Some Treasures Among the Coprolites

Review of Dinosaurs on a Spaceship
Warning: This review contains episode-specific spoilers and wild speculation about future episodes.
Further warning: Profanity ahead.

I'm going to be up front about this: I didn't really care for this episode. To start, I've never been much of a Chris Chibnall fan. No disrespect meant, but I've just never particularly enjoyed his episodes. Mix that with the fact that I thought the whole dinosaurs-on-a-spaceship concept was less than fabulous (not to mention a ridiculously stupid title - I find the Snakes on a Plane reference juvenile and tawdry), and you have a recipe for ... well, for a bit of a letdown.

Before those of you who adored the episode crucify me, let me say I did not hate it unconditionally. There were parts I liked, and I'll get to those. But having come in with low expectations because of the title and then having my heart sink when I saw Chibnall's name on the screen, it was bound to be a bumpy ride. And while I could have fun with it from time to time, overall I came away with a distinct lack of enthusiasm.

Let's start at the beginning. Surely I can't be the only one who's noticed with chagrin how strongly it's implied lately that the Doctor is not only sexually irresistible to every (usually historically famous) woman he comes across, but that he is sexually attracted to them in turn. I mean, I thought the whole thing with Ten and Queen Elizabeth I was bad - Queen Nefertiti in the opening moments here (and Mata Hari last week) is just over the top. Now in the interest of full disclosure, I will admit I totally ship Ten/Rose (that's effectively canon), but that happened gradually over many many episodes. It started as a friendship, and built from there, rather than coming sheerly from a basal place of horndoggery like this. So I was irritated right off the top.

And then the Doctor decides to collect a gang. "Not really had a gang before. It's new." First, does he not remember any of his Fifth incarnation? What do you call Adric, Nyssa and Tegan, if not a gang? And what do they add? If you rewrote it without Nefertiti and Riddell in it, you would lose absolutely nothing from the episode - they're utterly extraneous. Finally, what possible motivation can he have for bringing random people he's met along in the TARDIS for one-off adventures, especially if he still intends to go back for "the Ponds"? Oh, right. That's Chibnall's idea of a story hook, not the Doctor's actual motivation.

Things did pick up for me once the rest of the (quasi-)regular TARDIS crew had been collected, though. I have to say, I found Mark Williams as Brian Williams/Pond brilliant. He was definitely one of the highlights of the episode for me, as pretty much any scene with Brian in it made me smile at least to some degree. And Rory. I still love Rory, who seems more regular-Companiony these days, and solidified that status with the smoochie. (I do believe that keeps the Doctor's record for snogging full-on, name-in-the-opening-credits-every-week Companions unbroken.) Amy was another matter.

I've never been a hater, where Amy is concerned, but I am starting to tire of her. And here - where she gets to play Doctor, with her own "companions" ("Please don't start flirting. I will not have flirting companions!" - and, by the way, yuck on the constant innuendo between Nefertiti and Riddell - enough, already!), I find her insufferably smug. The only time I actually enjoyed Amy in this episode was when she took up a gun to help Riddell with his "two man job" of stunning dinosaurs with an "I'm easily worth two men. You can help, too, if you like."

Even when she's having a heart-to-heart with the Doctor about why he doesn't take them traveling very often any more (and no, I still don't understand that whole arrangement), I don't quite find her relatable. Maybe it's because every other Companion ever has just had to get off the ride when it stops, instead of queuing up for another go twelve more times, that I can't find sympathy for her. Whatever's going on there, we know she's only got 3 more trips (as, given the cow eyes at the end, does the Doctor), so I suppose I should let it go, but it makes me sad that I like her less as the stories continue.

Right. So what about the actual plot? Doctor Who has done space arks multiple times before, but I'll admit that I found the Silurian twist clever, even as I said to myself, "duh, I should've guessed - it's Chibnall." By now the poor Silurians seem to have become the Whoniversal shorthand for a fucked-over race - the ultimate displaced aboriginals. I'm not quite sure how I feel about them being pulled out whenever that particular heartstring is meant to be tugged, especially as I don't like being so blatantly emotionally manipulated. And then there's Solomon as genocidal dick. I'll get back to that issue later.

Within the Silurian context, though, the dinosaurs actually worked, and the effects were very nicely accomplished. Kudos to The Mill. I can't help but wonder how incredibly dated this story will look in another decade or two, though. Since the battle is still raging over whether or not triceratops is a distinct species from torosaurus, I'll let the whole "Tricey" thing (ugh!) pass for now. But how soon will any CGI dinosaurs ever created (up till now) start to look silly because they don't have feathers? No, I don't count that against the episode - these dinos look exactly how the audience expects, if not better! - but as I wasn't immersed in the story to begin with, it was something I thought about, so I offer it as an aside.

Other bits that worked for me included Chibnall's love-fest for 2001: A Space Odyssey. It started off with Brian calling the Doctor "Arthur C. Clarke." The rest is kind of subtle - some Also Sprach Zarathustra-inspired thematic moments thrown in by Murray Gold, and the robots singing "Daisy, Daisy" as they powered down a la HAL - but they were clear nods, and that was lovely.

I also liked the snarky robots themselves. I kept thinking, "I bet this would be even funnier if I actually knew who the people voicing them were." After looking up the relevant actors, I think it's safe to say that assessment was correct; all you Brits undoubtedly got more out of their schtick than I did. I also like that they kept up a long-standing Doctor Who tradition by being absolute shit when it comes to aim. UNIT would be proud.

Another piece that made me happy was when Solomon scanned the Doctor for valuation, and found no identification whatsoever. That's more like it. That whole thing where the entire universe knew who he was and what all he'd done last series was one of my biggest pet peeves of the year. Why was he a universally known "warrior" hero? That's not how I perceive the Doctor.

And speaking of that...

Let's examine, for a moment, how Eleven solved the issue of the genocidal mercenary. Did he seriously leave someone - even someone whose sins were as egregious as slaughtering thousands, who may or may not have been the only survivors of their species - to die by a booby trap of his making? Without giving said individual a chance to turn over a new leaf, to choose his own fate? With a bit of a smile? That's... not Eleven. I'd say it's not the Doctor, but one could stretch it to say One or Seven (even Ten, thinking back to the end of The Family of Blood) might have done something that vicious - though even they would have given the perpetrator an opportunity to redeem himself. It just does not sit right with me that Eleven would have done that.

I suppose there's always the chance that Solomon had an escape pod, or could have jettisoned the signal (I was shouting at him to do as much, as he sat there shouting at the Doctor), but that's certainly not how we're left to read the visuals. And so as the story wrapped up, I was left with a very unpleasant taste in my mouth. How can I reconcile that with the way I feel the Doctor "should" act? I suppose I'll either have to heed the Doctor's admonition ("Don't ever judge me by your standards.") or pretend I never saw it. Not a win.

So is it a bad sign for next time that I don't really care for either Westerns or cyborgs?

Categories: 

Comments

Like you I have not been a fan of Christ Chibnal's previous work but I liked this story a lot. I have commented elsewhere that what amounted to an execution of Solomon did not sit well with me either but to be honest it was probably the only thing that I had a problem with in this episode.

Here's some of the areas where we differ:
1) I like the idea of the Ponds having time off between travels if only because it is a concept that I don't think has been done to this extent in the classic or New series (Harry Sullivan notwithstanding).
2) I was ok with the foreshadowing of the imminent Pond departures even if it was shoehorned in, at least the script had the decency to acknowledge that it was being shoehorned in.
3) I thought the gathering of the gang was an interesting and fun exercise and I managed to cope with the double entendres between Riddell and Nefertiti, I also thought Solomon's lascivious enjoyment at the thought of breaking in Nefertiti was in character for such an evil bastard, although I would accept that it could be questioned if it was approriate in a story that was IMHO aimed at the younger end of the fan base.
4) I have always liked Amy's character and nothing she said or did in this episode changed that.

5) When are you going to review Shada? :-)

By Wholahoop (not verified)
mrfranklin's picture

~snort~

Probably when I've actually seen it. ;)

By mrfranklin

Now I may have been a fan of this episode but I must emphasise that referring to the eponymous Mr Chibnal as Christ is most definitely a typo

By Wholahoop (not verified)
PaulGreaves's picture

You really didn't enjoy that, did you? I haven't watched it yet (I was recording The Sea Devils podcast at the time, ironically) and am in no immediate hurry to do so. I'll get around to it eventually.

By PaulGreaves --

____________________________________________________

http://thetimevault.wordpress.com

mrfranklin's picture

Um... No, sorry. :\ I mean, I can see why some people loved it, but it just didn't do it for me. I'll be interested in your opinion once you get around to i! :)

By mrfranklin

0. Seriously, why could no one bother to come up with a better title?
1. I adore you & your dinosaurs paragraph. :)
2. This was not nearly as scathing as I'd thought; hope you didn't tone it down for some bitchy twitter gals.
3. Solomon: what really gets me about him & why I'm totally ok w/ 11 being 10 or earlier (thank you for being one of a few to acknowledge that, btw) is -- Solomon didn't just kill all the Silurians, he WOKE THEM FROM CRYO before pushing them out the airlock. Woke them up to kill them.
3 b. As you know, much of my enjoyment was watching this with a 9 year old girl. You are spot on about the darker bits, esp the "breaking" of Nefi, being out of place in this ep. Maybe that was Chibnall's idea of balance? But no. I haven't talked to her mom, so I'm curious how much went over her head vs. inspiring hard questions. She's a bright girl.
4. I think he got the gang together as buffer between himself & the Ponds. Something bad is clearly upon them, so he needed some distraction while including them in the adventure. Why he keeps leaving them for longer times but still returning, I can't explain. Though even Riddell says he was gone 7 months when meant to be right back. Darn helmic regulator acting up again.

By abqmichelle (not verified)
mrfranklin's picture

0. Maybe they didn't realize there's a fine line between clever and stupid.
1. Why, thank you! I am 100% nerd, born & bred.
2. No, I didn't. :) All the feedback I was seeing online at first was of the "best thing since sliced bread" variety, and since my initial gut rating would've been 2 stars (out of 5), I was certain I was setting myself up to be tackled by an angry mob simply by not liking it.
3. Yes. That horrified me, too.
3b. That's gonna be a tough one, if any of it got through her 9-yr-old filters. :\ I've seen other reviews elsewhere which point out - extremely astutely, I think - that there was a very big disconnect between what was family friendly and just-for-the-kids in this one, and what was probably meant as "edgy" but just came across creepy to me. Not a win on the Chibnall front, IMO.
4. That's an interesting interpretation. It makes more sense than anything else I've come up with/read so far. :)

By mrfranklin

I probably should not have numbered those as they are neither in order of importance nor with your review. Sorry.

By abqmichelle (not verified)
mrfranklin's picture

No worries. ;)

By mrfranklin

I probably should not have numbered those as they are neither in order of importance nor with your review. Sorry.

By abqmichelle (not verified)
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