Sunday, 9 September 2012

DOCTOR WHO, 7.2 – 'Dinosaurs on a Spaceship'

Sunday, 9 September 2012

Chris Chibnall wrote "42", set aboard a doomed spaceship with a ticking clock format, and Silurian two-parter "The Hungry Earth"/"Cold Blood", so it seems only fitting that "Dinosaurs on a Spaceship" combined the two. In the number 42 and presence of two camp robots (voiced by Peep Show duo Robert Webb and David Mitchell), Chibnall also clearly appreciates the work of former-Who scribe and Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy creator Douglas Adams. "Dinosaurs on a Spaceship" was easily Chibnall's best work for the series, too—perhaps because much of its plot was comfortingly familiar, allowing him to have fun with the supplementary ideas (loved the beach as an engine room) and monster sequences (although the dinosaurs weren't quite deserving of top-billing).

To briefly recap, The Doctor (Matt Smith) was called into action to prevent an enormous spaceship (resembling a dog chew-toy) from crashing into the Earth, and rapidly assembled a gang to help him: the oft-mentioned Queen Nefertiti (Riann Steele), Edwardian explorer Riddell (Sherlock's Rupert Graves), Amy (Karen Gillan), Rory (Arthur Darvill) and, accidentally, Rory's boring dad Brian (Mark Williams). Why this mission required a gang was glossed over The Doctor's chirpy waiver that "it's new", but it did seem like he was unnecessarily putting people in danger. I also subconsciously questioned why The Doctor, a renowned hater of guns and violence, would be great friends with an African big game hunter like Riddell.

Once aboard the doomed spaceship, the episode became a pleasant if fairly humdrum tale about an old pirate, Solomon (Harry Potter's David Bradley), having hijacked th vessel from its Silurian crew in order to steal their precious dinosaur cargo, before injuring himself and being unable to make a getaway. I wasn't too gripped by the story as it unfolded, but Chibnall's script contained enough enjoyable moments and witty banter between the characters. I also liked Amy getting her own "companions" in Nefertiti and Riddell, taking the lead in a parallel investigation. For the first time in ages, Amy felt like she wasn't just hanging onto The Doctor's coattails, being dragged around in a miniskirt, or offhandedly being used as a plot mechanism to give birth to someone important to the mythology.

As I said, the team dynamic wasn't really necessary, and was probably included to give the show additional flavour because the dinosaur novelty wore off quickly. Graves and Steele made a good impression as Riddell and Nefertiti, respectfully, but ultimately they were obvious garnish. Williams was better as Rory's dad (although the role wasn't a stretch), introduced diligently replacing a light bulb in contrast to the time-hopping Doctor's activities in the teaser. I think more could have been explored about Rory's perception of the two older men in his life, perhaps with a subplot where it became clear Rory finds his dad comparatively boring and secretly prefers the company of The Doctor, but the script chose not to tackle that possibility. It just ended with bewildered Brian getting bitten by the travel bug as a result of his space adventure, becoming a globe-trotter who sends postcards back to his family. That was a nice arc, but I still think the episode missed some tricks with the Rory/Brian/Doctor dynamic.

Visually, "Dinosaurs on a Spaceship" definitely impressed. The titular beasts were rendered and animated very well by The Mill and Millennium FX, and certainly felt more textured than those on Primeval (which once had a dinosaurs-on-a-submarine episode this one trumped conceptually). The way the show mixed CGI with physical puppets was also nicely done, and gave the creatures a greater sense of realism. It was just a shame the budget wouldn't stretch to giving the dinos a huge amount of screen time; but what we saw was very good and certainly something you wouldn't have seen on Doctor Who just four years ago. Exteriors of the Silurian ship were also great, now the show seems to have incorporated an aesthetic very similar to the Star Wars prequels. I caught a few of the Russell T. Davies episodes recently and the difference in CGI standards is rather astonishing.

A good standalone episode that never bored me, if slightly let-down by a perfunctory storyline and lack of big dinosaur set pieces. The sparkling dialogue kept it alive, the effects and designs were brilliant, and all of the guest stars performed well (although I wish David Bradley had been used in an episode more deserving of his talents as a scrawny, despicable figure). A few moments stick in the memory (the engine room beach, the Triceratops death scene, an Indian Space Agency, the foreshadowing of Amy dying before The Doctor, and the fact the villain died because The Doctor allowed it), but this was never anything more than a light-hearted romp after a much darker premiere.


  • Saul Metzstein makes his Doctor Who debut as director here, having done BBC biopic Micro Men and directing the second unit on Dredd.
  • Did the beach look familiar? It should have. Who has filmed there many times before; it's the famous Bad Wolf Bay seen in "Doomsday" and "Journey's End" and was last used in the series 5 two-parter "The Time of Angels"/"Flesh & Stone".
  • Queen Nefertiti disappeared from historical records in 1336 B.C, and now we know why.
written by Chris Chibnall / directed by Saul Metzstein / 8 September 2012 / BBC1

Next time...