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Doctor Who: 702 “Dinosaurs on a Spaceship” Full Review

Reviewed by Adam James Cuthbert.

Dinosaurs on a Spaceship was always going to divide opinion; as soon as you heard the title, in fact, at least from my experience. For me, the main concern was the writer, Chris Chibnall. At best, I found his previous contributions mediocre – nothing that prompted any immediate desire to re-watch them. I found they contained potentially interesting ideas but the overall result was middling. I was surprised to learn he had been entrusted with two separate episodes for Series 7: the aforementioned episode, and The Power of Three. Regardless of the doubts I’d expressed, I went into the episode with an open-mind. I was actually pleasantly surprised by the quality of the episode. I found it to be good fun, with darker elements, which, while jarring with the predominantly light-hearted and, at times, childish tone, nonetheless made for an entertaining experience.

The premise is simple: the Doctor, with his mismatched gang, consisting of the historical Queen Nefertiti of Egypt, John Riddell, big-game hunter, the Ponds, and Rory’s father Brian, must uncover the mystery of a spaceship, on course for the Earth, before it is destroyed within six hours by missiles. The story borrows its ‘time-limit’ format from Chibnall’s earlier story, 42, wherein the Doctor had to prevent a spaceship from colliding with a star, simultaneously discovering the cause behind the ship’s malfunction. The spaceship, unsurprisingly, is inhabited by the prehistoric beasts. The ship is revealed to be a Silurian ‘ark’: a sanctuary when the species sought to escape the predicted holocaust for the planet. The ark itself is a good addition to the Silurian mythology. It makes sense that the most advanced contemporary species would seek other means to escape the foreseen disaster other than underground hibernation. One of the aspects I appreciated about Chibnall’s Silurian two-parter was the idea of parallel evolution between the Silurians and humanity, along Darwinian terms of adapting to different climates and environments over the generations. This explained the discrepancies between the species across Classic and New Who. While this is a triviality of mine, I would’ve liked to have seen that trait developed further, with an alternative breed of Silurian making its cameo within the episode.

Sadly, the dinosaurs themselves were secondary to the ensemble cast of characters. Similar to the Classic Daleks in Asylum, the main selling point of the episode was either underused or used ineffectively, for the most part. The dinosaurs were aesthetically impressive creations: the attention to detail was stunning and they successfully contributed towards securing the ‘blockbuster’ appeal of the episode. However, I found the puppy-like triceratops quickly grating and resulted in some of the worst dialogue from the episode, resorting to obvious ‘kid-friendly’ humour. I think the dinosaurs could easily have evoked a sense of raw predatory menace (even to be seen killing someone, perhaps; the classic off-screen death cry?), thus presenting a genuine threat to the characters and therefore justifying their presence in the story. This would have enhanced the dramatic tension of the climax, as Amy and Riddell fend off a horde of raptors with stun-guns – a visually pleasing sequence, but superficially tense.

I interpreted the relationship between Nefertiti and Riddell as quickly dissolving into a clichéd ‘battle-of-the-sexes’ routine. It didn’t help that the characters were one-dimensional. Fortunately, Riddell was saved by Rupert Graves’ charming performance, with the chemistry between him and Karen Gillan ensuring their scenes together were at least subtler, therefore more fun and engaging to watch. Mark Williams was also somewhat redundant, his presence justified by the convenience of a two-way piloting system for the spacecraft. I didn’t feel he had a chance to display his comedic abilities at all: a waste of a good actor.

In a way, Dinosaurs was an episode that proved just how talented an actress Karen Gillan can be. She was by far at her best, not seen since The Girl Who Waited. Amy was shown to be intelligent, brave, funny, and blasé, with some of the best quips in the episode (“Are you also a queen?” “Yes. Yes, I am”). I liked how Amy and Rory were portrayed as the down-to-earth, ‘ordinary’ people unwittingly entangled in the Doctor’s madcap lifestyle, setting up potential tension for The Power of Three. While I found Amy quitting her job sudden (was modelling that bad a career?) I do appreciate the element of Amy waiting for the Doctor, unable to settle – exactly what I wanted to see from Chibnall’s Pond Life.

The highlight of the episode was the decisively dark twist from the Doctor. The Doctor discovers that the ark was invaded, and the Silurians massacred, by the battle-scared and lecherous pirate Solomon, portrayed with an appropriate gravitas and grisliness by David Bradley.  Solomon is injured when the Doctor meets him. He forces the Doctor to mend his broken legs by appealing to his sympathies for the innocent, commanding his robots to hurt Brian, and kill him unless the Doctor aids him. There is an intricate touch to the episode when Solomon tries to gauge the Doctor’s material value. In keeping with the Doctor’s anonymity in the wake of his ‘death’, it turns up nothing. I’m intrigued if the Doctor’s anonymity will represent a profound change in his character, becoming less merciful. There have been hints at this Doctor’s more darkly alienating side since The Beast Below, another episode which stresses the necessity of a companion in the Doctor’s life, to prevent him from succumbing to his darker impulses. The Doctor typically embodies the moral high ground, after all, granting the character a beguiling godlike stance regarding mortal lives. It’s a remarkable performance from Matt Smith, effortlessly stamping his authority in the role, and demonstrates how far the Doctor has come, when he leaves Solomon to die for his act of genocide, being targeted by the diverted missiles. Will the character have to “find a new name, because [he] won’t be the Doctor anymore”?

In conclusion, Dinosaurs was a significant improvement from Chibnall’s earlier stories. Though the robots were annoying and the dinosaurs lacked menace, I found it nonetheless a decent contribution to the series so far.

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  • http://www.youtube.com/user/TheGoodYear92 GoodYear92

    It’s not really a surprise that this is yet another astute review; a brilliant assessment of the episode. I disagree in parts; agree in others, as would be expected. Overall, though, I’m mostly in agreement with your select criticisms and appraisals.

    Highlighted in your review is the conflictual nature of the episode’s tone; lighthearted one moment; dark the next. There’s an undeniable problem with the lack of a definitive direction taken; does the episode want to be comedic; fun? Or, does it wish to be taken more seriously? It’s not just the prominence of both tones; which was jarring in and of itself, but the extremes that both were taken to. The comedy was crass; unsubtle innuendos (“With a very large weapon”, “Just my balls”) or childish little quips (“Mr. Manners”, “A bit of oil just came out”). Often cringe-worthy and insufferably deliberate. Then there was the genocide; a ruthlessly, callous action committed by the main antagonist, Solomon. His behaviour; dialogue and actions throughout were of an extremely dark; adult nature; heavily conflicting with the other dominant tones established in the episode. The episode simply undermined its own potential with the noticeably opposing themes.

    I would be interested in your overall verdict at the end of these reviews, just to guage the influence of your criticisms. It seems to be the only thing missing in this categorical piece of anlaysis.

    That’s my thoughts aside, anyway. Well done, again.

    • Pdurston

      I definitely agree with some of this, mostly with the inconsistent tones that the episode has difficulty establishing for itself (“clash of tones” is a great phrase), and the crass and cringeworthy innuendos that made it a tad bit juvenile. The episode was generally good with a lot of great, memorable highlights, but it’s these two that let some of it down (not all of it luckily).

      The episode could have been a lot better if it focused more on the dinosaurs, considering they’re both included in the title and the promotional poster. There’s no real sense of danger or menace to them as Adam stated in the review. I was very impressed by the CGI to them but really, they’re just like the classic Daleks; a real missed oppurtunity where there potential wasn’t used to the full. We got a bit of dinosaur action but not enough that I was hoping for.

      Other than the cringeworthy and insufferable parody Robots and the one-dimensional and bland Queen Nefertiti, this episode is very enjoyable IMO. It’s David Bradley and Matt Smith that steal the episode if you ask me with their on-screen presence that they share. Their confrontation between each other is what makes the story great. Bradley was convincingly brilliant as the villain Solomon. He’s the type of antagonist in Doctor Who that manages to disgust you. That’s an effective villain if you ask me. His comeuppance is sweet though.

      Special mention has to go to Brian sitting on the end of the TARDIS eating his lunch whilst viewing the Earth. It’s a very special moment in the episode
      and it’s what makes the show so wonderful at times.

      So in conclusion, Dinosaurs on a Spaceship contains a bagful of positive and negative elements. But some of them I find can be forgiven, whereas some others can’t. Overall, it’s a great bundle of fun and enjoyment despite the lack of dinosaur range, a few weak performances from supprting characters, the undecided tone of the episode and the “Carry On” style innuendos. Like I said before, it’s like a bag of sweets; perfect for anyone who has a sweet tooth.

      I’ll give it a good 7.5/10

      Great review yet again TheStranger. Agreed and disagreed with some of it but it was another good read. I’m loving these reviews.

  • TardisBoy

    Another magnificent review The Stranger. Your analysis of the episode is spot on, and I actually agree with you on everything you have stated.

    I too, like you, had my doubts about the premise of the story, and Chibnall as a writer. And like you I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed the episode, it is safe to say that with DoaS, my faith in Chibnall has been somewhat restored, and I am eagerly anticipating his next episode The Power of Three.

    Anyway, congratulations on another brilliant review, I cannot wait to share our thoughts on ATCM, a story we are both eagerly awaiting :D

  • EternalDoctor

    Finally your review has arrived and as always it was a complete joy to read. You’re extremely articulate and I think you (and your fellow reviewers) have (so far) been the perfect choices to write these reviews.

    I agree with each of your opinions on the episode although I found the episode to only be mildly entertaining. It had its fair share of some visually satisfying moments as well as some witty dialogues, but that’s about it! It was a ‘blockbuster’, but not something to be praised by critiques.

    There’s also a huge play of convenience: *Just as you mentioned, Mark’s talent wasn’t done any justice and I believe that the only reason for Brian’s character to be there was the piloting system. It was very convenient that Rory’s father was along just in the right time.*Conveniently Queen Nefertiti went along just so that it could be proved how menacing Solomon was by capturing her. It also gave The Doctor further motive to later on kill him and it slightly raised the tension.

    That was just something I wanted to get off my chest, but back to the highlight which is your incredible ability of writing. My praise for you is endless Adam and I’m sure that your reviews is only the beginning of your contribution towards ‘Doctor Who’… Your reviews prove your intelligence, capability and your high caliber. You’re a talented individual and I really hope you use your potential to a further extent!

  • AmyPondIsAwesome

    Brilliant review. I agree on the most part but there are quite a few things I disagree with.

  • EternalDoctor

    I can’t find a single flaw in this review, but there is an element which I find disagreeable for me. You stated that this is an improvement to Chibnall’s writing, whereas I found it to be worse than his previous efforts. I didn’t enjoy 42, but Hungry Earth/Cold Blood was a magnificent story with wonderful twists. It had exactly what this episode lacks; depth and a good dose of emotions IMO ;)

    • TheStranger

      I’m not keen on The Hungry Earth/Cold Blood – In short, I find it dull. The whole morality issues it presents are predictable and uninteresting, the villain Restac is cliched and one-note (‘I hate humans’ basically) and I don’t much care for anything that happens. The only character I like is Ambrose; the mother trying to protect her family. You could say, on a level, the episode explores polarising female ‘roles’: the warrior-female versus the mother-female – but any depth is lost under how dull the whole thing is. Sure, Rory’s death is emotional, Amy forgetting him, as well as the TARDIS ‘shrapnel’ – but if you look past the elements necessary to the story-arc, I don’t find much in the story to recommend it. I respect your opinion, however.

      • EternalDoctor

        It’s very kind of you to tell me your opinions on it. Usually these opinions are baseless, but you clearly have a valid reason for disliking the episode. I still maintain my initial thoughts, but I also respect your opinions.

    • Stormegeddon, Dark Lord of All

      Whats funny is that I found 42 to be his best episode followed by DOAS. I found THE/CB very dull and uninteresting at some points. Chris Chibnall I fell his improved dramatically in this episode and am looking forward to TPO3.

  • Stormegeddon, Dark Lord of All

    I love this review. While I disagree with a few point all in all you pointed out all the main aspects. And yes Karen was at the top of her game ;)

  • Kahler_Jex

    I love these reviews!

  • https://twitter.com/#!/Jawsey TehJawsey

    I’ll keep my comments here rather than on DWTV I think, better to talk about the review in full, although it’s interesting to see in essence two different reviews

    I find myself agreeing with a lot of this article I’m pleased to say, as I wasn’t particuarly in unison with the Asylum review but hey, that’s opinions for you. I do get the feeling you don’t like a misleading title though, as so far that has been the case this season. Much like Let’s Kill Hitler, which has about 5 minutes of Hitler in it, Asylum and DOAS haven’t really been about Daleks and Dinosaurs respectively, as Asylum was busy with Oswin/the Pond marriage and Dinosaur with the Doctor’s ‘gang’, Solomon and the ships not getting blown up. I don’t find it a bad thing, the title sets the scene of a story as much as telling you exactly what will happen, and it’s a nice surprise to see a story go in a direction I didn’t expect. I just wonder if your opinions of the dinosaurs was put off by that

    Also I don’t think Mark Williams was under-used much, I enjoyed his Rory-esque role as the Doctor’s straight man, which makes sense to the role of Rory’s father. And that moment when he stares over the world from the Tardis with a cup of tea is a beautiful moment indeed. I’d argue in fact that he gets more screen time than Karen Gillan did actually.

    I like the Beast Below reference, it’s not something I really considered before, and actually shows that in some ways this darker minded Doctor isn’t a new theme that everyone seems to believe in comments elsewhere. You do pick up on these interesting little points, which is one of the reasons I enjoy your very intelligent and all-encompassing reviews

  • http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dQw4w9WgXcQ dalekjack

    I can’t wait for your A Town Called Mercy review!

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