“Dinosaurs on a Spaceship”
The second installment of Season 33 expands on a trend set in motion by the first, and one I hope will be continued. Simply put, “Dinosaurs on a Spaceship” is a good old-fashioned sci-fi adventure story, perfectly capable of standing on its own without needing to be tied into some overweight recurring storyline. What’s more, while there are some subtly dark moments, for the most part the tone is much lighter than most of last season – in fact, the episode is downright fun.
Brought to the screen by writer Chris Chibnall (who penned the excellent Cold Blood/Hungry Earth stories in season 31) “Dinosaurs” is in many ways a throwback episode, and even makes use of some tried and true Doctor Who staples – the Silurians, and an ark in space (as in the titular Tom Baker story from Season 12). When a spaceship “the size of Canada” is spotted headed towards Earth sometime in the future, The Doctor decides to investigate rather than stand by as it’s shown down by Earth’s defense forces. Not content merely to scoop up Amy and Rory for assistance, he decides he needs a “gang” this time, and brings along his old pal Queen Nefertiti (Riann Steele) and big-game hunter John Riddell (Rupert Graves). He also unwittingly brings along a fifth companion, Rory’s dad Brian (Mark Williams, Arthur Weasley from Harry Potter) – who had the misfortune turned good fortune to be at the Williams-Pond house changing a light bulb.
The conceit of dinos on a spaceship is certainly a fun one, and there are elements of the second act of Jurassic Park in this episode, especially where Riddell’s character is concerned. To be honest I was never quite sure just why he and Nefertiti were along for the ride – their role in the story is quite tangential, and neither one makes much of an impression. Brian, on the other hand, is a delight – one Rory is great enough, but Rory and an older version of himself are a hoot. Both Williams and Arthur Darvill are superb comic actors who can easily turn on a penny to drama, and there’s a very authentic chemistry between them.
Also excellent is Solomon (David Bradley, great as “the late” Walder Frey in Game of Thrones), the black marketeer who hijacked the Silurian ark and killed the crew in order to take possession of the valuable cargo. He and his two hapless robot helpers (David Mitchell and Robert Webb, who act as if they were edited out of Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy) prove unable to fly it however, and Solomon is critically injured by a velociraptor (guess he didn’t see the movie), which explains his great interest in “The Doctor”. There are some pretty decent special effects, the boys ride a triceratops, Amy shows how much she’s learned from The Doctor and Neffi and Riddell flirt the hell out of each other as The Doctor tries to figure out a way to save the ship and defeat Solomon. It’s all good fun, in the classic “Who” tradition.
This being the “new” Who, of course, there is some deeper character stuff, dark overtones and foreshadowing. It’s clear that Amy is feeling very insecure about her place at The Doctor’s side, what with his visits coming only sporadically. There’s a chilling moment when he tells her, “You’ll be with me till my last day” and she responds “Or vice-versa” – the air really goes out of the room there. That touches on one of the harshest realities of the Doctor’s existence, and one he’s increasingly trying not to think about as the weight of lost companions grows ever heavier – and the look of isolation on The Doctor’s face as Brian, Rory and Amy stare down in wonderment at Earth is quite heartbreaking. There’s also a conclusion with Solomon that comes as a bit of a shock, and casts The Doctor in a somewhat different light than we’re used to seeing him – I suspect it’s going to be much debated by fans. On the whole, though, the darkness and foreshadowing are not overbearing, and “Dinosaurs on a Spaceship” represents one of the more straightforward and easy to enjoy stories of the Matt Smith era.