`Dinosaurs On A Spaceship` is just as much fun as it sounds.
Handed the title to do with as he wished (and which the budget allows), Chris Chibnall delivers his best Doctor Who episode to date. A while back his episode `42` made much of its real time setting; the adventure would unfold in just 42 minutes. `Dinosaurs On A Spaceship` seems if anything even faster. It appears to pack more into its 42 minutes than `42` does. And it’s got dinosaurs. On a spaceship. Just the way Matt Smith says it perfectly captures the mood being evoked here. It’s fun, frantic, fannish and frivolous.
Chris Chibnall has had a rough ride from fans and I think I now know why. His previous stories have not had enough fun in them. Fun On A Spaceship, this could have been called. Sometimes- and I’m not suggesting for a moment every episode should be like this- but sometimes you just need to have fun. I could predict with uncanny accuracy what some fans will dislike about this episode but count me out. Sometimes having fun is enough. In fact this is Chibnall’s most adept fusing of old and new Doctor Who yet. He serves up a proper old fashioned villain of the likes we’ve not seen in a while, mixes in a little Silurian stuff, presents a big Earth threatening dilemma and manages to juggle seven characters well enough for each to fulfil their potential.
Rather like Russell T Davies used to do, Chibnall skates over annoying detail so we don’t really know much about the Doctor meeting either Riddell or Nefertiti but it doesn’t matter. They are interesting people whom we might see again (these days we’re always seeing people again) and well played by the Rupert Graves and Riann Steele. “Never had a gang” declares the Doctor and along with Amy and Rory he gets Rory’s Dad as well. I like the way he pitches this father / son thing, never egging it and capturing the sort of awkward but accepting relationship you’d imagine Rory and Brian would have. Mark Williams is great casting and of course it allows Arthur Darvill to do his best befuddlement, which nobody does as well as him.
You’d expect that to work though, but what is more surprising is the Nefertiti / Riddell / Amy trio. They really are a complementary group and I found myself speculating what an adventure with just these three would be like. Nefertiti is just modern enough without losing her historical essence. The sequence where Amy and Riddell deal with the attacking raptors is also very well thought out.
An appearance from David Bradley always brings class to a TV series and Solomon is an antagonist without redemption and Bradley invests seediness to his evil that makes him chilling at times. Matt Smith, who spends the rest of the episode in giddy abandon, plays against Bradley with more serious intent. These scenes and indeed Solomon’s agenda could come from any era of the series. These days Doctor Who looks less like Doctor Who than ever before but inside Solomon’s ship with these two sparring, it was just like the old days. And Silurians! If you’re going to do this story it makes sense really and funnily enough it caught more of the essence of the old lizard people than all 90 minutes of Chibnall’s sprawling Silurian story of two years ago. Interesting too that in that original story it was the Doctor who was outraged when the Silurians were blown up and here it is he who condemns Solomon to a death without offering to save him.
Other things to love about this episode include the chippy robots which look great and are genuinely funny as opposed to the usual annoying talking robots. The dinosaurs themselves are fantastic of course because everyone can do CGI dinosaurs but they are used imaginatively and in such a distinctly unusual scenario that it seems fresh.
Saul Metzstein- who directed the excellent British film Late Night Shopping a decade ago- steers with a fluidity and sense of purpose. His big screen experience is brought to bear on several occasions resulting in bold choices at every turn. He is especially good at ensuring the different visual elements mesh together and the action never outweighs the character moments.
When everyone first heard the title of this episode there was a collective groan however `Dinosaurs On A Spaceship` proves to be a winning combination after all. This movie styled episodes idea seems to be working out rather well.