by Catriona Mills

Live-blogging Doctor Who Season Seven: "Dinosaurs on a Spaceship"

Posted 15 September 2012 in by Catriona

Synopsis

There were dinosaurs. And they were on a spaceship. That’s it.

Okay, it was a bit more complicated than that.

We open with the Doctor being sexually assaulted by Queen Nefertiti in Egypt in 1334BC. Fortunately for him, he’s interrupted by a call from the Indian Space Agency, who have detected a spaceship heading towards Earth and intend to blow it from the sky unless the Doctor can do something to divert it. Filled with the sudden, slightly inexplicable desire for a “gang”, the Doctor picks up John Riddell, an Edwardian big-game hunter, and then materialises around Rory and Amy in their living room, picking up Rory’s father Brian in the process.

They materialise on the spaceship, which they find is, just as the title promised, filled with dinosaurs.

BRIAN: A spaceship … driven by dinosaurs?
DOCTOR: Brian, please! That would be ridiculous. They’re probably just passengers.

The Doctor heads off with Rory and Brian to find the engines, which turn out to be on a beach, which is only slightly more surprising than the fact that they then get attacked by pterodactyls. Meanwhile, Amy (momentarily distracted by the more-than-slightly disturbing flirting between Nefertiti and Riddell) manages to get the computers to reveal that the vessel is a Silurian ark, looking for a new world. So what went wrong?

The answer to that is, roughly, Argus Filch. Or, more accurately, Solomon, an inter-galactic black-market trader, who has come aboard the ark with his two cut-price robots to gather the dinosaurs for sale. When the Silurians wouldn’t trade, the robots threw them out of the airlocks, a few at a time (see “What didn’t work for me”). But then Solomon was savaged by some raptors, in what isn’t really an example of contrapasso, but I really wanted to use that word for some reason, and now he can’t stand. Through a combination of threats and actually shooting people (namely, Brian), he convinces the Doctor to work on his legs sufficiently that he can stand (whereupon Nick and I said to each other, “Well, my title is purely honorary, and Harry here is only qualified to work on sailors”).

Among all these hijinks, which included riding a triceratops and the following dialogue:

DOCTOR: Have you got any vegetative material in your pants?
BRIAN: Just my balls.

which I’m a bit surprised they got away with in this time slot, the Doctor has run out of time to divert the ark, and the Indian Space Agency has targeted them with missiles. The Silurian ark needs to be piloted by two people of the same genetic line, which is a bit fortunate and a lovely bonding experience for the Williams men, so they can divert it from the Earth, but there’s still the question of the missiles.

So the Doctor manages to divert the missiles so that they blow up Solomon’s spaceship (rescuing Queen Nefertiti from his nefarious clutches at the same time), leaving us with a moral dilemma that we can discuss in the comments.

We end (almost, excluding Nefertiti running off with Riddell for completely inexplicable reasons) with a really quite lovely moment of Brian just sitting with a packed lunch, dangling his legs out of the open doors of the TARDIS, and watching the Earth below.

What didn’t work for me in this episode

Call it nit-picking, because it is, rather, but I’m not particularly convinced by the triceratops chasing a golf ball. I’m even less convinced by the fact that an animal that they keep emphasising is a herbivore would chase a ball in that fashion. Okay, they claimed he was interested in it because it was covered in plant matter, but let’s be honest: it was dog behaviour. And dogs chasing balls is much more the act of a predator than of a prey animal. I mean, have you ever tried to get a rabbit to fetch a ball? Exercise in futility, right there.

The triceratops also felt a bit like a Victorian orphan, to me. I mentioned this to Nick, and he said, “Huh?” But I mean that it felt as though they killed him just so we’d get a cheap emotional response, like an orphan in a Victorian novel. I don’t mean that it wasn’t a little sad, because it was. But compare that to, for example, Vincent Van Gogh seeing his own exhibition—there’s no comparison in terms of emotional impact, to me.

Maybe I just didn’t bond sufficiently with the triceratops?

I was also a wee bit unhappy with Nefertiti. I suppose that having her run off with a sexist big-game hunter is one way of explaining her disappearance from the historical record, though I don’t think it’s a theory to which many Egyptologists would subscribe. But it does seem a little rough on Akhenaten, who really doesn’t deserve to be called the human equivalent of a sleeping potion.

(I’m no Egyptologist, but if the Egypt sections take place in 1334BC, Nefettit’s husband would be Akhenaten by then, yes? And they’d be in Amarna, rather than Thebes, pursuing the ultimately ill-advised policy of worshipping the Aten in favour of all the other gods in Egypt’s pantheon? And would have some six daughters? This suggests to me that Nefertiti should also have been a little older than she was presented, especially given how she is presented in her bust (which definitely looks like a mature woman, to me). It also suggests that calling her husband Amenhotep IV was rather inconsistent. Again, though: not an Egyptologist.)

(Side note: in checking a question of spelling on IMDB, I noticed that someone’s entered Nefertiti’s naming of her husband as a goof, suggesting she gives herself as married to “Imhotep”, but I remain convinced she says “Amenhotep”, which isn’t wrong but is chronologically confusing.)

I always worry, too, when the Doctor’s actions seem unnecessarily brutal, and blowing up Argus Filch certainly falls into that category. Nick’s theory on this is that the moral code that Chris Chibnall posits in his Doctor Who episodes is rather at odds with the morality of Doctor Who generally, and I suppose that’s a fair reading. The ending did seem a little brutal, especially since, let’s face it, the Doctor’s flirted with genocide himself more than once.

Then again, never, ever press the Doctor’s buttons when it comes to the Silurians.

Finally, how long do you think it took them to chuck all those Silurians out of the airlocks? That’s a dedication to airlock deaths that even Robert Heinlein would envy.

What worked for me

I very much liked Rory’s relationship with his father. It felt grounded, normal, and plausible. I was slightly worried (especially after the seemingly unnecessary “We’re basically divorced!” sub-plot of last week) that this would be another moment of heightened and rather unnecessary emotional angst. But it wasn’t. Sure, there was some general child-to-father frustration (who hasn’t been there?), and I sensed an undertone of Rory’s family maybe thinking his choice of profession isn’t particularly manly, but all that just worked to deepen the relationship for me and keep it plausible.

Also, I’ll be honest: I can’t hate dinosaurs on a spaceship. I just can’t.

Share your thoughts [9]

1

Wendy wrote at Sep 15, 12:39 PM

It was all a little bit silly…but amusing. Rory’s father was the highlight for me.

2

Tim wrote at Sep 15, 01:07 PM

I can’t hate them, but I can on one hand wonder why an episode with them didn’t really seem to do much with them, and on the other hand wonder why the Doctor would get so excited about them. He’s seen all sorts of things on spaceships before. This episode was a bit of a muddle.

Re the naming, Amenhotep IV changed his name to Akhenaten during his reign; the former was the name he married Nefertiti under, so she might have preferred it. (In 1334 BC, it’s likely that he’s dead and she’s either ruling in her own right or as Tutankhamen’s co-regent.)

3

Catriona wrote at Sep 15, 09:48 PM

I wasn’t so worried about the Doctor’s excitement: maybe he’s just really into dinosaurs? Or maybe, being the last of his species, he gets a real kick when he finds something that should be extinct, but isn’t?

Tim, I did know that re. the name changes/marriage etc. I was thinking, though, that we the audience would be more familiar with the name Akhenaten than with Amenhotep. Plus, given the fact that, as you say, he’s probably dead by this point, that just make me more annoyed. I mean, they didn’t have to say 1334BC. They could have picked a date when she was plausibly a younger woman, if that’s what they wanted.

4

Tim wrote at Sep 16, 04:25 AM

Though if her husband is dead, it’s a bit easier for her to shack up with a 19th-century big game hunter for no apparent reason.

Re the excitement, the Doctor is a time-traveller — most of the things he’s sees will be or have been extinct at some point. Matt Smith’s delivery was good, but the line just leapt out at me (even more than the many such examples in New Who) as something waving at the geeks in the audience and saying, ‘You’d be excited about this, wouldn’t you?’

Whereas the (arguable) Hitchhiker’s Guide reference was more subtle and funnier, to my mind.

5

Tim wrote at Sep 16, 04:27 AM

Sorry, meant to say that I figured you knew about the name change, and I wonder whether one of the writers threw it in to show ‘Look, we’ve done some research!’ without considering how much of the audience would understand.

6

Deb wrote at Sep 16, 08:10 AM

I enjoyed this episode even less than the previous weeks sigh – it was good to see Amy doing positive things and the support for and from Nefertiti, but Nefertiti ending up with Riddell? No, not even if he has a ‘big gun’, just No.
Rory and Brian were delightful and very believable, quite touching that they each carry their own relevant tools and I hope Rory gets a bit more respect at home now.
Do we excuse the Doctor kissing Rory on the grounds of his quirkiness? or is it just another sexual assault? Problematic action for me.
Sending Solomon off to certain death? Also problematic – surely the Doctor could have thought out a solution that included punishment rather than death, marooning Solomon (sans weapons and communication devices) with the dinosaurs?
Please nobody mention the robots to me – I very nearly threw things at the television screen. I LOVE robots in almost all shapes, forms, and representations. I also love Douglas Adams, but those ‘bots seemed like a strange mash-up of the two things and annoyed me to shouting point.

7

Catriona wrote at Sep 16, 12:10 PM

Except that, Tim (just to get really nit-picky here), if the writers had done a bit of research and were showing off their Amenhotep IV/Akhenaton knowledge, why set it in 1334 BC? You (and by “you”, I don’t mean “you”, I mean the writers) can’t have it both ways: if this is meant to be a clever, “Unicorn and the Wasp”-style meta-comment on a historical puzzle, then they needed to make Nefertiti a suitably mature woman (that bust is of a staggeringly beautiful woman, but she doesn’t look like a young woman) and not make irritating mistakes/confusions over her husband’s name.

(Incidentally, I think I’m a bit annoyed at Nefertiti’s relative youth anyway, because this is a science-fiction program about time travel and aliens: why oh why would we allow it to perpetuate the idea that beauty is synonymous with youth?)

That’s going to annoy me for a good long while now.

Oh, Deb: if you’re annoyed about the Doctor kissing Rory and about Oswin’s “phase”, just wait until we have room to talk about Susan the horse.

Spoilers!

(No, seriously don’t post any spoilers, people. I’m sticking to the ABC free-to-air schedule for the live-blogging, not iView. There’s room for that next week.)

8

Tim wrote at Sep 16, 01:11 PM

Maybe the writers forgot to tell the casting director. :)

9

Deb wrote at Sep 16, 01:17 PM

I don’t think I am annoyed about the Rory kiss, I am still processing it, just troubled I guess more than actually peeved, though about the Oswin ‘phase’ I know I am seriously cheesed off. Yes ‘Susan’ – will bite tongue for now.

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