New Who Review: Dinosaurs on a Spaceship
The Doctor attempts to help the Indian Space Agency about a runaway spaceship of Canadian size headed for Earth. Promising to stop it before it needs to be blown up, he picks up a few friends – Rory and Amy (and Rory’s dad, accidentally) big game hunter John Riddell, and already in his company, Queen Nefertiti of Egypt. They find the ship is a derelict space ark, originally from Earth, created by the Silurians. But where are they, and how did a mysterious and heartless trader named Solomon get control of the ship?
Arthur Darvill had it exactly right when he discusses the latest episode of Doctor Who in a promotional video – “It does what it says on the tin”. The Doctor’s got a gang, Amy has her own companions, Rory’s got his dad, Rory’s dad’s got balls in his pants, the ship’s got a surprising builder, you’ve got your spoiler warnings, and did I mention there are…
DINOSAURS ON A SPACESHIP
by Chris Chibnall
directed by Saul Metzstein
Doctor Who is no stranger to funny episodes, but in the new series, they usually occupy a different spot in the series. They’ve most often come near the end of the series, almost as a buffer to the rollicking action and drama of the series’ finale. But this one is the second of the series, and is certainly one of the more barking mad ones to come along. It may be a perfect episode for that friend you’ve been trying to get into the series – lost of humor, great adventure, and a good look at what can happen in a DW story; namely, anything.
GUEST STAR REPORT
Rupert Graves (John Riddell) Has been on British screens for over thirty years, but he’s best known to Who-fen as Inspector Lestrade on Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss’ adaptation of Sherlock. He appeared in V for Vendetta and a wide array of TV series, from modern to historic.
Mark Williams (Brian Williams) has a lot of quality work in both comedy and genre work under his belt. He played the patriarch of the Weasley clan in the Harry Potter films, appeared in the recent Gormenghast, and played Cadet Flynn in Rob Grant’s Red Dwarf followup, the why-haven’t-you-seen-it-yet series The Strangerers. In Britain, he’s certainly best known for being a castmember of long-running sketch program The Fast Show. Up next, he’ll be portraying G. K. Chesterton’s detective Father Brown in a new adaptation for British TV.
David Bradley (Solomon) is another alumnus of the Harry Potter films, in the role of Mr. Filch he’s enjoyed over forty years of acting, mostly on British television, in series of all shape and size. He voiced one of the Shansheeth in the Sarah Jane Adventures episode The Death of the Doctor. He’s next appearing in a TV adaptation of the Ken Follett novel World Without End.
David Mitchell and Robert Webb (robot voices) Can best be described as being World Famous In Britain. Stars of the sketch comedy series That Mitchell and Webb Look, they’re also popular on the chat and game show circuit, always able to come up with wit on the fly. As an example of their brand of humor, here’s a classic about a pair of introspective Nazis.
The team are the latest in the trend of big stars making voiceover cameos on Doctor Who. Last year Michael Sheen voiced House in The Doctor’s Wife, and Imelda Staunton was the voice of the Apulapuchian Kindness Facility in The Girl Who Waited.
Richard Hope (Bleytal) is now one of a growing group of “go-to” actors who have played multiple members of the same alien race for the series. He’s played two alternate-timeline versions of the Silurian doctor Malokeh (in The Hungry Earth / Cold Blood, and The Wedding of River Song), and now plays the scientist of the same race, keeping track of their ark. He joins Neve McIntosh, who played two Silurians in the aforementioned two-parter, as well as the Victorian adventurer Madam Vastra (who is rumored to be returning Quite Soon Now) and Dan Starkey, who’s played several Sontarans on DW, as well as voiced them in a few audio adventures and the videogame The Gunpowder Plot.
Riann Steele (Nefertiti) got her first screen credit in David Tennant’s version of Hamlet, and has been making appearances in TV shows and films ever since.
Chris Chibnall (writer) made his first appearance connected to Doctor Who back in the original series. He appeared with a number of other fans on a BBC talk show reviewing the 1986 series (Trial of a Time Lord) and was…not entirely satisfied with it. In the years between, like so many of the current writers, he became a screenwriter, and was brought on board by Russell T. Davies, not at first for Who, but its anagrammatic spinoff, Torchwood. He was listed as co-producer, but was effectively the head writer of the series. After a year or two writing for Law and Order U.K. (starring Freema Agyeman) he was brought back on Who, where he wrote 42 and the Silurian two-parter from last series. In addition to this episode, he also scripted the prequel series Pond Life, furthering the backstory of the Ponds’ life when The Doctor isn’t around.
Saul Metzstein (Director) is new to the series, but is coming on with a bang – he’s also doing the next episode, two on the back end of the season, and also directed Pond Life. He’s done a number of documentaries, including The Name of This Film is Dogme95, about the popular “back to basics” style of filmmaking spearheaded by Lars Von Trier and his contemporaries. In accordance with the rules of the movement, he was not credited for his work on the film.
There were some dinosaurs down in the Silurians‘ cave in their first appearance Doctor Who and the Silurians. The race of Homo Reptilia ruled the earth millions of years ago, but a massive asteroid heading for Earth convinced them they needed to hide underground in hibernation (and, as we now know, built at least one ark) to avoid what would certainly be a world-killing event. Their numbers were off by just a hair – the asteroid missed, was grabbed by Earth’s gravitational field, and became our moon. They’ve slept beneath the Earth for millennia, only awaking when accidentally disturbed by humans, who evolved to the dominant lifeform of the planet in their stead. Along with their close relations the Sea Devils, they’ve fought The Doctor on several occasions on screen, and quite a few more times in the other media.THE MONSTER FILES – For a show about time travel, you’d think The Doctor would have come across dinosaurs every other week, but in fact they’ve barely bee seen at all. Jon Pertwee fought The Dinosaur Invasion when Operation Golden Age sent time all funky and brought dinosaurs to modern London. The Rani tried twice to use dinosaurs in her plots, in Time and the Rani and The Mark of the Rani. And there were pterodactyls (that should not be fed) in the parks of London in The Wedding of River Song.
BACKGROUND BITS AND BOBS – Trivia and production details
LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION – Everyone’s heart leapt when there were rumors that Doctor Who was returning to film at Southerndown Beach, which was used as Bad Wolf Bay for Rose’s departure. But it stood in for the engine room in this episode. It was also the surface of Alfava Metraxis in Time of the Angels / Flesh and Stone.
WHEN WE LAST LEFT OUR FRIENDS… – In an earlier draft of his Doctor Who episode, Neil Gaiman had a sequence that would show the middle of a previous adventure, effectively interrupted to lead in to the new one, almost interrupting it. He discusses the scene here. It’s effectively the structure used here with Nefertiti, tho this seems to be much more the end of the other adventure. But both get across the point that The Doctor has many adventures, large and small, that we don’t get to see. As was touched on in last season’s A Good Man Goes To War, The Doctor has met many people, some who owe him a debt, and some (Winston Churchill, for example) who just call him friend. Both Nefertiti and John Riddell are examples of the latter.
Nefertiti is not the first member of Egyptian royalty to travel in the TARDIS. Princess Erimemushinteperem (Erimem for short) traveled with the Fifth Doctor in several audio adventures from Big Finish Productions. After meeting one of the Osirans (seen on screen in The Pyramids of Mars), she accepted the proposal of the newly-crowned king of Peladon and left The Doctor’s company.
SO THAT’S HOW JEFF BROKE HIS LEG – Slow down the playback as the dinosaurs as they tromp towards the screen just before the credits – a crack appears at the last instant, presumably as the glass of the “camera” shatters under the foot of a rampaging ankyosaur.
THE PUNCHLINE IS, “AND THEY WORK FOR SCALE” – As mentioned last week, the Doctor Who logo will be changing each week, covered with a new “skin” connected to the episode. This week it’s covered in dinosaur hide. It’s a cute idea, trying to give the opening a little Simpsons-esque little update each week, but I’m not sure the
show logo is the thing to be changing. Also, I think it’s a bit too small on the screen – perhaps making it a bit larger might help.
WELCOME…TO JURA—SORRY? – The dinosaur effects in this episode are a seamless mix of physical effects and CGI. In the case of the triceratops The Doctor and the Williams Boys ride, it’s a mix on the one moveable beast. The head and torso are a physical prop, moved along by stagehands, while the back feet and tail are CGI. Solomon’s robots are funny physical effects as well – those nearly ten foot tall suits were worn by members of the show’s team of monster players.
HI HO TRICEY! – There’s been a bit of discussion in the archeological community over whether or not the triceratops actually exists. There’s a very similar breed, the torosaurus, and there’s a theory that indeed they are the same species; what we know as the triceratops is a young torosaurus, which underwent a bit or a metamorphosis as it grew. The theory was tabled a couple years ago, but recent studies have come to the agreement that it’s in error. Just as well – I still haven’t gotten over Pluto and the Brontosaurus – I don’t think I could take losing the Triceratops.
“I’ve got it set to temporal news view” Apparently The Doctor’s psychic paper has another function. It was introduced in the new series as a device able to appear as any form of documentation he needs to get out of any situation, from a ticket to view the end of the Planet Earth, to ID backing up his claim that he represents Q
ueen and Country. Some people are able to contact him via the paper, wither by being a close friend (AKA River Song) or by having emotions so strong and powerful the reach across space and time (Young George in Night Terrors). Apparently it also has the ability to pick up news of events he may be able to help with, like a four-dimensional police scanner.
“You don’t normally get spiders in space” – Oh, I don’t know about that. Aside from the dominant life of Metebelis III, AKA Planet of the Spiders, there’s the Racnoss from The Runaway Bride, the Alzarian Spiders from Full Circle, and lots of other examples from the other media.
“Hydro-generators!” We’ve seen a number of “hybrid” power systems in the new series, like the treeborgs on the Byzantium in Flesh and Stone, which converted photosynthesis to electricity, and provided oxygen to boot.
“I will not have flirting companions” Effectively, Amy has take the role of being in charge here, and is the one figuring things out. Rory is helping his father cope with what he’s seeing, and later, fixing him up when he’s hurt. He also lies. It’s another sign of how far the Ponds have come in their time with The Doctor, and possibly, why they need to move on.
“I don’t respond well to violence” Of all the events of the episode, it’s The Doctor’s decision of what to do with Solomon that has sparked the most debate. It’s far from the first time he’s killed – he’s ever talked about the blood on my hands. Indeed, one could argue that he’s killed more by his inaction. He chose not to destroy the Daleks at their start in Genesis of the Daleks, as he realized that in some cases, races who were at war would unite to fight them, ending wars that could cause more deaths. But by doing so, he effectively sentenced all who would die at the Daleks to those deaths. In The Vampires of Venice, he doomed an entire race to extinction, the amphibious Saturnyne, all because their queen didn’t know the name of one of the girls they killed. His choices seem based mainly on how cruel the being are acting towards others, and how much potential the have of being rehabilitated. He chose to help Kazran Sardick and not just push him out of the way (with authority) all because he chose not to strike a child. But even then, he gives Solomon a chance – he warns him that the ship is under attack, and tells him to leave. Solomon’s fate is based entirely on his own choices. He is clearly and irretrievably evil, and none of The Doctor’s companions seem distraught with the choice.
“A monkey could do it…oh look, they’re going to” The Silurians referred to the humans as “apes”, as when they were on the surface, that’s all humans were.
“Try not to bump into the Moon, otherwise the races that live there will be livid” at the time of this episode (2367 AD) there are human colonies on the moon, and presuming the Selenites are not part of the show’s continuity (Considering Mark Gatiss recently produced and starred in a remake of First Men In The Moon, I’d make no such assumptions) there have been no indigenous races reported on the moon. So he may just have been being funny, but surely the humans on the moon would be annoyed by a fender-bender.
“Daisy, Daisy…” rather an obvious one here – Hal 9000’s last words, a repeat of his first, at the end of 2001: A Space Odyssey. Also makes the earlier reference to Arthur C. Clarke by Brian a nice callback. But not everybody knows the etymology of that choice of song. A programming team taught an IBM 7094 to sing back in 1961, and this was the song it sang.
“Can I ask a favor? There’s something I want to see” As The Doctor has said many times, traveling with him changes people; usually for the better, if they survive. In The Sarah Jane Adventures, she explains that she did a bit of research and found a bunch of people who traveled with The Doctor, all of whom have dedicated their lives to helping others in big ways and small, including, of course, herself. Brian’s transformation from someone who “hates to travel” is a more personal type of transformation, but one no less dramatic. Considering all the places he’s been in those postcards, it’s assumed that once again, quite some time will have passed until the next time The Doctor visits the Ponds.
“Siluria!” According to the events of The Hungry Earth / Cold Blood, in 1,000 years’ time, the Silurians will emerge from their cryo-chambers and negotiate a peace with the humans of earth. That’s still several centuries away from the events of this adventure. One wonders how much the flora and fauna of the Silurian Ark will be able to thrive in that time, and whether or not it will make a good world for homo reptilia upon their return?
BIG BAD WOLF REPORT
“Are they the new us?” In School Reunion Rose faced the idea that The Doctor’s Companions come and go, that he has had friends before she came along, and will have some when she leaves. Amy has known The Doctor literally as long as he’s been in this incarnation, and with Rory, have been traveling with him for most of that time. The idea that he might stop seeing them and start traveling with other people is clearly something that has crossed their minds. This carries throughout the episode, and is a theme through much of this semi-season. His relationship with the Ponds is quite different than other companions – he’s keeping in touch, and even though he’s set them home safe more than once, he’s drawn back to them. One reason for that is he’s family. He’s married (or will be, or will someday more officially be) to their daughter River Song, and that really needs much more explanation, but wait a couple weeks and I’ll be able to get into get in detail.
“How’s the Job?” It’s a bit of a throwaway line, but Amy has been unable to keep a job, for fear of missing The Doctor. This whole scene is choked with portent, and is very revealing of the very unique these three have. It’s been said that Amy and Rory have almost adopted The Doctor;Amy is speaking like a mother who’s afraid to have a life, lest her child need her. She ever expecting a call, asking that she pick him up.
Since we already know that the Ponds will be leaving The Doctor’s company at the end of episode five (tho we of course know in what way, or position), it’s tempting and worrying to hear anything being said about them parting.
“That’s me…worthless” Once again, parts of the universe has forgotten about The Doctor, which was, of course, his plan. Some are suggesting the capable hands of Oswin Oswald are at it again, but let’s not forget that in the first episode of the new series, The Doctor produced a program that would erase all records of him off the Internet. No mean feat, to say the least. He could have easily done the same for this value indexing system…or could do so retroactively at his next opportunity.
NEXT TIME ON DOCTOR WHO – A western, filmed in Spain, with an alien. THAT’S multiculturalism. A Town Called Mercy, just a week away