As with last week’s Asylum of the Daleks, rather than doing a straightforward review I’m listing ten points of note about this week’s Doctor Who episode, Dinosaurs on a Spaceship.
One of the reasons the eleventh Doctor is so unpredictable is that, even in the scenes where you know what he’s going to say, Matt Smith often chooses a line reading that throws a conventional line – like the oft-heard “Run!”, such at the end of this episode’s pre-credits sequence – into new areas.
Part question, part panic, part “off you go, while I stay here and find out what’s going on, even though I almost certainly know whatever it is could well kill me”, Smith’s delivery is one that needs not so much an interrobang at the end of it, as a whole panoply of punctuation marks.
2. Big game hunter
At first glance, Riddell doesn’t seem like the sort of man the Doctor would hang out with – dalliances with dancers and liquorice notwithstanding. The sort of man who lives on the plains of Africa killing wild animals, though – why would the Doctor befriend him?
The best answer is that he is another of the Doctor’s little projects, and is not necessarily a cold-blooded killer (any more). During the episode, his initial instinct to kill the encroaching dinosaurs comes from a sense of self-defence, and when fending off the raptors at the control room he goes for stun guns rather than applying lethal force.
I’d say that, while Riddell might present himself as a big game hunter, if anything it’s a bit of a front: he’s more likely to end up in Alan Quatermain-style scrapes, occasionally with a bow tie-clad lunatic at his side.
3. Easily worth two men
I’ve never been in the minority of fans who hated either Amy or Karen Gillan’s portrayal. At times, though, she’s not been the most constructively written character, so it’s a pleasant change to see smart, fun Amy make an appearance here. When exploring the ship with Nefertiti and Riddell, she assumes the Doctor-ish role of grumbling about her “companions”, while complementing them on their good questions.
She also negotiates the intricacies of very different attitudes to female sexuality – both Nefertiti’s Egypt and Riddell’s mindset define women in terms of their respective society’s men, in very different ways – with a warmth that means that some 21st century points can be made without being bludgeoned to death.
4. “Identity unknown”
At the end of the last series, the universe believed the Doctor to be dead. Last week, Oswin wiped the Daleks’ memory of him altogether. But it seems that Oswin’s effect has spread further, since Solomon’s appeal for information drew a blank… I’m not sure I bought that element as far as Steven Moffat’s whole “Doctor Who?” reboot concept is working.
5. Rude and not ginger
No, we’re not talking about Amy and Rory again (although, if the caps fit…) Rudeness has been a common trait in Doctors since the series’ 2005 return (the heading for this point coming from David Tennant’s debut adventure, The Christmas Invasion). It existed beforehand, of course, in varying degrees since Hartnell’s day.
It most manifests itself here in the cavalier way in which the Doctor kidnaps Amy and Rory (and Brian) by materialising around them without asking. Anyone less charming would never be able to get away with the Doctor’s level of rudeness.
And while we’re on quotes from The Christmas Invasion…
6. No second chances. I’m that kind of man
The Doctor has always been blessed with a ruthless streak too, of course. Even so, his decision to send Solomon to his inevitable death sits uncomfortably.
Mind you, I certainly don’t care as much about sending “metal tantrum machines” Jez and Mark – er, the characterful robots voiced by David Mitchell and Robert Webb – along with him. They provided some comic undercutting to balance the tension, but for me the voices themselves didn’t sound like they emanated from those machines. Even a little bit of reverb might have helped.
7. One in fifty
When Amy finds the video log that reveals the ship is a Silurian ark in space, the scientist notes that all but one of the species they have brought on board is adapting to the new environment, and will survive. But we hear nothing more of that solitary failing species.
It felt an odd point to make with no payoff. But that scene, and several others, had the feel of being edited for time, so maybe this is something that would have been explained if the episode hadn’t been so crammed with other great stuff?
8. “You’re weaning us off you.” “I’m not, I promise.”
More sledgehammer-subtle foreshadowing about Amy and Rory’s departure this week. But it occurs to me that the lengthening gaps between the Doctor’s visits to the Ponds really aren’t about him weaning off them.
They’re about the Doctor weaning himself off the Ponds.
9. “I’m not a Pond.”
Brian Williams is most definitely not a Pond, but he’s certainly from the same gene strain as Rory. Mark Williams delivers a performance which doesn’t rely on physical mimicry to portray that he’s Rory’s father. Instead, he allows the script to shine a light on how alike they are in character – resourceful, funny, able to take the bizarre and incomprehensible on board even when they ought, by rights, to think they’re going mad.
I have a feeling that if we’d seen Brian earlier in the series, he’d have been cropping up all over the place, as Mark Williams’s portrayal is so likeable. (Come to think of it, where was Rory’s dad at his son’s wedding?)
Which leads me to my final point…
10. Brian and Earth, sitting with tea. B – L – I – S S – I – N – G
Possibly the sweetest moment in fifty years of Doctor Who: a man who previously only ever went out to the shops and to play golf, sitting on the sill of the TARDIS, gazing out over the splendour of the Earth. Sipping tea from a Thermos, eating sandwiches from a little tin – both of which would have presumably been laid on by the Doctor for this very purpose.
In an episode with plenty of strong visuals, that one image is just beautiful.