With a title like that, how can you not expect it to be a hell of a lot of fun?
Dinosaurs on a Spaceship sounds like a scriptwriters dream. It’s easy to pitch as, let’s be honest, the title obviously explains the premise of the episode, and if pitched for a show like Doctor Who, it’s probably even more likely to get made.
Anyway, in this episode, the Doctor, Amy, Rory, Rory’s father Brian, big-game hunter John Riddell and Queen Nefertiti all go off to 2367 to investigate a large spaceship with dinosaurs heading towards Earth, meeting annoying robots, particularly nasty villains and pissing off a lot of internet along the way.
The first thing to note about this episode is the Doctor is a bit more frantic and excitable here than he has been recently, coming across as almost child-like. The Doctor has always been interested in the unknown and is completely excited about heading right into it, and that’s what we see here whenever the Doctor sees a dinosaur or better yet, a vegetarian dinosaur. This is a Doctor who spends a large part of the first half of the episode with a giant grin on his face and having fun, often figuring out a mystery often by just stumbling upon it.
The Doctor also intentionally mixes things up and recruits a whole “Gang” for this missile. Meaning, we have the Last of the Time Lords, the Girl Who Waited, the Last Centurion and his dad, an Egyptian Queen, and a big game hunter for the early 1990s. Again, this is clearly done by the Doctor for fun.
Of course, there was a bit of controversy about the end of the story involving his resolution of the Solomon conflict. Solomon is one of the few one-shot villains that the Doctor doesn’t try to save and simply leaves to die.
And yes, the Doctor killing in cold blood seemed a bit out of character, but the Doctor isn’t a hero, but more of an anti-hero. Yes, some Doctors come off as more heroic than others, but let’s remember that the Doctor has made hard moral decisions before and furthermore has killed his enemies before. Plus, the Doctor is a survivor of a war which involved him killing pretty much everyone because he needed to save the universe.
In this case, the Doctor needed to save everyone on the Ark by using Solomon’s ship as a decoy to divert the missiles away, even though Solomon was already on board. If there was more time and Solomon was a slightly nicer chap (Instead of one that killed several thousand unarmed Silurians, had a dinosaur shot fatally and Brian non-fatally, and tried to take Nefertiti as a slave) The Doctor probably would have saved him. But at the end of the day, the Doctor made the best choice he could at that moment (Debatably mind), and really, would you want to save Solomon? I’ll explain why not later.
Elsewhere, the Doctor also seems to be playing a lot of music recently, but it’s still interesting to see that the universe still thinks he’s dead. In which case, why can do people keep contacting him, if psychically? Sounds more like the universe is saying “Nah, we know you’re not dead really. Come on out, Doctor.”
As for Amy and Rory, the episode is set about ten months (For them) after the events of Asylum of the Daleks, and this episode really does show off just how much of the Doctor has gotten into their own character and changed them since their first appearance in The Eleventh Hour.
For example, Amy appeared to have adopted some of the Doctor’s mannerisms when searching through the ship’s computer, while her companions argue and flirt in the background (Something that annoyed her).
Rory on the other hand has grown to become a lot more calm under pressure, as well as a bit more prepared (Though as I’ll explain later, that could be a family trait), considering he admits that while most people take souvenirs, he finds useful medical supplies, and keeps them on him just in case. But while he is still calm under pressure, we also see just how very, very angry he gets when someone he cares about is threatened or hurt (Though to be fair, that isn’t exactly something most people wouldn’t do in that situation).
That said, we also see how used to all of their adventures in time and space the two characters are now, but at the same time just how excited they still get by it. That said, we also see Amy starting to worry about her future with the Doctor, such as when she asks if Nefertiti and Riddell are the new “Them,” and how we also discover that Amy can’t settle down thanks to the Doctor jumping in and out of their lives. At the same time, we really do get the feeling that it’s closer to the end than to the beginning with these three, as the Doctor clearly comes across as trying to wean them off him or anything, even if he says otherwise.
Which brings me to Brian Williams/Pond. You remember in the Russell T. Davies era when all the regular companions seemed to have families that popped in and out of the series every now and then? Yeah, Amy and Rory really haven’t had that in their series. The closet I can think of is Amy’s family being introduced in The Big Bang and that’s it. Rory on the other hand as been in series just as long as Amy and it’s only now that we get to see a parent, which is odd since Amy and Rory are married and we saw their wedding. Surely we would have seen them at the end of The Big Bang?
But anyway, back to Dinosaurs on a Spaceship, and Mark Williams portrays a Brian Williams/Pond/whatever as an everyman. He’s bewildered by just about everything he sees, only being on this adventure because he was picked with the Ponds by accident and just goes along with everything the Doctor says.
He does get a nice little character arc, if one that is underdeveloped, as a character that hates travelling but becomes inspired by the Doctor to do so. Particularly at the end when Brian asks the Doctor for a favour, and the story cuts to Brian sitting in the TARDIS doorway, eating a sandwich while looking out over Earth. But I never really believed that this guy was Rory’s dad, there just didn’t feel like there was a connection between the two, or at least, not as strong as the other “companion and their parents” relationships that we have seen in the past.
Overall, Brian is likeable, but a bit underdeveloped which is a shame since it is probably likely we aren’t going to see him again. Also, what about Rory’s mum? She isn’t mentioned at all. Is she dead? Divorced/separated from Brian? Ran off? Eaten by a crack in the wall?
As for the rest of the gang, Queen Nefertiti and John Riddell have a huge amount of sexual tension between them, mostly because of their A-Type personalities.
Let’s start with Riddell, played by Rupert Graves. Riddell is a turn-of-the-century man’s man and hunter with some time-appropriate views on gender, making him a “Walking in innuendo,” as seen by just about every damn thing he says to Nefertiti, from spanking to very larger weapons. And there was that possibility that the dancing girls the Doctor left him alone with had a threesome with him.
Of course, none of the women are impressed, with Amy recommending he take a gender politics class. But Riddell, weirdly, finds the concept of Silurians loading dinosaurs onto a massive space-ark to be nothing but “Absolute tommyrot.” Which Nefertiti actually calls him out on considering where he is and the fact it’s hinted that he’s a former companion of the Doctor’s (Or at least, had some sort of adventure with him). But despite his trigger happy and anti-PC attitude to life, it’s easy to see why the Doctor is friends with him. The guy comes across as very much an adrenaline junkie, saying at one point “Dinosaurs ahead, a lady at my side, about to be blown up. Not sure I’ve ever been happier.”
Queen Nefertiti, played by Riann Steele, comes across as more of the same. It’s probably been mentioned to you a couple of dozen times by now, but Queen Nefertiti was a real life Egyptian queen who vanished from historical record in the 14th year of her husband’s reign and there is no mention of her from that point on. She either changed her name to Neferneferuaten, then ruled alongside Akhenaten; or changed her name to Smenkhkare and ruled as a man between the death of Akhenaten and the ascension of Tutankhamun; or she just died.
Nefertiti is strong willed, and has a bit of a temper, standing up to and threatens to snap the neck of Riddell, which earns his admiration. But she also finds her life very boring, considering her husband Amenhotep (The original name of Pharaoh Akhenaten) as the “Human equivalent of a sleeping potion.”
Which is why she spends half of the time trying to get it on with the Doctor, for example in her first appearance when she physically pins the Doctor to the wall, and starts to grope and sniff him, saying she will not allow him to leave. But overall, she was trying to seductive, and the Doctor easily capable of defending himself if she does force it so he’s actually in no real danger.
Interestingly, when Nefertiti insists on being given to Solomon to save everyone else, her first appearance is mirrored when Solomon acts similarly towards her, but he intends to rape her, making her very, very genuinely scared by Solomon.
Of course, by the end, she takes off her crown at the end and joins Riddell on his travels. But while the two were a lot of fun to watch, I really felt that they didn’t really have a real reason to be there other than to continue the Doctor’s job of being time and space’s loose end clean up man.
Anyway, as mentioned earlier, as source of much of the controversy about this episode was Solomon, as played by David Bradely. The character is clearly some self-centred git that’s only in it for the money and completely irredeemable because of it. At one point, Solomon assumes the Doctor is only interested in the dinosaurs for their monetary value, and thus the Doctor berates him for assuming everyone lives by the same values as him. And while Solomon is killed by the Doctor in cold blood, let’s be honest, he did kind of deserve it.
After (At some point before the events of the episode) he has a run in with a raptor that found quite a bit of his leg quite tasty, he Solomon orders one of his robots just to injure Brian in order to force the Doctor to heal him. He also before the events of the episode ejected the Ark’s crew from the airlock and when he decides he wants to sell Nefertiti, he has the triceratops killed in an attempt to make the Doctor hand her over. Of course when he gets her, he talks of his plans for Nefertiti which gets as close to implying he’s going to rape as a family show will allow. After doing all these things, Solomon still expects the Doctor to rescue him.
While I doubt the Doctor Whouniverse will really miss that piece of crap, Solomon came across as unpleasant, but trying too hard to be a memorable monster. In fiction, a “Complete Monster” trope is used to describe only the most horrible of villain in the sense that they lack just about any redeeming features from “Only doing it to save daughter’s life” to “Makes a fine cup of tea.” The problem with that is that done badly, and the “Complete Monster” comes off as lazy writing, in the sense that the writer is trying to make a most that is as instantly dislikeable as the cast of Made in Chelsea without having to make any effort into making them an interesting character.
Solomon is a borderline cast at best. His actions are monstrous, no doubt about that, but he’s just not a very interesting villain. Frankly, I took a more disliking to his big yellow camp robotic henchmen, voiced by David Mitchell and Robert Webb. Mostly because they annoyed the crap out of me. I don’t get it, what was the point of these robots? Was it to have some comic relief? Yeah, okay, but you need to make them funny or else I will just be sitting in front of the TV thinking about how much I really want to melt them down cog by cog. I suppose Solomon needed henchmen, but if that’s the case, why did they need to talk?
Overall, those two robots were the most annoying thing about this episode. But a cool thing to note about the episode to counteract that was the fact that it cameos the Silurians by revealing that they were the ones that built a massive space-ark for the dinosaurs, but only brought fifty species with them. And for once, the Silurians are for once portrayed not as warriors, but just idealists that built the Ark and didn’t see any need to fit it with weapons capable of repelling missiles. Which was a nice change of pace for some old-school Doctor Who villains.
But I did have one question in my head while watching it: Why would India not install a system to remotely disable their missiles, just in case they ever suffered an accidental launch and nuked someone. I know for the sake of drama, the Indian Space Agency has to launch a volley of missiles at the Silurian Ark while everyone is still on it, but it just seems like missile technology will take a massive leap backwards in the Doctor Who universe in 300+ years time.
But overall, this wasn’t an overly scary episode, and was obviously built around a title. Is that to say this episode wasn’t a lot of fun? No, and while it wasn’t as good as Asylum of the Daleks, and dead have a lot of dead weight attached to it, it was still a hell of a lot of fun to watch. If this series can keep it up, we could have one of the most inventive, funny and emotionally gripping Doctor Who series yet.