I begin to see what DOCTOR WHO show-runner Steven Moffat meant when he intended for series seven to be a succession of wide-screen blockbusters. The first two stories of the season have had heft and scale, high adventure and tons of characterization. “Dinosaurs on a Spaceship” was the perfect follow-up to “Asylum of the Daleks” – it kept up the action quotient, but ratcheted down the stakes to a more manageable level. And the script never let up on the human element.
We first glimpse the Doctor (Matt Smith) in Egypt in 1334 B.C., where an amorous Queen Nefertiti (Riann Steele) refuses to let him leave, so he takes her along to A.D. 2367, where Indira (Sunetra Sarker) of the Indian Space Agency tasks the Doctor with stopping a spacecraft the size of Canada from colliding with the Earth before she blows it up with missiles. The Doctor nips off to the African plains in 1902, and asks big-game hunter John Riddell (Rupert Graves) to join forces (by tempting him with a bit of a… riddle!). Then, in 2020, the Doctor materializes the TARDIS around Amy (Karen Gillan), Rory (Arthur Darvill) and Rory’s dad, Brian (Mark Williams).
The Doctor brings them all to the spaceship in 2367, where they quickly discover dinosaurs on the loose. While the Doctor, Rory and Brian investigate the ship’s engines, Amy, Nefertiti and Riddell discover that the ship is actually a Silurian ark, launched to preserve samples of Earth flora and fauna after it was clear that the meteor strike would wipe out all life on the surface of the planet and force homo reptilia underground. The Doctor finds his way to Solomon (David Bradley), a pirate who boarded the ark, and when he realized there were valuable dinosaurs onboard, he had his robot henchmen eject all the Silurians onboard (thousands of them) into space. Unfortunately, Solomon was unable to pilot the ark, which reverted to its default course and is trying to return home to Earth.
As much as running from dinosaurs and robot figured into the story, the script still took time to fill in more characterization for Amy and Rory. And we even got to know a bit about Brian, who quickly adapted to the situation, but still had a sense of wonder about piloting an actual spaceship! And I enjoyed seeing the Doctor ride a triceratops!
It’s wonderful that Amy and Rory have learned so much after all their adventures. Rory realized that being captured and brought to the command center could gain them valuable information. And Rory carries a handy medical kit! Loved the way Amy briefly assumed the role of the Doctor, actively investigating the mystery just as he would (by randomly pressing buttons) and wrangling “her” bickering/flirting companions! Amy was masterful using the computer to figure out what happened to the ark.
However, how quickly Amy can get jealous. When the Doctor introduced Neffi and Riddell, Amy sniffed, “Are they the new us? Is that why we haven’t seen you?” The Doctor calms her by “They’re just people; they’re not Ponds.”
Steele does a nice job of establishing Nefertiti’s nobility and sense of entitlement as well as her bravery – and sense of fun. Similarly, Graves’ Riddell is established as a bit of lad and a braggart, but with the backbone and skills to back it up.
Was there ever a more stark hero/villain contrast than when Solomon ordered the helpless triceratops gunned down, and then the Doctor wordlessly tried to comfort the dying creature? So when the Doctor set Solomon’s ship to be attacked by the missiles, the audience can accept that bit of callousness. Technically, he doesn’t kill Solomon, and the villain does have several seconds to escape before his doom.
Speaking of being doomed, wasn’t that an odd conversation the Doctor and Amy had while he was rewiring the control panel of the ark? Amy talked about the stress of the Doctor popping in and out of their lives at random – specifically, that something might happen to him, and she’d be left waiting for him, unaware that he was never coming back. The Doctor reassured Amy, “You’ll be there until the end of me.” But when she responded, “or vice versa,” he looked stricken as he stared at her. I tell you, my heart sank, because it occurred to me that he knows something. He definitely does. Could this be another time-displaced conversation, like he had with her back in “Flesh and Stone,” when a different version of the Doctor (one traveling backward through her timeline) urged Amy to be brave? I think the Doctor on the bridge of that ark knows that he will be there when the end comes for her.
Clearly, the fifth episode, when the Ponds depart, is going to be a weepfest.
- The is no identification of the Doctor in the IV databank. Why not?
- The secret of the ark – that is was a Silurian project – is a welcome bit of fan service, giving us another surprise appearance and a returning monster at the same time. And this story fits perfectly with established Silurian continuity.
- The wonderfully bizarre design of the ark was a nice change from the usual sleek (dull) spacecraft. The rock-like flourishes on the outer structure hearken back to the Silurians’ subterranean culture. And only the Silurians would think of powering a starship with ocean waves (or, technically, hydro-generators).
- Once again (see “The Wedding of River Song”) pteranodons are referred to as pterodactyls, which really bothers me. No way the Doctor makes that mistake.
Lines of the Week
“What sort of a man doesn’t carry a trowel? Put it on your Christmas list.”
“Dad, I’m 31; I don’t have a Christmas list anymore.”
“I DO!” – Brian, Rory and the Doctor, respectively
“I’ve spent enough time with the Doctor to know that whenever you enter someplace new, start pressing buttons.” – Amy
“I will not have flirting companions” – Amy
“You don’t have any vegetable matter in your trousers, do you?”
“Only my balls. (beat) My golf balls.” – The Doctor and Brian
“You clearly need a man of action and adventure – one with a very large weapon!” – Riddell to Nefertiti
“Try not to bump into the moon, otherwise the races that live there will be livid.” – The Doctor
“I’m easily worth two men.” – Amy
That last one is particularly funny if you remember “Let’s Kill Hitler,” in which young Amy told Mels, “I count as a boy,” when it comes to getting into fights on school grounds.