TV REVIEW: Doctor Who, Series 7 Episode 2 – “Dinosaurs on a Spaceship”

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Week two of five of this first part of the 2012 / 2013 Doctor Who series is upon us. Last week’s trail showed us what to expect: A spaceship, Queen Nefertiti and Dinosaurs. I’ll be honest up-front. The title for this one and the trail left me a little cold and with low-expectations as I was not a fan of Chibnall’s previous two-parter (The Hungry Earth and Cold Blood). Though 42 was one of the better Series 3 stories. Was I right to be so down on this before it even started? Click-y the More-y link-y to read the review!

The Blurb

The Time Lord is asked to stop an unmanned spaceship hurtling toward Earth, so he assembles a crack team of helpers – an Egyptian queen, a big-game hunter and the Ponds, plus one. But once on board, they are amazed to find the ancient vessel is carrying live cargo in the shape of dinosaurs. How did the prehistoric creatures get there?

The Review

As ever, I’ll try not to go into too much detail about the plot and keep this as spoiler-free as I can. To begin with, we see the Doctor at the end of a Pond-free adventure in Ancient Egypt. I like these teasers into “between the episodes” adventures that Moffat seems so fond of, if only because it helps the Who-Nerd in me to slot other media in! At the end of this adventure, an eager (in more ways than one) Queen Nefertiti forces her way onto the TARDIS as the Time Lord is summoned via Psychic Paper to another crisis. A rather large space-craft appears to be on a collision course with Earth and the Indian Space Authority are going to shoot it down unless it can be diverted within a certain time-scale. Intrigued by readings from the ship, The Doctor decides to gather a “gang” to investigate and divert the vessel. Naturally he wants the Ponds with him, along with Nefertiti, he also stops by 1902 to pick up Big Game Hunter Riddell.

The ship holds more than just the titular Dinosaurs, however and two robots and a shadowy figure present some menace to our heroic pack.

With the gang assembled, pretty much all the cast is here and on the whole it’s strong. Rupert Graves (Riddell), Riann Steel (Nefertiti) and Mark Williams (Brian Williams) all plow through the script with the necessary pace without overly succumbing to the caricatures that the roles they are in most definitely are. Along the way, two more comedians (David Mitchell and Robert Webb) and the suitably villainous Solomon (David Bradley) round out the cast. Except for one small recording-based cameo. I think the presence of three “name” comedians was possibly too much (though to be fair, Mitchell and Webb aren’t creditted in the listings magazines) especially as two of them embody one of my pet hates: Comedy Robot Henchmen. Nothing needs Comedy Robot Henchmen. Ever. For shame, team, for shame. Then again, as with the Battle Droids in Clone Wars, I’m sure they appeal to the younger (and some would argue target) audience.

As mentioned, every character in this story seems a caricature – even The Doctor seems overly “Matt Smith Doctorish” this week. The CRH are overtly CRH. Riddell is your typical gun-toting chauvinistic nineteenth century hunter and Solomon is an a-moral profitteer. But somehow, the episode doesn’t suffer from this excessive caricaturing as much as it should. The adventure is a yarn, and there are some genuinely funny moments in amongst the forced CRH and “friendly triceratops” based gags.

Plot-wise, I really liked how Chibnall has made the Earth-born Dinosaurs on a Spaceship seem perfectly plausible (within the context of the Whoniverse, obviously). Infact it was this, and the way this revelation is made that really raised the episode for me. I was then subjected to what I can only decide as a Davies-ian level of happy-coincidence allowing the adventure to be resolved. This would not have been so bad if the conecit had come up earlier in the episode in a “if you’re going to shoot someone with a gun in act three, show the gun in act one”  sort of way that I hear Terrence Dicks quoting in interviews. But it wasn’t.

As to the episode’s post-adventure resolve, I’m really not sure that our Egyptian queen would really be happy being dropped off in the company she was in. Nowhere during the episode was any connection made between the characters involved.

Overall, Dinosaurs on a Spaceship was a fun adventure-yarn filled with caricatures that seemed to fit somehow. Not a great episode by any means, but certainly in amongst those episodes that can definitely be re-watched without a heavy sigh of: “Oh. It’s this one.”

Rating: 2.5 / 5
Reporter: WedgeDoc

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