Dinosaurs on a Spaceship

Posted in Episode by - March 29, 2016
Dinosaurs on a Spaceship

Aired 8 September 2012

Doctor Who‘s promise of a weekly cinematic blockbuster continues with ‘Dinosaurs on a Spaceship,’ an obvious nod to Snakes on a Plane. Although the tone is a bit lighter and the story itself doesn’t quite reach the height of its predecessor ‘Asylum of the Daleks,’ it still offers an enjoyable tale that’s unafraid of exploring some darker territory as well.

The programme has become increasingly confident in setting the scene for the tale to come, and that’s no exception here as, before the opening theme plays, the Doctor has recruited some friends to travel with him and established that there’s a missile closing in on a ship that they need to stop. This allows for a strong cast of guest starts to flex their muscles, though the sentimental standout is undoubtedly Rory’s father Brian Williams, played masterfully by Mark Williams. The interplay between Arthur Darvill and Mark Williams is superb, perfectly capturing the father-son dynamic while Brian brings a more grounded and practical viewpoint to proceedings. Rupert Graves’s bombastic big game hunter Riddell and Riann Steele’s confident Queen Nefertiti make a formidable pair in their own right as well.

The ship itself ends up being a Silurian ark meant to keep the dinosaur species alive, a clever and logical means of including one of the oft-forgotten races of Doctor Who lore and re-establishing just how technologically advanced they are. The dinosaurs themselves make rather short appearances throughout the story, but each of them looks absolutely fantastic and surely stretches the budget to its maximum. As Doctor Who is prone to do these days, the dinosaurs who might be assumed to be the monsters of the piece instead become sympathetic figures via the introduction of David Bradley’s Soloman, a maniacal and greedy pirate who has taken control of the ship, killed its Silurian crew, and hopes to sell the dinosaurs for big profit. His genocidal tendencies and his thoughts toward women certainly make him the dark figure in an episode that otherwise treads in lighter territory, and Bradley evokes this sinister edge amazingly well.

Although the larger cast and larger supporting roles mean that some of the dialogue falls a bit flat in some places since characters are trying to be built up in a short period of time, the characters all seem to mesh quite well and could easily return in future episodes if needed. The nods to Jurassic Park with the dinosaur hunting scenes are some of the best action sequences of the story, but, again, it’s the slower and more character-driven moments that really steal the spotlight. In particular, the Doctor’s coldness toward Soloman as he refuses to save him at the end speaks volumes about where this character is now, and his conversation with Amy about how far apart their visits are becoming is a touching nod to Amy and Rory’s changing lifestyles and what will soon become their eventual departure from the TARDIS for good.

The title ‘Dinosaurs on a Spaceship’ implies that this is going a lighter adventure than usual, and it certainly succeeds in that regard while maintaining the definite feel of a blockbuster. Though its pacing and tone is a bit disjointed in places and Riddell and Nefertiti aren’t used quite as much as might be expected, this is still another enjoyable tale that delivers on the action but shines most when it gives its lead characters some time to talk.

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