‘Dinosaurs on a Spaceship’
In ancient Egypt, the Doctor narrowly avoids copulation with Queen Nefertiti (whom he nicknames Neffie and takes along as a companion) thanks to a goofy ring tone. Cut to a space ship in the far future investigating a weird spacecraft with a collision course for Earth. Missiles are on course to destroy the mystery craft, giving the Doctor a narrow window of opportunity within which to act. Traveling through time and space, he rounds up big game hunter John Ridell and the Ponds (along with Rory’s dad). Once more sporting his Stetson, the Doctor leads his team into the craft to uncover what it is before the missiles strike, only to find that it is populated entirely with dinosaurs.
Hence, ‘Dinosaurs on a Spaceship.’ Yes, even though we can see dinosaurs and they are in the title, the Doctor makes the observation for those art whom who have the lost the ability to see, hear and think. I have made the judgement many times in the past that the BBC Wales Doctor Who series has no faith whatsoever in its viewers’ intelligence, but this takes the cake. I would be wary to point this out again if the series was not receiving awards… as the head writer responds to claims of sloppy writing as a lack of intelligence on the audience’s part.
Just what is the deal with the title? Was this an option that was dropped in the past? Was Arc of Infinity initially titled ‘A Rubber Chicken in Amsterdam’? Was Planet of Fire called ‘The Queens of Lanzarote’?
The Doctor and his ‘gang’ are split in half after the Doctor inadvertently activates the teleport system, arriving on the seaside doubling as the ‘engine room.’ It was a cute Doctor Who moment that utilized the common place for the fantastic that I found charming, until the CGi pterodactyls arrived. In general, the dinosaurs of this episode were passable, but it is an error in my view to rely so heavily on them as they are so obviously special effects and take the viewer out of the story… such as it is.
While the Doctor stumbles about the innards of the space craft and Rory and his dad bond, Amy and her two companions investigate the ship’s database. Apparently anyone can just figure out how these things work by randomly punching buttons… it sounds infinitely superior to actual existing operating systems set in archaic nesting systems. Amy is shocked to find that the ship is an ark of sorts sent into space by the Silurians, a race of reptiles that predate mankind.
A pair of silly robots voiced by Mitchell and Webb take up time and bring the Doctor, Rory and his dad to Solomon, the fiendish villain of the piece who sits at the center of the space ship, a broken man vainly holding on to items of value. I am a big fan of Mitchell and Webb, but I immediately knew that they would be reduced to one-note gags. Even so, I was sad to see an opportunity like this lost. Ah well.
A greedy opportunist, Solomon found the Silurian craft drifting in space. He was wounded in the battle to gain control and initially thinks that the Doctor could heal his broken body. He’s confused to find that the Doctor has no value on ‘the market’ as he does not exist (which begs the question why the Earth space fleet sought him out, but never mind). Rather than preserve the dinosaurs, Solomon is keen to cut his losses and run just as the humans are eager to destroy the ship rather than risk worldwide destruction. The Doctor stands alone in his mission to preserve life by being clever and above petty violence.
I think Dinosaurs on a Spaceship is at odds with itself in that it is both a silly light visual experience and a deep and moving drama. Well, it at least attempts to be as such. The drama falls flat in that it is so juvenile that it becomes laughable and the fanciful flair of innocence is let down by the poor camera work (check out how many times the viewer is stared at by a trio of characters) and the aforementioned woeful CGi.
All the same, it is at least entertaining and an improvement over last week’s ‘Asylum of the Daleks.’ I do cringe at the ‘strong female’ character of Nefertiti and her inevitable unlikely romance with Ridell. Likewise, the Ponds have long out-stayed their welcome and serve no purpose at all. All we have to look forward to is a grisly end at this year’s finale, but even that is unlikely, so exactly what is the point of Amy and Rory? Even they seem confused. The answer that comes to mind is that it keeps the writers from dealing with the Doctor as a character, which is a crying shame as Smith is so well-suited to playing this version of the hero.
Doctor Who has often been seen by the BBC as a family program. Actor Tom Baker in the 1970’s proudly declared that brother and sister were both terrified and fascinated while the parents had a sophisticated plot to follow with richly developed characters. Between the two approaches, there was something for a wide range of age groups. Granted, that changed from year to year and often week to week. I mean, just what was there in a story like Android Invasion or Kinda for anyone under 16? In contrast, a story such as Planet of the Giants is ideal with its thriller-style story and far-out sci-fi visuals (yes, I am working on a review for that story).
Shortly before her death, original producer Verity Lambert noted the failure of the program in its later years as not playing it straight and coming off as far too camp (visual references to Sylvester McCoy facing off against Richard Briers in Paradise Towers). Like many in 2005, Lambert was excited about the revival of Doctor Who before it aired and hoped for a more faithful and well-written program (a visual of Chris Eccleston in a turtle neck and not mugging to the camera supported this). Ah, what would she have made of Dinosaurs on a Spaceship?
I’ve often recognized that the new Doctor Who series is meant to be watched in a very specific manner. I have also theorized that Moffat is producing the new series with his son in mind. This episode supports that theory and that Moffat’s view of what constitutes family viewing is rather different from what the series. The dinosaurs and robots are of course attractive and exciting for kids and apparently the sly sexual innuendos are intended for the adults. It partially works. I can imagine my own son entertained by much of this story, but the other half of the formula, a well-crafted story populated by fully-fleshed out characters is sadly missing. There was an opportunity with the reference back to the Silurians (clever idea that), but the villain straight out of a Dr Seuss story and the un-funny robots killed that dead.
But I don’t imagine that I would show my son Dinosaurs on a Spaceship. Maybe I should start with Robots of Death instead?
Next time: ‘A Town Called Mercy’
Overnight ratings from Doctor WhoTV:
1. Asylum of the Daleks – 6.4 million (overnight) 8.33 million (final figure)
2. Dinosaurs on a Spaceship – 5.5 million (overnight) TBA (final figure)
3. A Town Called Mercy
4. The Power of Three
5. The Angels Take Manhattan