Doctor Who: Dinosaurs On A Spaceship

The following post is from Emma Hyam (a.k.a emma_lou on our forums & emma_lou1983 on Twitter). This can also be read on her blog

3 1/2 out of 5 *****


Like a lot of fans, when I first heard the title of this episode, I said, “Really? Dinosaurs… on a spaceship? But what is it actually called?” But no, that was the title, so amid many raised eyebrows this episode bursts forth, and how. Within minutes you’ve been whipped through multiple timezones and settings at such a dizzying pace that you feel slightly overwhelmed, but that’s Doctor Who these days, keep up, or turn over and watch The X Factor instead.

This may read as a criticism but it's not. With an episode this bonkers, you need an appropriately bonkers start to hurl you straight in. The madness reflects the chaos that is The Doctor and the whirlwind that is his existence, but anyway on with the episode.

The Doctor assembles a motley crew of an Egyptian queen, a big game hunter and the Ponds' plus Dad, to save a ship full of dinosaurs from being blown up by the Indian Space Agency. This is most definitely a story aimed at the family audience rather than “The Fans”, but is that really a bad thing? It’s hard to be cross with an episode that is just this much fun. The humour doesn’t always hit, some of the ‘Carry On’ style jokes will have you groaning, but the more subtle joking raised a laugh from me, in particular the lovely touches of the ship being powered by waves from an internal beach, and the tantrum throwing useless robots, beautifully voiced by comedy duo Robert Webb and David Mitchell.

The tone is also helped along by the guest stars playing it absolutely straight. It would have been easy for them to mug at the camera, falling about and overacting, but they’re extremely believable. I particularly enjoyed Amy taking on the role of The Doctor with two ‘companions’ in Nefertiti and Riddell. Our regulars are on excellent form as always, with Arthur Darvill really getting his teeth into the comedy aspects, Matt Smith is great, his face is mesmerizing to watch but also subtle; check out his little smirk when he goes unidentified by Solomon’s scanner.

However, the stand out performance in the episode is that of Mark Williams as Rory’s Dad, Brian. I think we may have found a new Wilfred Mott in him, a man obsessed with golf who carries a trowel with him at all times, who in the end of the episode just wants to sit quietly with a sandwich & a cup of tea and gaze down at the Earth. Wonderful.

My fears that this episode was just using the dinosaurs as a gimmick were quickly allayed by the clever touch of having the ship be a Silurian ark invaded by a sneering villain in the shape of David Bradley’s Solomon, and herein lies some of the problems with this episode. While it’s a ton of fun when our heroes are running about the ship, riding on nicely realised dinosaurs, once it gets down the core the episode becomes less interesting. Solomon is a pretty generic baddie, all full of threats and concern only for profit, and the ending is a little pat with The Doctor casually blowing up his ship.

Writer Chris Chibnall has had a somewhat checkered history with Doctor Who, writing the good but not great 42, and the underwhelming The Hungry Earth/Cold Blood 2-parter, not to mention being largely responsible for the atrocious first series of Torchwood. That said, I believe this is his best work so far, a good, solid episode that’s lots of fun, but with some nice, deeper moments being mixed in; the little exchange between Amy and The Doctor sends the  hair standing up on your arms, and gives us some heavy foreshadowing of what's to come. And I’m ever so grateful he resisted the temptation of having someone say, “I’ve had it with these *expletive deleted* dinosaurs on this *expletive deleted* spaceship!”

This is a story that's most reminiscent of episodes like The Unicorn and The Wasp and The Lodger; an entertaining romp, perhaps let down slightly by not having much of a plot to pin it all on to. However, I enjoyed watching it tremendously, and as a slice of Saturday night entertainment it can’t be beat. I’m very much looking forward to watching it over again to pick up the little bits of dialogue I missed. In a series where Moffat promised us "a blockbuster every week", this episode certainly delivers.