It's official: Billie Piper is back on Doctor Who next year, in a needless ratings grab. And the BBC also released more details about her fellow pop star Kylie Minogue's appearance in the Christmas special. Kylie plays Astrid, a waitress on the Titanic, which crashed into the Doctor's time ship at the end of the previous season. And Kylie isn't the only high-wattage star in the cast for "Voyage of the Damned," the Doctor Who Christmas episode.
Geoffrey Palmer from mega-sitcom As Time Goes By and Clive Swift from Keeping Up Appearances also have starring roles in "Voyage of the Damned." (Both shows are PBS fixtures in the U.S., but they're huge in England.) Other stars in the episode: Gray O'Brien (The Queen), Debbie Chazen (The Smoking Room) and George Costigan (star of Rita, Sue and Bob Too). For fans of British TV and movies, the mob of familiar faces could be distracting.
Stunt casting has a long and proud tradition in Doctor Who, with mixed results. Here's a chronology, with grades:
1963-1978 You see lots of British character actors popping up (sometimes in multiple roles) but you're never distracted by the appearance of a famous personality. Grade: B+
1979: John Cleese and his then-wife Eleanor Bron appear for a few moments in "The City Of Death," commenting on the TARDIS (the Doctor's ship) as abstract art. Cleese and Tom Baker also filmed a short skit together. Grade: A
1985: Kate O'Mara (Joan Collins' sister from Dynasty) plays the Rani, an amoral member of the Doctor's own race. She's hardly a big star, but her acting doesn't really justify the role. Grade: B-
Late 1980s: Famous (in England) comedian Ken Dodd and comedy duo Hale and Pace have totally gratuitous cameos. They pretty much play themselves, and Dodd wears a totally hideous glittery outfit. Grade: D.
1989: Game show host Nicholas Parsons (basically England's answer to Bob Barker) plays a conflicted reverend in "The Curse of Fenric." It's a meaty role, and Parsons puts everything he's got into it. Grade: B+
1996: Formerly famous Eric Roberts plays arch-villain The Master in the TV movie. Grade: C-.
2005: Washed up pop star Billie Piper becomes the Doctor's new companion, and proves she can act. Grade: A.
2005: Reality TV stars Anne Robinson (The Weakest Link) and Trinny & Susannah (What To Wear) play themselves — only they're robots. Somehow it's an evil Dalek plan. Huh? Grade: D.
2005-2007: Famous (in England) actors Zoe Wanamaker, Peter Kay, Derek Jacobi and John Simm play major roles. Luckily, they're all real actors. Well, except for Kay. Grade: A-. [Image courtesy of BBC]
Voyage of the Damned [Outpost Gallifrey]