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“Dinosaurs! On a spaceship!”

September 26, 2012

Try as I might I don’t think I can come up with a more fun title for my (admittedly belated) review of Dinosaurs on a Spaceship that the one given to the actual episode, so it will have to do. In a fortuitous turn of events the episode itself was rather excellent, really well paced and very enjoyable with a lot for us fans to dig our teeth into. So, like a triceratops in pursuit of a dirty golf ball, let’s get on with it shall we?

Call a Doctor!

For a second time in the new series Amy and Rory are not with the Doctor at the start of the episode. Rather than being kidnapped, this time he’s been summoned by the Indian Space Agency to help them deal with a spaceship that’s on a crash course with Earth. But let’s just pause there for a second, because I can’t be the only one who was wondering who on Earth the Indian Space Agency are, and why it’s them liaising with the Doctor rather than, say, UNIT or some other familiar military body. Admittedly I did miss the bit of text saying 2367AD so I was really confused about how the ISA had such good technology in 2012, but even so I did think it was a bit of a weird for the first few minutes of the episode to be centred around a new and largely unexplained military body who have the power to summon the Doctor whenever they need him.

I also noticed the parallel here with the start of Asylum of the Daleks where Darla von Karlsen summoned the Doctor to Skaro. In a way this sort of opening is good because there are fewer instances of the Doctor et al just happening upon some alien monster somewhere in time and space, and doing so just in time to do something about it all. However, if the Doctor can suddenly be summoned so easily doesn’t it undermine some of the intrigue of him being this lone traveller figure, not to mention the fact that the universe is supposed to think that he’s dead now? The format of having to go and fetch Amy and Rory at the start of each episode is a bit weird as well, though here it did work rather well for getting Rory’s dad into the TARDIS (but more on him later).

One other parallel that I spotted was with Solomon’s “Argos for the universe” scanner. When it couldn’t find any record of the Doctor Solomon declared “You don’t exist…” This goes back to what I said last time about memory as a theme (see? It’s everywhere!) and shows why the Doctor wanted to be forgotten after the end of the last series. Given how insistent Solomon was about owning Nefertiti imagine the lengths he’d have gone to to profit from the Doctor if he’d known who he was!

The Doctor’s Queen?

At first I was a little confused by Nefertiti and her flirtatious relationship with the Doctor. Admittedly he has had dalliances with famous historical women before (notably Elizabeth I as referenced in The Shakespeare Code and The End of Time) but this seems like something more. It also reminded me very strongly of the relationship that the Doctor has with River Song, although that said the actress Riann Steele did manage to make Nefertiti a distinct and believable character far removed enough from River to avoid treading on most of her toes. Happily for River, the flirting between Nefertiti and the explorer John Riddell and their joint departure from the TARDIS indicates that River doesn’t have anything to worry about from Nefertiti. Probably just as well too. Imagine a face-off between those two! Phwoar!

“…the new us?

Early on in Dinosaurs on a Spaceship Amy brings up a poignant issue when she asks the Doctor whether Nefertiti and Riddell are “the new us”. Given that the Doctor’s over 1000 years old at this point she knows that he will have other companions, but she clearly didn’t expect them to appear so soon or to overlap (somewhat echoing the audience’s reaction to Jenna-Louise Coleman in Asylum of the Daleks). This is one of a number of nods towards the departure of Amy and Rory, first hinted at within the show in the brief flash-forwards in the Pond Life mini-series. When the Doctor tells Amy “You’ll be there ‘til the end of me” and she replies “Or vice versa!” the look on his face was reminiscent of the tenth Doctor when he had this same conversation with Rose in School Reunion. Not long afterwards Rose found herself trapped in a parallel universe, though on the bright side she did have her family there with her. We can only speculate about the fate that awaits Amy and Rory but it seems that the Doctor knows something about it given his expression in this scene and again at the end of Dinosaurs on a Spaceship when he’s stood behind the Ponds at the door of the TARDIS. However they depart the show I’m not expecting much in the way of silver linings for the Ponds. That’s more of a Russell T Davies ending. Stephen Moffat, for all of his “everybody lives” storylines, doesn’t seem so forgiving.

Hello Brian!

But enough of the gloomy stuff. Let us now take a moment to appreciate the brilliance that was Mark Williams as Rory’s dad, Brian Williams (or Brian Pond if you like). He fitted in wonderfully to the wacky world of the Eleventh Doctor and provided some great moments of light relief with his golf balls and bewildered looks. He also provided some emotional depth to the story when the Mitchell-and-Webb-bots shot him, and in the subsequent pocket-pack bonding between himself and Rory (“You get to see my awesome nursing skills in action for once”). By far my favourite Brian moment however was when he and Rory were flying the Silurian ship. This bit was so much fun to watch and was really well acted by both of the male Ponds with the visual effects complementing their performance superbly. In fact while I’m on that point the effects in the whole episode were outstanding, especially with the dinosaurs and the external shots of the Silurian ship. The episode was also really well paced and was consistently engaging, and given this and the high production values on the series so far I’m impressed and excited to see this trend continue.

Ark Life

Turning to the episode generally now, and as usual I thoroughly enjoyed Matt Smith’s quirky Doctorisms such as using his tongue to check where the beach was, making comments about his Christmas list and doing inappropriate jokes about monkeys. Also, as per usual, his switch between comical and serious when he realised who Solomon was and what he was doing was superbly performed, and in dealing with Solomon we saw some of the same wrath that the Doctor displayed in episodes like Human Nature/The Family of Blood. Some have said that the Doctor’s attitude here wasn’t very ‘Doctorly’, especially after all that was said by the Tenth Doctor about how he was the “man who never would” (in The Doctor’s Daughter after Jenny had been shot). This is a noteworthy point, but I think that this is a natural part of the evolution of the character from his tenth to eleventh incarnation and that it gives a fresh angle to his personality. You could say that he’s less predictable now. In a very Batman Begins sort of way, although would never kill you that doesn’t mean he has to save you either.

Another quirk that I enjoyed was Mitchell and Webb as the voices of the robots, providing a few great one-liners and some fun bickering throughout the episode. However, if I’m honest I wasn’t a huge fan of the fun Mitchell-and-Webb-bots becoming remorseless killing machines at Solomon’s whim. For me as a fan of the comedy duo I did think this took their involvement a little bit beyond comfortable, and as a result I was glad that the robots weren’t talking when, for example, they shot the triceratops. (As an aside, triceratopses do seem to be the go-to dinosaur for emotional scenes don’t they? Remember that sick one in Jurassic Park? Maybe it’s the same one trying to break back into acting. Good luck to it if so!)

I was also a fan of the plot generally, especially the Silurian Ark aspect of it. To summarise what I know of the history of the Silurians, they are a pre-historic Earth race some of whom left the planet while others migrated underground and went into suspended animation to avoid extinction from the meteor that wiped out the dinosaurs. Given this, the idea of them building an Ark to preserve the species that were alive at the time seems a very realistic one. Well, as realistic as it can be when it’s a TV show about a mad-man in a box traveling through space and time. But the thing that I most like about the use of the Silurians here is that it makes them into a more consistent presence in the New Who canon (i.e. the series from 2005 onwards). Before now we’ve only had one proper Silurian story (The Hungry Earth/Cold Blood), and despite glimpses in The Pandorica Opens and the strong female Silurian character in A Good Man Goes To War they haven’t really featured in New Who. Using them here as a plot point but not as a direct antagonist that needs to be ‘defeated’ is a good way of keeping them on the audience’s radar. To build on what I said about the Daleks in my last review, the reason I’m a fan of maintaining a consistent presence for classic Doctor Who monsters is that that’s what they are – classic! New monsters are all well and good (the Weeping Angels in particular are excellent) but the Doctor has so much history with his classic foes that it seems a shame that we don’t see as much of them. As a fan of New Who who’s seen hardly any of the classic series (I know, shame on me) I really like being introduced to classic monsters like the Silurians as it gives me a connection to the old series that I can then explore. Doing this with more of the classic monsters will give newer fans like me that link to Classic Who, and in my mind this is a Good Thing.

Best bits:

  • I had two very disappointed dancers on my hands. Not that I couldn’t manage.
  • Everything about the triceratops. I was so upset when it died!
  • There’s so much to discover, think how much wiser we’ll all be at the end of all this!
  • The Doctor saying “Where’s a Silurian audience when you need one!?” after his monkey joke fell flat.
  • Although it turned out not to be very relevant, when we first see Solomon watching the Doctor on the TV screen the console that we can see around it looked very like the one of the other TARDIS that we saw in The Lodger.
  • What sort of man doesn’t have a trowel?!
  • Filch (David Bradley) was very good as Solomon!
  • I’ve spent enough time with the doctor to know that when you enter somewhere you press buttons.” This line was one of many bits that showed a really clever and resourceful side of Amy. Seeing her like this here has convinced me that if she was left to her own devices (as in The Girl Who Waited) then she would learn how to kick some serious robot arse.
  • Dinosaurs ahead, a lady at my side, about to be blown up, not sure I’ve ever been happier.” “Shut up and shoot.
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