Dinosaurs on a Spaceship
Review by Paul Bowler
The Doctor’s adventures have brought him to Egypt 1334 B.C. where he is accosted by Queen Nefertiti, fortunately a message on his temporal news fed helps The Doctor (Matt Smith) out of a very embarrassing clinch, and together with Queen Nefertity (Riann Steele) he travels by TARDIS to Earth 2367 A.D only to discovers that a huge space ship the size of Canada is on a collision course with Earth. A spokesperson from the Indian Space Agency – Indria (Sunetra Sarker) – informs the Doctor that because all attempts to communicate with the vessel have failed, the Earths planetary defences are now primed to attack the craft as soon as it comes into range.
With only nine hours left to save the spaceship The Doctor and Queen “Nefi” travel back to Africa in 1902 A.D. to enlist the help of the roguish big-game hunter John Riddle (Rupert Graves), before darting back to the present day to pick up the Ponds – who have taken a ten month break from their adventures in time and space. As the TARDIS whisks them all up to mysterious space ship they discover that Rory’s dad, Brian (Mark Williams), has inadvertently joined them in the TARDIS while changing a light bulb. While Amy (Karen Gillan) and Rory (Arthur Darvill) do their best to explain themselves to Brian, The Doctor enlists his new “gang” of travelling companions in helping him explore the spaceship where they soon discover that it is a giant Silurian Ark full of marauding Dinosaurs!
The spaceship has been hijacked by a pirate called Solomon (David Bradley) who uses his two bumbling robot accomplices to hunt them down after the Doctor gets separated from his friends. The Doctor, Rory, and his Dad are accidentally beamed into the engine room, an actual beach that doubles as a hydro electric power plant, leaving Amy check out the ships computer systems for clues while Nefertiti and Riddell become more acquainted with each other…
Rory’s dad certainly picked the right day to go for a spin in the TARDIS, but Brian rises to the occasion, and its great fun seeing the retired school teacher as he struggles to come to terms with the adventures which his son and daughter in law now seem to take for granted. Introducing Rory’s father alters the whole dynamic between the TARDIS crewmembers, Arthur Darvill and Mark Williams (The Fast Show/Harry Potter) each play to their characters individual strengths, and there is a particularly moving scene where Brian gets shot by one of Solomon’s robots – forcing the Doctor to teat the Pirates legs which have been savaged by Raptors – and Rory has to tend to his fathers wounds .
Amidst all the mayhem there are a number standout moments: like when Solomon scans the Doctor for his “value” and finds he is worthless because he apparently doesn’t exist, Amy’s discovery in the ships computer records that shows the Ark is really a Silurian vessel, and yet another reference to the Doctor’s part in the creation of a piece of classical music – Franz Schubert’s Fantasia.
Dinosaurs on a Space ship is a frenetic and exciting adventure by writer Chris Chibnal, whose last story was the two part Silurian adventure from 2010: The Hungry Earth & Cold Blood. Its nice to see this story include a nod back to one of the series classic monsters – although the fate of the Silurian crew is actually quite horrifying. The Silurian spaceship is a brilliant CGI effect, and has a strange, almost organic design. Chris Chibnal juggles all the characters effortlessly, creating some nice double acts: there are some hilarious – and quite risqué – moments between Neferiti and John Riddel, and its great to see more of the Williams family as Rory and his Dad take their first trip together in the TARDIS – culminating in them both piloting the spaceship to avoid the incoming missiles as they are the only people on board who share a genetic bond. The Pirate Solomon makes an adequate foil for The Doctor, and his Robot henchmen are hilariously voiced by David Mitchel and Robert Webb (Peep Show), although the slapstick comedy may initially seem a little jarring after last weeks chilling encounter with the Daleks in the Asylum.
Of course the real stars of this episode are the Dinosaurs themselves. At last the embarrassing memories of 1974’s Invasion of the Dinosaurs with its cute plastic Dinosaurs that wobbled and “ROARED” can be consigned to history, the Dinosaurs in Dinosaurs on a Spaceship are beautifully rendered in some spectacular CGI sequences. The breathtaking effects astound from the moment The Doctor and his friends encounter the Dinosaurs on the ship: the sight of two Ankylosaurus’ charging from a lift, fleeing from Pterodactyls, stepping over a sleeping baby T-Rex, taking a ride on a Triceratops, and fending off a group of hungry Velociraptors all form some of this episodes incredible action set-pieces. Indeed, visual effects house The Mill has excelled itself for this episode, creating Dinosaurs effects of a quality that rival even those seen in Spielberg’s 1993 blockbuster Jurassic Park!
With five companions, hordes of Dinosaurs, and some brilliant moments of comedy, Dinosaurs on a Spaceship could have easily descended into an almighty heap of primordial soup. Fortunately with Saul Metzstein in the Directors chair this episode never veers off course for a moment, in fact it almost seems to thrive on the runaway plot much like the spaceship itself as it hurtles towards Earth, which in turn seems to fuel the reckless abandon that often seems to emerge from within The Doctor’s personality when he travels alone for extend periods of time.
The Doctor seems to have gone to extraordinary lengths to assemble his new “gang” of adventures and he goes to equally extreme lengths to protect them, especially when Solomon forces the Doctor to hand over Queen Neferiti as his new prize. Once more we see the darker side to the Doctor’s character as he outwits Solomon and rescues Neferiti, leaving the helpless Pirate to be destroyed after Rory and Brian have steered the Spaceship out of harms way – leaving the missiles from Earth with nothing else to lock onto except Solomon’s ship.
Riann Steel is wonderfully elegant as the alluring Queen Neferiti of Egypt, she is right in the heart of the action at all times, and much like Rory’s father, Neferiti does well in acquitting herself in the most extraordinary of circumstances. Rupert Graves plays the unlikely action hero John Riddel, an Indiana Jones type character who throws himself into this madcap adventure with The Doctor – relishing the opportunity to live his life of the edge. These two seem like a match made in heaven, as the coda to this episode clearly shows, history has found a place for this odd couple after all.
The domestic lifestyle of the Ponds is now clearly taking its toll on Amy’s relationship with the Doctor. More and more, real life seems to be getting in the way. The girl who waited is getting tired of waiting for her mad man in a blue box to show up, and he in turn seems to be loosing himself in a dark universe that has forgotten who he is. One moment in particular between Amy and The Doctor, as Rory and Brian prepare to pilot the spaceship, where Amy confronts the Time Lord about his absence; resonates like a terrible portent of thing to come…
As the adventure draws to a close we get one of the most astounding sights ever seen in Doctor Who, as Rory’s dad sits on the edge of the open TARDIS doors gazing in wonder as the Earth spins below him in space. It a magical moment, one made all the more enchanting when we learn that Brian has started to travel the world upon his return.
Dinosaurs on a Spaceship has one of the most audacious pre-credit sequences yet, its so unashamedly bonkers that it makes you wonder if the episode will be able to sustain the frenetic pace that the plot requires. Once again Matt Smith delivers a terrific performance as The Doctor, he seems to have a knack of capturing The Doctor’s child-like glee at discovering Dinosaurs and tempering it with the omnipresent power he wields like a scalpel. Although I don’t think Dinosaurs on a Spaceship will be the most popular episode this season, some might dismiss it outright as merely a childish run-around, but it is still nevertheless a hugely enjoyable episode.