Dinosaurs on a Spaceship

13th September 2012 • Review by Seb Patrick •

I’ve got to admit, I was sceptical about this American re-imagining of Doctor Who. But following the widescreen movie explosiveness of the opening of “Asylum of the Daleks”, we saw the Yanks’ influence in full effect here, as The Doctor gathers together his oddball gang of compadres (A cut-glass-accented gentleman adventurer! An Egyptian Queen! The Ponds! Arthur Weasley!) and whisks them off to a spaceship filled with dinosaurs. Oh, and don’t forget the wacky talking robots! It’s quick, it’s glossy, it’s throwaway – sure, it doesn’t really ever settle on a particular plot and examine it in depth, but by gum it’s a rollocking adventure, and that’s what we want from Doctor Who USA, isn’t it? I just can’t wait for the episode where we finally get to meet the Doctor’s father, Cardinal Borusa, who now lives in the crystals that power the TARDIS.

Hey, steady on. There isn’t actually a single, defining “correct” way to do Doctor Who. We like to pretend there is, and so we criticise episodes for not being the perfect vision of the show that we have in our heads, as if every story has to manage to feel like “The Dead Planet” and “Tomb” and “Inferno” and “Genesis” and “Talons” and “Androzani” and “Fenric” all mashed up together in one. There are those who still won’t accept the likes of “Rose” and “Love & Monsters” as “true” Who, even though the show spent longer than the tenure of any individual Doctor bar Baker as the type of series Russell made it into. So the apparent “Americanisation” – or perhaps, more specifically, “Hollywoodisation” – of this year’s run isn’t necessarily a less valid interpretation than any other.

Hmm. But do you not feel like this story gives the impression of being written by someone who’d never actually seen an episode before but had the premise of the show described to them? It’s a bit all over the place, throwing in token elements apparently at whim – a dinosaur here, an historical figure there, a peril plot involving missiles, a Silurian, a creepy bad guy, those bloody robots… Does it ever manage to settle down and decide what kind of story it actually is?

I’ll tell you what kind of story it is: a fun one. No, make that, a funny one. And that’s a surprise, coming from Chris Chibnall. If there’s one thing we’ve been able to rely on in his stories so far, it’s been the relentless, happiness-destroying grind of scripts written by someone apparently not in possession of a sense of humour. But this zips along with some great lines, amusing physical comedy moments – including an especially good performance from Smith – and just generally feels like something that’s not taking itself too seriously. It’s been a while since the show just flat out tried to appeal to the kids again, and I approve.

Doesn’t take itself too seriously? Were we watching the same thing? What I see is an episode in which the villain commits mass genocide before being, essentially, sentenced to death by a lead character who crosses an uncomfortable boundary. It’s the worst excesses of Chibnall’s particular brand of “Ooh, edgy” stories writ large. Appealing to the kids? Blimey, I’d hate to see your kids.

I haven’t got kids. You should know this, since you’re me.

Am I?

Yes. I’m just a rhetorical device created for the purposes of this slightly ill-conceived review, to deal with the fact that you’re finding it difficult to reconcile your conflicting thoughts about the episode.

I see. Do I do this kind of thing often?

Sometimes. It’s handy when you need someone to shout at for eating the last KitKat out of the fridge. Basically, I’m here for you to argue with.

No you’re not!

Sigh.

Just kidding. So I suppose these conflicted thoughts stretch to whether or not the Doctor was in the right at the end of the ep?

Yes. Well, not whether he was “in the right”, per se, but whether or not the writer was correct in having him do it. I think both sides of the debate are justifiable. If you described the events of the episode to a fan, the reaction might well be “The Doctor doesn’t kill in cold-blood like that”. Only – he does have a history of wreaking terrible vengeance on the worst of his enemies, and frankly, it’s hardly as if Solomon didn’t deserve what he got. Nor is it the case that the Doctor actually committed the murder himself. The way the story plays out, it doesn’t instinctively feel on watching like the uncomfortable moment it’s since been accused of being.

You agree with me that the revelation of the Silurians’ fate, and basically everything that follows, is quite a jarring tonal shift from what’s gone before, though, right?

I suppose I do. You can’t do a light-hearted romp of an episode and then have it end that way without it feeling like someone’s lost control of structure, somewhere.

Well, that’s the feel of the episode in general, isn’t it? As I said, lots of clashing elements, and never quite the feeling that the writer is in command of them. I’m still yet to figure out, for example, what the point was in having Mitchell and Webb show up for an ADR session that was obviously done long after filming, but which only gave them about five lines of dialogue between them. A bit of a waste, no?

I don’t know, I thought they were at least pretty funny.

You would.

They weren’t as funny as Mark Williams, though.

Ah, well. Here’s something on which we agree. The undoubted highlights of the episode occur every time Rory and his dad are onscreen together. Williams is always reliably fantastic, but the chemistry between him and Darvill is so strong that I’m almost expecting them to be revealed as actually secretly father and son. Brian gets most of the episode’s best lines, but more crucially than that, he’s given a genuine character arc of depth and warmth. Given that I can’t remember a single defining characteristic of any human supporting character in either of Chibnall’s previous stories, this achievement is all the more remarkable.

Indeed. So in conclusion, I suppose we can call this an episode with some major flaws in its construction, but still – by dint of sweeping along on a wave of freewheeling joy and adventure, and one of the best guest character appearances in both conception and performance since Bernard Cribbins was last around – the strongest contribution Chris Chibnall has yet made to the mythos.

Yes. And it actually holds up quite strongly in that “difficult second story” slot, too.

So it turns out we were able to reconcile those conflicting opinions after all. Hurrah! You’re welcome, by the way.

Thanks. Now, where’s that last KitKat?

Erm…

Seb Patrick once met Paul McGann, who immediately pretended to be Mark McGann. He writes for Den of Geek, BBC America, Film4 and the official Red Dwarf website, among others. He owns over thirty toy Daleks and wishes the Dapol factory tour was still open.

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