For the grammatically inclined Doctor Who fans out there, there was some giddiness when last year’s episodes kicked into gear with titles like “A Good Man Goes To War” and “Let’s Kill Hitler”. This was mainly because since time immemorial the naming structure has generally obeyed “The Somethings Of Something-Land” or, in a pinch, a stand-alone “noun that sounds cool”.
“Let’s Kill Hitler”? That’s first person plural, that’s got a verb in it, that’s madness!
So it seemed like almost a meta analysis of the classic Who naming structure to have something as obvious and all-encapsulating as “Dinosaurs On A Spaceship” in the seventh season of a reboot that has only gotten more and more inventive.
Was this episode going to be a clever dismantling of Who mythology, an opportunity to present a simple story that would become increasingly complex?
Was it ‘eck.
No, “Dinosaurs On A Spaceship” was exactly what it looked like as a title and exactly what it looked like in the previews: a chance for the Doctor, Rory, Amy, Queen Nefertiti and big game hunter John Riddell to run down corridor after corridor with survival and the Jurassic era in mind.
Oh, and Rory’s father, who made a pleasant (and returning, if reports are to be believed) addition to this motley family unit.
In some ways, this episode gave the audience exactly what it expected, and some might say wanted. Triceratops! Wacky historical figures! Banter! Guest stars Mitchell and Webb as camp robots! More triceratops!
And if you enjoyed it, I say fair play to you, but for me it came off as a checklist of Doctor Who indulgences that drag the show into childish (note, not “for children”, but childish), repetitive and over-excitable territory. When what you expect going into an episode and what you have at the end are pretty much the same thing, you’re straying into lazy writing and pandering to an audience that deserves better.
As a quick recap, the Doctor was called in by the sometime-future Indian Space Agency to investigate a mysterious ship that was on a collision course with Earth. Spotting a mystery in store – and with not much time to assemble a team – he swings by Pond Central to pick up the now happy couple and Rory’s father (who was visiting to change a lightbulb). And fulfilling the “historical figure” checkbox he has Queen Nefertiti and sexist-with-a-rifle John Riddell along with him.
They dropped on to the interestingly designed ship with about an hour to divert its path, and discover dinosaurs. On. A. Spaceship.
There were some nice throwbacks in the episode, particularly to the Silurians – owners of this “ark” that had been sent into space before Earth succumbed to that nasty asteroid. It was also nice to see the Pond family expanded in Rory’s direction, and Mark Williams did nice work with the material at hand.
But the whole thing was hopelessly under-stuffed. Did I want to see Rory and the Doctor on a dinosaur? Yes. Do I love Mitchell & Webb? Yes. Do I like Rory and Amy being together? Yes. Do I like Amy being a leader of sorts for new flirtatious-companions-in-tow Nefertiti and Riddell? Yes.
Did any of these things really work? No.
The hour lacked any sense of surprise, and of the story unfurling beyond the obvious. Solomon is introduced as a very bad man who is trying to steal the dinosaurs, and the remaining time involves contrived circumstances to put the crew in danger. The chase scene with the Pterodactyls on the beach (aka Bad Wolf Bay) made little to no sense, and there was no sense of narrative propulsion throughout.
Granted, as second episodes go it wasn’t as bad as “The Curse Of The Black Spot”, and it seems like a Who trademark these days that seasons get off to a shaky start post-premiere. Writer Chris Chibnall has done better work than this before, such as “42” and “The Hungry Earth” / “Cold Blood” Silurian two-parter (which, one supposes, makes him the Silurian expert now), so I’d hope that is just a hiccough in what is going to be a busy season. He’s also responsible for upcoming “The Power Of Three”, which from both plotting and character looks to be an interesting Who concept in the most welcome of ways.
But this episode was a narrative nightmare, and having Rory and his father driving the ship at the end only put a button on this crime. Seriously, a ship that requires it be driven by two people and that these people be related? No wonder the Silurians on board were stupid enough to get killed.
And speaking of getting killed, the death of Solomon was a little controversial for an episode that was so ineffectual in many other ways. I don’t necessarily hew to the concept that the Doctor should never kill, but he did it here against an enemy that was no worse than others he’s encountered, and it more felt like Moffatt and the producers failing to keep a handle on narrative consistency. It’s the price you pay for farming out stories to other writers, yes, but one would hope for more of a top-down focus from someone with as large a brain as Moffatt.
Overall, between the opening episode focusing on the Daleks (with mixed results) and this week being narratively lazy it has me worried for what we can expect this year. This time last year we’d had the barn-storming “The Impossible Astronaut” / “Day Of The Moon” two-parter, and I’ll eat my fez if anyone says what we’ve gotten so far is half as enjoyable.
But I live in hope.
– I cannot stress how much I hated the Mitchell & Webb bots.
– A bit sorry that Oswin wasn’t appearing this week, as liked the concept of her appearing separately as a part of each episode up to her arrival as Companion.
– On the subject of narrative annoyances, having a mobile phone to call each other is just annoying because I’ll be thinking “why don’t they call each other?” next time they get into trouble. That said, “42” made much use of this so it’s probably just Chibnall’s way.
– Spaceship design was lovely.
– Nice to see them remembering that Rory is a nurse.
– If anybody knows why that dinosaur would chase the organic material on a golf ball but not the plants growing on the walls I’d like to hear about it.
– Seriously, “same gene chain”? Seriously?
– I never care, but it is nice that Who writers are sticklers for historical accuracy. Queen Nefertiti did disappear from the records at some point, so teaming up with Riddell is a nice touch.
– That image of Rory’s Dad watching the Earth from space was absolutely captivating. And to be fair the whole episode was directed and visually designed quite nicely.
– Seriously, thanks for the image of the Doctor and Rory kissing.