Thoughts on: Dinosaurs on a Spaceship

In this desperate marathon of mine through all of New Who I’m beginning to get into the episodes with which I’m less familiar. I have only fuzzy memories of most of Series 7, having only seen them the one time when they were first broadcast three years ago. I especially had little recollection of Dinosaurs on a Spaceship. I was expecting a camp, extravagant, self-consciously ridiculous romp, forty-five minutes of heartily entertaining nonsense. By and large, that was precisely what we got: apart from the titular dinosaurs on the titular spaceship, there was Queen Nefertiti, Mitchell and Webb robots, a furious race against the clock, the Doctor riding a triceratops, and Mr Weasley. It all made for what I think is possibly the most fun we’ve ever had on Doctor Who. But what we also got was a very sober story about a truly loathsome man and what he made the Doctor do. For all its fun extravagance and larking about, this episode delved into some uncharacteristically dark themes, which makes it into something more than just a fun romp in my eyes.

The Doctor for some reason decides he needs a “gang” to tackle this conundrum, à la Scooby Doo, and we’re treated to amusing scenes of the Doctor conscripting his ace team from across time and space: he snatches a lusty Queen Nefertiti from ancient Egypt, Inspector Lestrade an Edwardian explorer called Riddell from the African plains in 1902, and, of course, Amy and Rory, along with a bewildered Mr Weasley Rory’s dad. The characters are all wonderful and add immensely to the enjoyableness of the episode. “Neffy” and Riddell are a joy to watch together, and their budding romance is too much for the screen. “You clearly need a man of action and excitement. One with a very large weapon.” Yowza. They made amusing “companions” to Amy, and it was fun seeing Amy have to deal with what the Doctor deals with from his companions.

Amy and Rory are surprisingly useful, Amy, in the Doctor’s absence, putting into practice what she’s learned from all her experience travelling with the Doctor (“press buttons”), and Rory coming across very clever and competent. He’s even quite badass when he’s enjoining the poncey robots to brush up their etiquette and threatening death by fiery liquefaction. Rory looked especially good next to his hapless, baffled father, although Brian, too, eventually got into the swing of things with his trowel and golf ball related initiative. There was an instance of foreboding foreshadowing where the Doctor tries to soothe Amy’s anxieties about his visiting her less often, promising “You’ll be there to the end of me.” To which Amy unthinkingly rejoins “Or vice versa.” The stupefied look on the Doctor’s face just about summed up the appropriate response to that moment. The message: oh, cripes, they’re going to die.

It’s been a while since we’ve seen a genuinely hateful villain on Doctor Who, someone whom you have no qualms about despising unreservedly. Solomon, played to perfection by David Bradley, was entirely despicable, and it was obvious the show was inviting the audience to loathe him as much as the Doctor evidently did by showing Solomon committing various enormities such as threatening to kill Brian, his cruel murder of the triceratops, and his kidnapping and, in a particularly grisly line of dialogue, thinly-veiled threat to rape Nefertiti. We were made to hate Solomon to soften the shock of watching the Doctor effectively murder him by cruelly leaving him to die in his ship. The Doctor was quite scary in his last words to Solomon, “Did the Silurians beg you to stop? Look, Solomon. The missiles. See them shine? See how valuable they are. And they’re all yours. Enjoy your bounty.” The Doctor was cold and remorseless about sending a man to his death. I found that very confronting when I saw it originally. It was probably the one thing about this episode I remembered vividly three years later. Solomon was despicable, true, but what happened to the “man who never would”? We’re seeing an entirely different side to the Doctor’s character here, and it’s exhilarating. This builds effectively not only on the previous episode’s portrayal of the Doctor’s questionable morality, but also on the theme embarked upon at the end of Series 6 about the Doctor not being a hero.

Rating: 9/10.

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