Like Samuel L. Jackson’s ill-fated film Snakes on a Plane, “Dinosaurs on a Spaceship,” the second episode of Doctor Who‘s seventh season, was reverse engineered from its title. Unlike Snakes on a Plane, “Dinosaurs on a Spaceship” is actually enjoyable.
Though really, that’s all it is, a fast-paced, slapstick adventure story that ultimately feels more juvenile than adult, more Sarah Jane Adventures than Doctor Who. But it’s a nice break from the ponderousness of the previous season, and as such it’s more than welcome. Lots of funny lines and physical humor and everyone at the top of their game — including Amy, who pretty much hasn’t been since season five — makes for a good, if not terribly special or important, episode.
MILD SPOILERS AHEAD! BE WARNED!
A mysterious spaceship is hurtling toward Earth, not responding to communications from the Indian Space Agency, where everyone has the most amazing skin tone and accents ever, and so for lack of anything better to do they’re going to blow the ship up because, well, that’s Earth. Only the Doctor can get on board to see what’s what before the missiles are launched, because plot, so the ISA asks him for help (despite the fact that no one is supposed to know he’s alive anymore — oops!). The Doctor brings with him Egyptian queen Nefertiti and big game hunter John Riddell, neither of whom we’ve seen before but both of whom apparently have a history with Doctor, as well as Amy, Rory, and by accident, Rory’s dad Brian, who hates to travel but by the end loves to travel because the TARDIS is a hell of a lot easier to deal with, I suppose, than Heathrow. Anyway, the ship is filled with dinosaurs and a corrupt, injured trader named Solomon who came to steal them all.
There’s an unexpected reference to a classic Who monster, which makes sense when you wonder why a spaceship would be filled with dinosaurs recently awakened from stasis, and a pair of silly robots voiced by comedians David Mitchell and Robert Webb (That Mitchell and Webb Look). Brian is funny (though he’s no Wilf) and gets to pilot the spaceship with his son, which allows them to bond, though it might have been better if we were shown more of a gulf between the two of them first. Amy and Nefertiti get to show Riddell that women can do things like shoot guns and make decisions. Amy in particular gets to do things that are smart and helpful for a change. Things get more serious toward the end when the ISA decides to blow the ship up anyway, despite the Doctor telling them it’s not a threat, which makes you wonder why they bothered sending the Doctor in the first place. Also, the Doctor basically murders Solomon to save the dinosaurs, which is rather extreme for the Doctor even though Solomon is a baddie. Then, after Amy and Rory are dropped off at home again, and Nefertiti and Riddell go sexytimes camping together, Brian gets to travel around with the Doctor for a while, making him an official companion, which I suppose Nefertiti and Riddell are, too. Better update that Companions book, BBC Publishing!
Speaking of Nefertiti, does every woman the Doctor meets have to want him romantically? Nefertiti is all over him at the start of the episode, and it’s becoming rather ho-hum. Actually, it was already rather ho-hum when they had Martha Jones have the hots for him. Rose I could understand — she was young and impressionable and looking for something different — but every other woman who meets him? Come on. I hated it when they had Amy try to bed the Doctor, too. It’s just getting rote. (On a related note, bring back Donna!)
A big deal is made of the fact that Solomon’s identification machine thingy doesn’t recognize the Doctor, which makes the Doctor happy. After all, he’s supposed to be lying low after the events of Lake Silencio (“The Wedding of River Song”) now that everyone believes him to be dead. (Except the ISA, apparently, who can still call him and ask for help — and then ignore his help for the sake of upping the plot ante. And the Daleks in the last episode, who laid a trap for him because I guess they didn’t believe he was dead or something? Actually, it looks like nobody really believes he’s dead. Time to let River Song out of prison, then!) But even if everyone did believe he’s dead, that shouldn’t make a computer fail to recognize him. The apparent erasing of the Doctor from the Daleks’ telepathic internet in the previous episode shouldn’t have made Solomon’s computer fail, either. It makes me wonder if something else is going on, something to be explored later this season once we get the Ponds out of the way and Oswin comes back.
Speaking of getting the Ponds out of the way, the groundwork is being laid for their departure in this episode. It’s clear the Doctor and the Ponds are growing apart. He visits them less and less often, and the Ponds seem eager to get on with their lives at this point. I don’t know how they’re going to wrap up the Ponds’ story line — the Doctor is married to their daughter, after all — but something is certainly being foreshadowed.
All in all, “Dinosaurs on a Spaceship” is a quick, fun, witty, and ultimately forgettable adventure. That said, I will add only this: Riddell needs to come back. A lot.