Who Review: Dinosaurs on a Spaceship
One of the things that makes Doctor Who appealing to such a wide audience is the fact that the nature of the show allows for a wide range of themes and moods. Sometimes we get highly emotive drama (e.g., “Father’s Day” from new series 1, or “Human Nature/The Family of Blood” from new series 3), sometimes scare-your-pants-off thrills (e.g., “The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances” from new series 1, or “Blink” from new series 3). Other times the adventures can be dark and a bit edgy (e.g., “The Impossible Planet/The Satan Pit” from new series 2, or “Midnight” from new series 4), or more comedic (“Love and Monsters” from new series 2, or “Closing Time” from new series 6). Often, the stories fall somewhere on a continuum between all of these.
“Dinosaurs on a Spaceship” definitely leaned more on the lighter, comedic side, though there was a good dose of drama and excitement too. In this second story of series 7, the Doctor gathers a “gang” consisting of the ancient Egyptian ruler Queen Nefertiti, Edwardian big-game hunter John Riddell, Amy and Rory, and, unwittingly, Rory’s dad, Brian. He takes this gang aboard a ship in the 22nd century that is drifting toward Earth. The Indian Space Agency is getting ready to shoot it down, but the Doctor has found a precious cargo on board that he wants to save if he can: dinosaurs. But how did the dinosaurs get to be there? Whose ship was this–and where are they now? And can the Doctor save everyone before they’re all blown to oblivion?
SPOILER ALERT!! My comments may (and likely will) contain spoilers for those that haven’t seen the episode. If you want to stay spoiler-free, please watch the story before you continue reading!
The last time dinosaurs were featured so prominently in a Doctor Who story, it was “Invasion of the Dinosaurs” from 1974. If you read my review of the DVD release, you’ll know that the dinosaur effects were–um–less than impressive. Thankfully, with modern CGI and animatronics, and a much larger budget, the Doctor Who production team are able to come up with creatures that are much more believable. Of course, audiences today expect no less.
I know the lighter tone to the episode frustrates some of the more serious Whovians, but that’s the nature of the show. Not every story is going to be a hit with everyone (indeed, some fans of the show are so picky about even the best episodes, one wonders why they keep watching!). Some have hinted that this story is a bit of comedy relief before the next three episodes, where things take a turn for the decidedly grim. I wouldn’t be surprised.
Some reviewers have critiqued the plot, complaining that having Rory’s dad there was a convenient fix to the problem of having a pair of genetically-compatible people to pilot the ship. I shake my head. First, like it or not, “coincidences” like this happen in real life: you need something, and you just happen to have it in your pocket, or your wife has what you need in her purse/handbag. Maybe life is one big convenient plot device… but that sounds like a theme for one of my theological posts. In any case, suck it up, I say. Chris Chibnall, this episode’s writer, says he had requested the addition of Rory’s father to the story because we’ll soon be saying goodbye to Rory, and we know so little about his family. Frankly, I like the little story arc both Rory and Brian go through here. During this adventure, Brian gets to see his son in the context of his life with Amy and the Doctor. It seems he had never even seen Rory’s nursing skills before. Rory gets to see his father broaden his horizons from being someone who hardly ever left home, to someone willing to fly a spaceship and marvel at the world (and universe) outside his front door.
The Silurian cameo was a nice touch that provided a plausible reason why dinosaurs would be on a spaceship. The way the Doctor deals with Solomon, the black market trader, seems a bit harsh and un-Doctor-like… but it’s not really. Recall the way he dealt with Cassandra in “The End of the World” (series 1), the Sycorax leader in “The Christmas Invasion” (the 2005 Christmas Special), the children of the Racnoss in “The Runaway Bride” (the 2006 Christmas Special), and so on. We know the Doctor has a dark edge to him, and there are limits to his compassion.
The title appears to be a play on the movie “Snakes on a Plane,” though no-one has confirmed that to be the case. From what I gather, the story developed from the title–”Dinosaurs on a Spaceship” as a concept came first. It seems some reviewers have a problem with this, as if it was a dodgy idea that needed a lot of work to make it tenable. As someone who writes fiction, it sounds to me like a great writing challenge that Mr. Chibnall pulled off quite successfully.
Aside from Amy Pond (and I’ve told you all before that I don’t like Amy Pond’s character, so any griping on my part about her is pointless), the only thing about this story I really didn’t like was the opening, where Nefertiti is trying to have her way with the Doctor. I understand that in 21st century Doctor Who, the Doctor is allowed to show affection to his female assistants, and smooching is not out of the question. But let’s not get carried away. If we’re trying to say that Nefratiti was a bit of a wild girl–which seems consistent with the banter between her and Riddell–that doesn’t mean she would be like that with anything in trousers. It almost feels as if show-runner Steven Moffat thinks we need periodic doses of this to keep things interesting. Speaking for myself and my family: no, we don’t, thanks.
Overall, a good episode, and consistent with the high standard we’ve come to expect of the writing and acting on Doctor Who. Definitely lighter than “Asylum of the Daleks,” but that’s okay. Doctor Who hasn’t survived fifty years by being predictable.