Doctor Who Series 7 Episode 2 ‘Dinosaurs on a Spaceship’ Review

I’ve been quite critical of Stephen Moffat’s run on Doctor Who. I felt last season everything was too much of a fairy tale time jumble, and while I do like Matt Smith, I felt he was getting the short end of the stick as far as “fun” episodes to be a part of. Then came “Dinosaurs on a Spaceship”.

“Dinosaurs on a Spaceship” was the most fun a Doctor Who episode has been in quite some time. Let us bask in the frantic, yet jolly, adventure we got to take with the Doctor this week. Written by former Torchwood writer Chris Chibnall, who also wrote for the 10th doctor with the deathly serious “42” and the 11th with the quite frankly, boring Silurian based two-parter: “The Hungry Earth and Cold Blood”. He takes a completely different stab at the Doctor in “Dinosaurs on a spaceship” Chibnall seemed to channel the great Douglas Adams. With The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy and old DW classics, Adams taught us that the impossible is possible in space. Space travel is manic, terribly funny, and deathly serious all at the same time. Chibnall merges all of these thoughts into an episode I pretty much wrote off as another “Curse of the Plack Spot” when I heard the title, and was pleasantly surprised it wasn’t.

When we see the Doctor first get the message he is cavorting around with yet another famous queen from the past.  When he receives a message on his psychic paper from the ISA of 2367 and visits them simply because “he’s never been there before”, I knew we were heading in the right direction. This is how I like my Doctor, interested in the unknown and completely excited about heading right into it. He learns of a ship careening towards earth and he does something he hasn’t done before, he decides to form a gang. Why? Just for the fun of it. He has Queen Nefertiti in tow already because she refused to leave his side, but he then visits and unfamiliar face. John Riddell. Through conversation it’s slightly implied that they have traveled together a bit before – “Do you want to see something interesting?” “Oh Doctor you aren’t going to get me with that one again”.  Then the Doctor says, well mutters to himself, “must get the Ponds… wouldn’t want to forget the Ponds”.

Throughout the episode we learn that it has been 10 months since the events of the “Asylum of the Daleks” for Amy and Rory, and when they excited Doctor manifests the TARDIS in the living room whilst Rory and his father, played fantastically by Harry Potter Alum Mark Williams, are trying to fix a light bulb, he’s so manic and excited that he doesn’t even notice he’s picked up Rory’s father for the ride. Then there is a rash of discoveries, ranging from spiders, to dinosaurs, a ship powered by what looks like a recreation of Bad Wolf bay, and two Robots voiced by Peep Show’s David Mitchell and Robert Webb who, if not an homage to Marvin the paranoid android from HHGTTG, I don’t know what other real purpose they served.  Oh and one evil genocidal space pirate named Solomon also played by another Harry Potter alum David Bradley.

The episode itself played out in recent Who fashion. The problem was found and dealt with. The Doctor exhibits something we haven’t seen in a while, frantic whimsy. All at once perplexed and excited by the dinosaurs. He twirls around the episode with a grin on his face and a child-like penchant for discovering what he may find around the next corner. I love this Doctor. The Doctor I’ve been missing since series 5; The Doctor who does most of the figuring out of the mystery just by stumbling across the right things at the right time.  The episode also evened out it’s time showcasing how much of the Doctor now resides in Amy and Rory. Amy’s bit with the computer room, and finding the proof of another ship and genocide of the Silurians, at almost the same time that the Doctor gets the same answer from Solomon, shows the growth in the character without her overshadowing the Doctor who is and always should be the “meat” so to speak of each episode. Rory showing calmness under pressure was another leap for a character who started off frightened of everything. The characters are clearly approaching their swan song and when in conversation The Doctor says to Amy, who worries about her future with the doctor, “you’ll be with me till my dying day” to which she replies “or vice versa”. The longing, knowing look by Matt Smith is perfectly executed. Does the Doctor already know their fate? These are the final episodes of the Ponds, Moffat, please use them wisely.

Nefertiti, Riddell and Brian are all used sparingly. Possibly with their only purpose being companions to the Doctor’s regular companions. I suppose in an effort again, to show how much of the Doctor has now been cast into Amy and Rory. Otherwise you end up with characters that are just there in order to fill space, and that’s never any good. Though, Nefertiti and Riddell both play their parts in the episode with Riddell enjoying the big game hunt and Nefertiti scoring the final blow on Solomon. However, ultimately the episode could have happened with or without them. I did like the ending nod to where Queen Nefertiti ended up. According to history she disappeared or died. But there is no official record. Boy, do I love when Doctor Who a show about a man traveling in space and time in a blue box ties up loose ends in history.

Brian Williams or Pond, if you are the Doctor; however, had a purpose and a need to be there. He was not only part of the MacGuffin, the shared genetic code to steer the ship away from the earth launched missiles, to which the Doctor calmly says “Try not to bump into the moon or else the races that live there will be livid”.  Brian was also there to expand the character of Rory and to give some much-needed heart to the episode. Especially after what ultimately happens to Solomon. If seeing Brian sitting eating a boxed lunch and having tea while staring at the earth didn’t put a huge grin on your face you may lack an emotional heart. Go get that checked out immediately.

Solomon’s final showdown with the Doctor, has the internet is in a sort of uproar over the Doctors actions. With most commenters saying it is out of character for the Doctor to discard a genocidal mad man to space only to be destroyed by the rockets sent by the ISA. I disagree; this is the Doctor we are talking about. Not every episode has a fairy tale ending where everyone good and bad lives in harmony side by side. That was most of my problem with the last series. The Doctor is the lone survivor of a war in which he killed both the enemy and his own because he needed to. The Doctor is a character who must make tough moral decisions, and sometimes make mistakes, for if not, this incarnation of the Doctor is no more than Amy Pond’s personal Peter Pan, where in the end nothing really matters.

For me the episode is a return to form for the Doctor that I love. I can’t finish off the review without talking about how great, yet clunky the dinosaurs looked. Using a mix of CGI and Practical effects was the way to go, but sometimes those dinosaurs seemed to carry no real weight, and looked quite weird and like I said, clunky. However, overall I quite enjoyed the episode, and while next week’s western themed episode looks a bit on the, ugh side. I’m hoping to be pleasantly surprised again.

Now on to some fan speculation on my part:

Side bar #1- After the events of the “Wedding of River Song”, everyone is supposed to think the Doctor dead. For good reason too, everyone and their dog knew who the Doctor was by the end of the Russell T. Davies run, and the first series run by Moffat expanded even that. He was no longer a mysterious man in a blue box. He was a public figure who the world knew as a superhero life saving alien who played favorites with humans, and thus put the human race in danger. Even Stephen Moffat cited that his reason for “killing” the Doctor was to enable the Doctor to go back to some solo adventures and so not everyone would know what they were up against. Even the scanner in “Dinosaurs” finds no match for one of the most notoriously wanted time lords in the universe.   So if everyone is to think he is dead…1) Why can people contact him still? And 2) why does it seem that they can only contact him psychically? For instance, in a prequel video released on the web, it shows that the Daleks called upon the Doctor psychically in a dream by the human-hybrid Daleks to come to Skaro.

Then, in “Dinosaurs” The Doctor is contacted via psychic paper, by the ISA in 2367 to help with a rogue ship coming towards earth? My only hope is that this will eventually be explained fellow Whovians, but keep an eye out for how the Doctor will be called into action in future episodes.

Side bar #2: What’s up with River Song, and why is no one mentioning her? In “Asylum of the Daleks, Amy and Rory’s marriage is magically fixed during a conversation where Amy admits to Rory that the reason she let him go is because she knew he wanted a kid and she couldn’t give him one. But yet, they had a child. Her name is River Song. In last series’ “Let’s kill Hitler” I thought it was pretty obvious that Amy and Rory had a hand in raising their little one. Then in “Dinosaurs on a spaceship” Queen Nefretiti asks Amy if she is the Doctor’s queen, to which she responds that no, she is Rory’s queen. When asked if the Doctor has a queen, which he does, if you want to be technical about it, her name is River Song. Amy again, doesn’t mention it.  Why?

That’s all for now fellow Whovians. I do hope the episodes we have coming manage the serious and the whimsy in as brilliantly as this episode did, and as I cover it for you over here on TV Overmind, I hope to pose some dangling threads for us to all keep an eye on and possibly discuss together.  Thanks for reading, and I hope you enjoyed this episode as much as I did.

  • Shana

    I am so glad I found this post. It was very well-written, thank you! I agree with your assessment of series 6 being somewhat of a fairy tale. This series has been going in a great direction away from that kind of thing.

    I’ll quibble only about the character of Rory stretching in new directions and providing heart to the stories. This character has become Rory the Roman and back again, much as Bilbo Baggins came back to the Shire a completely changed Hobbit. Last series used Rory to far greater effect than Asylum and Dinosaurs has done. Even the absolutely silly Wedding of River Song used Rory to further the understanding of the dynamic between the Ponds.

    • Stephen Andolfo

      Thank you so much for your kind words! I do agree with you in your findings with Rory. I find Rory similar to Mickey from series 1 and 2. They character starts off as merely a befuddled love interest, but ended much more. Again, all we can hope is that Moffat gives Rory his fair shake at the end. Hopefully Moffat will understand that both characters, Amy AND Rory have grown and both deserve a great send off.

  • http://www.maryogle.com Mary Ogle

    Hi Stephen, thank you for the thought provoking review. I don’t think the ISA calls the Doctor however. He said something about the psychic paper being set to “temporal news”. My guess is he sees the story about the spaceship and decided to investigate not that he is specifically called by the ISA.

    That’s a very interesting point about River Song. I noticed that too and thought it was strange that she was not being mentioned at all. Stephen Moffat loves to drop hints so I have a feeling that means something though of course he loves red herrings too.

    • Stephen Andolfo

      Good point Mary! You definitely caught something I didn’t the scene was so amazingly frantic that it seemed to me as though they contacted him. Still though, odd that he receives the message on the psychic paper. As I mentioned in the article in the “prequel” to “Asylum of the Daleks”, they contact him through his psychic dreamscape. How the Doctor is called into action on this weeks episode will be a point I am very much looking forward to.

  • Coco

    Probably the most incorrect review I’ve seen. All I could see was a train-wreck, getting worse every second. Honestly, a dinosaur acting like a dog and everyone having a ride on it? Can you BE any more juvenile and cliche?

    And yes, everything makes sense, but the details are rushed or sometimes completely skipped. Example: Rory and Amy’s relationship problems were rushed. The Doctor killing Solomon? Reasoning completely skipped.
    Usually there is some struggle, the Doctor is questioned on whether it’s right or wrong, or the fact that he did something WRONG is magnified. Here is was just “Yeah, and Solomon exploded. We survived. Yay.” It was rushed, it was sloppy.
    You cannot say this episode was better than ’42’, which admittedly had some flaws, was NOWHERE close to being as silly and childish as this episode.
    It all makes sense now of course- “written by former Torchwood writer Chris Chibnall”
    Because Torchwood is SO famous for making complete sense, not skipping details and being such an awesome series!

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