Dinosaurs on a Spaceship Review
Clint Hassell reviews the second episode of Series 7.
“Dinosaurs on a Spaceship” delivers exactly what it promises, the titular creatures looking relatively convincing, considering this episode’s need for numerous, budget-breaking sets and props. However, much like “Let’s Kill Hitler,” the exploitive title is a deliberate misdirection; as the episode continues Steven Moffat’s edict that Series 7 be comprised of single-episode blockbusters, so much story is crammed into the 45-minute narrative that the dinosaurs can do little more than make glorified cameo appearances, their most memorable scenes seemingly checked off of an 8-year-old’s fantasy wish list. (Chased by pterodactyls! Licked by a friendly dino! The Doctor riding a triceratops!)
Truly, a lot happens in “Dinosaurs on a Spaceship,” and it is to writer Chris Chibnall’s credit that he is able to craft a balanced script with the Doctor, four companions, Rory’s father, a villain, two robotic sidekicks, and the crew of a futuristic space agency all vying for screen time. It must be said that, to accomplish so much in just one episode, Chibnall is forced to utilize several writing shortcuts to expedite the plot – characters are quickly teleported from place to place, alien technology is too-easily operated by unfamiliar hands, etc. – however, Chibnall is careful to offer explanations to cover the seeming cracks in the script. The Doctor’s comment that the Silurian ark is “the size of Canada” makes the ship’s teleportation system seem practical, if not necessary, and it’s difficult to chide Amy’s accessing of the ship’s records because it is inspiring to see how much delicate Amelia has actually learned – even benefited – from her time with the Doctor. Yes, the magic, green, missile-attracting rock is so silly is doesn’t even warrant an explanation, and it still seems a huge coincidence that the Silurian spaceship requires two pilots from the same gene chain the very same week the Doctor happens to kidnap Rory’s dad. (Which is a shame, because that unexplained plot point is one of the episode’s most genius moments. The revived series of Doctor Who has subtly established that the Silurians are capable of parthenogenesis – basically, a non-sexual form of reproduction that creates genetically-identical offspring. It’s why Alaya, Restac, and Vastra are all played by the same actress – they are all from the same genetic line and therefore should look identical. Engineering the ark to only be flown by genetically-similar pilots utilizes a trait, inherent to Silurians, to ensure that pirates could not wrest control of the ship from its creators. Taking 15 seconds to explain the science behind this plot point would have negated the too-convenient feeling of Brian’s sudden appearance.)
As with the Sontarans in Pond Life, the appearance of the Silurians is a lovely way of incorporating familiar monsters into the narrative without overexposing them.
Impressively, Chibnall is also able to further several ongoing subplots and incorporate numerous Who-related in-jokes:
- The Doctor is again romanced by one of history’s most alluring women, this time Queen Nefertiti, who he then takes as a companion.
- The Ponds are still arguing, as they quibble over Brian’s affections.
- Amy and Rory explained to their families that, after their wedding, they traveled in Thailand. (A reference to the Doctor’s favorite neckwear, perhaps?)
- Yet another mention is made of the Doctor performing as a musician during the recording of a famous piece of music, this time as “hands three and four” of Schubert’s Fantasia in F minor. All eleven Doctors have demonstrated an appreciation or aptitude for music, with Russell T Davies even writing “Music of the Spheres” to showcase Ten in that capacity.
- The Doctor claims that he is “probably” a Sagittarius, the zodiac symbol for those born between November 22 and December 21. Note that the first episode of Doctor Who aired on November 23, 1963.
- The Series 7 “Doctor who?” theme gets a subtle mention as Solomon’s Identifying Value scanner fails to register the Time Lord, though this time no one feels compelled to repeat the show’s title ad nauseum.
- The Doctor kisses Rory! Except Mickey Smith, the revived series has shown the Doctor kissing every long-term companion. (I hope Jenna-Louise knows what she is getting herself into!)
- Amy and Rory are, again, the girl and boy who waited – this time, another 10 months.
On that point, it must be stated: of course the Doctor is trying to wean the Ponds from his influence, if for no other reason than the show’s real-life production schedule necessitates it. Though the Ponds’ storyline came to a fitting end in Series 6, it would have been senseless to introduce a new companion in the Christmas episode, only to have her not appear for another eight months, until the start of Series 7 (and for only five episodes, at that). The belated start and split broadcast schedule of Series 7 ensured the return of the Ponds, and allowed for their prolonged exit. Who else got chills when the Doctor assured Amy that “You’ll be there until the end of me,” and Amy responded, “Or vice versa”? How much does the Doctor know of the eventual fate of the Ponds? His knowing glances seem to indicate a tragic finale to their tenure in the TARDIS.
Why are so many people surprised by the Doctor’s actions toward Solomon in the final moments of the episode? Does everyone not remember the resolutions of “The End of the World,” “World War Three,” “School Reunion,” “The Runaway Bride,” “Flesh and Stone,” “Cold Blood,” or “Day of the Moon”? While the Doctor tries to abstain from violence – even offering to save Davros or travel with the Master – he is not above killing in self-defense or allowing a villain’s death to occur, when offered no other alternative. The Doctor’s actions were in character, especially considering that the Doctor gave Solomon a final chance, stating, “You’re being targeted by missiles. Get off this ship, while you still can.”