2nd Opinion: Dinosaurs on a Spaceship

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John Hussey and Adam James Cuthbert each give their own take on the 2nd episode of Series 7.

John’s Verdict

Wow! Chris Chibnall you are brilliant! Moffat certainly wasn’t lying when he said this year’s series of Doctor Who would be full of huge blockbuster stories. And with a title like ‘Dinosaurs on a Spaceship’ I knew I was in for a treat.

I’ve always been fond of Dinosaurs, ever since I was a kid, and it just surprises me that such an iconic species in our history hasn’t been used much in Doctor Who. Their only full appearance prior to ‘Dinosaurs on a Spaceship’ was the fantastic 6-part story ‘Invasion of the Dinosaurs’ featured in Jon Pertwee’s final season of his reign. Back then they were being dragged from the past via time experiments by mad scientists and politicians, with the Doctor and UNIT trying their best to prevent their evil plans of rebuilding the Earth. This time though, Chris Chibnall had them brought into space; the next logical step it would seem. But this is Doctor Who we are talking about, so anything is physically possible.

I love the plot design behind the spaceship’s origin; in which it actually once belonged to the Silurians as they attempted to escape their then prophesied apocalypse via other means. But of course, as usual, their death wasn’t far behind. This time they were killed by the nasty and profit hunting space-pirate Solomon. His injured appearance does make you sway your opinion of him being a bad guy at first but as soon as he threatens Brian with his comical Robots, then his dark character emerges. He truly was cruel and without mercy, all in a bid to get what he wants; the ultimate prize. After the onslaught and rampage of the insane Daleks last week, it was nice to get a simple humanoid villain to face-off against the Doctor. They really did play off against each other in a brilliant way and the end result was just cold and shocking. The fact we knew Solomon was a cold-hearted killer who had the Silurians killed by jettison just for the sake of the cargo still doesn’t alter the actions the Doctor took. It did completely shock me and showed a side to the Doctor which is rarely seen. Perhaps there is a reason for this…

Although I must admit, the death of the Triceratops did make me cry. So I guess in many ways Solomon had it coming. But still, two wrongs don’t make a right and stooping to murder is a new level. I believe this will take the Doctor to new and interesting grounds of development.

Now onto the Ponds’ character developments in Series 7 so far. Unfortunately I didn’t get a chance to speak about them in my last review, so here goes: I loved how they were brought back with a dark story i.e. getting divorced. It was interesting seeing Amy and Rory in a new area, especially a dark one like that, considering all the many things they have done for each other throughout their time with the Doctor to showcase their never-ending love. But obviously it was nice to see them again in this story back together and happy once more. I love how Moffat is having them as one-off companions, simply being picked up every so many months for a quick adventure before returning back to their normal married life on Earth.

It was especially funny to see how poor Brian Williams, Rory’s dad, was dragged into the Doctor’s mad world, simply by being caught in the TARDIS’s materialisation around Amy and Rory during a light-bulb change. I must admit when I first heard about his appearance, I was mad because I thought Moffat was taking the Russell route of including family affairs into the main story. But as it turned out, it was absolutely the right choice and proved to be very successful in my eyes.

Like ‘The Girl Who Waited’ last year, it was great to see Rory having some screen time on his own, allowing him some final character developments before his and Amy’s emotional departure in a few episodes time. Having his dad onboard was a treat as it allowed his character to develop in new ways and allowed us to see his family bonds. It was fun seeing him trying to explain to his dad what he’s secretly been doing all this time. Luckily Brian soon got the hang of it and went with the flow. It’s also nice to see how far Rory’s character has come since his early days of being a bumbling wannabe-hero to a fully fledged companion who now helps out the Doctor in a crisis and is, without a doubt, a huge hero.

Back to the Dinosaurs: fantastic CGI and animatronics. Well done to the production team for a job well done. Although the dinosaurs didn’t appear throughout, they still played one huge and amazing part whenever they were on screen. The only thing I was disappointed with was the lack of T-Rex. I mean come on, they are the biggest and deadliest Dino out there and its only on-screen appearance was when it was asleep! But like the lack of Classic Daleks last week, it didn’t take away any of the story’s brilliance, so again I will let this little nitpick slide.

I must say I do believe the Doctor’s relationship with Queen Nefertiti is considered cheating in the law of marriage. Also I love it when Rory injects Brian and he says, “This won’t hurt… I lied”, which references what River did when injecting Amy way back in ‘The Time of Angels’.

I thought ‘Dinosaurs on a Spaceship’ was a wacky and fun-filled space adventure, balanced out greatly with its darker elements in the second half. It had a mad space-pirate, comedian robots, a mad group of time-travellers and, of course, Dinosaurs. What more could you want? Now, I look forward to next week as we prepare ourselves for the Doctor’s return to the Wild-West as he prepares to face The Gunslinger in old Mercy Town.

Adam’s Verdict

I think there’s something to be said of prior experience with a writer’s work: it unavoidably influences your perceptions of them as a writer, and therefore your degree of anticipation for their subsequent endeavours. For me, Chris Chibnall hadn’t yet excelled. His episodes seemed to hit a wall, settling in the ‘average’ category as far as Doctor Who writers have gone. His stories contained strokes of potential brilliance undermined by their execution. So did he succeed this time? Yes and no.

Dinosaurs on a Spaceship was a guaranteed blockbuster sensation, another example of the show exploiting a ‘high-concept’ or “What if?” scenario, a trait associated with many official blockbusters, such as Jaws or Cloverfield. Unfortunately, the dinosaurs were relegated in favour of the ensemble cast, as the Doctor assembled an impromptu gang to investigate the presence of the prehistoric creatures on a spaceship headed for Earth. I had concerns about the effectiveness of the dinosaurs within the episode. While visually and convincingly impressive, their potential to create an underlying threat to the characters, a visceral sense of terror, was under-explored, opting instead for the lowest common denominator of children’s entertainment. When I picture escaped dinosaurs of all means I expect to see the brutes causing some real damage.

Both Nefertiti and Riddell were one-dimensional and clichéd (“I’m a strong, assertive female” and “You need a man to protect you”). And the robots? To quote the Tenth Doctor: “I hate funny robots.”

Fortunately, the moral issues within the narrative proved to be a saving grace, albeit conflicting with the episode’s predominantly light-hearted tone. David Bradley delivered an exemplary performance as the pernicious pirate Solomon, who committed genocide against the Silurians that previously owned the spaceship. Solomon was portrayed as malevolent and materialistic, obsessed with reducing all living things to a market price. He killed, tortured, blackmailed and pleaded his way throughout the episode: a classic villain. It was interesting to observe the portrayal of the Doctor within the episode: in a sense, he has become judge, jury and executioner all at once – choosing who lives and who dies, as if the character were carrying godlike scales of justice, exacting revenge on a, ultimately,  powerless old man. I interpret the Doctor’s actions as choosing for Solomon to die rather than because it was necessary due to extenuating circumstances. Solomon could have been placed on trial for his crimes, but the Doctor clearly took the law into his own hands here. I’m fascinated by the exploration of the Doctor’s darker side to come.

Another highlight of the episode was the ending scene as the TARDIS orbits the Earth. The nonchalance on Amy and Rory’s faces and the sadness in the Doctor’s expression subtly foreshadows their time is drawing to an end. Indeed, the episode takes time to analyse how the companions have changed from their experiences with the Doctor. Karen Gillan gave a delightful performance, portraying Amy as bright, inquisitive, funny, and capable. Arthur Darvill was again the ‘straight man’ to the Doctor’s ‘comedic’ routine. The element of Amy unable to cope with ‘normal’ life due to the Doctor’s effect in her life subtly connects with her backstory, waiting twelve years for her ‘Raggedy Doctor’. To what extent the Doctor’s prominence in Amy’s ‘fairy-tale’ life will be explored towards the finale I can only guess.

Ultimately, I would suggest Dinosaurs was an improvement on Chibnall’s earlier work, by a fair margin. There were moments of depth and intrigue coupled with a powerfully dark twist from the Doctor, but the dinosaurs’ potential was wasted, and the ‘humour’ was only occasionally witty, with Karen Gillan getting the best lines.

You can read more of Adam’s thoughts at Cult Fix.