Doctor Who #903: Dinosaurs on a Spaceship

"Lizard people herding dinosaurs onto a Space Ark? Absolute tommyrot."
TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired Sep.8 2012.

IN THIS ONE... Exactly what it says on the tin. First appearance of Rory's dad, Brian Williams.

REVIEW: People like the premise, but Dinosaurs on a Spaceship is quite possibly the ultimate kitchen sink episode. There's just too much thrown slapdash into the mix. Why was Chris Chibnall given an unlimited effects budget? Obviously, there were some savings from using dinosaur models developed by the Walking with/Primeval teams, but still. We get dinosaurs, a giant Silurian spaceship (plus Solomon's), a couple of killer robots, and three new companions on top of the old ones. Mark Williams is undoubtedly the better guest-star, playing Rory's handy dad Brian. He's endearing as all get-out (just as he was as the stuttering Prologue in Shakespeare in Love), but though he has an "arc" (pun not intended) and will have his worldview irrevocably changed by this experience, he doesn't get nearly enough screen time. Instead, we're forced to spend time with two-dimensional caricatures of Queen Nefertiti and big game hunter John Riddell, who snap and flirt at each other and are never ever believable. Amy's "I will not have flirting companions" is funny, but that's hardly justification for their inclusion. The Doctor's "historical gang" is a failure because the characters are too shallow. Never mind that recruiting historical figures could have a nasty impact on history. Why is the Doctor risking it?

Well, the short answer there is that Chibnall needed certain things for his plot to work, and just plugged them in with little regard to how stuffed his script already was. Brian is essentially there because the ship requires two pilots who are a genetic match. Nefertiti is there because Solomon needs to acquire someone who'll fetch a high price on whatever absurd black market actually puts prices on people long dead. Apparently the same culture that builds robots with blue collar personalities who argue a lot and can't hit the broad side of a triceratops. Bringing famous Egyptian queens on adventures (and apparently leaving them with Riddell in the wrong century - what?!) is the least of the Doctor's breaches of character anyway. This is the episode where he has absolutely no problem committing murder. He puts the missile tracker on Solomon's ship, tells him too bad so sad as he begs for mercy, and smiles as the man and his ship explode. To make this acceptable to the audience, Chibnall over-eggs the pudding, making Solomon the vilest possible character. A pirate, a slaver, a sadist, and a bit of genocide thrown in as well. He kills a nice dinosaurs, which is another ill-judged moment tonally. And you know what? The Doctor's solution is still not acceptable. It's not earned.

I know it's supposed to be an amusing romp, but the ending is too dark to work as a comedy, and besides, the jokes aren't particularly funny. A "balls" joke, Mr. Chibnall? Really? By the end, I can't even muster a smile at the lippy robots singing "Daisy" because it's just a random forced reference. Yes, dinosaurs. Yes, big huge effects. Yes, Brian is hugely charming and someone we want to see again. Yes, I like the idea that Rory picks up alien stuff for his first aid kit. And ok, Amy playing the role of Doctor on her side of the story is done a lot better than Rose's similar osmosis. But the tone is all wrong, there are too many guest-stars playing cardboard characters, and the Doctor is egregiously out of character.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium-Low - Distressing eye candy. It's one redeeming value is the introduction of Brian Williams.


CiB said...

The main problem I have with this is that if Silurians had space ships, when you look at the time lines, why didn't they just conquer the galaxy?

They're clearly militant enough (or factions within them are), some would have just left the Earth if they had the technology to do so, and comparing the timelines- the Kaleds and Thals are still kicking lumps out of each other (if they've even got that far yet), Mondas is still hurtling through space producing nothing threatening...

Silurians with space ships would have grown into an interstellar civilisation which due to being millennia ahead of everyone else technologically speaking, would still be dominating Mutters Spiral. Especially as the foretold disaster that caused their hibernation was strictly Earth based. They wouldn't just be an alien race that only turns up when another group of them wakes up on Earth. That is, at the very least the galaxy would be full of technologically super-advanced colonies of Silurians if the have space ships like this.

Siskoid said...

The Silurians ARE very fractious, and this was a strictly scientific mission (ship has no defenses we know of) to save the culture and biology while everyone else went underground. Perhaps it was always meant to loop back around the solar system and didn't have warp technology of some kind. Silurians are very bad at timing things after all.

Or, let's go crazy, and some Silurians did spin their own empire off. We call them Draconians.

Anonymous said...

You were complaining about a poorly-used Bill Bailey in the Madge Arwell episode; I was wondering if you would comment on how much more poorly David Mitchell and Robert Webb were used in this one. Yep, Mitchell and Webb were the two robots. You might know them from the series "Peep Show", the movie "Magicians", or about half a million other British projects. The two are joined at the hip.

Here's a good intro to Mitchell and Webb:

Also, keep an eye open for Prisoner Zero (the hospital lady version). Olivia Colman is in the Mitchell / Webb orbit quite a bit.

Anonymous said...

You might like this one too:

Again, keep an eye open for Prisoner Zero.

Siskoid said...

Well I'm not British, but I'm not entirely surprised the robots are played by some well-known (in the UK) double act. Doing voices doesn't "waste" you as much as playing a bit part does though, because we still haven't seen your face.

As for the Prisoner Zero lady, she's also memorably in Hot Fuzz and in Broadchurch.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, there are probably like 16 British comedians / comediennes who keep collaborating and recollaborating on projects; if you tried to diagram it it all becomes a big loop.

I keep trying to find you a link to "Asbo Zaprudder the Magic Baby Seal", but alas it is nowhere to be found. Asbo Zaprudder gives texting advice to a lovelorn guy.

Brian said...

I feel that this episode was conceived of from it's title and went on from there. Seriously, doesn't "Dinosaurs on a Spaceship" sound an awful lot like "Snakes on a Plane" blown up to the nth degree?

You'd think that, as a historian watching DOCTOR WHO, I'd be often pulling my hair out -- but luckily I was a sci-fi fan first. Somehow, however, THIS episode and it's use of "Nefertiti" (even moreso than any errors in the historicals) was the one that made me want to throw something through the television. I had a hard time paying attention to anything else in the episode.

Siskoid said...

If the character had had any depth, it might have been forgivable.

But yes, DoaS obviously had its roots in SoaP, and probably started as a title/brief.

Andrew Gilbertson said...

Parts with Brian are good, but the rest...

Well, Nefertiti did disappear from history, apparently, so that's one less problem...

...Which only leaves about a million.

Siskoid said...

I'll strike it off the list then.


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