Sunday, 9 September 2012

Review - "Dinosaurs on a Spaceship"

This is, most definitely, a "does what it says on the tin" episode. The title alone tells you what kind of episode we're getting: a fun, entertaining romp - and it was needed after last week's rather dark season opener. That's not to say that this episode was pure comedy - it wasn't. There were some rather dark and serious undertones here that weren't out of place in the episode but they certainly made you think.

The plot was fairly simple: the Doctor is called in by the India Space Agency to investigate a spaceship that will enter Earth's atmosphere in 6 hours time ... and get blown to bits by the aforementioned Space Agency unless the Doctor can divert its course. Our hero gathers together a "gang" and discovers that the ship is Silurian and contains the last of the dinosaurs. The ship has been hijacked by an unsavoury character called Solomon who has killed the Silurians and plans to sell the dinosaurs. Can the Doctor and his gang stop him and prevent the ship being blown to smithereens?

See? Simple. But this episode wasn't about plot. This was all about entertainment - it was about moments and characters. It was about Dinosaurs. ON A SPACESHIP! This wasn't "Jurassic Park in Space" though - the Dinosaurs weren't the villains of the piece - they were just another lifeform in danger for the Doctor to try and save. And what a lifeform. The BBC effects department were on top form - they actually made Dinosaurs look real, which is more difficult than you might imagine - just take a look at Doctor Who in 1974 with "Invasion of the Dinosaurs" if you don't believe me. More importantly, the Dinosaurs had character. The Triceratops, for instance, chasing golf balls like some overgrown dog whilst being ridden by the Doctor, Rory and Brian. You have to have been made of stone if you didn't shed a tear when the Triceratops died.

Another big plus for this episode was the strength of the characters - especially the gang the Doctor gathered together. Rory - got to show off his nursing skills; Amy - showed how intelligent she can be; Queen Nefertiti - who managed to be cool and take everything in her stride whilst lusting after the Doctor; Riddell the game hunter - a typically ego-centric, alpha male type and, the coolest character in the episode (with the obvious exception of the Doctor), Rory's dad, Brian. Brian Williams - played superbly by Mark Williams - practically stole the episode. He highlighted really just how used to all this both Rory and Amy are now - as are we, the audience. The show needs characters like this once in a while to give us a bit of a reality jolt. Brian was bewildered by it all - but not overwhelmed. He came up with ideas, he carries a trowel around in his pocket and is quite surprised when Rory doesn't. The scene at the end with Brian sitting on the threshold of the Tardis, munching a sandwich, thermos by his side as he gazed down at Earth was quite beautiful. How can anyone not love Brian? We know the producers do because Brian Williams is back again in the fourth episode of the current run, "The Power of Three".

Brian may have stolen the show in one way but the villain of the piece, Solomon, was one of the nastiest, despicable and downright appalling characters we've seen in the show for a long time. David Bradley played it with a chilling edge -and played it straight, treating the whole thing with a seriousness sometimes reserved for Shakespeare. As a result - Solomon will be remembered for a long time. Solomon is also heavily involved in two out of the three "issues" that been highlighted about this episode. The first is the "sexual undercurrent" in Solomon's line about "breaking in" Queen Nefertiti. It wasn't really an undercurrent - it was right in your face. And why not? Children would take it a different way and there are some elements of the show that are extremely adult. With a 7.35pm transmission time, there's no need to really tone it all down.

The second issue is the Doctor leaving Solomon to die. Was that really so out of character? Solomon was a character without one redeeming feature. The Doctor gave him a chance. He didn't listen. Certainly, it could be called harsh - but saying the Doctor has never done that kind of thing before? No. Take a look at "Vengeance on Varos" - the Sixth Doctor pushes a guy into an acid bath and then jokes about it afterwards. Or pick a time during Tennant's era when the "Oncoming Storm" gave someone once chance and then kablam. Eleven is more openly darker this season but the real question this the theme of this series (taking into account next week's trailer when Amy questions his methods) and if so, is it the effect of the Doctor travelling without Amy and Rory for long periods...or is it the effect of the Doctor giving Amy his nano-bracelet in "Asylum of the Daleks"? We like to think of Eleven as the silly man with the bowtie who gets all giddy when discovering new things but he's just as much the dark and tortured soul underneath. And threatening his friends...well, that's when you need to run for cover. Besides, as the Doctor himself says: "Don't judge me by your standards".

The third issue is about continuity - and if the Silurians could build a spaceship then why didn't they all leave instead of going into hibernation beneath the surface of the Earth? Maybe they could only build one. Maybe there were factions - one building a ship and leaving with an Ark of Dinosaurs and the other faction staying and riding out the storm so to speak. This episode doesn't go against established continuity at all.

So, with the issues out of the way, I would like to give a large pat on the back to Matt Smith - he was the glue in this episode, gelling everything together. He was given the majority of the quips and one liners and delivered them with great aplomb: "How do you start a Triceratops?"; "go Tricey, run like the wind!" and his gleeful "I do!" when Rory says that at age 31 he doesn't have a Christmas list. Once again, you have the two sides of the Doctor on show. The fun, carefree 9 year old - and the old, jaded, ruthless 900 year old. Give Matt Smith any line, give him any situation and he will deliver it with confidence.

I will also give a nod to Chris Chibnall - he's been under fire a bit for his previous episodes but this one had everything you could hope for. The plot may have been fairly simple but the dialogue was a complete tour de force. Well done, Mr Chibnall - very much looking forward to your next episode: "The Power of Three".

Episode Rating: 9/10 - not as great as "Asylum of the Daleks" but a hell of a sight better than I feared it would be.