Doctor Who: 702 “Dinosaurs on a Spaceship” Advance Review
Steven Moffat said his overall aim with Doctor Who Series 7 is to make every episode like a mini-blockbuster movie. So if Asylum of the Daleks was your dark and clever horror film, then the audaciously titled Dinosaurs on a Spaceship is your action romp, condensed into 45 minutes.
The episode wastes little time establishing the basic plot. It’s 2367AD and a mysterious ship “the size of Canada” is on a collision course with Earth. The Doctor has just 6 hours to investigate and hopefully stop it being blown to smithereens by the missile-happy IDA (Indian Space Agency). Within the space of the pre-title sequence, the Doctor has assembled an unlikely gang (“Not really had a gang before. It’s new”), including Egyptian Queen Nefertiti, hunter Riddell, the Ponds and Rory’s dad Brian, who has accidentally been brought along. He was only meant to be changing the light bulb!
When the Doctor and co arrive, they realise that there are lots of dinosaurs running amok (bet you didn’t see that coming). It quickly transpires that an injured old space pirate called Solomon has hijacked the ship because he wants these prehistoric monsters for their high value, and he will stop at nothing to claim his prizes.
The guest cast is led by Mark Williams as Brian “I’m not a Pond” Williams who puts in a nice turn as Rory’s bewildered dad and unwitting time-travelling companion. He quickly learns what Amy and Rory have really been up to for the past couple of years. This new character allows the audience to see a different side to Rory and for Arthur Darvill to play something new. Brian also gets a lovely scene towards the end which we won’t spoil. It’s just a shame the character has been introduced at the end of the Ponds’ time on the show. At least he’ll return in the fourth episode.
Then there’s Riddell played by Rupert Graves, better known to Sherlock fans as Inspector Lestrade. Riddell is a fun character and he gets some great scenes with Amy. Sadly, his screentime is pretty short, but that’s part of the problem with the comparatively large cast. As for Rianne Steele’s Nefertiti, she doesn’t really get to do too much either, except flirt with the Doctor and later, Riddell.
Solomon, played by David Bradley (Filch in Harry Potter) makes for a great villain. The scenes he shares with the Doctor are a particular highlight. It would have been nice to learn more about this character’s background.
Although Nick Hurran’s directorial work on Asylum of the Daleks set a very high standard, this episode looks wonderful and is directed with visual flourish by Who newcomer Saul Metzstein. Of course, the dinosaurs are the main attraction and the CGI work cannot be praised enough. If Doctor Who has had a budget cut, it’s hard to tell. Considering this is a TV show, SFX house the Mill has done some sterling work here. The episode also employs some practical effects for a couple of scenes. There’s a gloriously silly ride on a triceratops which puts both methods to good use.
Speaking of silly, this episode contains its fair amount of moments. A great deal of Chris Chibnall’s script is played for laughs and, aside from some campy innuendos and toilet jokes, it succeeds. On the “camp” side of things, comedians Mitchell and Webb provide the voice of Solomon’s robot “henchmen.” While Mitchell and Webb are a great comedic act, they’re actually pretty irritating as the robots, for the most part. There are a few giggles (“You’re going straight on the naughty step!”), but some of the humour grates. Younger viewers will inevitably love these characters however. Either way they’re only on screen for a short amount of time.
The episode isn’t without a few darker scenes, however. There’s a death that may cause a few tears for the youngsters and the Doctor does something wildly out of character towards the end. It looks as though this is a theme that will carry on and be explored in more episodes.
Dinosaurs on a Spaceship is undeniably a fun ride, and does exactly what it says on the tin. You can’t help but feel it lacks bit of substance though. Some nice ideas aren’t fully developed and the tone is slightly uneven.