Sunday, 23 September 2012

TV Review: Doctor Who 7.02 - Dinosaurs on a Spaceship

Dinosaurs, Dinosaurs, why do you Love Brian's Balls?

Yes, as you may have guessed from the quite frankly farcical title, the second installment in Doctor Who's seventh revived series is a light-hearted one. A romp, one could refer to it as. Don't go speeding down assumption junction just yet, though, because it may surprise you to hear that Dinosaurs on a Spaceship, the fourth Doctor Who story penned by Chris Chibnall (His previous works being 42, The Hungry Earth and Cold Blood) is actually a very solid episode. One of the best of its kind, in fact. It might also surprise you to hear that the 45-minutes this episode presents also packs some pretty serious drama, fantastic direction from newcomer Saul Metzstein and a perfectly handled mix of CGI and animatronics for the titular dinosaurs. On top of this, brilliant casting choices for the vast range of characters, as well as an at times snigger-inducing script, can also be added to episode 2's list of merits. Oh, and there's a balls joke in there, too.

One thing you definitely have to keep in mind while watching Chris Chibnall's latest (at the time of writing, at least; He's also penned episode 4 of this series) is that it isn't trying to do anything groundbreaking in its 45-minute time-frame, despite the fact that a particularly controversial, fan-splitting decision from the Doctor takes place towards the end. More on that later, though. As aforementioned, Dinosaurs certainly fits under the category of 'light-hearted romp', as it combines a fair few elements; a considerably larger set of companions as opposed to previous adventures, a stellar variety of locales (at least in the episode's pre-credits sequence; One that zooms by even swifter than that of Asylum of the Daleks) and most importantly, a multi-layered plotline that takes place almost alongside the kind of narrative one expects from the title of the episode. Yes, Chibnall has pulled the same trick showrunner Steven Moffat did with last year's divisive story 'Let's Kill Hitler' by misguiding the viewer's expectations through means of an intentionally specified title. Thankfully, though, Chibnall manages to combine the unexpected elements of this story with the dinosaur action that was to be expected judging from the title, even going so far as to give a superb, fan-pleasing explanation as to why the dinosaurs reside in such unfamiliar terrain.

The gang is well and truly all here in Dinosaurs. Rory's newly introduced pops Brian is a particular highlight.
Back to the 'romp' side of things, it would've been so easy for Chibnall to mess up this episode. Let's face it, it's happened a number of times before with Doctor Who, and I must admit that I set my expectations low on the run-up to this particular tale. So, does the writer manage to deliver a tale that perfectly balances the large quantity of concepts within its short time-frame, or does he completely bollix it up? As expected from the lack of negativity in this review thus far, the answer to that question is without a doubt the former. Chibnall greatly blends together practically all of the elements found in Dinosaurs on a Spaceship, presenting a very fun episode amongst what seems to be a collection of more serious numbers. Don't get me wrong, it is flawed in some aspects, but let's focus on the good for now. So, let's not hesitate to get into the meat of things, if you'll pardon the pun...

Story-wise, Dinosaurs is actually rather basic. Soon after saving the Egyptian race off-screen and becoming a semi-love interest for the flirtatious Queen Nefertiti, The Doctor receives a distress call from the Indian Space Agency. Don't bother asking why they specifically made it the Indian Space Agency as opposed to, say, UNIT or NASA, because I'm as clueless as anyone else is in that regard. What this reviewer isn't clueless about is the task The Doctor must overcome having been informed by the ISA that "A spaceship the size of Canada" is hurtling towards the Earth's crust, set to crash in just over six hours. If The Doctor can't prevent this catastrophe from taking place, the Indians send up missiles to solve the problem with brute force. Knowing that he'll need more than just an Egyptian Queen to investigate, Eleven enlists the help of charming big game hunter John Riddell (fantastically portrayed by Rupert Graves) and his standardised companions Amy and Rory. Due to materialising around the latter two in the TARDIS in a rather rushed fashion, however, Rory's dad Brian also gets pulled into the mix.

Being a CG-heavy episode, Dinosaurs on a Spaceship surprisingly nails the visual side of things. And here I was thinking the BBC were in a sticky financial state... It certainly doesn't show here!
Considering they're such a big part of the story (pleasingly, every member of the main cast in this episode has something to do) it's probably a good idea to analyse these characters in more detail, starting with the new face we won't have seen the last of just yet. Brian 'I'm not a Pond' Williams, played by Mark Williams (expect me to mix these two up at some point) is a brilliant new addition to the show's cast, and I pretty much fell for him as soon as he opened his yapper. I can't wait to see him once more in this series' fourth episode and I must admit that I'm slightly annoyed at the prospect of us not seeing any more of him after that - Both valid signs that he's a fantastic character. The slightly more one-dimensional personae found in Riddell and Neffy, while not quite as important to the story as the rest of The Doctor's 'gang', still serve a purpose and are acted pretty well. There was even a clever riff on history with the latter character - The Egyptian Queen really did disappear from the history books in 1336BC. Unfortunately, one of these characters is essentially a plot device which certainly doesn't demand the phrase 'brilliant writing', but at least there's a reasoning behind the inclusion of this particular role.

Solomon, played by David Bradley, makes for a truly hateful villain... In a good way. His metal counterparts make for truly hateful characters, too, albeit in a bad way. Thank sanity that they've got their traps shut most of the time.
The dinosaurs themselves are actually more of a backdrop for the episode's main plot, The villain of the piece is in fact Solomon, a space pirate portrayed excellently by Rupert Graves (who you may know as Argus Filch from the Harry Potter films), aided by two rusty heaps of metal with David Mitchell and Robert Webb's vocal chords. The less said about Solomon's henchmen, the better, because the episode's main flaw is basically down to them. The robots clearly had abysmal joke chips installed, because whenever they spoke I just cringed. Solomon, however, is a superb villain who literally reeks of evil. This leads into a certain controversial action that The Doctor partakes in near the episode's climax, and while I won't give anything away it is slightly divisive. Personally, I completely agree with it. Moving onwards before I spoil anything, I'm glad to also reveal that Amy and Rory are very well implemented into this episode, unlike the one that preceded it. We see a new side to Rory thanks to the inclusion of his dad (which is more than welcome given his bumbling nature in Asylum of the Daleks). 9 months since The Doctor last visited them, Amy questions whether the Time Lord will leave them in a particularly heart-wrenching scene. "You'll be there to the end of me" "Or vice-versa" "...Don't." Foreshadowing is lovely, isn't it?

The only real problem with Dinosaurs on a Spaceship is the ever-clashing themes it keeps switching between. There's just as much kiddy humour as there are dark moral undercoatings, and you just get pulled out of the moment whenever those damned Mitchell and Webb robots activate their voice boxes. Thankfully they don't do so that much and they only leave a dent on the episode's exterior. While the episode can indeed be funny - That balls joke in particular caught me by surprise - It's the darker confrontations between The Doctor and Solomon paired with the action sequences of the final third that really steal the show and definitely make up for a certain comedy duo's infuriating vocal appearance. All things considered, Chris Chibnall's latest is just a fun episode. It doesn't do anything particularly amazing and it does pack a few conventional flaws, but when it comes down to it watching TV programmes is about enjoyment, and the pure fun Dinosaurs on a Spaceship exhales delivers spades of the stuff.


Raphael Reviews said...

Lovely jubbly - but I think you should include spoilers... Maybe.

Noodle said...

These reviews were originally written for Stream, which is a public thing. There's a chance that I might do spoiler-packed reviews in the future, for The Angels Take Manhattan in particular, but for now I'm concentrating on spoiler-free ones. It's definitely a thought, though!

Thanks for the feedback, Raph.

Tom said...

Awesome review Noodle :3