Doctor Who: Dinosaurs on a Spaceship Review
I actually can’t do better than the episode title…
A very good episode that jumps straight back into the current set up for the first half of Doctor Who series 7, whereby the Doctor has no regular travelling companion, instead he picks up people along the way for brief trips and then drops them off again!
“This is the gang! Never had a gang before!”
This episode figuratively blasts off from Egypt 1334 BC, to India 2367, to African plains circa 1902, to modern day Earth (specifically the Ponds [they are not Williams’] living room) and then FORWARD again to 2367.
All in the first 10 minutes – got that? That is how fast this episode moves and it does so delightfully, maintaining the viewers interest, and really showcasing the movie/blockbuster feel that Moffat and his crack team have been advocating for months now. But I think what’s really key is that this episode is not as dark as the series opener – there is no divide within the Ponds here – fact is they come across as though they’ve never been stronger!
So Eleven has just wrapped up an incident in ancient Egypt with Queen Nefertiti or Neffy to her friends apparently (Rhian Steele), who tags along, next is big game hunter John Riddell (Rupert Graves), and of course the Ponds (it’s been a while… 10 months!).
Oh and Rory’s dad – Brian Williams (Mark Williams).
Eleven whisks them all away to the spaceship of the title, which contains, you guessed it… dinosaurs! Which is on a course to Earth. Which is currently tracking it. And will launch missiles in 6 hours.
In a few short moments the gang is quickly divided up (Eleven, Rory & Brian opposite Amy, Neffy and Riddell) and both work separately towards discovering why the ship is headed to Earth, who built the ship (I only saw it coming just before they revealed it – I’m silly like that), and why are those who built it no longer onboard…
And then there are also two large robots (think C-3PO and R2D2 only bigger. With lasers) and trader/space pirate Solomon (David Bradley)!
With so many characters involved before we’ve even gotten to the 20 minute mark you could be forgiven for feeling this episode is a wee bit over-stuffed (!) but the proof is in the pudding and writer Chris Chibnall gives every single character their due. Riddell and Solomon both come over rather one note characters, given not much in the way of motivation or reasons for who they are and how they came to be, but it’s more than up for by the sheer vigour and relish they put into their roles.
I’d love to see Riddell back; it’s a shame it most likely won’t be without Amelia Pond and her great big gun by his side!
“I’m worth two men… you can help if you like…” KA-CHIK!
It’s Nefertiti who’s character gets some delicious lines and moments within the episode too, sparking very nicely off of our dear Amy Pond too! Amelia (Karen Gillan) particularly delights, as not having to play moody and heartbroken, instead she gets to play Doctor for Riddell and Neffy, solving her own little mysteries to help her Raggedy Man any way she can, and the sheer delight to be taking charge!
And of the Ponds in general it is very good to see them getting along and bouncing off of each other; throw in Rory’s dad into the mix you do get some cracking one-liners.
Funnily enough it’s Brian Williams who gets the stand out moment of the episode, which has absolutely nothing to do with dinosaurs on a spaceship, running and pick shouty-explodey-wodey moments – it’s just a small moment towards the end of the episode but you’ll know it because its so vastly different in tone to everything that came before and I did love the music… But he also offers some good scenes between him and Rory, where he gets to show off his nursing and confident TARDIS traveller side. It’s actually brilliant to see where Brian’s character ends up at the end of this episode – faced with the Ponds leaving very soon now, having a sort of companion who is overwhelmed by the events but actually sees the solution through all the madness happening around him, and grows because of it, is very satisfying.
“I am NOT a Pond!”
I’m happy to see he’ll be returning in Chibnalls next episode of the series, The Power of Three.
What’s particularly striking about this episode is just how much fun Matt Smith is having as Eleven; he gets to bounce around the screen (seriously, watch how he runs compared to everyone else) and he shifts acting gears at a moments notice from playful to serious. His first moments interacting with Brian, blaming him and accusing him of invading his TARDIS (the Doctors fault), turning on Rory for bringing his dad along without permission (“You materialised around us!”) to welcoming him on board as a deliberate tactic. The episode is Matt Smith firing on all cylinders.
There’s a lot of good back and forth banter and interplay, but the serious moments do follow.
Take Eleven with Solomon where it takes it up a notch; gone is the playful façade and you do start to wonder exactly how well do we the viewer, really know this man. The actions the Doctor takes at the end of this episode do fit the man now, especially after a particularly uncomfortable act Solomon commits to get his own way…
Or how about Amelia and Eleven, discussing in a brief moment, where so much is left unsaid, that the Doctor is weening himself off of the Ponds, and Amelia genuinely fears she has been replaced with Riddell and Neffy. We know the Ponds are coming to the end of their time with the Doctor, but Amy’s bold faced statement about what could only tear them apart…
There’s also the gentle re-enforcement that now that the Doctor is “dead” he no longer is recognised; Solomon scans him in an attempt to value his identity and the computer, which has archives of all time and space, cannot find a match. In between stories is Eleven going around and deleting knowledge of himself? The Question is coming… Doctor Who indeed…
Oh and I haven’t even mentioned the dinosaurs yet who looked glorious! They are used when necessary and an awful lot of time has clearly gone in the CGI (was it the Mill or the Walking with Dinosaurs team!?) and the animatronics/physical versions! When the triceratops licks Brian William’s in pursuit of his uh, lets say sporting goods, it was particularly funny to see his (and Rory’s) reactions. The dinosaurs conveyed real menace and playful insecurity as needed – to quote Mr Pond “Goodo!”
So all in all, I have to say this is a good, fun episode to watch. It’s such a refreshing change to last weeks more grim and gritty approach from Moffat which challenged and thrilled, whilst this one sparks and runs. Both approaches kept this reviewer on the edge of his seat, and disbelieving at how much time had really gone by.
Clearly this blockbuster format is working a treat!
3 and a half Doctors riding dinosaurs out of 5!
Next week? Showdown
at the OK Corral in A Town Called Mercy…
About Joss Gateway
Sci-Fi Heaven's resident Stargate and Doctor Who columnist. He's lovely too.