This review contains spoilers. A spoiler-free take on the episode is here.
7.2 Dinosaurs On A Spaceship
“Well thank you, Arthur C Clarke”.
Pretty good fun, that. Dinosaurs On A Spaceship might not have matched the standard set last week by Asylum Of The Daleks, but it still managed – for the most part – a good, 45 minute mini-blockbuster, as had been promised. It’s also an episode that feels a little more targeted at the younger members of the audience in parts, albeit not to the exclusion of everyone else (although there’s perhaps less for hardened Who fans), although its lighter tone was punctuated by one or two things we’ll talk about shortly.
We take it for granted, perhaps, that Doctor Who is incredibly good at putting essential story blocks in place very early in episodes, but the economy with which Dinosaurs On A Spaceship goes about things deserves credit. Before the credits have rolled, we’ve been in three different time zones, established that there’s a missile heading to a (fabulously designed) ship that the Doctor has to stop, and see him also recruiting a gang of people to travel with. It feels a bit like a standalone special in that regard.
It also introduces the episode’s undoubted highlight, too: Mark Williams. He slips into the role of Brian Williams as if he’s been playing him for years, and the interplay between Williams and Arthur Darvill is just brilliant. We love Arthur Darvill in Doctor Who anyway, but the double act he quickly forms here is brilliant. It’s a shame that the character wasn’t introduced a little earlier, if anything, as we’d be keen to see a lot more of Brian Williams than we’re likely to. He gave us some good guffaws here, and his delivery of some fine lines from Chris Chibnall was exquisite.
Credit, too, to the title stars of the episode, the dinosaurs themselves. Appreciating that Doctor Who is at the higher end of the BBC budget spectrum, it’s still remarkable just how strong they looked here. Granted, they were used reasonably sparingly, but sequences such as the pterodactyl attack on the beach looked strong, we thought. On the flipside, we hope that there aren’t more pterodactyls in Doctor Who soon, because it’s a swine of a word to type.
As it turns out, and as is increasingly the case in modern day Doctor Who, the creatures you expect to be the foes don’t turn out to the be traditional enemies they appear to be. It’s a tricky one, this. The beauty of modern day monsters such as The Silence and the Weeping Angels is we don’t actually empathise with them: they just scare us, or at the least creep us out. Think back to Russell T Davies’ superb Midnight, too. So: all that considered, this is the point where we’re supposed to moan that the dinosaurs might have been better as genuinely horrible beasties, raging foes to do prolonged battle with.
Yet such an argument for us was rendered a bit moot by the appearance of David Bradley. His character was someone to get your heckles up, a genuinely unpleasant man who’s in it purely for the money. He’d sell the Doctor if he could, but while that’s being made clear, we get a reaffirmation that that Doctor doesn’t seem to exist anymore.
Instead, though, there’s the small matter of the dinosaurs that he’s taken possession of. It becomes clear that the ship they’re on is a Silurian ark (with a fleeting Silurian cameo as a result), and that Bradley’s Solomon has killed them. So, as the Doctor says, piracy and genocide. If you’re looking for a nasty Doctor Who foe, they don’t come much more unpleasant when you stop and consider what he’s done here.
His character is the dark heart of an episode that otherwise tends to tread more on the lighter side. In fact, further comic relief, that’s likely to bring grins to the faces of sci-fi enthusiasts, comes in the form of a pair of comedy robots. It’s hard to dislike comedy robots, and their initial quite sinister appearance here is quickly dispelled when it turns out that David Mitchell and Robert Webb are on voicing duties. Add them to the list of creations we’d like to see again.
It’s hard not to glean fun from Rupert Graves on dinosaur hunting duties, too. Throughout, there a sense that tips of the hat are being aimed at the first two Jurassic Park movies, and Graves’ character sits somewhere between Pete Postlethwaite’s Roland Tembo, and Bob Peck’s Robert Muldoon. A pity about the “large weapon” line he has to deliver, though, which felt very awkward and out of place. A clever innuendo it was not.
In fact, it we were being picky, a few of the conversations here didn’t have the usual Doctor Who zip to them. The dialogue, while good on the whole (and strong on comedy), did have a moment or two where it felt like motions were being gone through. Solomon’s threat to break Queen Nefertiti felt uncomfortable and awkward, too.
But then, there were the tender moments, which worked a lot better. In particular, Amy’s conversation with the Doctor about how far apart his visits are becoming was really well done, and in a seemingly standalone adventure, it contributed to the broader build-up to future events. There’s an inherent sadness to their conversation that strongly came across. There’s another glimpse at the darker edges of the Doctor too, with his refusal to save Solomon at the end. Is he deliberately being presented as a little harder and just slightly less compassionate this year?
The rest of the back end of the episode followed a fairly familiar race against time mechanic, and allowed us a dinosaur shootout (that not even the end of Jurassic Park III could afford) by putting stun ammunition in Rupert Graves’ gun. Good fun, that. And it all ended on a lovely note, with Mark Williams dangling out of the edge of the Tardis. We love it when Doctor Who takes the time to do something like that. It found time to send a few postcards, too.
This, then, was the second in the series of weekly blockbusters we were promised for the seventh series since Doctor Who was revived, and Dinosaurs On A Spaceship was by turns funny, lighter, a bit disjointed, occasionally slow, but on the whole good fun. It’s also proof that Doctor Who does funny a whole lot better than many modern comedies.
Next week? It’s one of our most eagerly awaited episodes of the series, as Toby Whithouse takes us to the wild west in A Town Called Mercy. And just how good does that look? For now though, two episodes in, this run of Doctor Who is doing really rather well.
Our review of last week’s episode is here.
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