REVIEW: Doctor Who - "Dinosaurs on a Spaceship"


I don’t think anyone can be confused by what last night’s Doctor Who was about – look no further than the title. And if you take last week’s premiere, turn up the flair and the madcap writing, you’ll have a sense of what “Dinosaurs on a Spaceship” was like. Between the prehistoric creatures and the threat of a greedy space pirate, the show even managed to introduce us to Rory’s dear old dad. I know – only on Doctor Who.

The episode proved that the show still isn’t ready to start the multi-episode arcs that help the show shine. Nevertheless, it’s clear that even a single-episode story with a silly title can be packed with character development, humour and emotion. Read on for my full review.

The episode wastes little time, opening with the Doctor on a whistle-stop tour as he collects some friends to help him with his latest mission. In the 24th century, a Silurian vessel “the size of Canada” is on a collision course with Earth. The Indian Space Agency will destroy the ship unless the Doctor can turn it around.

Accompanying the Doctor, Amy and Rory are a few new faces: Queen Nefertiti of Egypt (Rian Stelle) and Riddell (Rupert Graves), an Edwardian big game hunter. Oh, and Rory’s father Brian (Mark Williams). Together, the Doctor’s crew explores the giant ship and crosses paths with its prehistoric passengers, all while facing off with a space pirate (David Bradley) who wants to make a profit from the dinosaurs.

Much like “Asylum of the Daleks”, there’s a wide-eyed “anything goes” feeling in this episode that hooks you right from the opening scene. I imagine writer Chris Chibnall and the rest of the production team sitting around a table saying, “Sure, we’ll have Queen Nefertiti on board a spaceship in the 24th century. With dinosaurs. And robots. And the guy who played Ron Weasley’s dad in Harry Potter.” What’s more, the biggest triumph of the episode is that they pull it off. In the context of Doctor Who, it’s completely believable.

For fans of true sci-fi, there was quite a bit of material to chew on. The concept of a space ark loaded with dinosaurs referenced ideas our own space agencies have had to preserve the human race. The overall production design in the episode also made for some compelling visuals. I loved the look of Solomon the space pirate’s swords/crutches, as well as the brief glimpses of the Indian Space Agency mission control. The show certainly seems to be getting its money’s worth out of a limited TV effects budget.

The banter in this episode was particularly snappy. It was a good idea on the writer’s part to split the Doctor’s team into two groups – it helped develop some running gags and kept the pace up as we flipped between them. As one of my fellow Whovian bloggers put it: “I don’t remember the last time I laughed at Doctor Who that many times in one hour.” My favourite bits were between Rory, Brian and the Doctor – I really hope we see them team up again in the future. And for fans of British comedy: yes, that was David Mitchell and Robert Webb voicing the robots. Nicely done.

I imagine a lot of people will be talking about this episode for what the Doctor decides to do with Solomon at the end. It was a bit strange to see the topic of the Doctor’s mercy come up in such a nutty episode, but I’m glad Chibnall included it. It’s especially fitting following a Dalek-centric premiere, because if the Doctor can spare the Dalek Parliament, you might expect him to give the pirate another chance. It seems like there’s still more of the Doctor’s personality to explore.

The new series is only getting started, and even though we’ve seen two of these one-shot episodes so far, we’re definitely building towards something. The Doctor and Amy keep talking about the Doctor’s less frequent visits, and as most Who fans know, episode five will be our last with Amy and Rory.  However that episode plays out, if it can capture the wit and sense of adventure in last night’s story, it’ll make for a brilliant farewell for the Ponds. “Dinosaurs on a Spaceship” gets three stars out of four.

What did you think of “Dinosaurs on a Spaceship”? Were you swept away by the whimsical story? Or would you prefer the show to build more tension for the Ponds’ departure? Join the discussion in the comments section, and if you liked this review, share it with your friends and followers!