8/9/12 “Dinosaurs on a Spaceship”
“What sort of man doesn’t carry a trowel?” –Brian Williams
I have to say I enjoyed this. Maybe it didn’t have anything profound to say, but for a one-part story it was quite entertaining. It had a lot of characters, which can always be challenging for a writer, but it actually worked beautifully. The beginning moved at a meteoric pace, so fast that I couldn’t really follow what was going on—a problematic move, perhaps, and the pace reminds me several times of the worst excesses of the Tennant Doctor. But this is quickly over, leaving us with a mountain of sharp one-liners. There’s Egypt 1334 BC, there’s a ship the size of Canada. The Earth in the future will use missiles on it in six hours (“42” anyway?). “I liked you before you said missiles,” says the Doctor, yet he is not as angry about it as he was with Harriet Jones in “The Christmas Invasion.”
As you will probably know, I’m less of a fan of the Doctor doing short hops than the random wanderer not in charge of his own vehicle. Certainly here (and throughout Vast Toffee’s era) the Doctor is doing the short hop; it’s egregious, really, with the Ponds, but I digress. So it irks me slightly that the Doctor picks up his “help,” first with Queen Nefertiti and then in 1902 with a big game hunter called Riddell. I am pleasantly surprised, though—I had expected from the trailer a more formulaic introduction for this random, Indiana Jones-like character.
Another pleasant—more than pleasant, fantastic!—moment was the introduction of Rory’s dad Brian. Mark Williams is a huge Doctor Who fan, and while it was great having him as Max Edison in Big Finish, I bet he was so bloody excited to be appearing as a bonafide companion (it’s got the same overdue awww factor as when Wilf finally got to be a companion, however briefly). Of course, Amy and Rory don’t see it that way—“not here, not now!” The astonishing need of the Doctor to fawn over the Ponds seems like a unique midlife crisis moment for him that I don’t think has occurred with any other characters so far.
Yet I cannot complain too much, as it gives us the delightful “gang” that the Doctor speaks of in a few moments (though to say he’s never had a gang before is pure bullsh*t). I love his absent-mindedness in materializing around Amy, Rory, and Brian and then his berating the bemused Brian as a stowaway. As for the spiders/cobwebs on the spaceship, I really thought that was a clue that was going to go somewhere (other than to provide funny visual gags)—I thought, maybe, maybe a reference to the Big Finish story Cobwebs (there kind of was with the rusty robots, although they probably have more inheritance from Marvis). “You think you can just bring your dad along—I’m not a taxi service.” Amusing how many times the companions’ relatives accidentally get aboard—I wonder if Sarah’s Aunt Lavinia is wandering the corridors even now . . . ?
Nevertheless, the dark, weird spaceship causes the gang to start investigating at once. I have to say, after getting over the initial shock (the costume, for one, which looks great and correct from far away and then makes you go “huh?”; her blithe acceptance of everything, for another) of Nefertiti (I refuse to call her Neffie), I was actually thrilled to have her included. I really hope children start looking up who she was after having seen her on TV. She’s as strong, smart, and sexy as River and has a real-life counterpart, besides (and is some senses more appealing, in my opinion). Also, it’s a nice nod (in my mind, at least) to Erimem. One of my favorite Teaspoon and an Open Mind stories involved the Ninth Doctor, Rose, and Jack going back to ancient Egypt, so it’s nice to have a little bit of (delayed) wish fulfillment.
“Are they the new us?” the Pond want to know of Riddell and Nefertiti. In a sense, perhaps, it’s too bad that they aren’t. (And though the conclusion is amusing and satisfying on one level, I also have to wonder: won’t Egypt miss its Queen?) It was great fun to have the Doctor and his gang running away from two anklyosaurs. “We need to preserve them,” the Doctor insists. “Who’s going to preserve us?” Riddell asks back. The questions, of course, are why and how are there dinosaurs on a spaceship and whose spaceship is it? Brian is delightfully confused for a few minutes. “Are you saying dinosaurs are flying a spaceship?!” Perhaps now is a good time to say I like the “cluster” design of the ship.
Excellent job of splitting up this motley crew. The Doctor, Brian, and Rory get transmatted to what seems to be Bad Wolf Bay (Southerndown Beach). “Thank you, Arthur C Clarke,” snaps an exasperated Brian. “Is that kestrel?” “I do hope so.” Thanks to Brian’s voluminous pockets (shades of Howard and his satsumas) the guys figure out that the beach has a floor beneath it.
Just escaping sleeping T-rexes in a nest are Nefertiti, Riddell, and Amy. It’s lucky for Riddell that his travels with the Doctor seem to have cured him of most colonialist ills other than sexism. “I don’t take orders from females,” he says. Nefertiti has reason to be regal, and Amy is impressed. When Amy doesn’t know who Riddell is, he says, “You clearly have enormous gaps in your education.”
The Doctor extrapolates that they have not moved from the ship, but instead are in the “engine room” (explain that, Christopher H. Bidmead)—“hydrogenerators!” However, they are then pursued in what is surely a happy moment for old skool fans—the return (not in so many words) of Malcolm! Klak! (By this I mean the pterodactyl from “Invasion of the Dinosaurs”; I did not expect you to get that private joke.) It causes the guys to retreat into a cave (which seems like a bad idea before stomping noises are heard). Large robots, reminiscent of Sarah Jane Adventures and with voices reminiscent of The Cannibalists—it took quite a long time for us to figure out they were Mitchell and Webb) rather than dinosaurs menace.
Amy has made surprising progress trying to find out more about the ship (she’s not nearly as interesting as the other two). She recognizes, however, that the ship is Silurian, which is a twist I should have seen coming, but I didn’t. “We’re on an Ark,” she realizes. “I will not have flirting companions,” she says, the height of hypocrisy. She also, again rather remarkably, figures out that “this ship’s been boarded before.” Another element of danger is introduced.
The robots continue to bicker. They come upon a triceratops, there’s a rather shocking joke about golf balls, and the triceratops gives Brian a big sloppy wet kiss. I love dinosaurs so I can’t complain. When the Doctor is taken to meet the previous boarder, I wonder how Argus Filch will explain himself. He excuses his robots by saying, “I got them cheap.” He was attacked by raptors and is now immobilized and will stop at nothing to get it. “Injure the older one,” he tells the robots, who shoot Brian. (It’s like Walter Donovan shooting Indy’s dad.) “I don’t respond well to violence,” says the Doctor, yet he cannot help but give in. I am not at all annoyed that Rory picks up nursing supplies on his travels, though I wonder if the Doctor knows and approves? (Ie think of Hex bringing his knowledge to the Crimean War in Angel of Scutari)
Conveniently (as mobile phones threaten to take over our entire lives) Amy then calls Rory. “Oh I never talk about myself with a gun pointed at me,” says the Doctor as he is forced into helping Filch (I mean Solomon), whose business is, in the Doctor’s words, “Argos for the universe” (which will make no sense to non-Britons). “That’s me, worthless,” says the Doctor, with the same tone that accompanied the end of “Amy’s Choice.” The Doctor is angry at Filch having committed “piracy and genocide,” which I agree is terrible—waking the Silurians and then jettisoning them into space—but he seemed to have no such qualms about piracy in “Curse of the Black Spot.”
The guys have an awesome getaway from the stupid robots on the triceratops, which Brian gets moving by tossing golf balls (nuts or what?). As the irritated (and slightly irritating) robots chase them, Jamie makes the apt comparison with Turbo Tina! As six hours have passed and the Doctor tries to figure out how to save everybody before the missiles reach them (I thought he might be able to corral everyone, including the dinosaurs, into the TARDIS, but there are two problems with this: how does one corral a T-Rex—or for that matter, a raptor—and remember what happened to the Rani at the end of “Mark of the Rani”?).
Filch has in the meantime decided he wants Nefertiti as his bounty in return for letting everyone else go; as a historical specimen, she’ll definitely fetch a high price. To prove his point, HE KILLS THE DINOSAUR! I know I shouldn’t have let it get to me—it’s only made of CGI pixels and it’s cheap manipulation on Chibnall’s part—but it was sad. L In order to save the others, Nefertiti says, “I do it of my own will.” Riddell, who’s obviously had time to develop a fancy for her, tries to stop her, but she says to “let me make my own choice.” In order to buy time, the Doctor needs those from “the same gene-chain” to pilot. “Yes, Ponds!” the Doctor cries in delight. “I’m not a Pond,” says Brian. “Of course you are.” This is way too convenient, but I’m willing to overlook it because . . . I’ve been reading a lot lately about Who and fandom. Kate Orman says Who is best when the companions (often female) are allowed to be the best they can be, and the next sequence is a really illustrative example of this, for everyone (except Nefertiti, really). Rory and Brian are piloting a Silurian space ship (surely something never dreamt of even in their wildest dreams!). Amy who’s “easily worth two men,” helps Riddell tranquilize raptors. This is some serious companion power.
The Doctor rescues Nefertiti, causes the missiles to follow Filch’s ship rather than the Silurian ship, and then leaves, letting it be blown up. Even for an irredeemably evil and irritating person like Filch, this seems a bit much. And it isn’t really commented upon. Then, the Ponds want to be taken home—whose taxi service is it, really?—but Brian wants to gaze upon Earth from above the atmosphere while drinking tea and having a sandwich (how British).
The implication at the end is that Brian has continued his travels with the Doctor, presumably meaning we’re getting a cop out with showing these adventures on TV. I hope they show up somewhere, otherwise they’re showing up in my fan fic.