Chris Chibnall’s third Doctor Who contribution is also his best one, so in order to make up for some of the less-than-positive things I’ve said about him in the past I’ve taken it upon myself to take a look back at it. Maybe I’ll be able to find some good things to say about him? Let's face it though, before watching an episode called “Dinosaurs on a Spaceship” it’s not unreasonable to lower expectations before going in, but let’s take a look and see how it measures up with nearly four years of hindsight.
The first things you’ll notice about this story are the characters, because there are a lot of them! Chibs obviously has to work with the Doctor, Amy and Rory but he also goes and throws in some other one-off companions with them. First up we meet Queen Nefertiti of Egypt, in an example of how historical figures should be worked into the story, with Chibs lifting her right out of her comfort zone from the classical world to the far future and proving herself as a capable and strong woman – this is how women should be written on this show so full marks to Chibs there, as well as to Riann Steele for bringing her to life.
African game hunter John Riddell joins her. He’s a sexist pig and an animal-slaughterer too, yet Rupert Graves (Lestrade from Steven Moffat’s Sherlock) manages to make him come across as a charming man and is thoroughly entertaining to watch. Goodness only knows how he manages to do that but he does it anyway.
Rounding it off is Brian Williams, father of Rory, played by Mark Williams playing basically the same character he plays in everything. He’s no Wilfred Mott but he’s the closest we’ve come to since then. His refusal to believe that he’s been unexpectedly whisked away to a spaceship of dinosaurs is a highlight of the episode. Brian is a credible candidate for what Rory’s father would’ve been like and he makes a welcome addition to the family Pond.
And of course it goes without saying that this is a great showcase for Matt Smith as the 11th Doctor. He shows us every side to his Doctor here, turning from the socially awkward alien to the grumpy old man to the resourceful hero and the brooding monster, all in one of his most physical performances ever. Smith can and does sell all of these different aspects of the Doctor’s character and it’s just as well since Chibs forces them all in there.
But the star of the show is David Bradley. His character Solomon is one of the broadest and blandest characters ever written for this show, basically his character profile consists entirely of the words “Evil” and “Rude”, and that’s it. He should be a pantomime villain but because of Bradley he isn’t. Bradley puts the right nuances and delivers his lines in the right way so that he becomes so much more and ends up being one of the best villains we’ve seen in the show. He’s evil and rude and not much else but Bradley makes it work. I don’t know how, but he does it.
So the characters are a good selection then – save for the “comedy” robots voiced by Mitchell & Webb for some reason – and so what about these dinosaurs?
Well they certainly look great, no doubt about that! They’re realised well with a seamless blend of CGI and practical effects making for one of the best-looking monster species this show has seen and are likely to hold up well for some time. Chibs however doesn’t make them a focus of the story and that’s where the issues begin to creep in.
Take the comedy for example. I’ve already mentioned the two robots played inexplicably by David Mitchell and Robert Webb who are clearly thrown in for purposes of amusing the kids. They’re not the only ones either. The Doctor shouting about his Christmas list, the joke about grassy balls and the way the Triceratops is written like a big dog all serve for comic relief but I’m not convinced any of these ideas work. Amy also has one particularly off moment when she realises that she’s on a Silurian Ark and questions the absence of the Silurians –Karen Gillan stops just short of looking right down the camera and asking the kids at home to help her.
So if these moments are just about passable because they serve their purpose of amusing the kids then what you can’t excuse are the obvious sexual references. Take “walking innuendo” Riddell for example; he talks about women in a very objectifying way with the comments about “managing” two dancers or spanking someone over his knee coming to mind as just two of the worst examples; this is from the most prolific Torchwood writer and it shows! I guess in that show it wouldn’t be out of place, tame by that show’s standards in fact, but here it doesn’t sit right. Then there’s Solomon’s opinion of Nefertiti as an object that he will “break with great pleasure” and you don’t need me to tell you that he’s talking about raping her. I’m not saying that there isn’t a place for this sort of thing on TV (quite the opposite, it needs to be addressed) but there’s a time and a place and this is neither. Bradley sells this cliched dialogue perfectly but there’s absolutely no need for it in a family show.
But other than these things there’s a lot to like here. Take the other bit of darker subject matter at the end when the Doctor doesn’t so much as leave Solomon to die as he does engineer it. This could’ve rubbed some viewers the wrong way but not me, I think it’s a brilliant moment for the Doctor’s darker side to come to the fore and it’s exactly how Solomon’s story needed to play out. Given how heavily Chibs and Bradley have presented Solomon as pure irredeemable evil, it will not do any harm to the universe to remove him from it and my cheering at the sight of the missiles blasting him to bits will not weigh on my conscience at all. Good riddance!
Overall then, I’d never say that Dinosaurs on a Spaceship is going to go down as an all-time great Doctor Who story but if you can overlook some flaws it has a lot to recommend. An oddball story and one-off fluff piece with some seriously dark moments to interest the adults and some childish comedy to amuse the kids, it does what it says on the tin and has something for everyone and that’s definitely a good thing. There are definitely much better Doctor Who stories out there but there are also several that are much worse. Dinosaurs on a Spaceship is a perfectly serviceable episode of the show – but that’s all it is.
When he's not obsessing about Doctor Who whilst having I Am The Doctor play in his head, Dr. Moo can usually be found reading up on the latest in Quantum Physics. As you do when you're a physicist.