jason stives looks at those mother f’n dinosaurs on those mother f’n spaceships…
Like all television let alone all forms of art, Doctor Who is not a perfect organism. Dating back to even the third series of the show’s original run, consistency isn’t always abound which is fine as it’s like saying a human isn’t flawed. In the hyper critical era of the internet where fandom prevails over the professional it’s difficult to constantly please a shows fan base and even this writer isn’t always pleased with the end result even if it’s not a horrible one overall. Doctor Who has always been first and foremost a show for children and no doubt Matt Smith has been able to convey that child like quality that the character has needed to connect with its viewers. So sometimes light hearted fair is needed when the waters get too murky and too dark and no doubt Doctor Who as of lately has been in some very dark corners that sci-fi adrenaline junkies like myself enjoy. However, I know when it’s time for a laugh as well but just don’t dull the quality in the process.
After the whimsical blast of action and psychological doings in the season’s opener “Asylum of the Daleks,” Doctor Who took a gigantic step back with the big space adventure larks of “Dinosaurs an a Spaceship,” a witty story that sadly was short on an intriguing plot and even some less intriguing supporting characters. After receiving a distress call from an Indian space agency about a spaceship mere hours away from crashing into the Earth, the Doctor enlists a gang of friends that include an Egyptian queen, an early 20th century big game hunter, and of course, the Ponds to tail the ominous craft. On board, The Doctor soon learns that there is precious cargo on board in the form of a plethora of dinosaurs. Soon The Doctor and his Scooby Doo-like gang are split up with Rory and his Dad, Brian aiding The Doctor in his discovery of who is actually on board.
Writer Chris Chibnall doesn’t have the best track record in his stories, mainly the Series 5 two-parter “The Hungry Earth/ Cold Blood,” which saw the re-introduction of The Silurians. “Dinosaurs” finds us reentering some of Chibnall’s territory by making the spaceship a Silurian Ark en route to a new world filled with over 50 species that is until Solomon, a corrupt intergalactic trader found himself on board. Aided by a pair of cynical robots, he ejected the Silurians from their deep sleep in order to gain the dinosaur cargo, a cargo he deemed more than valuable to possess. With the space agency targeting the ark with missiles should it enter the Earth’s atmosphere, The Doctor is in a race against time to gain control of the ship and save the precious cargo.
So where does “Dinosaurs on a Spaceship” exactly go wrong in my eyes? Simple, it’s very formulaic. Sometimes Doctor Who needs that as not to rely too heavily on plot devices and seasonal arcs but it is at the end of the day a well written science fiction show so simply having the Doctor show up on a space ark awaiting a very generic villain doesn’t do well for originality. Despite the presence of Rupert Graves (Lestrade in Sherlock) as the confident and entertaining adventurer Riddell, The Doctor’s need for a gang of friends just because he wanted to makes their presence mostly unwarranted. Same goes for the very bland performance of David Bradley as the villainous trader Solomon. He brings basically nothing to the plate as an original and even fascinating foe despite the occasional crowing of The Doctors name.
With all its misgivings the humor is what really makes up for its flaws in particular the introduction of Mark Williams as Rory’s father, Brian. Having charmed big screen audiences as Arthur Weasley in the Harry Potter films, Williams plays Brian much the same way that makes him both humbling and warm with his sense of curiosity and every dayness. The parting shot of this story which sees Brian sitting at the foot of the TARDIS, drinking tea and watching the Earth is both beautiful and simplistic showing what a little bit of honesty and costly CGI can do. It also affords some of the stories best moments involving Rory who once again commands a greater presence than he had all of last season. This isn’t to say Amy wasn’t sufficient in this story; in fact, her approach to handling the ships database was very mature and showed that her time with The Doctor has garnered her some impressive skills.
But not all of the episode is light hearted fair although it definitely is overall a very light episode. The bait may be the dinosaurs of the title but the real trouble is the underlying decisions the Doctor faces about his closest friends. These days Amy and Rory seem use to The Doctor only popping up occasionally in their lives but it is always at the most importuned moments. In a way it’s as if The Doctor is trying to slowly wean himself off the Ponds, a seemingly happy married couple who should be invested in themselves and not in their interstellar travels. However, Amy seems to think otherwise and once again is stuck in third gear in whether she wants these travels to continue when she should be furthering her life with her husband. This may be a sign of things to come for the Ponds but what of The Doctor?
Although there doesn’t seem to be an over-arcing theme this time around, for the second time in two weeks we are treated to the fact that the universe does not know of the Doctors existence. Here we see the Doctor take great satisfaction in his lack of a presence but is it possible that this merely a crutch to his own feelings about his past? He has slowly drifted away from the Ponds and as Amy said it’s as if he is intentionally doing this. A fear of oneself is something that hasn’t not been explored before with The Doctor but how far will he go now that he is basically a shadow in the universe? It’s not best to think this far into such questions but with only three more stories before another rest, Doctor Who has a lot of explaining to do. In the end, “Dinosaurs on the Spaceship” is an amusing romp but not necessarily a barn burning spectacle that will land itself on anyone’s Top 10 lists let alone anyone’s Top Anything.
Rating: 6 out of 10 (Good not Great)
All Photos Credit: BBC America