Dinosaurs on a Spaceship
|Production Code||Series 7, Episode 2|
|Dates||September 8, 2012|
With Matt Smith,
Karen Gillan, Arthur Darvill
Written by Chris Chibnall Directed by Saul Metzstein
Executive Producers: Steven Moffat, Caroline Skinner.
|Synopsis: There's a spaceship. With dinosaurs. That's all you need to know.|
A Review by E. John Winner 14/2/13
In an interview for the SFX website, writer Chris Chibnall remarked that "this had to be a fun episode because Asylum of the Daleks is quite a dark opening in some ways, so the second episode has to turn the fun up to 11." You have to wonder at Mr. Chibnall's sense of fun. The second half of this story is as dark as any of the Moffat era could get: genocide of the Silurians (unpleasantly described in some detail), loveable triceratops shot to death, the Doctor acting as judge and executioner, and as vile a villain as ever graced the series. (No, really; Solomon, exactly because there is nothing OTT or cartoony about his character, is really quite the slimiest Who villain I can recall, with no redeeming features - no backstory that would indicate that his personality is the result of a broken home or whatever. He is truly without a conscience.) To be sure, Chibnall throws in sightgags (like riding the triceratops), and witty repartee ('every man should carry a trowell') and humorous set-pieces, like the introduction of Rory's dad. And it's a real adventure with all the characters having something to do. The design of the ark-spaceship shows real innovation (e.g., the engine room is on a beach by a small ocean), and although the robots are initially a little annoying, they eventually develop a sense of real menace. Finally, it must be said that all the actors are giving their all here, especially Mark Williams as Rory's dad and David Bradley as Solomon.
Still, the eventual unravelling of the fun adventure into a microcosmic variant of Judgement at Nuremberg is a little unsettling. Unlike many fans, I have no problem with the death of the villain at the end of the piece. But I wonder if the terrors of genocide may be more thematic weight than the story - somewhat rushed in pacing, as many of these 45 minute episodes are - can carry. It does carry over some thematics from Asylum of the Daleks, and sets up thematics similar to those of the story to follow (A Town Called Mercy, with its haunted and hunted war-criminal), and so there is some thread travelling through the current series that is worth consideration. But, with its inevitable resonance with the 'Time War' backstory of the New Series, it's not a thematic I'm particularly comfortable with. There has to be some theme more inventive than recurrent allegoric meditations on the Holocaust. Science fiction should also be about discovery, strangeness, the celebration of difference, not just self-lacerating confessions of conscience.
I'm not saying this a bad story; it is certainly worthwhile and entertaining. But what this episode (indeed, the whole latest series so far) lacks is "the fun up to 11" that Chibnall claims for his story. Hopefully, we'll see more of that in the remainder of the current season. Certainly, we need to get that back before the 50th anniversary rolls around. We need a celebration for that, not a wake.
A Review by Jamie Beckwith 21/12/13
Like most Doctor Who fans - who, despite on the outside trying to pass themselves off as normal respectable members of human society, are at heart still 8 year old kids - I LOVE dinosaurs. Jurassic Park is one of my favourite movies, I frequently scare my girlfriend by pretending to be a Velociraptor, I used to visit the Natural History Museum in my lunch break when I worked in a hotel in South Kensington and my favorite Target novelization is Doctor Who and the Dinosaur Invasion, as much for Malcolm Hulke's magic prose and astounding story as for the fact that there's a klaaking great pterodactyl on the front cover.
Steven Moffat has promised "Blockbuster" episodes this season, the tag line that reels you in and it was inevitable that the episode I was most looking forward to was down to the seductively simple title - "Dinosaurs! On a Spaceship!" (Additional exclamation marks implied I'm sure)
This story certainly lived up to my expectations. I was expecting something fun, and fun is what we got. Will this story be remembered for its tight plotting, surprise twists and turns and adding another new layer to the Who mythos? No to the first two; if you want that, check out the stories either side of this one. But as an example of 45 minutes of breathless, fast-paced, funny, silly and wholesome escapist fun, this episode has it licked. I had a huge grin plastered across my face for the duration; in fact, so engrossed was I in what was going on I failed to recognise the voices of Mitchell & Webb as the camp robot stooges, and this I feel is a good thing as it means I was totally immersed in the fiction.
The Doctor has assembled a gang and, whilst one of my few quibbles is the somewhat irritating need to keep popping back to pick up the Ponds (either keep them or lose them, but make up your mind please!), the addition of Rory's father to the mix was brilliant. Way back in 2008, in the dark days when nobody had ever heard of Matthew Robert Smith from Northampton, speculation was rife as to who might be cast as David Tennant's replacement. Third on my own personal wish list after Ben Roberts and Peter Capaldi was one Mark Williams. Whilst his casting as Brian Williams means he'll probably never get to play the Doctor now (though it didn't stop Colin Baker or Peter Capaldi!), having him in this role is no second-best sop. He convinces from the off that he and Rory are cut from the same cloth and he is witty, practical and sensible. Much like Rory before he boarded the TARDIS, he gets to stop and ask the questions that you would really ask if you'd suddenly found yourself in the 23rd century aboard a spaceship full of dinosaurs on a collision course with Earth!
Despite the fun, runaround premise, like a Dilophosaurus, there are sharp teeth and venom beneath the pretty neck frills. (Okay, because I am a dinosaur fan I'm obliged to point out that at present there is no evidence to support the depiction in Jurassic Park that Dilophosaurus had neck frills or could spit venom but, like Michael Crighton, I'm not going to let reality spoil creative license and ruin the metaphor I was employing!) It has become quite controversial in discussions of this episode and when I watched first watched it, it was also a sticking point for me when thinking about the story as a whole. The Doctor allowing Solomon to die at the end didn't sit well with me and, whilst I appreciate that actually there are many stories where similar things happen (a good example being my favorite story of all time, Remembrance of the Daleks), it's not the Doctor I like. Yet I can't work out what would have been satisfying in story terms; Solomon had after all murdered the Silurians, shot the Triceratops (a moment which genuinely bought tears to my eyes) and threatened to rape Nefertiti before selling her off. I think the problem is I'm not always sure the Doctor has the right to be the moral arbiter but then who does? Solomon did get his comeuppance. There is a theory that the Doctor has been exposed to Dalek hate nanites in the previous story and this seems to be a thread that is still dangling, but it will be interesting to see how this progresses. If nothing else, it has excited quite passionate debate and questions probing at things we take for granted; notions like the Doctor's pacifism, which doesn't actually hold up to much scrutiny.
Finally, I also have a little mini rant to insert at this juncture. I don't understand the mindset of fans who claim they won't watch an episode by a certain writer, mainly because we all know they WILL watch it anyway even just to slag it off. I'm not saying one can't have an informed opinion and that one's expectations of an episode might reasonably be informed by a writer's previous output, but writing it off before it has even aired seems very closed minded to me. I think Chris Chibnall's reputation amongst received wisdom of fandom is unjustly harsh. Is he the greatest writer the show has ever had? No. But those who want to write him off due to name alone will have surely missed on great stories like this and The Hungry Earth. Whilst I agree that Countrycide is probably the worst thing to happen in the Whoniverse (worse even than Dimensions in Time, Tom Baker's face on your underpants, Tegan, 60s episodes being junked, Daleks selling Kit-Kats and "Die hideous creature, die!" combined) End of Days, Adrift, Fragments and Exit Wounds are all very good episodes of Torchwood.
Overall, this was my favorite episode of the short but sweet Season 7 Part 1 (okay Season Pond is snappier to say). It did exactly what is said on the tin. Dinosaurs! On a Spaceship! What could be a more fitting summation of the brilliance of Doctor Who?
Where Lies The Norm by Mike Morris 18/1/15
I'm not a big fan of Anthony Lane, but I do like an observation he once made - the key to cinema isn't making great movies, it's that there aren't enough good movies. His point being that "great" films are essentially impossible things to predict, they are products of isolated instances of genius, but it is possible to put systems in place that mean the average output can be well-made, well-written, well-structured and - in short - not shit.
Broadly, I think this on the money. It's really hard to make something that's really, really, really good. It's not that hard to make something that's okay. And if we apply it to Doctor Who, it holds up. What characterises the most broadly popular period of the old show, the Hinchcliffe era, isn't so much that it's bursting with great stories but that it has very few weak ones. Only Revenge of the Cybermen and (maybe) The Android Invasion are flat-out stinkers, but mediocre Hinchcliffe produces perfectly passable fare like Planet of Evil or The Hand of Fear.
So this idea of 45-minute mini-films, show me the movie poster, all that... the test of it isn't whether Steven Moffat can make Asylum of the Daleks work. It's whether Chris Chibnall can produce an entertaining three quarters of an hour Doctor Who. And... it passes the test. Dinosaurs on a Spaceship is fine. It's comfortably Chibnall's best Doctor Who script (although that is a bit like being the tastiest bit of okra at the buffet). It's got energy and a few funny moments. I've not been a fan of Chibnall's previous episodes, but this is comfortably his best work to date.
Dinosaurs on a Spaceship is sparky, has a good cast, and it's nicely assembled. It throws a lot of elements in the pot, and it is impressive to see Nefertiti, a Victorian explorer, robots voiced by Mitchell and Webb, 23rd-century space control, Rory's dad, a profit-obsessed arch-villain, a wave-powered Silurian spaceship and a whole bunch of dinosaurs roped into a cohesive plot. This story has real moments of wonder, moments that feel like pure Doctor Who. The Doctor and friends suddenly materialising on a beach contains more poetry, in a split-second, than is present in the entire 135 minutes of Who that Chibnall has previously produced.
All that said, it's one of those stories where - even if you don't particularly hate it, which I don't - it's easier to list the things it does wrong.
Ultimately, its main positive attribute is neatly summed up above by Jamie Beckwith. Dinosaurs! On a Spaceship! Quite.
In a way, though, the title hints at one of my main problems. Dinosaurs on a Spaceship. I'm guess this is a tongue in cheek reference to the just-about-qualifies-as-a-film Snakes On A Plane - a sort of "you think snakes on a plane is impressive? Well here's what Doctor Who can do!" boast. Except... this story has exactly the same problem as Snakes On A Plane, namely that the title is the whole plot. Famously, Snakes On A Plane existed as a title first, and someone wrote a film around it - so the film itself ended up as a mechanical, deeply forgettable plotting exercise to get some snakes on a plane. Now, I've got no idea how this story came into being, but it certainly feels like the whole thing exists to somehow, anyhow, get some dinosaurs on a spaceship.
And its a decent spectacle, to be fair. Dinosaurs! On a spaceship! The dinosaurs look good, and the sight of the Doctor riding a triceratops is fantastic. The production is largely superb, with one obvious flaw; the story has extreme Series Six Syndrome, in the sense that someone's decided to turn all the lights off for no real reason. It's... dinosaurs, for god's sake, and it's the first time that Doctor Who has the budget to really make dinosaurs look spectacular. It should be a blaze of colour, a spectacular effects show. Instead, we have to peer into a murky half-light and try and figure out what species we're looking at.
And there's the other let-down: this story uses dinosaurs as a short of dramatic shorthand or televisual staple. Jurassic Park is obviously the main text for This Sort Of Thing, and the contrast is obvious; a huge chunk of that film is populist, alt-universe David Attenborough. We actually look at the dinosaurs, and we find out about them. The lead character tells us how velociraptors hunt. Laura Dern nurses a triceratops. We spend time just watching some apatosauruses feeding. They're made to feel like real, wonderful things. Whereas here, the only dinosaurs that do appear are the ones that have already been in Jurassic Park, or Primeval. There's an ankylosaur that they don't even bother naming. Nothing's offensively awful, but if you're an eleven year-old who loves dinosaurs, I think you'll feel slightly cheated.
Actually, that complaint - "fine, but not as well done as it could be" - applies to many things. There's nothing really terrible, and the basic ingredients are good and sometimes terrific... yet the suspicion is that they've all been achieved in the most predictable way possible. To give one example - the Doctor decides on a whim to bring lots of people with him, so we've got a bunch of oddly mismatched people keeping the plot sparking: but Nefertiti and/or Riddell would have been far more interesting if they'd, say, been found wandering around the ship, or even in hibernation somehow. (I don't know, maybe they each found and inadvertently activated some prehistoric Silurian transmat relays, and beamed themselves aboard? I'm not writing it but it wouldn't be beyond the wit of a screenwriter, surely?)
And to give more examples... had the dinosaurs been the property of anyone other than Silurians, we would have a less predictable story. Had the Doctor landed on a fully functioning space ark, with dinosaurs playing in artificial grasslands that initially seems like prehistoric earth, it would have been more inspiring than the token "trip to the engine room" that we get. (Plus, wave power to run a ship? You might as well half-fill a tin can with water, then expect it to move of its own volition.) A more involved storyline - say, earth finds the ship floating in its asteroid belt, goes there to plunder its wealth, and members of the expedition fight about whether they should save the dinosaurs or not - would tell us more about the world we're in than a deserted-spaceship story with only one contemporary character to speak of. As it is, they could have set this anywhere in the universe without even altering the script's punctuation.
On the plus side - Chibnall, whose Doctor Who work to this point had produced some of the most charmless scripts on earth, has suddenly started creating moments that almost glow with charm. Rory's dad is genuinely funny, someone who seems fascinated by details that Doctor Who usually dismisses as banal. Mark Williams is a reliably funny performer and does a good turn here. He also physically looks like he might really be Arthur Darvill's dad, which helps.
Another reliable performer is David Bradley, and he relishes his thoroughly slimy villain. The whole profit-obsessed adversary has been done to death, but Solomon works because he's so thoroughly nasty. He's not even sadistic, he just seems to be motivated by nothing more than pure, stinking self-interest. I'm not sure the story balances this properly and I really didn't like Solomon's mention of raping Nefertiti. It's perhaps because the rest of the story is trying so hard to be fun, but it seemed terribly misjudged.
The Doctor's actions at the end are... controversial. Let's be charitable, avoid the word "murder," and say he acts as judge and jury on Solomon. This was heavily criticised by fans, and I agreed at the time; at that point, it was part of a long catalogue of questionable acts by the show's main character. Watching it now, out of context, I've got less of an issue with it. Part of the problem - if you agree that there is a problem - is that it reads like this was intended to be picked up on in the next story, which fumbles it rather badly. However, I'd argue that it's not a bad thing to see the Doctor be less than saintly on occasion. Solomon is horrible, someone who's committed an apparent genocide without a second thought (against a species in whom the Doctor's very invested) and threatened to rape the Doctor's friend. We don't always need the hero to be a paragon of virtue and if he was going to lose patience with anyone, it'd be this guy.
The leads are good, as is usual, although the Ponds don't have a whole lot of purpose in this one. The sexism-sparring stuff with Riddell isn't funny, or interesting; it's banter, in the worse sense of the word, where there should be wit.
Overall, though, I liked this. Chibnall has clearly pushed himself harder than he has previously and produced a cohesive episode with lots of good bits. I'd argue that it's the production and performances that really sell it - but if this is what the show now thinks of as a fluffy filler, then it's a lot more memorable than (say) Planet of the Ood or The Lazarus Experiment or Night Terrors or Vampires In Venice. It's no masterpiece, but it's worth your time, and it does linger in the memory afterwards - even if it's not always for the right reasons.
The Most Precious Cargo by Hugh Sturgess 1/9/19
You cannot say that we weren't warned about Chris Chibnall. His contributions to televised Doctor Who before becoming its ruler are all, without exception, banal, meandering and frankly incompetent, and his stewardship of Torchwood can be judged by Russell T Davies's admission that the show desperately needed a shake-up come the end of Series 2. Whereas Steven Moffat was obviously the heir apparent to RTD, consistently writing the most interesting episode of the season, the running to replace Moffat felt more like a race where the winner is the one who doesn't fall over before the finish line. Toby Whithouse, the obviously favoured choice of Moffat (and like the BBC) imploded with the failed launch of his series The Game, and Mark Gatiss is now clearly shown as the loyal lieutenant rather than someone with leadership potential of his own. In that light, Chibnall is literally the only choice the BBC had, if it wanted to pick someone with show-running experience under their belt, who had previously worked on Doctor Who.
That inauspicious process is hardly surprising, given that no one would ever remotely say that Chibnall is their favourite Doctor Who writer (a fair thing to say about both Davies or Moffat), and frankly it's hard to imagine someone really considering him even a decent Doctor Who writer. His inadequacies in comparison to Davies and Moffat are thrown into sharper relief by the ways his two scripts for Series 7 appear to be imitating the house styles of those writers' respective eras. The Power of Three, as an Earthbound thriller wherein the parent of a companion worries about the danger of travelling with the Doctor, is an RTD script. Dinosaurs on the Spaceship, by contrast, is competently but unoriginally executing the formula of a Moffat-era script.
That this is what Chibnall is doing can be seen in his reaction to the brief "write something called Dinosaurs on the Spaceship". Chibnall leans into the craziness of the title and makes it the guiding theme of the script: he assembles what no doubt should be called "a colourful cast of characters" to be chased around a tidal-powered Silurian spaceship by comedy robots. The episode is (at least affecting to be) revelling in its weirdness, taking to heart Moffat's repeated statement that Doctor Who thrives on presenting bizarre juxtapositions of wildly divergent concepts and images. Rather than all these things suggesting each other, the fact that an Edwardian game hunter, Queen Nefertiti, comedy robots and dinosaurs on a spaceship have nothing to do with each other conceptually or logically is the entire point.
But this is as far as Chibnall's mimicry takes him. Moffat may produce startling images like the Doctor riding a horse through a mirror from a spaceship into a French ballroom, but he always takes the time to ensure these spectacles actually emerge organically from the story. The pleasingly natural way these absurd combinations of ideas fit together is one of the chief pleasures of Steven Moffat's writing. Chibnall, startlingly, misses this entirely, seeming to think that the weirdness is an end in itself. In truth, there is no reason for any of these things to be together in this episode. The Doctor assembles "a gang" because he's "always wanted a gang". That's it. It could have been a Mongol horseman, King Arthur and Amy's dad for all the difference it makes.
To the degree that Riddell, Nefertiti and Brian Williams have functions in this story, they transparently follow the decision to include them but purely in ways that move the plot along. Chibnall ends up with two members of the Williams family, so he decides that the ark needs to be piloted by blood relatives (so the navigation was built to read DNA, but doesn't mind that two mammals are flying a ship built for reptiles?). Riddell is a game hunter, so he gets a scene shooting dinosaurs (non-fatally, with electro-shock weapons confusingly identified as "anaesthetic"). Nefertiti has no function in the narrative, so suddenly become the target of Solomon's greed, literally reduced to an object whose value stems entirely because she is an historical figure - one presumes that anyone would have done.
None of these decisions feels at all organic (the Williams duo is particularly obvious), and this is equalled by the ultimate pointlessness of the episode's entire premise. The dinosaurs never earn their titular role. They never provide the answer to the problem, or even serve as a MacGuffin. Solomon vaguely considers them to be of value, but a single Egyptian pharaoh is apparently worth more. It amounts to the author admitting that he has nothing interesting to do with dinosaurs, whether on a spaceship or anywhere else.
Chibnall utterly fails in his imitation of the Moffat era's conception of Doctor Who as a fundamentally "quirky" show, because he doesn't bother to think sensibly about how (or why) these things should be included. For instance, why should this story feature an ancient Egyptian queen? Why might the Doctor recruit a big game hunter for this story, of all stories? One can begin to imagine a story that might require the Doctor to bring Riddell with him to an ark that somehow contains dinosaurs and Nefertiti, but Chibnall never bothered. They are simply there, in the unanswerable authorial logic of "because I said so". The failure to justify their inclusion betrays the fact that Chibnall's concept is not, in fact, wild and eccentric enough to organically include a game hunter and an Egyptian queen.
Their arbitrariness seems to rely on Riddell, Nefertiti and Brian being a lot of fun watch, but they are a seriously mixed bag. The overstuffed nature of this episode's cast, and the way that results in the woman of colour being rendered a faceless extraneous tag-along is wryly familiar to viewers of Series 11. Riddell is written as a complete caricature who utters only a constant stream of sexist cliches we are meant to consider endearing, but Rupert Graves is a handsome and charismatic performer who manages to underplay his role so that Riddell comes across as mostly harmless rather than just a crushing bore. Brian Williams (confusingly played by Mark Williams) is delightful, though in retrospect it's strange to introduce Rory's dad (yet another male relative who failed to appear at a Doctor Who wedding, a la Wilf) in Rory's final few stories and forget about him for The Angels Take Manhattan.
Nefertiti comes off particularly badly. She is, Amy tells her and us, "so cool", but for reasons we're never told nor shown. Her only two actions in the story are to give herself over to Solomon and then to trip him over. Riddell at least gets the scene with Amy zapping raptors - and imagine how much more sense the otherwise out-of-nowhere romance between Nefi and Riddell would have made if it had been the Egyptian in that scene instead of Amy. Particularly unfortunate is that Nefi's place in the story is defined by her relationship with a man. She arrives in the story on the Doctor's arm (as Andrew Ellard notes, the eleventh Doctor by this stage is a nerd whom women inexplicably find attractive - blatant authorial wish-fulfilment), is briefly kidnapped by Solomon before shacking up with a sexist hunter from three thousand years in her future, with whom she has only exchanged innuendos. As with Solomon's far-too-serious implication of rape, the depiction of a "cool" female icon as a woman defined by a desire to root the first bloke who comes along is a serious misjudgement.
This is to say that Chibnall has taken to heart the quirkiness of the Moffat era and perhaps given us its limit case but lacks either the authorial wit or the emotional sophistication to do anything other than presenting random elements for their own sake. If the dinosaurs could all talk, but only in Portuguese, that would also be super weird and wacky, but if there was no reason for it, it wouldn't be worth anything. Ironically, by failing to justify why he has included Nefertiti, Riddell, etc., Chibnall has made his story smaller and less weird than the premise would suggest.
There's a powerful contrast with Asylum of the Daleks the week before. That has a swarming mass of ideas at play: the Dalek Asylum itself, the nanocloud that can bring corpses back to life, Oswin making souffles, Amy and Rory's divorce... The cold opens are strikingly similar, with characters from across the universe assembled rapidly to face a terrible threat. Asylum is so busy there is virtually no centre to the narrative because it's constantly presenting us with twists and reveals. In contrast, Dinosaurs on a Spaceship is inert. All its "wacky" elements spend the episode standing around waiting for the end. Asylum of the Daleks and Dinosaurs on a Spaceship are the same length, and yet twice as much happens in the former. Dinosaurs is ponderous.
A lot of the failures of Series 11 can be understood by looking at the ways Chibnall consistently misses the point and fails to understand what makes the story he is writing good. So much of this story is clumsy. The ark is the size of Canada but everything happens within a few hundred feet of each other? The robots came on board with Solomon, but say that they've been there for 2,000 years? Earth is aiming rockets at a gigantic object the size of a continent, yet are targeting a tiny moveable object? At one point, an underling at the Indian Space Agency says that the ark is "entering the atmosphere", when it clearly isn't... This is amateurish. Davies and Moffat would never make these mistakes in their own scripts. That Chibnall now has the final say on other writers' work is nothing short of terrifying.
Matt Smith has obviously embraced the fact that Doctor Who is doing "pretty decent children's TV but still basically bad because it's children's TV" this week, and has reduced his performance to pure caricature. This is a theme of his last season, but it bears saying: Smith's Doctor here is an irritating ball of obviously affected quirks and eccentricities. It's the same jokes over and over, just less subtle than usual (if that were possible). Smith comes to life in his scenes with Solomon, showing that he was eager to get meatier material, but the decision of the writers' to give him "funny" material precluded that.
David Bradbury's Solomon, by contrast, is one of the nastiest villains Doctor Who has had for a while. Mostly it's family-friendly stuff, like the casual way he describes murdering the Silurians or having Brian mildly tortured to make the Doctor co-operate. Sometimes it mostly certainly is not family-friendly, as with the not-very-subtle threat of rape against Nefertiti. The sheer vile sleaziness of his promise to "break her in", while not exactly surprising for a character like Solomon, is so off-the-scale despicable that it amounts to a serious lapse in tone. I think Solomon is a terrific villain - it's nice to see the series wholeheartedly going for "irredeemable piece of shit" - but this moment comes after an episode about how cool dinosaurs are. Whee! Woohoo! Imagine if you could ride on a triceratops! Check out these funny robots! This old man is planning to rape and brutalise one of the characters!
Perhaps the feeling of wrongness Solomon's disproportionate nastiness creates was Chibnall's aim, making the Doctor's decision to murder Solomon in cold blood and without remorse unsurprising. Certainly Solomon's death, planned and executed by the Doctor without a trace of mercy, is less shocking than one can imagine it being in another story. Of course, this produces a jarring disconnect with the next episode. A Town Called Mercy scolds the Doctor remorselessly for contemplating turning a war criminal over to a vigilante, yet this goes by without comment. To be honest, it seems unlikely to me that Chibnall wanted to tell a children's story that happens to feature a rapist. It's more likely he simply thought Solomon's nastiness was interesting. Solomon is a vicious rapist let loose in a kids' TV adventure, and it risks trivialising rape.
What makes this so much more frustrating is that a story about a spaceship the size of Canada filled with a prehistoric ecosystem sounds really great. Dinosaurs, Queen Nefertiti and a big game hunter are intriguing because I want to know how they'd all fit together. Chibnall cops out on that by just putting them together. Nothing about this episode convinces me that Chibnall has anything interesting to say. He strikes me as a boring version of Mark Gatiss. Like Gatiss, he is consumed by the sheer thrill of making Doctor Who, to the exclusion of doing anything with the experience. Unlike Gatiss, the things he seems to enjoy about Doctor Who are boring and predictable things. We shouldn't be surprised that Doctor Who in the age of Chibnall also happens to fit that description.
What sort of man doesn't carry a trowel? by Evan Weston 5/9/19
This story, arguably the best-titled Doctor Who episode of all time, certainly has a more defined "genre" than Asylum of the Daleks - it's spoofing creatures features and terror-in-the-sky thrillers simultaneously, specifically the one recent film that encapsulated both: Snakes on a Plane. Dinosaurs on a Spaceship takes that one step further, and the result is a rollicking good time from Saul Metzstein directing from a script by Chris Chibnall, writer of both 42 and The Hungry Earth/Cold Blood but now better known as the mastermind behind the hit drama Broadchurch, starring former Doctor David Tennant. Dinosaurs on a Spaceship, while nothing like Broadchurch, happens to be Chibnall's best episode of Doctor Who, combining awesome prehistoric action with tons of humor and a breakneck plot.
If Asylum of the Daleks was fast, this one could compete for an Olympic sprint medal. The Doctor brings aboard three new companions ("I have a gang now") and deals with five different species of dinosaur, a trigger-happy Indian aeronautics agency and an amoral merchant armed with two particularly sarcastic robots. It's concept after concept after concept, and honestly it gets a bit tiring after a while. The episode does slow down a bit in the middle, but only to provide us with exposition before hurtling into the exciting finale. I wish I could claim Series 7 has solved Doctor Who's recent pacing issues, but it has in fact just reversed them so that now scripts are going too fast. Asylum of the Daleks had room for two parts but fit nicely into one - Dinosaurs on a Spaceship would probably get tedious with two, but some elements need to be sliced off here.
However, you can't axe Rory's dad Brian, played wonderfully by Harry Potter's Mark Williams. He and Arthur Darvill have great chemistry together, and their father-son story is the best bit of character development in the story. Williams also gets a handful of the episode's funniest lines, and it's great to see him return two weeks later in The Power of Three. Darvill is also quite good again, making the most out of Rory's farewell tour. Karen Gillan is fine as Amy Pond, though the script often makes her way too competent, in a way that we haven't seen before and won't see again. Chibnall justifies this with the "I've spent enough time with the Doctor" throwaway line, but Amy shouldn't be able to operate a complex Silurian ship at all. Gillan's best moments come when she's with Matt Smith's Doctor, who appears back to his usual energetic self and is mainly placed as an action star. The idea of the Doctor drifting away from his companions is an intriguing one, and it sets up the rest of the series' first half quite nicely.
The villain is also strong, courtesy of another former Harry Potter actor, David Bradley. While Bradley is known for organizing the Red Wedding on Game of Thrones and for playing William Hartnell in Mark Gatiss' An Adventure in Space and Time, he's wonderfully nasty as the trader Solomon in Dinosaurs on a Spaceship. His grizzled appearance and nonchalant approach to violence is quite the scary combination, as are his sharp canes. Who says old guys can't be evil? You'd expect his wisecracking robots, voiced by British comedy duo David Mitchell and Robert Webb in an obvious nod to actor over character, to annoy. I actually enjoyed them, probably because, even with all of the quipping, they were still presented as formidable opponents with scary guns.
They kill the episode's most prominent dinosaur, the triceratops ridden by Smith, Darvill and Williams in what must qualify among the most fun Doctor Who action sequences I've ever seen. Just the idea of the Doctor jumping on top of a dinosaur and riding it is hysterical, and Smith milks the premise for all it's worth. The dinosaurs are top notch throughout the episode, from the hungry pterodactyls on the beach to the violent raptors in the episode's climax. Marcus Wilson, Caroline Skinner and the production team completely outdid themselves for Dinosaurs on a Spaceship, building two ships that impress both inside and out and creating dinosaurs that seem as authentic as can be for a television show. We've come a long way from the crappy CGI Nestene Consciousness of Rose, that's for sure. The episode is also shot beautifully by Metzstein and cinematographer Stephan Pehrsson, whose work I've enjoyed before on the show.
I suppose if we were to cut an element from Dinosaurs on a Spaceship, it would be the inclusion of John Riddell and Queen Nefertiti, two wholly unnecessary supporting characters. Nefertiti is at least used in the plot and not just for comedy, but Riddell does not perform a single function that couldn't be done by any other character, and he seems to exist solely to get Rupert Graves on Doctor Who and to give Chibnall voice for some feminist message that gets buried by the rest of the script. Graves is fine, but Riddell clearly does not need to be there. On the other hand, while Nefertiti proves a bit more vital, Riann Steele is way over the top in her acting, turning what the script wants you to believe is a three-dimensional titan of history into a cartoon.
But if Riddell and Nefertiti (in addition to the missile time-crunch device, which only serves to make the damn thing even more frantic) are an element too much, Dinosaurs on a Spaceship still gets it mostly right. While I'm still catching my breath from the speed of it, the episode is among the most fun ever made for Doctor Who, with spectacular effects, heart-pumping chase scenes and too many laugh-worthy one-liners to count. It's fun without being too demanding, and that's what makes it an eminently re-watchable, if flawed, gem.