Saturday, 8 September 2012

Television - Doctor Who 'Dinosaurs On A Spaceship' review


'Dinosaurs On A Spaceship' sounded like the sort of episode which would have one good joke and nothing else, much as how Snakes On A Plane dragged once it actually had to take itself seriously enough to build some kind of story. 'Dinosaurs' didn't bother much with plot, but overflowed with bonkers ideas, escalating into a madcap forward momentum which was far too much fun to give any serious thought to. Every scene seemed built to make viewers think: 'Where else but Doctor Who could I see this?'

The new format, encompassing a shortened season with seemingly higher budgets for each episode, is paying dividends if this and 'Asylum Of The Daleks' are anything to go by: minimising season-long story arcs in favour of  'a Hollywood blockbuster each week' has given this year's Who the most outright entertaining start to a season the series has ever had.
   
The episode's spirit was summed up by the Doctor starting the episode by putting a gang together, comprising Queen Nefertiti, a big game hunter called John Riddell (I'm not sure if he's a historical figure or not - like Amy, I'd never heard of him, and search engines aren't turning up much), plus the Ponds and a stowaway dad. What was the point of the extra passengers? Not a lot, as the Doctor readily admitted, it's just something new. Neither Nefertiti or Riddell were given much to do, other than a bit of stilted flirting, but their presence jazzed up the familiar formula and gave the episode some spark.
  
It's a shame more wasn't made of the similarities between Riddell's profession and villain Solomon's plan to make money from selling animals as commodities, or the 'gender politics' mentioned as lip service only, but entertainment can get away with a lot when it's being, you know, entertaining.The anarchic energy propelling 'Dinosaurs' forward was more than enough to cover the gaps in its plot, or occasional missed opportunity for clever character dynamics. Sometimes, having a triceratops chasing a golf ball is enough. Heck, it's always enough.

The best of the newcomers was Mark Williams as Rory's dad, Brian. Williams made his name as a well-meaning, slightly daffy curmudgeon on classic sketch comedy The Fast Show, and later as Pa Weasley in Harry Potter, and Brian played to all his strengths. Whether alternating between total bafflement at what was happening to him - picking up mid-DIY by the TARDIS - or getting slobbered over by a dinosaur which liked the smell of his (golf)balls, Williams was in his element and stole every scene. The dynamic between him and Rory was particularly sweet because of the similarities between them. Brian, like his son, was a man overflowing with sweetness, and while the revelation of the ship's control system needing two pilots from the same family was shamelessly contrived, it was worth it for the sight of him flipping out with excitement while his slightly embarrassed son looked on. His closing request to look down on the earth from space (while munching on a sandwich) was a moment of touching quietness in the aftermath of all the havoc. Spaceships, dinosaurs and Egyptian Queens are all well and good, but nothing compares to the beauty of home.

Home comforts seem set to be an important theme this season. Last week, Amy's ordeal on Demon's Run had pushed her and Rory apart, until they rediscovered their love for each other on the brink of death. This week, Amy voiced concerns about the destabilising effect of the Doctor dropping in and out of her life at random intervals. With she and Rory set to leave at the end of the season, a choice appears to be being set up between the excitement of adventure and serenity of a stable family life. Just as Brian was ultimately happy seeing his home planet from on high before doing the rest of his travelling on earth, Amy and Rory looked as though they were starting to share his appreciation of simple, peaceful pleasures. Perhaps, for once, the Doctor's companions won't die or suffer some deep sadness, but simply decide to settle down. Or maybe Amy will just get really jealous when she discovers the Doctor planted a big wet smooch on her poor husband's lips.

Another similarity between this episode and last week's was the Doctor's relative coldness towards his enemies. In 'Asylum', he was happy to let a planet populated with Daleks be destroyed (not to mention blowing up a couple for himself), and this week, he makes a point of sending Solomon to his death. True, Solomon was a particularly cruel piece of work in his own right, having ejected the dino-ship's Silurian pilots through an airlock, but the Doctor usually makes a point of giving his enemies at least one chance to redeem themselves. Not so for Solomon, nor last week's Daleks. We've seen how the Doctor can let his anger get the better of him after travelling alone for too long, and Amy notes it has been several months since she and Rory last saw him. Will his actions be responsible for his companions choosing to depart? Clips from next week's Western hint at further misbehaviour. If so, Moffat could be building a very subtle, clever character arc for these five seemingly standalone pre-Christmas episodes. After last season's exhaustingly overcomplicated plotting, it would be a fine way for the Moff to answer his critics.

Regardless, it was the standalone elements of 'Dinosaurs' which made it such fun. As the episode begged its viewers to ask, where else but Doctor Who could you see a trio of time travellers riding a triceratops through a spaceship powered by the waves of an artificial beach, while robots voiced by Peep Show's Mitchell and Webb gave chase? Where else would Queen Nefertiti team up with a big game hunter to argue gender politics with a Scottish girl? No Jenna Louise Coleman and her sensational legs this week, sadly, but 'Dinosaurs On A Spaceship' was as entertaining as its title suggested, and that's all that needs to be said.

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1 comment:

Silent Hunter said...

Didn't like this one. Nice ideas, poorly combined.