Doctor Who News Doctor Who: Dinosaurs on a Spaceship

Published on September 10th, 2012 | by Patrick Riley

Dinosaurs on a Spaceship

Doctor Who: Dinosaurs on a Spaceship
This week’s Doctor Who started in the same manner that the previous episode ended–with a question. A very old question. One of the oldest, in fact.

How many Ponds does it take to change a lightbulb?

The answer, of course, is three: two to hold the ladder and one to promptly find himself on a spaceship full of dinosaurs, adventurers, and an Egyptian queen and be the only person in the room who’s not sure what’s going on. Was there supposed to be a lightbulb in there somewhere? Never mind.

[pullquote align=right]The beginning of this week’s Doctor Who, like the end of the episode before it, began with a question. A very old question. One of the oldest, in fact.

How many Ponds does it take to change a lightbulb?[/pullquote]

The Pond in question isn’t actually a Pond (unless you ask the Doctor), but a Williams. Actually, he’s sort of a double-Williams: Mark the actor portraying Brian the Rory’s dad. And for someone who has just time-traveled while standing on a ladder, he’s taking it all very well. Sure, he gets rather frustrated whenever he’s on vacation, especially when it’s a surprise vacation full of pterodactyls, but he’s remarkably accepting of the truth of what’s around him, and goes from shouting at the Doctor to digging away at the beach in the engine room in a matter of seconds.

Mark Williams (also known as Ron Weasley’s dad) isn’t the only Harry Potter alum to provide entertainment in this episode–he must share the honor with villain-of-the-week David Bradley, the cranky Hogwarts caretaker–or as we know him better here, Solomon the would-be black market dino dealer. Bradley’s performance is arguably the best of the story (aside from the always hard-to-beat Matt Smith).

This is unfortunately counterbalanced by a not-so-stellar show from his two sarcastic and childish robot minions (voiced by David Mitchell and Robert Webb), who are only funny for their first couple of lines. That may be my only true complaint about the entire episode.

It’s about time we discussed the triceratops in the room. And the ankylosaur. And the tyrannosaurus rex. I’ll be honest, I wasn’t expecting a story about dinosaurs to be all that good. Call me boring, but I’ve never found the giant lizards of yesteryear to be very interesting; I thought Jurassic Park was something of a snooze-fest. Turns out that all one has to do to make terrible lizards exciting is launch them into space.

This isn’t the first time these prehistoric beasts have left their mark on Doctor Who. They notably appeared in London in the Jon Pertwee story Invasion of the Dinosaurs, and the Fifth Doctor adventure Earthshock revealed that the real cause of their demise was not an asteroid, but a space freighter hurtling toward the planet. Dinosaurs on a Spaceship also sees a vessel on a collision course with Earth, but this time, as the title would suggest, the reptiles themselves are on board.

And how magnificent the episode is as a result! It’s a real adventure, a proper romp, the likes of which Doctor Who has been sorely missing lately. It simultaneously fulfills Moffat’s promise of feeling like a great big blockbuster movie, and brings us back to the good old days of classic Doctor Who, full of poking around and investigating, companions being separated from the Doctor, people running down corridors, and frustratingly blatant CGI (the show’s modern technical issue in lieu of the mostly long-gone wobbly sets).

It would be wrong not to mention the elements that add to the grand spectacle of it all. Three blokes being chased by pterodactyls on a beach that looks suspiciously similar to Bad Wolf Bay (fun fact: it is). Amy and Riddell gunning down velociraptors. Trying to “start” a triceratops with a light karate chop. Rory losing his crown as the only new series long-term companion not to have shared a kiss with the Doctor (did you see the look on his face?!).

Ancient Egyptian Queen Nefertiti (Riann Steele) and big game hunter John Riddell (Sherlock‘s Rupert Graves) were nice introductions to the Doctor’s “gang” and added an extra dynamic to the story that made it bearable, nay, enjoyable to watch even when there were no dinosaurs to be seen. I for one would like to see them back on the show in the future (particularly Riddell). A possible return was hinted at near the end with the two characters pairing up in the African savannah for texting and scones. Or something.

The final act gives us an unexpected glimpse at the Doctor’s dark side, when he uncharacteristically sees to it that Solomon meets a rather bitter end while Amy and Rory aren’t watching. For at least the third time since Who’s 2005 return, it seems that the producers are exploring the concept of what happens to the Doctor when he’s allowed to roam around on his own for too long without someone to hold him back.

The plot is neither so simple that it’s insulting nor so complex that it’s confusing, and it certainly isn’t too weighty and dramatic to be entertaining. Effectively, it’s Cold Blood meets 42 with dinosaurs, which proves to be a recipe for awesome. I would even go so far as to say that this is the best story yet from writer Chris Chibnall (42, The Hungry Earth/Cold Blood). Leave it to Chibnall to work the Silurians into his dinosaur narrative, even if only for a brief appearance. Not that there’s anything wrong with that; Homo reptilia might just be one of the coolest “new” (read: reworked) Doctor Who species of the Matt Smith era.

All, in all, I’d call Dinosaurs on a Spaceship a win. That makes us two for two going into the third round of the season. Who’s ready for a cyborg spaghetti western?

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About the Author

Patrick is a temporal hitchhiker who spends most of his time in the future. His favourite Doctor is the Fourteenth. If you're especially lucky, you might even hear him tweet to all you merry folk in the past @10PatrickRiley.




12 Responses to Dinosaurs on a Spaceship

  1. Jess says:

    I really enjoyed it there were some flaws but overall it was amazing

  2. Rick Lundeen says:

    Honestly, I didn’t know Chibnall had it in him but this was a grade A fun epic. The Doctor has a gang! I’m stunned that he was able to write such a fun, big story with FIVE companions *and* dinosaurs in just 44 minutes. Kudos to the team, this was excellent and a script and story very worthy of the excellence that IS Matt Smith. As was Asylum.

    So far, this season is off to a truly great start. Best of all, a nice, subtle theme that’s not complicating things, even better, it’s complimenting the goings on. I’m going to have to watch the ep again.

  3. Leo says:

    Loved it.

    Seriously good fun, actually quite touching in parts.

    I felt like a kid again.

    Chibnall has shocked me.

  4. James says:

    Chibnall puts in too many pointless characters, time that might have helped give necessary characters credibility was thrown away on the pointless Ponds, surely the most useless companions in Who history, leaving no time to expand the plot. Why was Nefettiti there? It’s hard to care for such a spurious throwaway character.

    Overall, this script is a mess and it’s Moffatt’s fault. His insistence that there are no 2-parters this year means big ideas are sliced down to a few minutes and left undeveloped. The large idea of a dinosaur ark was squandered.

  5. francis cave says:

    Having dreaded the idea of watching another Chris Chibnall story I have to say I was impressed.

    A fun romp which did what it said on the tin.

    Only minus, would be the Mitchell/Webb double act as simply to any UK viewer their voices are too distinctive (esp as both do a lot of voiceover work).

    Put me in mind of Hale & Pace appearing in Survival…

  6. Anthony Lloyd-Jones says:

    What i don’t understand, is while near the Tardis, they would have been able to under Neffie, but when left with Riddel on the plains,surely all he would have heard is ancient Egyptian,,,, how quickly did she learn modern english?

    • TonyS says:

      Possibly, because once they have travelled in the TARDIS they have the telepathic gift of translation- whether or not they are near a TARDIS. It might be like the time-travel energy that enabled Rose and Mickey to activiate Dalek technology.

      • Anthony says:

        Yep, but then Rose couldn’t understand the Aliens in the Christmas invasion until the doctor woke up, as the telepathic circuits didn’t work…

        • TonyS says:

          Good point. Maybe they forgot they couldn”t understand one another. Possibly Riddell, being an arch-chauvinist, didn’t care what Nefertiti was saying…

        • TonyS says:

          Or maybe the TARDIS was only just leaving, and the real problems were about to start…

  7. Steve Andrew says:

    Damn good fun from start to finish. This actually had the feeling of a Christmas special, with the random guest stars and the near-total detachment from continuity.

    The interesting Silurian sub-plot was a great addition and hints at possible future off-world encounters with homo-reptilia. Excellent character interaction all round and it even had time for one of the most cold-blooded examples of the Doctor being judge, jury and executioner. Just imagine the First Doctor raising that stone over the caveman’s head without Chesterton to hold him back…

    And the dinosaurs were great! That was some of the best CGI work of the new series.

  8. Jon Roberts says:

    Am I the only one who didnt enjoy this episode. It seemed a mishmash of idea’s lumped together, of which some elements worked but most didnt. The killer, but camp robots, were a total rip off of anything that the great Douglas Adams had written in Hitchhikers Guide.
    The one bright spot was Mark’This week i have been mostly licked by a dinasaur’Williams, he is always brilliant in everything he does, lets hope he makes a return visit sometime.

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