THE WHO REVIEW: Series 7, Episode 2 – “Dinosaurs on a Spaceship”

The Doctor, Amy, and Rory have a Jurassic lark…. on a spaceship.

Calling an episode of Doctor Who “Dinosaurs on a Spaceship” is bound to provoke fond reactions from the truly young at heart, but in reality the rushed series of events that led to a somewhat grisly conclusion did not quite live up to such grand expectations. When you call an episode something as thrilling as that, the viewers are bound to be split into two groups, much like the characters within, with some craving the excitement of seeing two of their childhood toys on the small screen, and those who will have sighed and expected a somewhat childish outing for the well-travelled Time Lord. The episode fell somewhere between the two groups, making it feel slightly disjointed. And while I am a big fan of Doctor Who, I felt like this episode was a vaguely forgettable foray into action rather than drama. I adore Matt Smith, and I see him as a great Doctor, but sometimes I just long for the emotive story lines of some of the past tales and, with the exclusion of the warmth between Rory and his dad, there was very little time in “Dinosaurs…” for much emotion other than anger.

It begins with little fanfare, plunging the viewer straight into the action with Queen Nefertiti (Riann Steele) attempting to seduce the Doctor against the side of the TARDIS. Although this was unexpected, it also got me wondering why Smith’s Doctor is always painted as someone very nervous around the opposite sex when it comes to matters of the heart. He never seems to find anyone attractive, and when anyone has attempted to get into those tweed trousers, he has the expression of a startled horse and always tries to wriggle out of the situation. Clearly this incarnation of the Doctor has no inclination towards matters of a physical nature unlike the emotionally charged man who preceded him.

Escaping Nefertiti’s advances, he travels to the year 2367 where planet Earth is preparing itself for the destruction of a spaceship heading their way. The Doctor and Nefertiti are given 6 hours to divert the ship before it is unceremoniously destroyed. The Doctor collects his old friend John Riddell (Rupert Graves), a handsome game hunter, and the Ponds with the addition of Rory’s father, Brian (the brilliant Mark Williams), who was with them at the time. They are all beamed aboard the mysterious ship. Brian’s presence gives the episode a great deal of humour, and the fact that the Doctor was oblivious and assumed Rory had invited him along was brilliant. The Doctor realises his mistake and apologises, but does little to offer an explanation.

The discovery of dinosaurs on the spaceship and spider webs, with some help from Amy’s computer skills (or rather her plan of “just pressing buttons”), leads the Doctor to realise that the ship is effectively an Ark to transport creatures, but the owners of the ship, the Silurians, are nowhere to be found.

Having been transported by accident to an on-board beach, where wave power  fuels the ship’s engines, Rory, Brian, and the Doctor have to escape pterodactyls but end up encountering angry but slightly childish robots (humorously voiced by the fantastic David Mitchell and Robert Webb). The robots led them to their leader, a broken and aging pirate, Solomon (Harry Potter‘s David Bradley), who turns out not to be a very nice man at all. Having taken over the ship, he organises for the stasis suspended Silurians to be awoken before jettisoning them into space, causing their deaths and leading the Doctor’s anger to peak. Solomon was a trader and everything had a price, with the dinosaurs being of a high value to him; he clearly saw no value in reptilian humanoid life, and had dispensed of them with little mercy. Obviously, this led to the Doctor’s disgust considering that he had just helped with Solomon’s injured limbs, showing him compassion when he showed none. After Solomon orders the shooting of either Rory or Brian, leading to injury, the Doctor warns him that he is not a man to cross. The destruction of a friendly triceratops, and Solomon’s intentions for Nefertiti, lead the Doctor to present him with a gift for his ship that will ultimately lead to his demise. It is a sombre decision for the Time Lord and one that, at the time, he appears to relish.

Admittedly, the Doctor’s surprising anger and disgust when faced with the actions of Solomon was beautifully played, but his revenge was something dark and very much in the face of the usually peaceful Doctor. In the past, when faced with the terrible acts of his foes, the Doctor has attempted to save the creature/person in order to rehabilitate them. Who could forget the Doctor’s plaintive cries when trying to save Davros in Series 4 episode “Journey’s End”? And his past wasn’t exactly replete with good deeds was it? This made the Doctor’s decision of punishment over rehabilitation an unusual one, but perhaps he knew there was nothing he could do for the wicked Solomon.

Realising that the space Ark needed to be piloted away from Earth, the Doctor is worried as the ship can only be piloted by two people from the same gene pool. There must have been so many people yelling in the instant before the Doctor was told that Rory and his father were from the same gene pool, and could therefore drive the ship to safety. Had Rory’s mum been naughty in the past, this moment could have led to an embarrassing disclosure and who wouldn’t have watched that episode of The Jeremy Kyle Show? The sheer joy in Brian’s eyes as he piloted the ship with his son was priceless – a short while ago he had been simply changing a bulb, and now he was driving a Silurian Ark in space. Not bad for a days work, really.

As father and son were otherwise engaged, Amy and Riddell were fending off droves of raptors with tranquiliser guns, meaning that only one dinosaur was harmed (the aforementioned triceratops) in the making of this episode, and none of them were actually real, merely great special effects – so don’t be too upset.

Amy’s little subplot was a nice touch and it gave her the chance to play Doctor while her husband was putting his nursing skills to good use in treating his father’s arm, giving the pair a chance to excel alone rather than as a team. The scene where the Doctor kisses Rory was very affectionate and sweet, but the ride on the triceratops was slightly pointless considering they could have escaped quicker on foot. Yet it all added to the rich tapestry of the episode. The Doctor shutting the robots down with their rendition of “Daisy Daisy” was perfect with the nod to 2001 resonating wonderfully.

All in all, the episode may have been enjoyable to a certain extent, but there were still a few aspects that made it feel like it could have been so much better. Nefertiti’s main purpose was just to be a commodity for Solomon and Riddell, whilst providing straight-shooting (as opposed to the robots chasing Brian, Rory, and the Doctor who obviously came from the Star Wars Stormtrooper school of shooting). She didn’t seem to have much of a point in the episode, although both Steele and Graves were doing a sterling job of making the characters their own. Much credit should be given to the two actors for being memorable within the episode. Also, Bradley was fiendishly frightful as the terrible Solomon; his performance was so nastily portrayed that he was a Doctor Who baddy of real merit.

While a good effort, I honestly feel that Matt Smith is perhaps not getting much of a chance this series to really shine. Despite my previous liking for David Tennant’s Doctor, I have been completely bewitched by this new bow tie-wearing, boisterous, and fun young man. While I miss the drama of previous story lines, I am nevertheless enamoured with the acting force that is Mr. Smith.

Next week’s episode is set in the Wild West with a terrifying Cyborg gunslinger, so I’m looking forward to seeing the characters correctly attired in what looks like Back to the Future: Part III meets Cowboys & Aliens. I wonder how Smith is going to look in chaps and stirrups…

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