After Series 7 of Doctor Who got off to a pretty dark start with “Asylum Of The Daleks“, this season immediately off-sets that hour of bleakness with a good old fashioned romp episode, in the vein of “The Runaway Bride“, “The Shakespeare Code“, “The Curse Of The Black Spot” or “Robots Of Sherwood”. “Dinosaurs On A Spaceship” is the type of light-hearted episode that already has a silly premise right from the start, and then it spends the next forty-five minutes embracing just how insane and absurd this show can get (“Dinosaurs On A Spaceship” probably reaches peak silliness during the scene where the Doctor, Rory and Brian make a quick getaway, riding on top of a triceratops).
But with that much having been said, this episode isn’t just pure fluff. “Dinosaurs On A Spaceship” contains some new character dynamics to explore for the Eleventh Doctor and the Ponds, since they’re all getting older now. This episode makes the direction Series 7A is heading in a lot of clearer, by setting up some ideas that will play out for the rest of this mini-series. And the ending of this story for the villain is quite surprising, having a real bite to it. “Dinosaurs On A Spaceship” is penned by future showrunner, Chris Chibnall, who had already written two other stories for Doctor Who in the past (“42” and “The Hungry Earth“), before he returned to the show to write two additional episodes in Series 7. “Dinosaurs On A Spaceship” contains one of his signature writing staples: the dude simply loves tossing lots and lots of characters into his scripts – sometimes more than he can handle – but he thankfully manages to give them all something substantial to do in this one (except maybe Nefertiti), and it is pretty cool to see a bunch of characters from the Earth’s past and present team up to save its future.
In “Dinosaurs On A Spaceship”, the Eleventh Doctor (Matt Smith) is faced with the lofty challenge of saving a spaceship full of dinosaurs from crashing into the Earth in the distant future – and he is absolutely thrilled by how insane that sounds. He decides to recruit some friends to help him pull off the mission, which gives him the perfect opportunity to go and meet up with the Ponds again. Amy and Rory are happy to see him of course, especially since he doesn’t go to visit them as much as he used to anymore, something Amy is growing suspicious of – she correctly assumes her Raggedy Man is trying to wean them both off him. “Dinosaurs On A Spaceship” sets up the main premise of “The Power Of Three” with the growing rift between Eleven and the Ponds.
Amy and Rory are torn between two different worlds at the moment: they can’t travel with the Doctor all the time anymore, but they can’t fully commit to a regular, domestic life either, because they’re always willing to drop everything they’re doing and go save the world with the Doctor. They have two different sets of priorities now, and this weird middle ground they’re staying in can’t last forever: sooner or later, they’re going to have to fully commit to one or the other. The Doctor can feel them both pulling away from him: they’re growing up, as they should do. The Doctor was the one who pushed them to do so in the first place in “The God Complex“, but he still can’t help but feel a bit sad about it, since they’re also starting to outgrow him. This episode also progresses one of the background arcs of Series 7A, by showing that the Doc is really committing to traveling quietly: he’s currently erasing himself from historical records and gaining a new protective layer of anonymity wherever he goes.
In “Dinosaurs On A Spaceship”, Amy Pond (Karen Gillan) and Rory Williams (Arthur Darvill) are once again dropped in the middle of one of the Doctor’s cases with little to no warning – so they’re half annoyed with him, and half thrilled to see him again – especially since Rory gets saddled with the awkward job of explaining everything to his father when Brian also gets dragged along on this trip. The Eleventh Doctor’s gang is inadvertently split up into two groups very early on, giving Amy and Rory an equal amount of meaty material to chew on. Amy spends much of this episode trying to keep John Riddell and Queen Nefertiti in line, and keep them focused on what their actual goal is when they can’t seem to stop bickering. With the Doctor gone, Amy has to be the responsible one of the group for once.
Fortunately, by this point, both of the Ponds have become experienced companions, so they can definitely show some newcomers the ropes if they need to and hold their own whenever they’re separated from the Doctor by using their heads. Meanwhile, a lot of screen-time is devoted to exploring Rory’s relationship with his father, Brian, which makes “Dinosaurs On A Spaceship” a Rory-centric episode: something’s that pretty rare in the show. Rory and Brian get along just fine, but they don’t seem to be especially close, and they don’t see eye to eye on a lot of things (Brian for instance is quick to question the Doctor and the Ponds’ sanity over their lifestyle choices). Over the course of this episode, the Williams men team up to survive and they start to find some common ground, as it steadily becomes apparently that Rory inherited some of his sensible, pragmatic personality from Brian, and by the end, they even manage to save the world together by commandeering a spaceship.
“Dinosaurs On A Spaceship” is the first of two episodes this season to feature Brian Williams (Mark Williams), Rory’s father. Since we’re nearing the end of Amy and Rory’s time on Doctor Who, the show is fleshing out their personal lives a bit more and giving the viewers a better idea of what they’ll soon be leaving behind in “The Angels Take Manhattan“. Brian accidentally gets dragged along on the Doctor’s high-stakes mission when the time lord recruits the Ponds for help, which means he gets a chance to see just what Amy and Rory have really been up to for the last two seasons. Brian is a simple man who enjoys the little things in life. He likes a good amount of structure and routine in his day, which is a totally understandable and relatable desire, and here he’s thrown right into the deep end – so naturally he has a good freakout about what he’s just been drafted into.
Still, Brian is a handyman who always tries to come prepared for an emergency, so he does find a way to contribute something to the task at hand – and it’s very clear that Rory inherited his foresight and pragmatism (as the team medic) from him. Eventually, our heroes turn out to be immensely lucky that Brian came, because they need a spare set of hands to help Rory pilot a Silurian ship who shares some of the same genes with him – and Brian loves every minute of it. By the end of this episode, Brian has fully gotten into the spirit of adventure and discovered there’s a whole other world out there that’s worth seeing – which basically mirrors the character arc Rory had himself back in Series 5, on a micro scale – so he decides to embark on his own solo trips with the Doc, helping the dinosaurs find a new, happy home on an alien planet.
The Doctor’s plucky gang of mystery-solving misfits consists of a few one-off characters Chris Chibnall created like John Riddell: a cocky big game hunter and an early 20th century daredevil who would feel right at home in the “Jurassic Park” franchise – though his character is probably portrayed more sympathetically here than he would be in that series. John enjoys the thrill of a good hunt – the challenge of bringing down big game – but he has a heart of gold nonetheless. He has a certain level of respect for the creatures he tracks – compared to Solomon, who thinks nothing of them – so he agrees to help the Doctor subdue them non-lethally. It’s always nice to see that the Eleventh Doctor managed to maintain friendships with people who used guns, so long as their hearts was in the right place, something that several other NuWho Doctors (like Ten and Twelve) struggled with a lot more because of their personal hangs-up.
Another notable member of the party is Queen Nefertiti, an Egyptian royal in the prime of her life who is feeling very restless and tied down by the social norms of her home era. She’s thirsty for excitement and she wants more out of life than her homeland where very little of anything ever happens. Nefertiti spends much of this episode butting heads with Riddell over the man’s chauvinistic views of women. Ironically, the two of them have a lot in common – they both have the same stubborn pride and wanderlust – and it’s very clear that there’s some sexual tension between them. Nefertiti eventually gets the life of adventure and excitement that she craves when she settles down in Riddell’s time, exploring the wild regions of the Earth’s seven continents with him for the rest of her days.
After “The Hungry Earth” two-parter in Series 5, Chris Chibnall once again writes an Eleventh Doctor story that involves the Silurians. During the era of the dinosaurs, the Silurians built a perfect eco-system for the reptiles, a jungle biodome in space, to preserve native life on Earth. It drifted in space for thousands of years until it was discovered by Solomon, a space pirate and black market dealer. Solomon killed them all for their precious cargo, and rather fittingly, the space ark became a prison of his own making, since he had no idea how to pilot it: he was trapped onboard with only two annoying comedy relief robots to keep him company. Solomon proves to be quite the vile villain and unrepentant murderer: life has no inherent value to him, and the only thing he really cares about is money. Just to make the viewers really hate him, Chris Chibnall even gives him the sci-fi equivalent scene of shooting an innocent dog, when he kills one of the dinosaurs on the ship to spite the Doctor.
Solomon tries to force the Doctor to help him escape the ship with his bounty, while the Doctor has to contend with humans on Earth sending up missiles to destroy the ship before it can collide with the planet: which means our heroes have to face danger from two different fronts at once. In the end, the Doctor decides to kill two birds with one stone by locking the missiles onto Solomon’s ship to save the dinosaurs, and then leaving him there to die. It is an immensely satisfying karmic death scene, but it’s also pretty dark, even for the Doctor – and the sudden brutality of this ending does serve a purpose, setting up the next episode (“A Town Called Mercy“) where the Doctor’s judgment calls as of late are called into question.
“Dinosaurs On A Spaceship” was directed by Saul Metzstein as part of the first production block for Series 7. Like Farren Blackburn, Saul Metzstein was a new director in the show’s roster, bringing a different style to the series, and he really goes to town behind the camera, making the scale of this story feel sumptuous and large as he moves it along with a brisk and fast pace. Mind you, it helps that the set design for this episode is pretty phenomenal. Doctor Who’s production values have steadily been on the rise for the last seven seasons, and by this point, the show can definitely afford to show off what it can do by seamlessly crafting large, lived-in sets to depict past and future periods in history on a pretty regular basis – like an old, run-down spaceship populated by reptiles.
The dinosaurs in question were created with a mixture of old school animatronics (ala “Jurassic Park”), and some gorgeous CGI from the Mill, oftentimes blending the two techniques at once between shots to maintain the optical illusion. The beachside scenes were filmed in Southerndown beach in Wales, the same location that previously stood in for Bad Wolf Bay in “Doomsday“, and the shores of Alfalfa Metraxis in “The Time Of Angels“. Murray Gold’s score is pretty light-hearted and comical this week, with the occasional moments of awe-filled bombast, in tracks like “Dinosaurs On A Spaceship / Pterodactyls“, “Brian” and “Take A Ride On Tricey“. The climax brings back “The Majestic Tale (Of A Madman In A Box)“, a proud and triumphant variation of the Eleventh Doctor’s theme that we haven’t heard in a while. To me, it always stands out as a pretty sweet representation of what the Eleventh Doctor and his friends are capable of when they’re at their best, working as a united force.
“Dinosaurs On A Spaceship” is a nice step-up from “Asylum Of The Daleks” as a crowd-pleasing episode of Doctor Who, and it’s good to see that the show can still find new and rewarding things to do with the core trio of the Eleventh Doctor, Amy and Rory, as we near the end of their time together.
* “Where’ve you been, man? Seven months. You said you were popping out for some licorice. I had two very disappointed dancers on my hands. Not that I couldn’t manage” Well, that was more information than the Doctor particularly wanted.
* I like the subtle detail that Rory inherited his father’s fashion sense. Brian is wearing the same sort of vests that Rory seemed to like so much back in Series 5.
* “Doctor!” “I know. Dinosaurs! On a spaceship!”
* “I could take one of them. Short blow up into the throat” “Or not! We’ve just found dinosaurs in space. We need to preserve them!” “Who’s going to preserve us?!”
* “Sorry, sorry. Are you saying dinosaurs are flying a spaceship?” “Brian, please, that would be ridiculous. They’re probably just passengers”.
* “Is he all right?” “No, he hates travelling. It makes him really anxious. He only goes to the paper shop and golf” “Well, what did you bring him for?” “I didn’t!” Doctor, oh my lord.
* “Dad, I’m thirty-one. I don’t have a Christmas list any more” “I do!” Well, that was more information than Rory particularly wanted.
* “And you, Amy. Are you also a queen?” “Yes. Yes, I am”.
* “You don’t have any vegetable matter in your trousers, do you, Brian?” “Only my balls” Stay classy, Doctor Who.
* “Oh, no, no, please don’t start flirting. I will not have flirting companions”.
* “Rory, where are you?” “Still on board. I met some pterodactyls and some rusty robots that I’m going to melt down“.
* “Piracy and then genocide” “Very emotive words, Doctor” “Oh, I’m a very emotive man”.
* “I’m riding a dinosaur on a spaceship!” “I know!” “I only came round to fix your light!”
* “You and the Doctor, are you his queen?” “No, I’m Rory’s queen. Wife. Wife. I am his wife. Please don’t tell him I said I was his queen. I’ll never hear the end of it”.
* “You clearly need a man of action and excitement. One with a very large weapon!” Again, stay classy, Doctor Who.
* “Doesn’t the ship have any defense systems installed?” “Good thinking, Rory! Mwahh!” Rory did not consent to that kiss, Doctor.
* “I like my possessions to have spirit. It means I can have fun breaking them. And I will break you in with immense pleasure” Holy shit, the implications of that line are dark. On top of being a mass-murderer, Solomon is also apparently a rapist. Such a lovely man.
* “So, what’s the plan?” “Come on. The missiles are locked onto us. We can’t outrun them. We have to save the dinosaurs and get Nefertiti back from Solomon. Isn’t it obvious?” “It’s sort of the opposite of obvious”.
* “Come on, Pond. You’ll be there till the end of me” “Or vice versa” Oof, girl.
* “Doctor? This is a two man job! Amy, what are you doing?” “I’m easily worth two men. You can help too, if you like”.
* “Tell me, did the Silurians beg you to stop? Look, Solomon. The missiles. See them shine? See how valuable they are? And they’re all yours. Enjoy your bounty”.
* It’s easy to miss, since Rory is also wearing a jacket, but Mr. and Mrs. Pond are both wearing matching shirts in this episode, and that’s cute.