7.2 – “Dinosaurs On A Spaceship”
The Doctor gets a call from the Indian Space Agency in the year 2367 AD; a giant spacecraft is hurtling towards Earth. The Doc rounds up a gang (including the Ponds and, accidentally, Rory’s old man) and lands on the giant spaceship, hoping to stop it in the six hours before missiles will blow it out of the sky . It turns out that it’s filled with Dinosaurs, and a vicious trader called Solomon, who has killed the original inhabitants and will cheerfully do the same to everyone else if there’s a few quid in it.
Dinosaurs? On a spaceship? Dinosaurs on a Spaceship!!! All kind of obvious really, it’s a wonder the Who production team had never thought of it before. It’s a scenario calling out for a story and the story that gets bolted on to it is not bad at all.
“Invasion Of The Dinosaurs” from way back in 1974 is sometimes seen as the nadir of Doctor Who special effects. Fortunately, in these modern times, dinosaurs are not so hard to create, thanks to CGI and big leaps in the craft of model making and animatronics. The Dinosaurs (on the spaceship) look and act superbly, from the triceratops that gives everyone a ride, to the raptors doing all the leaping and hissing that we loved from Jurassic Park, to the Pterodactyls swooping down on the beach. Come on, who doesn’t love dinosaurs?
We also have a situation; spaceship hurtling towards Earth. We have a complication; it’s full of dinosaurs. We need characters and, this time, The Doctor is assembling a gang. Since The Doctor decided to let the Universe believe he was dead at the end of the last series, it seems he has been finding new friends, this time in the form of Queen Nefertiti (Rianne Steel) of ancient Egypt and a Victorian explorer/hunter called John Riddell (Rupert Graves). The Ponds get swept into this adventure as well, along with Rory’s Dad, played to the full numpty by Mark Williams. Nefertiti and Riddell are ably portrayed and they’re fun, pulp characters in this fun, pulp adventure, but they are not what you’d call deep. Rory and Amy tick along well; Amy gets a chance to do some clever stuff on her own (like find out what the ship is really all about), showing that her time in the TARDIS has taught her a few tricks.
And it’s what Amy learns that shifts this episode up a few notches from the sheer novelty of Dinosaurs on a spaceship. It turns out that the ship was a Silurian Ark, carrying thousands of Silurians (and a stock of Dinosaurs they brought along) away from Earth many millions of years ago. This is a great concept (adding a fresh dimension to Homo Reptilius) but why couldn’t writer Chibnall have used this idea instead of the unoriginal mess that was “The Hungry Earth”? However, this isn’t a Silurian story – the Silurians have all been murdered by that vicious swine, Solomon. Strictly speaking, they’ve been murdered by Solomon’s robot goons. His camp robot goons. They look like fully-armoured walking tanks but talk and bicker like a couple of old, bitchy queens. I suppose it’s more original than going with a stroppy cyberman voice ranting “resistance is futile”.
David Bradley as Solomon excels as a thoroughly unpleasant bastard. Most Who villains are out to conquer the world/universe etc. but Solomon’s motivations are far more prosaic. Yes, Davros was a demented, genocidal, megalomaniac psychopath, but in his twisted mind he was just doing what nature intended. Solomon is just doing it for the cold, hard cash. And for money, he’s murdered thousands of Silurians and has no worries about killing anyone else. He’s a shit of the highest order and very effective for it.
Matt Smith is in his element – the Eleventh Doctor is nearly bursting at a bunch of dinosaurs (on a spaceship) – he even gets to ride a triceratops. He also gets to rein it all back in to deal with an utter bastard. It’s all ripping fun and Bradley’s shithead villain lends enough weight to hold it back from being a little too much fun.
For the sake of accuracy, this should have been called “Dinosaurs on a spaceship with a bastard”, but I suppose that’s not as catchy. Had it just been Dinosaurs on a spaceship with some frantic running around to save everyone, this would have been a fun and frothy adventure. But, with added bastard, the episode has a decent bit of raw edge to it as well. Not a classic, but a great sign that the overwrought hysterics of last series are fading away in favour of plain old solid story-telling. No-one can hate this – it’s got Dinosaurs! On a spaceship!! 8/10.
Written and edited by Richard Barnes