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Doctor Who abandoned Daleks and instead delivered “Dinosaurs on a Spaceship” in this week’s episode, bringing guest stars Mark Williams, David Bradley and Rupert Graves along for a rip-roaring adventure – but did it match up to the high standards of the series 7 premiere? This article contains episode spoilers.

With series 7, the producers aimed to make every episode of Doctor Who a cinematic installment in the series’ canon, with showrunner Steven Moffat being quoted as saying “write it like a movie poster.” On the evidence so far, they’ve certainly gone a long way to maintain that mantra. However, the world of movies is big and diverse with a range of different genres – and within those genres there’s a lot of variation in quality. If “Asylum of the Daleks” was The Empire Strikes Back, then “Dinosaurs on a Spaceship” was more like Transformers: incredible special effects, lots of action and amusing one-liners, but no real impact. The sort of entertainment that’s great with a bag of popcorn and a significant other, but not all that wonderful if you were looking for something with a lasting impression.

Doctor WhoImage: BBC

That’s not to say Doctor Who series 7′s sophomore effort was bad (it did exactly what it said on the tin), just that “Dinosaurs on a Spaceship” adds little to the show’s legacy other than some excellent CGI and prosthetic work. Writer Chris Chibnall (“42,” “The Hungry Earth”/”Cold Blood”) litters the script with amusing gags throughout, keeping the tone light but also reducing most of the threat. More could have been made of the Silurian spacecraft’s impending destruction, which was largely glossed over – resulting in a sudden denouement that seemed rushed and out of place. That said, the imaginative strands of the narrative do (sort of) tie together.

Director Saul Metzstein leaps straight from Pond Life into his show debut, balancing the stylish visuals with limited computer effect time confidently. He directs the all-star cast with aplomb, focusing as much on the character moments as he does the episode’s surprisingly few set pieces. Major props must also go to the actors themselves, particularly to Harry Potter alumni David Bradley (Solomon) and Mark Williams (Brian), who steal nearly every scene they’re in. We can’t forget Matt Smith, Karen Gillan and Arthur Darvill who continue to excel as The Doctor, Amy, and Rory in spite of less meaty roles than recent escapades have brought. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for Sherlock star Rupert Graves’ Riddell and Riann Steele’s Queen Nefertiti. Despite excellent performances from both, the writing fails to develop the characters leaving us with one-dimensional cutouts. That’s always the danger of ensemble pieces, though – some balls will always be dropped in the juggling act.

Doctor WhoImage: BBC

“Dinosaurs on a Spaceship” doesn’t really add up to the sum of its parts, a surprise for an ensemble adventure with a mash-up of narrative devices and ideas. Assured directing, imaginative writing, excellent acting and impressive effects deliver an exciting romp with popcorn appeal but no weight or lasting legacy. While it doesn’t quite reach the heights of its predecessor, the episode remains an entertaining adventure with plenty of laughs and a rip-roaring pace.

“Dinosaurs on a Spaceship” analysis

As stated above, the latest installment doesn’t contribute too much to the canon of Doctor Who, but we’re still left with a few tidbits to analyze. First of all we met Brian Williams, the first parent of a companion to travel in the TARDIS since Matt Smith took the keys to the blue box. Actor Mark (also Williams) had great chemistry with Karen Gillan and Arthur Darvill, building a genuine father figure with far less high-emotion and screaming fits than the parents of Rose Tyler and Donna Noble. He warms to the concept of time travel fairly quickly, and before long he’s making plans The Doctor couldn’t fathom and pulling an assortment of bits, bobs and balls (cue an awkward yet hilarious testicle joke) from his pockets to spectacularly save the day. Enlightened by his adventure aboard the crashing cargo ship, Brian ventures out to see the world and universe beyond. While we’re not quite sure if his travels in the TARDIS make him a fully-fledged companion we’ll say this – it’s a shame the character has been introduced this late into the Ponds’ tenure, and we can’t wait to see him in “The Power of Three.”

“Dinosaurs on a Spaceship” picks up ten months after episode 1, and as the Doctor has continued exploring obliviously, the Ponds have continued growing older. Rory reveals he is now 31, meaning ten years have passed since Amy first stepped into the TARDIS the night before her wedding. Young Amy and Rory aren’t quite so young anymore, and a few exchanges between Mrs. Pond and the Doctor seem to foreshadow their eventual departure – River’s “The Angels Take Manhattan” quote about the Time Lord not liking endings will definitely seem all the more significant as we see the couple grow older. With Amy and Rory now living in 2020, who knows how many years will have elapsed when their swansong eventually arrives?

Doctor WhoImage: BBC

A brief though significant cameo from Silurian Malohkeh expands the species history, though largely leaves them in the same retired state that they started the episode in. The spectacular return (and survival) of dinosaurs shows them relocate the former planet of homo reptilia. This certainly leaves the door open for a return in the near future, with the pre-historic population potentially growing and becoming a major threat.

Finally, the Doctor’s increasing ambiguity to the universe’s inhabitants is once again referenced in a tense – albeit short – scene. That thread has frequently been expanded upon since “the question” was revealed in “The Wedding of River Song” – we know it’s leading somewhere, but exactly WHERE we’re going and WHEN the show’s title will become significant still remain a mind-boggling mystery.

What did you think of “Dinosaurs on a Spaceship”? Will it make a memorable impression on your Doctor Who experiences or do you agree that it’s nothing but rip-roaring popcorn fluff?

  • Lola

    The problem I had was the fact that the Doctor killed someone (didn’t do it himself but still) . And it seem out of character. He killed Solomon and was sort of happy about it. Is that canon? is the Doctor evolving? Idk Maybe because he loves the silurians so much? I found it difficult to watch.

    • Katelyn

      Nine and Ten did plenty of things that are consistent with how the Doctor treated Solomon. We just haven’t seen 11 do any yet.

      • spacie

        Agree bigtime here.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Connor-Frye/1326652893 Connor Frye

      Hes killed alot of people through out the show. And of course its canon. Hes committed genocide multiple times himself.

  • Phantomfluteplayer

    I agree with @63ca8bdce4126c7b06e9293de478080e:disqus about the concept of The Doctor killing someone. Yes, he has killed before, but this one seemed to be even more in cold blood than other killings. I mean, Solomon was begging for mercy and he didn’t grant it. It was a REALLY Dark Doctor moment.

    • Katelyn

      He wasn’t really begging for mercy though – sure, he wanted to live, but even in his pleas he kept asking the Doctor what he wanted. In that moment, he showed that he hadn’t changed, even when faced with death. He was still the guy who would commit genocide because he wanted to make a few bucks, and assumed the Doctor followed a similar fluctuating moral code.

      • Bowtiesgirl

        Exactly what I thought. The doctor gave him one chance, and he blew it. And, he committed genocide against a peaceful people trying to save dinosaurs. If anyone deserved to die, it was him.

    • Evie

      Don’t forget, it’s been drawn to our attention (possibly for multiple reasons) that it had been 10 months since he’d travelled with the Ponds. If you reflect back on David’ Tennant’s era with the episode “Turn Left”, think about what happened when Donna wasn’t there to stop the Doctor from going too far in his confrontation with the Racnoss. Or the Waters of Mars when he decided to abuse his powers as a Time Lord and attempted to rewrite a fixed point in time because he’d had no real Companion for so long. Without his Companions, the Doctor gets darker, and I think this will actually be addressed again in Episode 3, next week. I think if we’ve learned anything, it’s that sometimes we don’t get to connect all the dots until the final episode of any season. And that’s why I love the show! <3

  • Tonks

    I feel like Moffat keeps creating stories that are really two-parters but he’s trying to squeeze them into one episode. There was a lot of potential in this episode, but I felt like I was missing half the story. I loved “The Asylum of the Daleks”, too, but still felt like there should have been more to it.

    • Meghan

      This wasn’t written by Moffat though

  • http://www.facebook.com/amanda.desimone1 Amanda DeSimone

    This episode didn’t do anything for me. Too many people for no reason at all. Could have done without Riddell, Queen Nefertiti and even Amy in this episode since they didn’t really add much to the story. Definately seems like they are setting things up for the Ponds ultimate withdrawal as companions, considering all of the furtive looks from the Doctor and talk of time between seeing eachother again. Just felt like a throw away episode to me.

  • Jon

    Maybe the fact that The Doctor killed Solomon and didn’t give him mercy has an effect on him in “A Town Called Mercy”…

  • rdh014

    Oh it was a fun romp. That’s really all I expected and that is all I got. I’m fine with that.

  • http://twitter.com/CodeyWhite Codey White

    The ponds exit will truly be all the feels. The little moments in this episode between the three added the necessary emotional gravity as we can tell the doctor knows one day he will have to say goodbye just as we will.

    • Jasmine Pugh

      yeah you can tell the Doctor knows something and is not letting on…

  • matthewhpg

    Has anyone noticed they played another piece of classical music in this episode. That’s two episodes in row, means something…?

    • http://twitter.com/TSSD TSSD

      Not to mention both times the Doctor said he performed in them.

      • Cookiesfly

        He’s had a lot of free time

        • Rachel S.

          Yes! At first I was like, “OH come on, how can the Doctor just say he’s a part of all of these musical pieces?” But then I started to think that there has to be a pattern developing throughout the season…almost like a Bad Wolf kind of thing…

  • grapes9h5

    Great review Harri, and I couldn’t agree more with everything you said. Excellent thorough analysis section as well.

    On my thoughts…
    Good fun, but nothing memorable (other than the AWESOME title and Rory’s dad). I mean the concept kept with the series theme of each episode being a genre film, but the actual episode, while epic in a visual effects sense, was not even close to the story, visual, and emotional epic of Asylum. To be fair topping or even coming close to Asylum will be near impossible, it was maybe the best single episode of Who since “Blink” and even better than “A Good Man Goes to War.” I dont think that wil be topped until hopefully “The Angels Take Manhattan.” That being said, I was always the least excited for Dinosaurs, and I think next weeks Western will be ultra cinematic and a lot more emotional (and darker) if the trailers are anything to go by.

  • Gaphrod

    Did anyone catch the Potter refernces! It was talking about thestarles and another was when when the doctor called Solomon Argus.

    • Chicken

      I thought they said kestrel, which is apparently a type of bird. Well they’re both flying things.

      • Kate

        They did indeed say kestrel. And it is a bird; a very pretty bird. Quite cute little falcons.

  • http://twitter.com/aly_dugan Alysia

    Total aside, but…were the robots Mitchell and Webb? Because it really sounded like them, but there’s no credit for any robots on IMDb.

    • Eliza

      Yeah! I didn’t realise it was actually them until I saw Robert Webb tweeting about it.

  • ncnapper92

    I love Neffi and how he referred to her as Neffi.

  • Peter

    I had higher expectations for this one,a bit disappointed…Really looking forward to the power of three since there was nearly nothing released on that episode

  • http://www.facebook.com/clint.skinner.7 Clint Skinner

    “As stated above, the latest installment doesn’t contribute too much to the canon of Doctor Who.”

    What’s with all this obsession about adding to the cannon? Anyone who has watched Classic Who would know that each storyline was independent and had no bearing on other storylines. There were a few exceptions like the Key To Time series and The Black Guardian Trilogy. But other than that, the different stories never built on anything. The canon usually came from a few sentences in one season and a single scene in the next season.

    So chill out and gave a jelly baby.

  • http://harrymyland.com/ Harry Myland

    I dunno, I think the show needs more fun, stand-a-lone romps of the Doctor’s barmy adventures. Not every episode needs to have some elaborate, series long web of interconnected plot development. I feel like Series 6 suffered from that. Let the man breath a bit and save Dinosaurs on a Spaceship!

    I loved it, by the way. I already foresee myself citing it as one of my favorite Smith-era episodes. But to each their own, I suppose.

    “Steer away from the Earth and try not to bump into the moon or else the races that live there will be livid.”

    “… What??”

    • http://twitter.com/Cat_Isidor Cat Isidor

      Yes. This. All of it. Just. Yes.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Maria-Wang/542480760 Maria Wang

    you know what, the robots remind me of the lady robots in ‘Bad Wolf’, the episode with the game shows. They have personalities like the lady robots that were giving Captain Jack the make over

    • Elphaba Thropp

      I was wondering why they looked familiar!

  • Samuel

    I wonder if the fact that present day Doctor Who is kind of now set eight years in the future means that maybe companions will always be from eight years in the future now…

  • Bowtiesgirl

    I really liked this episode. After the tense, tense episode last week, this was just a bit of fun, the doctor saying he had a gang now, which was new. I laughed so hard. He’s always looking for something new. And, of course this doctor has killed people. He blew up insane daleks all last episode. He is a wonderful, complex, mad man. But, he’s not a hero, remember ‘The God Complex.’ It’s not about whether or not he loved the silurians or not, it wouldn’t have mattered what race they were, if he would have just let that evil man go after all he did, I would have been furious at the Doctor.

  • The507thDoctor

    I loved it, I felt it was just the type of episode the series needed, an uncomplicated romp.
    So if this would be 2020 like you say then Amy and Rory would be paying a visit to Wales in the not too distant future?

  • Sal

    i fell asleep while i was watching,of course that’s probably because i was watching an online stream at 1:35 a.m., i haven’t had a chance to rewatch it yet

  • Riley Peek

    I really actually loved the episode! I didn’t think I would, knowing it was going to be a “romp” that did nothing to advance the plot, but I guess that’s what I liked about it. It brought about a lot of focus on the dynamic between a lot of the characters, and we really delve into their thought processes and problem solving strategies. I loved how, at the end, the Doctor took Rory’s dad around the world, and I loved how Nefertiti and Riddell got together. Everything that happened in the end all made sense with what happened at the beginning of the story. It doesn’t matter to me that it does nothing to progress the intense plot-lines, but why do we really need those intricate plot-lines? Last night’s episode was my dad’s first Who episode, and he was able to tell me what was happening without having any background knowledge by the time the first commercial rolled around. These are the types of episodes that appeal to people tuning in for adventure and laughs, and the series definitely needs those. Can’t wait for A Town Called Mercy!

  • Marly

    I REALLY wanted to like it, with all the jokes and ridiculously of dinosaurs on a fricken spaceship. But I honestly barely even remember the story. The Lestrade/Neffi annoyed me sooooo much.
    This episode seemed like it was trying to hard to be a big epic “movie style” episode with a ton of plot, but it felt more just like the Doctor running around making jokes. Didn’t work for me.

  • Delena

    In all honesty, I thought this episode was better than Asylum of the Daleks. It reminded me more of an episode with 9 and 10. It was just a fun adventure that stood on its own. What I hated about the last season was that Moffat had to make every episode be fixed by ‘love’ and ‘remembering’ and every episode had to connect the entire season- I didn’t like that as much. Not every episode has to ‘leave a lasting impression’ and I disagree about that not giving us anything anyway- I cried when Tricey died D: plus, it had cool historical figures and fun moments…that sounds like the great Doctor Who episodes to me!

  • Victoria

    I really liked this episode. I dunno if I’m alone in this, but I enjoy both the deep, dark, cannon-heavy episodes and the light romps that are nothing more than a bit of fun (in space!). I love and appreciate both kinds. The fun episodes make me laugh and give me SO many quotable lines (“Dinosaurs…on a SPACESHIP!!”) as well as make the characters more lovable and enjoyable. The darker, heavier episodes rife with canon-advancement makes that love of the characters more interesting and meaningful to me as well as makes me desperate to know what comes next. It’s the best of both worlds in my opinion that Doctor Who does both types well. I loved Asylum (and was shaking from nerves and excitement the whole time I watched it…and the second time too), but I had a grand old time watching Dinosaurs. So I’m completely satisfied and happy with series 7 so far, and I CAN’T WAIT to see what comes next!

  • thescribbler01

    Did anyone notice how much deeper and, well, older Karen Gillan’s voice sounded in this episode? Maybe it’s just me, but I thought right away that she was doing it on purpose, to show that Amy and Rory slowly aging.

  • http://www.aleaumin.co.uk/ Aleaumin Fabien Dalladay

    I posted my review/views here: http://aleaum.in/QAdPAS (Don’t read if you don’t want brutal honesty)

  • Rachel S.

    I don’t think the Silurians will necessarily be a threat–I think they’ll be more of an ally, or even someone the Doctor has to help save. Especially if Madame Vastra is slated to return later this season.

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