Doctor Who: Dinosaurs on a Spaceship

We went out for dinner last night, but recorded Doctor Who so we could watch it when we got home. Spoilers in the rest of this post – hover mouse over text to read, or read on entry page 🙂

I’ll confess to being a bit anxious when I saw that it was a Chibnall episode – he was the show runner for Torchwood during seasons 1 & 2 and those weren’t exactly bastions of quality television, even though watchable. But I needn’t’ve worried, this was a fun episode & felt like there was some thinking behind it too.

Nefertiti was good, I liked the way the clothes & jewellery etc that she was wearing looked authentic enough plus also looking like they were something someone would wear. I also liked her characterisation as being competent and expecting to be taken seriously. Her ending up in Edwardian wherever it was was also kinda cool, coz it’s not actually known when she died – she just vanishes from the historical record, possibly dead, possibly in disgrace, possibly changes her name to Smenkhare & rules after Akhenaten dies. So why not time-travel? 😉

Riddell was amusing comic-relief, and faced with all these competent women he does seem to realise the foolishness of his prejudice – certainly in his future with Nefertiti I don’t get the impression that he’s going to be the one in charge 😉 The gender stuff showed signs of having been thought through in general this episode – there’s not just Riddell being confronted with women who are at least as useful if not more so than him, but also the by-play between Rory & his Dad. “What sort of man doesn’t carry a trowel with him?” … well, how about the sort of man that’s a nurse & carries a first aid kit. Both as useful as each other, and better to play to one’s strengths than some gender-defined role.

I liked the Indians as being the ones with the Space Defense Agency that was going to fire on the ship – 50 years ago when Doctor Who started it’d’ve been the US or the Russians but these days India or China make more sense, and India resonates more with a British audience. Particularly with Riddell as a tail-end-of-empire character to remind us of how it has changed. I don’t think we got reaction shots of him when he finds out it’s not just a woman in charge of the military organisation firing on the ship, but also an Indian woman. I suspect that would’ve broken his head even more than Nefertiti or Amy.

Solomon the genocidal pirate was a bit cartoon evil as the big bad, I think. He doesn’t have any redeeming features, just camp nannybots for comic relief (“ooh, you’re going straight on the naughty step” made me giggle). We know he’s bad news from the start – he hurts people to get himself healed, he thinks only of the monetary value of everything. We then find out he killed all the Silurians (and it was neat that Amy did the solving of that half of the mystery – her subplot was all about Amy==Doctor, companions & all). And then he explicitly objectifies Nefertiti, and kills the triceratops & frankly by the end we know he’s a worthless piece of scum with no “good side”. A shame there wasn’t something more nuanced about him.

I liked the dinosaurs, just coz dinosaurs are cool 🙂 But also making it a Silurian Ark ship gave them a reason to be there that felt like it made sense. And I noticed on wikipedia that Chibnall wrote the Silurian two-parter a couple of years ago, so kinda nice of him to bring them back (albeit dead off-screen). I particularly liked what they did with the triceratops – that first scene works all on it’s own as a comedy moment with the triceratops in the role of that sort of obnoxious dog that goes up to everyone & sniffs their crotches. But that also establishes that the triceratops wants to play fetch, and shows us two golf balls … setting up the next scene where they ride the triceratops to safety following the second golf ball. And both of those establish the triceratops as effectively a puppy. And thus Solomon is not just an evil bastard, but he kicks (kills) puppies too!! While I’d like more nuance to the big bad, if you are going to go for one-note character, you may as well go for it whole hog 😉

The combination of the name of Solomon & the sort of character Riddell was made me think of H. Rider Haggard & I did wonder if Riddell would turn out to be the name of one of his characters. But a quick scan of the wikipedia entries for King Solomon’s Mines and She turned up nothing. And H. Rider Haggard was writing earlier. But still, the resonance was there for me. (Tho I should say that I don’t think I’ve read any Haggard, so perhaps his explorer characters were nothing like the stereotype that Riddell was embodying, I wouldn’t know.)

I liked the Amy/Rory stuff this episode. The juxtaposition of the start with Amy’s indignant questioning of if they’ve been replaced and the end with Rory’s desire to go straight home shows the fault lines in their relationship again. Amy’s clearly only really happy when she’s out adventuring & fighting Daleks or accessing Silurian data records. She’d travel with the Doctor forever if she could, and that conversation with the Doctor was weird. Why’d he react so oddly to the idea that he’d outlive her – obviously he outlives his companions, that’s come up before, he’s 900 years old after all. So what does he know that Amy (and us) don’t?