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"Doctor Who" — "Dinosaurs On A Spaceship”; Mr. Hammond, The TARDIS Is Working

By C. Robert Dimitri | TV Reviews | September 10, 2012 | Comments ()


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Written by Chris Chibnall ("42," "The Hungry Earth," "Cold Blood," and this season's "Pond Life" prequels), "Dinosaurs On A Spaceship" picks up ten months after the events of "Asylum of the Daleks" for the Ponds. The Doctor whisks them away with a couple new cohorts: Queen Nefertiti (yes, that one) and an early twentieth century big-game hunter named John Riddell. I Googled him, but I don't know if this Riddell character is based on a real person or not. Either way, I did have trouble intuiting why The Doctor would deem this fellow that wants to stab first and ask questions later worthy of multiple TARDIS travels. (I apologize to Leela for any inferred slight and acknowledge that there is precedent.) Tagging along accidentally for the adventure and bringing charm to the proceedings is Rory's father, Brian, played by Mark Williams of Harry Potter movie fame.

The Doctor wants his new gang to help him explore an immense runaway spacecraft headed for a collision course with 24th century Earth. It is a race against time, as Earth officials have promised to destroy the craft with missiles before impact. As they quickly discover and per the episode's titular tip, the ship has an unusual cargo - dinosaurs! The group of six is separated during their exploration. The Doctor, Rory, and Brian end up in an unconventional beachfront engine room fleeing from pterodactyls, while Amy, Riddell, and Nefertiti probe the ship's memory banks for the ship's origin story and dodge velociraptors and a sleeping baby t-rex.

As it turns out, the ship was a "Noah's ark" of sorts launched and originally piloted by the Silurians, those evolved humanoid reptiles of several past Doctor Who adventures that dwell in Earth's underground. The ship's hijacker Solomon killed the Silurian passengers. Solomon has a couple large imposing robots to do his dirty work, but unfortunately the ship overrode his attempts at control and rerouted back to Earth.

To call Solomon a nasty fellow is understatement, and it's from that extreme and uncomfortable nastiness that my chief criticism of this episode springs. Here we have a villain that murdered Silurians in cold blood, attempts to deal life forms like commodities (including Nefertiti herself), threatens to kill Rory's sweet Dad, and slays a lovable triceratops. In the end we are jarred to find The Doctor letting Solomon meet his death as the missiles' target, which - while not completely outside The Doctor's capabilities given just how evil this guy is - feels too hard-edged for the usual Doctor Who spirit.

Juxtapose all this with the Doctor's goofy joy over finding dinosaurs on a spaceship, a triceratops ride spurred by way of having it chase a golf ball, killer robots that banter like a vaudeville comedy duo, and somewhat awkward flirty banter between Riddell and Nefertiti that earns a gender politics chastening from Amy, and as a result I found the whole affair to be a tonally weird episode. Certainly sometimes life deals us such juxtapositions, but in the Doctor Who universe the result is uneven.

That said, per my allusion above, I did find the addition of Rory's father to be the best aspect of the episode. His desire to take his lunch break sitting on the TARDIS's threshold while gazing at the Earth below and the coda in which we see the postcards from his own subsequent adventures with the Doctor both scored on the warm-and-fuzzy meter.

As far as the dinosaurs themselves went, we are now two for two this season seeing the benefits of increased publicity and appreciation for Doctor Who and the production value that follows. These creatures and all the other tech visual effects did not reach the Jurassic Park level of special effects, but they were convincing enough. (To read more about how far Doctor Who has truly come over the years in this department, see below.)

From the ongoing serial standpoint, the episode offered a couple important details. Amy fears that The Doctor is gradually weaning the Ponds off of him with the increasing times between his visits. The dialogue foreshadows a mortal end that we know is just a few episodes away. The other key detail was The Doctor's relief at Solomon's failure to find record of him in his supposedly comprehensive files. For now at least, The Doctor's post--fake-death low profile is secure, even if the very idea of erasing records in a non-linear timeline hurts my brain.

On the more trivial serialized front, this is the second consecutive episode in a row in which The Doctor informs us of his performance on a classical music recording.

***********

"I'm riffing. People usually stop me when I'm riffing. Or carry on without me. That's always an option."

"Well, frankly, that's outrageous. You think you can just bring your Dad along without asking? I'm not a taxi service, you know."

"Spelling it out is hereditary. Wonderful."

"Even a monkey could use them. Oh, look, they're going to. Guys, c'mon. Comedy gold. Where's a Silurian audience when you need one?" (I wondered if this joke would be viewed as a little racist within the Doctor Who universe, but perhaps the scientific tilt and unreal evolutionary aspect from outside the show makes it o.k.)

***********

Classic Doctor Who Bonus:

This week I checked out the 1974 Doctor Who adventure "Invasion of the Dinosaurs." Yes, thirty-eight years ago Jon Pertwee's Doctor, Sarah Jane Smith, and Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart had their own struggles involving dinosaurs, transported across time to wreak havoc upon central London.

If you want to see some cheesy dinosaurs that typify the rubber creature constructions of the Doctor Who old days, then this is the show for you. The tyrannosaurus rex, who doesn't look much like a tyrannosaurus rex, offers frequent threatening growls that account for three of the five episodic cliffhangers. He barely lumbers along save for one moment when he bursts through a brick wall like Kool-Aid Man and another silly-looking moment when he struggles to stand up after sedation. The oddly proportioned pterodactyls squawk and peck at The Doctor from just off screen. The brontosaurus has an entertaining gnawing fight with the aforementioned t-rex. Meanwhile, the stegosaurus stands still.

The plot strains plausibility. A group of extreme environmentalists that hold positions of authority within the British government and the military have used the dinosaurs to empty London, and their ultimate goal is to return the Earth to a golden era devoid of mankind's polluting and warring ruinations. Enabling their scheme is a brilliant Earth scientist that has cracked the secrets of time travel and can localize its effects to turn back time in particular areas of Earth while leaving other spots unaffected. Ultimately, this cabal wants to erase the vast majority of the Earth's population from existence and leave a group of eco-friendly folks in charge that have falsely believed they are on a spaceship traveling to a new Earthlike planet.

Despite those cheesy dinosaurs that can induce chuckling and the general situation that is wacky even for Doctor Who, I did enjoy this adventure. There's a charm to those effects and the earnestness of the whole shebang. Airing just a few years after Earth Day began, it even has a still timely message related to treatment of our environment. Dated or not, "Invasion of the Dinosaurs" contains several effective character moments, including one amusing exchange in which The Doctor keeps being interrupted while trying to finish construction of his dinosaur stun gun. If you are reading this and have never seen Jon Pertwee's Doctor in action, then you should give him a chance. Pertwee gave the role his own brand of dignity and wry humor.

Last week I commented on the increased physicality of Tom Baker's Doctor relative to what we see these days. Pertwee's Doctor, who employs a sort of Vulcan neck pinch to subdue opponents, ups that factor even more. Plus, in this episode he drives around his seldom seen "Whomobile," which is like a sleeker version of Luke Skywalker's landspeeder. I would like to drive one of those around town.

C. Robert Dimitri strives to avoid sexism in survival situations and says that Ian Malcolm wasn't kidding: life finds a way!




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Comments Are Welcome, Bigots and Trolls Are Not


  • bignick

    The Doctor, as a character, is someone who was capable of destroying two civilizations during the Time War. Anyone capable of committing genocide on that level is not someone you want to try and intimidate. Mark Williams as Rory's dad was a real treat to watch, though.

  • Meenama

    I loved this episode. It was madcap, crazy and lots of fun -- I laughed a lot. From what I've read, it was also really enjoyed by kids -- and when all is said and done, Doctor Who is meant to be family-friendly.

  • C. Robert Dimitri

    I agree that it seems the kids enjoyed it, I recognize that will always be the show's first audience, and on that level I'm happy. Unfortunately, I'm no longer a kid, and I'm stuck with my adult lens.

  • Amazing dating club for people over 50
    Please google"eldermeet"
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  • ceebee_eebee

    Pertwee is one of my favorite Who actors. With Troughton being top of the list. People who don't give the original series a chance are really missing out on the 40 or whatever years of what has made Doctor Who one of the most enduring series in history. Love love love.

    Also, David Mitchell as a bitchy robot made this ep for me. That being said, David Mitchell's mere existence makes everything a good deal better, so...

  • BWeaves

    Yes! Troughton is my favorite doctor. Jamie, and the Brig, are my favorite companions from his time.

    My only complaint with Pertwee, is that they stranded him on Earth and didn't let him use the TARDIS until the very end (which wasn't Pertwee's fault).

  • Three_nineteen

    I believe the tatics Three uses are Venusian karate. I'm up to Four now in my viewing and just started the Leela era. I am in love. Leela is far and away my favorite companion from the classic era, and with every episode gets closer and closer to my all-time favorite.

  • C. Robert Dimitri

    I was just reading a couple days ago how there was friction between Tom Baker and the show's producers because he didn't like that they brought in a companion with such violent tendencies. That friction carried over between him and Louise Jameson. After a little time, though, he and Louise got along and Baker accepted the choice.

  • Three_nineteen

    I can understand that reaction. It's just refreshing to have a companion capable of doing something other than scream/get captured. (I know that's not really true, but it's mostly true).

  • BWeaves

    It's nice to have a companion whos basic thought patterns are, "Stab" vs. "Not stab," while wearing a leather bikini.

  • indarchandra

    I'm not sure letting the missiles hit Solomon's ship is out that of step, if you take the arc of the show as a whole. It reminded me of the end of Doomsday, when Tate yells up to Tennant's sociopathic stare "Doctor, you can stop now", and Tennant snaps back to be wacky doctor again. Matt Smith played the doctor with a lot of grief and guilt in the beginning, which has been easing in the past season and half. It makes sense that he's lost a bit of his moral compass again now that he's anonymous. does that makes sense? or just to me?

  • FrayedMachine

    I don't know. That Doomsday episode was filled with so much fury, so much contempt. There was a darker side to the doctor that you saw previously that seems kind of absent (though truth be told, and maybe I'm alone in this, but I don't really feel like I have a REAL grasp of who 11 is since they spend so much bloody time fixating on The Ponds and other secondary characters). But yeah, the resolve? I don't know. It felt like something was missing.

  • POINGjam

    My name is not Tricey.

  • BWeaves

    1. Ooooh! Mr. Weasley is Rory's dad! He was definitely the best thing in the episode. "Do you have anything vegetable related in your pockets?" "Just my balls."

    2. While I'm sure Mr. Weasley, I mean Mr. Pond, I mean Mr. Williams saw the TARDIS at Amy and Rory's wedding, he never saw the inside of it, and he never saw Amy and Rory enter it. In this weeks episode, the TARDIS materialized around them, so he never realized he was in it.

    3. I can't believe the end bit was so short, (with Mr. Weasley running off with the Doctor). I wanted that bit to be longer. Several episodes longer. I think Rory's Dad and Donna's Grandfather would make an excellent companion pair for the Doctor.

    4. Rory healing Mr. Weasley was sweet. Plus, they really looked like father and son.

    5. I'm still trying to figure out who the big game hunter was. I thought the Doctor called him Rudell, but I've been checking the internet and it is Riddell. I still can't tell if he's a real person or not. I couldn't figure out where I've seen the actor before, but he was Lestrade on Sherlock.

    6. I liked the Silurian monkey jokes.

    7. I think the writers liked the idea of dinos on a spaceship, but really weren't sure what to do with the story after that. I thought it was a combination of super childlike and very dark.

    8. And of course, we have our second Harry Potter sighting with Argus Filch being Solomon.

    ---------------------

    I have a question about last week's episode, SPOILERS if you haven't watched it yet. If Oswin was a Dalek, and sounded like a Dalek at the end, why didn't she sound like a Dalek earlier in the episode? That made no sense to me.

  • Anne At Large

    Filch! That's who it was! I love seeing Harry Potter actors on DW (although Mister Weasley will always make me think of Stardust first). But I could not place Solomon for the life of me.

  • POINGjam

    As far as I could tell, Oswin was connected to the Dalek equivalent of the Internet (and the local intercom system) and communicated that way. So she'd sound however she wanted to sound, the way your own Internet persona is entirely up to you.

  • Lindsey With an "e"

    I am becoming increasingly disappointed with 11, and I wasn't real thrilled with him to begin with. Allowing the missiles to execute the bad guy was sooo cheap and Un-Doctor like. Where is the quiet wrath of "The Oncoming Storm?" Where is the chilling but quiet justice of "Family of Blood?" There isn't anything redeeming about this episode's conclusion, and worse, it is BORING. Rory's dad was the best part of it, and while the actor deserves his praise, that really shouldn't be the case. In past seasons, when discussing the show with friends or non-Whovians, I could say "yes, it is campy, yes it is a bit silly sometimes, but the WRITING! Oh, the WRITING is brilliant!" That is no longer the case.
    I hope that this throwaway episode does end up contributing to the story arc for the season in key ways, otherwise it felt like a waste of time, which should be VERY offensive to a Time Lord.

  • Long_Pig_Tailor

    All the wrath and justice you're looking for is right there at the end, they just don't throw a spotlight on it as much as they tended to with Ten (he was really into those speeches and uber-dramatic moments). "Did the Silurians beg you to stop?" is sharp, concise and all that really needs to be said to the genocidal bastard he's dealing with. And really, it's exactly the sort of strategy the Doctor would normally employ, letting the bad guy get screwed essentially by his own actions-- with a little finetuning on the Doctor's part-- while saving the really important thing (real living dinosaurs in this case).

  • Meenama

    "Where is the chilling but quiet justice of "Family of Blood?" Excuse me? The Doctor sentenced the members of the Family to an eternity of suffering. In comparison the Doctor allowing Solomon to die quickly seems compassionate.

  • FrayedMachine

    Maybe I'm weird, maybe I'm alone in this, but that darker part of the Doctor is something that I miss. I love the more calculated justices that we've seen in the past. The kind of justice where you see people getting what's coming to them. It's all kinds of vindictive in a highly chilling and (pleasantly) disconcerting kind of way.

    I think the point they're trying to make is that the ending - the resolve - wasn't as fulfilling as it's been in the past. It was quite the uncreative approach, essentially. In comparison to the rages we've seen, this episode was quite light in him dealing with it.

  • Fabius_Maximus

    I agree. The last two episodes were "gimmick" episodes. Last week, the gimmick was simply the Daleks. While it's dialogue's were better written, it had no meaning right up until the very end. This week, the writers just went with "Dinosaurs on a Spaceship", which had to suffice. The plot of the episode just was written around it, with only very few tidbits that actually mattered.

    We now had two entirely "fluffy" episodes in a row. I hope the series returns to form.

  • Stacey

    ...killer robots that banter like a vaudeville comedy duo...

    I've never seen a Doctor Who but the robots were actually voiced by comedy duo Robert Webb and David Mitchell, whose style sometimes does smack vaudevillian. I just happened to see Robert Webb tweeting about it last week. According to him, " They weren't written as camp...But that's what happened."

    That said I might have to watch my first Doctor Who...

  • Renton

    It was no Peep Show.

  • Stacey

    Yeah, I was picturing something more along the lines of That Mitchell and Webb Look.

  • Renton

    Yeh, totally. I was actually kinda saddened by how unfunny they were in this episode. I'm hoping Peep Show comes back soon...

  • kasper

    I think the Doctor killing Solomon has to do with Amy & Rory's future. When Amy say she could be killed, the Doctor clearly knows something. He is torn right now between trying to enjoy his moments with the Ponds and dreading their future. When he sees something evil, he loses it. He is holding too much in right now and it gets out.

  • I agree. I think the Doctor already knows (or at least has an inkling of) what happens to the Ponds. There have been too many hints dropped and sad looks to think otherwise. The closer it gets, the less I want to know. Can't we just have left them smiling with their waters guns on Christmas? Whyyyy, Moffat?

    What I want to know is how Rory's dad knew nothing about the Doctor. You would think that he wouldn't miss the TARDIS in the middle of their wedding.

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