1990s movie about the ship…
“No, it’s not like one of the most expensive films of all time has ever been made on the subject!” laughs director James Strong. “That’s the perennial challenge of Doctor Who really; to try and achieve the amazing and the fantastical, week in and week out.
“It’s just about being very clever really,” Strong says of the problems of matching movie standards on a television budget. The first step is working with a showrunner who understands what can and can’t be done, in the form of Russell T Davies. “Russell’s genius, I think, is not just to write amazing scripts, but to write scripts which are shootable within the frame of Doctor Who and the budget we have. So it’s just little things, like if you go to all the trouble of building a set, then you use it and you make sure that you use plenty of the material in the same set, or that a boat is quite good, because it has lots of rooms which look the same. One corridor looks much like another corridor; a reception area on one level would look much like another level. So you can be clever about your dressing and the way it’s done to try and tell the story.
“But I think the amazing ability of our CGI elements to add scale and value has come on so much that actually what was millions of dollars 10 years ago, the tools of the movies, have become a lot more achievable for TV, and we try and make them as much like little movies as we can really. And this more than any other episode I think, it’s Christmas Day, seven o’clock, it’s a longer episode, it’s nearly 90 minutes long and so it’s like a movie in itself, although it doesn’t have the budget, obviously. You could spend millions on Russell’s scripts, but I think it’s still satisfying enough in a cinematic way.”
Doctor Who on the Titanic is one big lure… but Voyage of the Damned has another one, thanks to the high-profile casting of Soap star and bubblepop singer turned indie diva and national treasure Kylie Minogue as one-off leading lady Astrid Peth, a waitress and possible anagram.
“I don’t think it was written with her in mind,” Strong says of the headline-grabbing casting. “The part was written and it was, ‘Who would be great for this?’ Early on it was, ‘Wow, wouldn’t it be amazing, we’re talking to her, but…’.
“She’s a big fan of the show and her assistant Will [Baker] is a big fan of the show and I think he was in contact with the producers and Russell and Phil a while ago. So it was mooted a while ago, but it was all about her amazingly busy schedule and the chances of it working were impossible, and then miraculously the path cleared and she did have this three-and-a-half week window in her schedule – which she never has! So it worked."
by Anthony Brown
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