Doctor Who: Dinosaurs on a Spaceship

Posted: September 10, 2012 in TV reviews
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Warning, this blog post will feature dinosaurs, spaceships and SPOILERS!

I’ll be honest; I didn’t expect to like this episode. First off it’s written by Chris Chibnall, whose output is variable to say the least. He was responsible for some truly awful episode of Torchwood, and his Who episodes to date have been average at best. There’s nothing especially bad about 42, or the Silurian 2-parter, but nothing makes them stand out either.

Link this in with a story seemingly built abound a title, much like Snakes on a Plane, and my expectations weren’t high.

Maybe that’s why I enjoyed it so much?

In 2367 a huge spaceship is on a collision course with Earth, and the Indian Space Agency (makes a change doesn’t it) are going to vaporise it in six hours, unless the Doctor can turn it around first. Before he scoots over there however he picks up a gang to go with him (because, as he says, he’s never had a gang before, which is as good a reason as any I suppose.)  There’s Queen Nefertiti, an Edwardian hunter named Riddell, and of course Rory and Amy…oh yes, and Rory’s dad who was changing a light bulb when the Doctor materialised the Tardis around them all.

To be honest, the roping in of the gang seems a little, er, ropy. Ok so Nefertiti obviously barged her way into the Tardis during a previous adventure, but it’s hard to see why he brings Riddell along, and materialising around the Ponds seems an awfully convenient way to pick up Brian.

Luckily the pre title sequence rushes along at such great pace that you don’t have time to wonder, as first the Doctor accuses of Brian of being an infiltrator, then berates Rory for bringing him along, ignoring the fact he brought him along. It’s a lovely little scene showcasing Smith and Darvill’s comic timing to perfection.

The pre title sequence ends with the first appearance of the titular dinos. By this point the episode’s only been going for a few minutes yet an amazing amount of stuff has already been introduced.

For an episode potentially envisaged around such a vague notion, this episode really is chock full of great ideas, wonderful characters, and zippy dialogue, and it zooms along at such a great pace that even if something doesn’t quite work you’re miles past it before you realise it. Not that the story even has that many holes, in fact for the most part it hangs together quite well.

Ok so the teleporter dividing the gang into two groups is slightly convenient, but separating companions from the Doctor has been a well-used plot device since the early days of Hartnell, plus it adds to the drama, and gives Amy the chance to play at being the Doctor (Her “I will not have flirting companions” line when Riddell and Nefertiti start doing just that is hilarious.)

The reveal that the ship is Silurian in origin is not only a nice surprise, but it neatly explains what a bunch of dinosaurs are doing on board. We then discover that there was a crew of Silurians on board, but that they were killed, ejected into space, by a pair of robots under the instruction of David Bradley’s evil space trader, Solomon. It says something about Bradley’s performance that he manages to make Solomon threatening, even when he’s flat on his back, badly wounded. Even the robots manage to be intimidating, despite being voiced by Mitchell and Webb.

I imagine some people might have been annoyed by the use of the comedy duo, but I found their bickering robots brilliant, another fab part of a fab episode, though as funny as they are, they’re not to be trifled with, as Solomon first orders them to injure Brian, and then to kill the friendly Triceratops that the Doctor and co almost escape on.

It says a lot about how well this episode is directed that the death of Triccy (as I like to call him) is genuinely a touch emotional.

With the Indian missiles about to hit, Nefertiti offers to go with Solomon if he’ll let everyone else go. Solomon agrees because he realises her value (in a nice touch to this series’ theme Solomon’s super computer can’t identify the Doctor, Oswin’s wipe of the Dalek Path Web obviously had far reaching repercussions. )

Of course the Doctor doesn’t let Nefertiti stay in Solomon’s clutches, rescuing her and ensuring the Indian missies ignore the Silurian ship and instead target Solomon’s ship. There’s a slightly uneasy moment as the Doctor leaves Solomon to die, even though the Doctor has killed before it’s still slightly jarring, but not enough to spoil a great episode.

As I’ve said, perhaps the most amazing thing about this episode is how much there is going on, not a minute is wasted, and despite quite a large cast everyone gets their moment to shine, even if Nefertiti and Riddell are sidelined at times. In fact it’d be nice to see both again, and it would definitely be a pleasure to have Mark Williams return as Brian Williams.

Smith is on top form, manic, funny, yet capable of being cold and calculating, he really is a great Doctor, and when he eventually leaves (hopefully not for a while yet) I pity the guy who has to follow him.

Amy gets to play the leader, and gets a nice foreshadowing conversation with the Doctor when he says she and Rory will outlive him, and Amy says “Or vice versa,” Handily reminding us that we only have a few episodes of the Ponds left.

Arthur Darvill plays off Williams well, and it’s nice to see Rory get to do some nursing, it’s been a while.

I’m sure the frenetic pace won’t suit everyone, and I’m sure some will think this was too silly, or perhaps too dark, but for me it’s a top drawer classic that manages to encompass practically everything that’s great about Doctor Who all in one episode, proving yet again that it’s possible to be both funny and serious, epic and intimate. A fast paced romp that, were I still under ten, would probably rank as the greatest thing I’d ever seen. EVER!

As it is it was nice to let my inner eight year old out to play, if only for 45 or so minutes. Mr. Chibnall, you wrote a cracker.

Oh, and did I mention there were dinosaurs in it?

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