Episode 7.02 “Dinosaurs on a Spacehip”
[All photos: Adrian Rogers, © BBC]
And welcome to the second part of my marathon review of the first two episodes of the new season of Doctor Who! Here we’ll be looking at “Dinosaurs on a Spaceship”, the second installment of Season 7, and, well, let’s get this out-of-the-way, a much better episode than the season opener.
SPOILERS! YE HATH BEEN WARNED!
But here also are some qualifiers… while I enjoyed “Dinosaurs”, it wasn’t without its problems as well, although they didn’t bother me anywhere as much as in “Asylum of the Daleks”. In fact, let’s start with the negatives for a change, just to get them out of the way.
Good lord there are too many people in this episode. Aside from the Ponds, we have Rory’s dad, Brian, Queen Nefertiti of Egypt, and big game hunter, John Riddell, making up, as the Doctor puts it, his “gang”. While the inclusion of Brian is quite welcome, Nefertiti and Riddell don’t really have a lot to do here, and aside from using Nefertiti as a plot point towards the end, they really don’t serve much purpose.
Sure, it’s a nice touch, giving an “explanation” as to Nefertiti’s disappearance from the historical record, but somehow one wants more from one of the most powerful women in Egyptian history. What little we do get is fine, and Riann Steele certainly gives the character weight, but aside from her becoming a commodity to our villain, she serves as little more than a foil to our other addition, Riddell.
Here also it feels like a missed opportunity, although since Riddell doesn’t come with the history of the Queen of Egypt, it’s not as bad of one. Fans of Sherlock will recognize Rupert Graves as Lestrade, and it’s nice to see him in the land of WHO, but somehow, again, I wanted more from the character. Here’s another unlikely friend of the Doctor, a big game hunter, something of a chauvinist. It’s certainly a character that would be fun to explore in the Doctor’s world, playing off Amy more, getting his history and seeing why he and the Doctor are friends, but with all the other players this episode, again, there just isn’t much there for him to do.
And then there are the robots. Hmmmm. Ok, kinda funny, although the biggest part of the humor of the characters may be lost on American audiences who won’t be as familiar with British comedy duo Mitchell and Webb. My biggest issue was the constant reminder of Marvin the Paranoid Android of Hitchhiker’s fame, and while I always appreciate a shout out to Douglas Adams, the duo seemed to grow a bit tiresome by the end. Still, they did make me smile a bit.
And that’s it really… aside from those quibbles, “Dinosaurs on a Spaceship” is a LOT of fun, and plays into something that seems to be a recurring theme already this season, as our villain, Solomon, doesn’t know who the Doctor is. For a moment it seems like he does, and it;s a somewhat ominous moment at that, but it turns out that Solomon is looking for a doctor in general, not ours specifically.
Let’s talk about Solomon for a moment. Good lord what a piece of work this guy is… a black market trader with a sadistic streak, there is nothing remotely redeeming in his character. As portrayed by David Bradley (Harry Potter, Hot Fuzz), he’s just an old school bad man, willing to kill thousands of Silurians to profit off the dinosaurs on the ark, and regretting it not for a second. His leery, questionable intentions towards Nefertiti at the end just make your skin crawl. His fate at the end, while raising some questions about our main character in some eyes, seems pretty fitting for his crimes.
And let’s talk about that too. I’ve seen several commentators around the web expressing some concern about the Doctor’s essentially murdering Solomon, and I think that it really must be noted that this isn’t the first time the Doctor has set in motion a very clear sequence of events that he knows are going to kill the villain. Time and time again, we’ve seen that the Doctor will kill if he feels it’s justified. Let’s see… “The Doctor’s Wife”, “The End of the World”, “The Christmas Invasion”, countless episodes from the original series… goodness, I could type a lot of episodes where the Doctor essentially passed a death sentence on the bad guy(s). A couple of things to remember: The Doctor isn’t human, and the Doctor fights monsters. More than once he’s implied that he’s something of a monster himself, and since he killed all the Time Lords to save the universe and stop the Daleks, well, planting the Ark’s transponder on Solomon’s ship, so the missiles destroy it instead of the Ark? Considering Solomon did kill all the Silurians on the Ark, which is pretty much genocide, the Doctor is very much in character here.
With the arrival of Rory’s dad Brian to the “gang”, we have one of the most entertaining additions to the cast in a long while. Just a touch freaked out by essentially being kidnapped by the Doctor, and far from a fan of travelling at all, Brian proves to be a practical man who ultimately finds his adventure in the TARDIS to be cathartic. When we see the string of postcards he sends Amy and Rory at the end, showing his own travels, you see a man who found his horizons expanded by his time with the Doctor, in a most positive way. Plus we get a few nice moments with Brian and Rory, where we see that Rory feels as though his father doesn’t really approve of him, and his decision to become a nurse. At the end, and in a wonderfully subtle way, you see the two characters as closer than the were, and a large part of that is the fine performance of Mark Williams as Brian. The scene at the end, where Brian sits in the doorway of the TARDIS and sips his tea as the ship floats above the Earth is quite beautiful and simple in its display of a man who, when confronted by the craziness that is the Doctor’s world, finds it ultimately a wonderful experience.
Mr. and Mrs. Williams get back to normal here, after their odd behavior of “Asylum”, and both get some nice moments. Amy gets to use her experiences with the Doctor to answer the quite important question of what happened to the Silurains, and Rory gets to show off his nursing skills in that nice scene with his father. Most important though, is the exchange between Amy and the Doctor, which foreshadows the coming exit of the Ponds:
The Doctor: How’s the job?
Amy: We’re about to be hit by missiles and you’re asking me that?
The Doctor: I work best when I’m multi-tasking. Keep talking. How’s the job?
Amy: I gave it up.
The Doctor: You gave the last one up.
Amy: Yeah well I can’t settle. Every minute I’m listening out for that stupid TARDIS sound.
The Doctor: Right, so it’s my fault now is it?
Amy: I can’t not wait for you, even now. And they’re getting longer you know. The gaps between your visits.
The Doctor: Are they?
Amy: I think you’re weaning us off you.
The Doctor: I’m not, I promise. Really promise. The others, they’re not you. But you and Rory, you have lives — each other. It was what we agreed.
Amy: I know. I just worry there’ll come a time when you never turn up. That something will have happened to you and I’ll still be waiting, never knowing.
The Doctor: No. Come on, Pond. You’ll be there ’til the end of me.
Amy: Or vice versa.
For those of us who have been paying attention to the interviews with the cast and crew? It’s a little unhappy reinforcement that the Ponds’ exit may hurt. A lot.
Of course, there’s the Doctor. Matt Smith gives us a gleeful, wide-eyed wonder with the discovery that the spaceship has living dinosaurs, and the cold, calculating judge when he is faced with Solomon and his crimes. He also seems to be reviling in his relative anonymity, also seen in “Asylum”, when the Daleks forget him, when Solomon’s universal database pulls up no record of him. Thankfully we don’t get the somewhat silly “Doctor Who?” refrain here, and with the members of the Indian Space Agency clearly knowing who he is, it’s obvious the Doctor hasn’t completely gone underground. Still, once again, Smith’s Doctor is funny and silly and dangerous and alien… something he has excelled at throughout his run.
Dinosaurs! Can’t finish this without discussing our reptilian friends here. The episode wouldn’t have worked nearly as well if the dinosaurs didn’t come across well, and thankfully, the CGI and practical effects are extremely good. These dinosaurs look real and have weight and move right, giving our heroes both something to be a little afraid of and in awe of in equal measure. Fine work here.
And there we are. Much more fun than “Asylum”, and yet with plenty of nice character moments, “Dinosaurs on a Spaceship” is a great example of WHO storytelling. Sure, it has its weak moments, but overall, it’s what we often want in one of these stories: Fun.
Tonight, we find the Doctor and the Ponds in the old west, or what appears to be anyway, and we get Ben Browder of Farscape! I don’t know about you, but if I can’t have a Creighton/Doctor episode, I’ll certainly take Ben making a guest appearance. I’m sure I’ll have much to say about that.
Be seeing you…