DOCTOR WHO SERIES 7: EPISODE 2 - DINOSAURS ON A SPACESHIP
Air Date: Saturday 8 September **
Channel: BBC One (UK), BBC America (US)
Starring: Matt Smith, Karen Gillan, Arthur Darvill, Rupert Graves, David Bradley, Mark Williams, Riann Steele
Reviewed by Helen Henderson
The second outing of this latest run of Nu-Who is crammed with many things that are likely to raise spirits and rekindle the more joyous and upbeat tone of the series, with the episode title alone instantly hinting as such. But don't be fooled by this apparent lightness of touch and the simplicity of the title; for despite this being a somewhat lighter affair than last weeks series opener, Asylum of the Daleks, the complicated, hurried nature of the plot means that the episode may thrill momentarily but ultimately leaves the viewer feeling a little unsatisfied and longing for what could have been. Yes, Dinosaurs on a Spaceship is a rip roaring adventure with plenty of action but with little true drama and a plot with various issues and omissions it could end up feeling a little disjointed and out of place in the narrative of the series and ultimately a throwaway episode with a few admittedly impressive or notable elements.
The first few minutes of the episode present a great deal to take in within such a short period of time, but in a nutshell we are shown that the Doctor has travelled back in time to pick up Queen Nefertiti (Riann Steele) and save her people, acquired legendary (at least in his own mind) game hunter John Riddell (Rupert Graves) and of course scooped up regular companions Rory and Amy along with Rory's unsuspecting father Brian (Mark Williams who gives the highlight performance of the episode episode). His task this week is to discover why, in the year 2367, a spaceship is flying with purpose towards the Earth before the military blows it up. With his assembled gang of historical misfits in place, including the delightfully befuddled Brian, they head off to solve the mystery of the spaceship before it is destroyed by human hand (or missile as the case may be).
With the discovery of dinosaurs on board and the gang being separated by a teleport accident, Amy takes charge of Queen Nefertiti and Riddell while the Doctor, Brian and Rory searched an onboard beach. Amy enjoyed her own subplot and discovered, via getting to play ‘doctor’ herself, complete with her own duo of companions, that the ship belonged to the Silurians – a race of lizard people who had previously kidnapped Amy – and so became understandably perturbed at the prospect of bumping into them once again.
The Silurians were first encountered in the Jon Pertwee helmed episode aplty titled Doctor Who and the Silurians way back in 1970. Earth is their home planet and they have been disturbed in their hibernation several times with the Doctor having to intervene to stop them from waging war on the humans and reclaiming their planet. The reptilian humanoids have proved a problem for several incarnations of the Doctor but he has always tried to keep the peace between them, as diplomatic as always.
As Amy unravels the mystery surrounding the Silurians and the enigmatic beach on-board the ship, the Doctor is busy dealing with some particularly petulant and tantrum-throwing robots along with an ageing and injured old man play by British TV veteran (and Harry Potter star) David Bradley. Ultimately the mystery of the ship is revealed with devastating consequences and results in the Doctor having to take extreme action that is an unusual move for the often playful time lord.
The titular Dinosaurs are given an adequate enough explanation in the storyline but are clearly an inclusion to cater to the young and, of course, the young-at-heart. It isn’t difficult to envisage audience members all over the country regressing to their childhoods and hugging themselves with glee at the notion of everyone’s favourite time lord dealing with such iconic children favourites as Dinosaurs. Throw in the temperamental robots and a character who is effectively a pirate and you have a fairly full roster of youthful delights. This being said, the decision to have the robots voiced by David Mitchell and Robert Webb was inspired, giving a knowing nod to adults and grounding the episode very much in the here and now, especially useful given the inclusion of the time traveller’s historical companions.
David Bradley was perfect as the curmudgeonly and vengeful Solomon, with his considerable history with similar roles providing a rich source of experience for the actor to take on this piratical scoundrel. Rupert Graves' character John Riddell is shamefully underused and even Queen Nefertiti takes a back seat until the final act. Both actors should be commended for attempting to add some pizzazz to their roles and their efforts generally succeed, but they are generally lost amongst the packed plot and surrounding action kind which does take a great deal of attention away from the pair somewhat disappointingly. Thankfully one of the characters who is given decent screen time is the one whom shone brightest - Rory’s dad Brian. Going from confused to accustomed within a very short period of time, the man with several gadgets about his person and the claim of “What sort of man doesn’t carry a trowel?” made him a thoroughly entertaining character with great comedy timing. His treat of sitting with his sandwiches and thermos while viewing the vast expanse of the planet Earth was a very sweet and beautiful moment as his son and daughter-in-law watched on. With Brian set to return in episode four, he’s sure to bring more delight to the world of the Doctor and is a very welcome addition to the series who has already fitted in neatly.
The Doctor was his usual bouncy self, initially as thrilled as the audience with the discovery of the episodes high-concept, but his mood turned considerably darker later in the show to match the circumstance, and fans will no doubt be somewhat divided over whether the ultimate decision the character makes at during the finale is fitting with his nature and history. Matt Smith remains, however, quite brilliant as the jovial, almost over-excited Doctor, and his is the perfect incarnation of the character for such a frenzied and bouncy episode. His enthusiastic cry of “I do!” when Rory was explaining to his father that he was thirty one years old and no longer has a Christmas list was one of the funniest moments of the episode, even if the notion of a a set date, and particularly a religious one, to a time-travelling alien reads a little off (though it has been shown plenty of times prior of the Doctor’s affinity for Christmas and other Earth celebrations).
In conclusion, the show had some knockabout fun but seemed entirely inconsequential in the grand scale of the Doctor’s adventures. There were some issues with the Doctor’s behaviour towards the end and while last week’s episode played out like a movie, this was more a vignette of action with a slightly unsatisfying quality. It was nowhere near the worst episode ever but it could have been better. It also raises an interesting perspective on the new series as a whole, with the approach of deliberately making each episode it’s own stand-alone and unique adventure, is it going to lead to a more fractured and disjointed series? We’ll find out next week when the Doctor is set to face a gun slinging cyborg and where with any luck, normal (or as normal as the Doctor can be) service will hopefully be resumed in A Town Called Mercy.
(A)MUSINGS RATING - 6 out of 10
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** Dinosaurs on a Spaceship is available for repeat viewing on BBC iPlayer.