For the first twenty minutes or so of this week’s Doctor Who, the accurately titled “Dinosaurs on a Spaceship,” things just spiral into greater insanity, layering weirdness on top of hilarity on top of giant twists. And then for the next thirty minutes, it just gets bigger and weirder than that, paying off pretty much every joke and premise from the first half. There’s some faults we’ll get to, but on a whole this is even better than last week’s “Asylum of the Daleks” as a showcase Whovians can use to get non-watchers hooked on what’s great about the show.
Oh, spoilers from this point on. Sweetie:
Things kick off with The Doctor in a compromising position with Queen Nefertiti, then jump to the far future where a spaceship is hurtling out of control towards Earth, then back to the beginning of the twentieth century with a big game hunter, before getting to the Pond’s house. There, the Doctor picks up Amy and Rory, as well as Rory’s Dad (“I’ve got a gang!” says the Doctor with glee), and jets off to the spaceship, which is going to be blown up in six hours. Then they discover there are dinosaurs on the spaceship, which leads to the Doctor saying, “Dinosaurs... On a spaceship!” followed by the opening credits.
And that’s just the first three minutes.
A couple of thoughts about this chunk before we move on, the biggest one being that I love the cold open structure the show is employing this season. It allows them to go totally insane in a few short minutes, ending with a punctuation point to set up the rest of the episode. And also, it continues the very positive trend of making Doctor Who feel more like a movie - or even a real life TV show. I don’t mean to be snide, but say what you want about the Moffat era, the guy knows how to make TV. These past three seasons have looked better, and had a better structure than any season of Who prior. So far, based on these two episodes alone, this may be the best season yet, when the show finally grows up.
The other point I want to make is the Doctor’s complicated relationship to sexuality. This is possibly even a longer piece that deserves a little more time and exploration - no puns intended - but Nefertiti clearly does a little sumptin’ sumptin’ down in the Doctor’s pants at the top of the episode. There’s been innuendo before, but nothing on this level. Technically, Who is a family show, so we really don’t NEED to see him exploring sexuality. But not to get all fan-fic: does the Doctor have sex? Does he feel sexual need? It’s certainly something that informs other characters... I had sort of always taken the Doctor as someone that felt extreme love for others, but never physical lust. If that is something that drives this Doctor - companionship, beyond just traveling companions, which is something we’ll touch on more in a bit - it may play out more over the next few episodes.
Okay, back to the show. After out-running some dinos, and everybody meeting each other, the Doctor, Rory, and Rory’s Dad end up teleported to a beach filled with pterodactyls. Except it’s not a beach at all, it’s a control room, because the ship is controlled by wave power. And then they’re captured by bickering robots, voiced by British sketch comedians Mitchell & Webb. Everybody else, meanwhile, almost step on a baby T-Rex, then discover an even bigger twist: the ship is Silurian.
This is probably the only plot point that might be confusing for non-Whovians, but the gist is, they’re a race of reptile hominids, and that’s pretty easily explained by Amy soon after. The Silurians, it later turns out, were jettisoned from the ship by our Big Bad, Solomon. Played by David Bradley, who you probably know better as Filch from the Harry Potter movies, Solomon is a fantastic, disgustingly deadly bounty hunter, and a great foil for our heroes. He’s trying to take the dinos on the ship - it turns out it’s basically a Silurian arc - to sell them, but in the process, got his own spaceship stuck, and can’t turn it around.
There’s actually a rather interesting dynamic at play here. On any other show, you’d expect our heroes to go in guns blazing, punching Solomon into submission. The Doctor - and his gang - don’t do that. So instead of American action stuff, we get tense face-offs, and ingenuity saving the day. With missiles closing in on the ship, the Doctor switches the signal onto Solomon’s ship, and sends him on his merry way, blowing him up.
And before we get to our wrap-up, and some other sundry business, a few thoughts about that. Well, one actually: the Doctor straight up killed a dude. I know he didn’t shoot him at point blank range or anything, but I don’t think we’ve ever seen our hero do anything as blatantly murderous as what he does in this episode. Normally, I’d be upset about this, but I think there’s something bigger going on here, and a theme that’s developing this season. Last episode, there was a big moment made of the Doctor killing the Daleks, and then he let Oswin - Dalek in disguise - kill herself. This episode, he’s even more active in the killing.
This theme ties in nicely with the other running theme thrown into this episode. It’s not subtle, but the Doctor has clearly been avoiding the Ponds - the last time he saw them before this was ten months their time - because he feels left out. It was the Doctor and Amy. Then the Doctor, and Amy, and Rory, with occasional River Song. Now, it’s just the Doctor, and just Amy and Rory. I said we’d tie it back to the sexuality thing, and here’s where we do that: the Doctor has nobody. He hangs around with Companions for a little while, but end of the day, as is underlined in a nice short scene with Smith and Gillan, he outlasts them.
It’s an idea that was played with a lot in the Tennant years, and seems to be raising its head again: the Doctor outlasts everybody, so how can he ever make an attachment? I have no clear paths to this, but I imagine this is something that’s going to play into the departure of Amy and Rory from the TARDIS, and possibly into his relationship with Clara Oswin, as well.
But that’s the future. Right now, I think we can just revel in another rollicking episode of Who, some fun effects, great jokes, and more than anything: dinosaurs... on a spaceship.
- I touched on this a little, but this episode also delivers on the “movie in forty-five minutes” promise. Can’t wait for next week’s space-western.
- Given the high caliber of guest star this week, including Bradley, Mark Williams (Mr. Weasley!) as Rory’s Dad, and Rupert Graves (Lestrade!) as big game hunter John Riddell, Riann Steele as Nefertiti was a bit of a disappointment... We needed someone with much more presence and command.
- On the other hand, Gillan was great this episode, in charge, and hilarious, particularly when playing off Steele.
- How in the world can you name a character “John Riddell” and not have that pay off somehow? We’re going to see him again, I assume?
- Two memes will be launched from this episode: Doctor riding a dinosaur; and Doctor kissing Rory. Watch your Tumblrs for that.
- “Just my balls.”