"...get off this ship..."
An unmanned spaceship hurtles towards certain destruction - unless the Doctor can save it, and its impossible cargo... of dinosaurs! By his side a ragtag gang of adventurers; a big game hunter, an Egyptian Queen and a surprised member of the Pond family.
But little does the Doctor know there is someone else onboard who will stop at nothing to keep hold of his precious, prehistoric cargo.
Once in a while – all too infrequent in the first two series of the Eleventh Doctor’s era – an episode dares to raise its lofty head above the parapet of ‘enjoyablity’ (yes, OED, I have created a new word) momentously waving its ‘reassurability’ (and another) flag.
Chris Chibnall’s DOCTOR WHO – DINOSAURS ON A SPACESHIP is one such gem. Instantly unforgettable, brave (especially the episode’s title) and wholly entertaining, and demonstrates that the earnestness of the series can be water-down (maybe that’s not the correct word. Tempered, that’s near the mark) without diluting the soul, intent and ambition for it. A story that Russell T Davies would have sanctioned too, I am sure, but, then again, what do I know.
The plot is simple and formatted into two segments. Segment 1: Help the owner of a space vessel evade annihilation (by defence missiles launched from Earth) and medically repair the said owner’s injuries caused by carnivorous dinosaurs. Segment 2: After the revelation that the said owner of the vessel isn’t and had committed genocide against its original owners, serve summary justice.
With endless cavernous corridors to scurry through (another stunning set design by Michael Pickwoad), the episode could have come from the Swiss Knife mind of HITCHHIKERS’ author, Douglas Adams. Witty & quirky, moral, and verbosely intellectual, DINOSAURS ON A SPACESHIP is perfect family entertainment drama. On which other drama series will you see a Triceratops blatantly sniffing around someone’s crotch and for the lead actors to discuss the content of trousers in such a deadpan fashion;
Brian: Only my balls.
The Doctor: Sorry.
(Brian shows the Doctor his balls. Un-cleaned golf balls)
The Doctor: Grassy residue.
And moments later using Brian's sporting accessories for a game of fetch with the Triceratops whilst riding it bareback and simutaneously evading energy bolts emanating from pursuing servo-robots.
Only in DOCTOR WHO.
A major plotline device that remained a ‘secret’ amid fan forums is the appreciative nod to SERIES 5 Silurian storyline. A Silurian Ark, consisting of (originally) 50 species, launched due to the threat of an approaching asteroid that was predicted to obliterate all life on planet Earth. Of course, all fans will know that event failed to occur as the ‘asteroid’ was pulled into orbit (the Moon).
The Doctor (on exiting the TARDIS): I’ve got a gang. It’s new!
The Doctor (to Solomon): Schubert tried to tickle me to put me off.
The ever-impressive Matt Smith continues to demonstrate that his versatility is genetically comparable to a Chameleon, and has silenced (oh, when will they return to the series?) the doubts of critics and fans that think they have a right to be labelled ‘critic’. The Doctor’s second meeting with Solomon, played effortlessly by David Bradley, is superbly underplayed by the actor, giving the character an air of ‘James Bond 007’ morality & calmness as he expediently dispatches a villain with chilling solicitude.
In a variation-on-a-theme, Amy ‘becomes’ the Doctor as she, in classic DOCTOR WHO fashion, is separated from our lead hero and collects her own companions (Queen Nefertiti and John Riddell), whilst her erstwhile husband is lumbered with his “…but…”, “…why…” and “…how…” ever-resourceful (yes, of all men of a certain age carry foldable gardening implement whilst doing DIY. Trust me, it’s not that unusable) Dad, Brian. Could I say that he’s the ‘new Wilf Mott’ (complete with Vacuum Flask and cheese & ham sandwich)?
And with a return to the series in episode four’s THE POWER OF THREE, the chemistry between Mark Williams and Matt Smith is genius and, I hate to say it, but could Rory remain in the series so that we can enjoy more Brian, the man with copious pockets. Oh, he’s not a Time Lords is he?
Sadly, the supporting cast are as flat as hieroglyph or a disembodied wild cat fashioned into a floor rug, and probably one character too many. Certainly, ‘big game hunter’, John Riddell was surplus to the storyline (surely, Amy and Nefertiti could have solved the Raptor problem, and then the latter could have been transported to the main bridge of Solomon’s vessel?).
The quality of the post-production special effects is exemplary (even not in HD) for a ‘small screen’ drama series. Naturally, the dinosaurs were stunningly and, probably, lovingly crafted by THE MILL, each given genuine ‘mass-volume’ to be substantially impressive. And who ever suggested dinosaur saliva being strewn copiously across the ‘four-wall’ should be awarded a BAFTA for technical brilliance and audacity. Loved it. Or did they copy the idea from a squished Ant from the most recent INDIANA JONES movie?
Overall, DOCTOR WHO – DINOSAURS ON A SPACESHIP was a pure delight and, even after the third viewing, it remains a joyous comic-strip adventure that rallies across the screen with unbound curiosity and creativity. A sterling effort.
And has anyone spotted a plethora of ‘flicking electrical lights’ throughout the Silurian Ark that plunge the area into a blink-of-an-eye darkness that echoes a similar effect in ASYLUM OF THE DALEKS? Predominantly, it only happens when Amy Pond is nearby.
For whom the lights toll?