Doctor Who and Dinosaurs on a Spaceship

‘Dinosaurs on a Spaceship’

Written by Chris Chibnall
Story 7.02
Transmitted 08 September, 2012

“I have a gang now. I’ve never had a gang. It’s new!”

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

17 thoughts on “Doctor Who and Dinosaurs on a Spaceship

  1. Personally, I loved this episode. Funny, very funny actually. I don’t care about the CGI, which I didn’t notice anyway. Heck, my kids were watching Doctor Who on DVD this week and you could see an actor’s head inside his mandrel costume. What’s a bit of flaky CGI?

    Your kids are going to be quite bored with the older doctor who. Mine have trouble sitting through Tom Baker (though Pertwee’s action packed doctor is usually Ok). Forget Hartnell & Troughton, my kids won’t watch things in black and white. Sylvester McCoy is liked a bit though and the rebooted series is a big hit with them.

    They loved Dinosaurs on a Spaceship.


  2. Accurate review, Jameson. You make some great points here, I ended up not paying much attention to this episode as it bored and irritated me too much. The opening scene with Nefertiti annoyed me by being Moffat Who Stock Scene 2a: The Doctor is Irresistable, one doesn’t like to read too much into this but the obsession that Moffat and his writers is really odd and does rather make one wonder if the Doctor is some adolescent surrogate for themselves… Honestly, it’s like they’re saying “look Doctor Who’s not for *nerds*, most women lurve him!”, curious to say the least. One suspects they think this is more *adult* rather than the conservative *opposite*… You are, I think, totally correct about the schizophrenic tone they want to aim it at certain types of children with the broad copy-of-a-copy humour but also at certain types of adults with the clumsy would-be-emotional “drama”, and we hear the grinding of gears as they try to change modes. Dinosaurs saw Chibnall try to tell a kind of “moral” story but trip up on the mediocrity of his talent. As with a lot of Modern Who it almost entirely lacks the courage of its convictions, so, *of course* what happens between “Neffi” and Riddell happens tho’ it is illogical, similarly – as you so rightly say -Amy and Rory are still in the series although they serve no purpose (and were written out perfectly well in The God Complex). Now, due to viewers being sold Dinosaurs as a “fun romp” (moronic title and all) plenty of people will like it yet those moments went it’s obviously striving to be more meaningful and falling on its face rather damage such a characterisation. Rory’s Dad was quite amusing but his character “arc” is so dunderheadedly predictable and obvious that it seems a waste.
    David Bradley’s villain was okay and he has been praised, but (yet another “but”!) it’s the kind of performance he’s delivered many times before and is consequently underwhelming.
    You nailed the plot flaws again! The Douglas Adams hand-me-downs were just that while the robots were – Cont’d


  3. – just *there* (as for the 2001 reference when they are deactivated, how “clever”) in what was a cliched use of Mitchell and Webb, in fact this episode would’ve been improved if Super Hans had been the villain! The dinosaurs were, y’know, all right…but boring. Your comment on New Who’s lack of faith in it’s audience’s intelligence is also spot-on, Moffat has stated – half-jokingly – that simply having “Dinosaurs on a Spaceship” is fantastic unfortunately the implication seems to be that the audience should be stunned by that concept alone – with the Doctor’s virtual orgasm over them “subtly” guiding the audience. Despite the half-hearted/half-cocked attempts at suspense toward the end, it appears they felt they didn’t have to do much because “Wow, Dinosaurs!”. They have apparently not seen the crappy Primeval or the many tv “dino-docs”. Then again as this episode has been praised perhaps it’s not *possible* to underestimate the audience’s intelligence… Bwahahaha! *Joking*! If anyone likes it, fine. It’s okay for young children – lame “balls” joke aside (single entendre? And this after the “weapon” line?!) At least Solomon got his just deserts. I didn’t have a problem with that, surprisingly. Once again, kudos on a fine review.


  4. This is interesting…

    While I found myself liking this episode more… I can’t tell you why… because when you sit back at the end of this one… and try to figure out just what the point of the story was… how did the characters grow, what evolved, what was the underlying plot… I honestly can’t come up with one.

    This, while a better episode, is one that you arguably could miss and I don’t see how you’d find yourself missing something important from it later on…

    Why Nefertiti? Why fake-Indy-Jones guy? Why does Nefertiti get left with Indy guy out of her timeline? Why does (apparently) the Doctor take Rory’s dad around the universe off-camera?

    Did the girl from the first episode not just erase all trace of the Doctor from the Daleks… but from all existence? If so, how did she do it across timelines? Also, as Jameson notes, if she did that how did the Indian Space Agency know to call him? Also… not knocking the concept… but what was the point of the Indian Space Agency? It’s actually a kind of neat idea really… but they tell you next to nothing about it, and it smells like setup perhaps for something else down the line.

    The CGI was fine… some bits were even fun…

    But… we were told the Doctor was going to change… you know, last season when he “got too big” and was going to “go back into the shadows”… and here we have two episodes of people (and Daleks) calling to him for help though he was supposed to be dead, right? Then… he was ruining his name… making people fear him across the universe… so what does he do? He gleefully kills the villain! Not saying *I* feel sorry for that villain after he massacred all the Silurians apparently in the backstory… but the Doctor is supposed to be better than that. The Doctor of old would have let that guy go, tucking his tail between his legs, and do something to ruin his rep as a pirate… but the old Doctor wouldn’t gleefully set him off with torpedoes after him.

    So… the Doctor hasn’t changed his ways… data has been expunged but people (and Daleks) still call on him… so he isn’t dead, nobody really thinks he is dead, and he does all the same big stuff as always… so… how exactly was the point of last series’ finale satisfied? That “fixed point” that had to happen or the universe disintegrates?


  5. @sjv – now I find myself in the unaccustomed position of defending modern Who or at least explaining some of what you see as flaws, but don’t worry I’ll still get some shots in! Oswin didn’t erase knowledge of the Doctor from anything other than the Daleks, no the reason why the Doctor has been “forgotten” – although it doesn’t really make sense (tho’ I’m sure real Moffat Who fans can explain it) – is all to do with The Wedding of River Song, as you mention the Doctor is believed to be dead and this has led to him being “forgotten” for some reason. Now that is the extent of my “defence”/explication of that plot point – what you are quite correct about is the cack-handedness of the way The Wedding’s concept-change has been followed-up, Solomon has no record of the Doctor…but the Indian Space Agency apparently *does*, the Doctor stated that he was to “step back into the shadows…yet as this is modern Who he hasn’t altered his behaviour in the slightest, he’s supposed to be forgotten…but he has messages sent to him in consecutive episodes, he was supposed to examine his involvement with violence…but he blows up Solomon (I didn’t mind that whereas his slaughter of the Silents in Day of the Moon was really disturbing), the Doctor realized his affect on Amy…yet he keeps turning up although that isn’t really consistent with the Doctor at all, etc. Doubtless some will say this is all set up but as much of these elements contradict explicit *plot points* it comes of as bad writing, suggesting the rather smug attiude that the audience don’t care about good storytelling.
    As for Nefertiti and Alan Quartermain (!) they are just there to serve Chibnall’s “gang” concept and to provide “fun”, quite why we are supposed to believe the way their relationship turn out, no one can say because Moff and Chibs think we’re idiots?! I thought that the Doctor just took Rory’s Dad to Siluria and that he travelled around the world himself, granted I’ve only seen it once. But, whatever… Remember that Moff likes schmaltz!


  6. Part II (oh no!)
    Much of the Doctor’s behaviour in Moffat Who can be explained not by recourse to character or logic but by a reliance on schmaltz and the audience not asking questions. Frankly watching the Doctor gallivanting around Time and Space might be more enternaining than seeing him with surplus-to-requirements Amy and Rory but they aren’t going to show that!
    You make a good point about timelines but Modern Who is only concerned with such matters when there’s an “arc”-plot afoot, much of the time Moffat and Co. don’t seem to take into account the *vastness* of Time and Space, so it’s best not to get hung up on such sensible if frustrating questions (also, Moffat might well insult you!). I hope my “answers” don’t seem to wide of the mark…🙂


  7. I should also have said… our now soon to be published and famous Jameson nailed it with one particular part of his review… noting that the old show was a show for kids that had stuff for adults too. Not entirely the same, but similar in concept to the good old Looney Tunes cartoons… kids enjoyed the colors and slapstick and fast action, and adults enjoyed the smart topical subtext in the humor.

    So… new Doctor Who is actually nailing the appeal to kids part. Really, I can imagine kids really loving new Doctor Who… but where they are failing is at the parts that are supposed to appeal to the adult viewer. That’s when you get a peek behind the curtain… and then Moffat says “pay no attention to the man behind the curtain”… “I am the great and powerful Moff” and so forth.


  8. Agreed. Although a lot of adults swear by new Who and won’t hear a thing said about Moffat or his work… Bah!
    Do you think that now Jameson is to be a *published author* he’ll still speak to us, the Little People?! Wait aminute, “little people”? Munchkins? That brings us back to the Great and Powerful Moff!


  9. P.O.P. Girls? What else do they do for you?! And what is the Tennant problem? Is it the Neil Tennant problem? Oh, *David*… The problem there was that he became *Crap*! Ahahaha! Naughty, naughty…


  10. Must we call you Lord Daily P.O.P., now?! I watched Androids of Tara a few nights ago, that’s actually a really enjoyable story? Tom Baker, lovely Lois Baxter, Peter Jeffrey, and marvellous Mary Tamm are all on fine form and the supporting cast (including Cyril Shaps and Declan “The Man Who Would Be Jabba” Mulholland) aren’t half-bad, either. I caught up on your review too – and left one of my usual rambling comments, you know, like this one! – good work, mon compadre.


  11. One more bit if random insight…

    Remember how many people loved Star Wars?

    Then how many people thought Empire Strikes Back was even better?

    Then how Return of the Jedi drew ire and complaints about things like the Ewoks and people thought Lucas was off his rocker?

    And people wanted Lucas to continue the series… and we got Phantom Menace and people hated Jar Jar and Anakin?

    And Attack of the Clones was better but still left people wanting?

    And Revenge of the Sith was the best of the new ones, but still not quite as the best of the old ones?

    Maybe one day we will be lamenting how the next release of Doctor Who Series 5-7 are released on uber-Pink-Ray disc with new enhancements and scenes so that Moffat can do the “story as it was meant to be”🙂


  12. Ow! Don’t say that… The Star Wars analogy is…interesting. The original Star Wars is still very good (pointless tinkering aside – and I’m not going to call it Episode IV, Lucas!), The Empire Strikes Back is more mature and perhaps even better, Jedi has some fantastic effects and memorable scenes but an unsatisfactory story (and the Darth Daddy plotline turns inevitably into schmaltz, it’s not as if killing the Emperor to save his son absolves him of murdering and helping to oppress all those other people, Georgie!) while the prequels are utterly wrong-headed (so Star Wars was the story of the Rise, Fall, and Rise of Anakin Skywalker was it Mr L? Tell it to your 1977 and 1980 selves! Ha!), pretty poorly written, and garish. Yep, you summed it up, SJV… Lucas and Moffat have a few things in common, such as not being able to leave well enough alone cf. River Song, Amy and Rory, Doctor Who?!


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