Any title such as the one that helmed this episode doesn’t inspire optimism. To be blunt, when I first found out the context I immediately began the feel the sense of dread. I believed we were going to be stuck with another “The Curse of the Black Spot” episode. I feared it would be ill-conceived with no real substance or purpose; simply put—a useless throwaway episode. I feared this episode on top of all of that would again, like last week’s “Asylum of the Daleks” be boring, a crime no Doctor Who episode should commit even at its silliest and most bizarre.
Sometimes it’s worth waiting five minutes into an episode because that small space of time can say a lot and either eradicate any previous concerns or double them. In this case I had laughed more and felt more joy in a few minutes than I did in the entirety of lasts week’s installment.
Tonight’s installment of Doctor Who finds an unmanned ship hurtling towards earth with certain death imminent. The Doctor is called upon to solve the issue while unaware of the cargo that lies waiting for him on board. I’ll give you a hint, if the title wasn’t enough: the travelers are big and prehistoric, and extinct.
The Doctor, on his off-time from the Ponds, has been traveling through universes acquiring a new rag-tag group to form his new gang, of which he announces with great pride. The two that he lures along for the ride are Riddell, played by a shockingly likeable Rupert Graves, and Queen Nefertiti of Egyptian legend. Played by Riam Steele with great elegance and screen presence, Nefertiti is strong, fiercely independent and fun to watch.
No adventure is complete without the Ponds, however, and the Doctor makes a surprise house call to grab them and leave without any notice and in the process grabs Brian Williams (played by the fantastic Mark Williams), Rory’s bumbling and sheltered Father, as well. To look at the beginning of Amy’s companionship is interesting if not mildly heartbreaking. Here was a spirited young woman running off into the escape of the TARDIS to her next great adventure. Now, too many adventures later, she doesn’t jump at every other worldly journey and instead takes a step back and thinks. She’s become level-headed and maybe, finally, a little disillusioned. This theme is explored later throughout the episode and sets a rather somber mood.
Before the wallowing begins, due to the dampening of our collective mood, there is still a full hour of child-like wonder and amazement that occurs due to those pesky dinosaurs on the spaceship that are running rampant. As the rest of the gang flees from the impending creatures, the Doctor pauses in awe. It’s a nice, clarifying moment because despite the centuries he’s lived, the terrors and magic he’s experienced and seen, there are still things that he’s yet to live that are still new to him. Matt Smiths manic, perpetually restless, portrayal of the Doctor is perfect for a fast-paced episode like this. He is the epitome of a man whose brain is simply too fast for the rest of his limbs and his mouth must work double time in order to keep up. Here is a child-like man who is just excited to have discovered something fun and something that excites him.
After escaping the dinosaurs, they find themselves in an isolated room and plan their way of escape. The Doctor, Rory and Brian are all fiddling around with a computer when the three of them are teleported into the self-contained beach that is powering the ship. By doing so, the writers have divided the group, allowing two storylines to play out—an old storytelling trick but effective when there are enough interesting characters to drive the story.
Amy, Riddell and Nefertiti, after realizing the other three have disappeared, explore the ship looking for information. They come across a control room where a computer waits. Amy gets the computer working, saying that it was watching the Doctor so often that allowed her to know what to do. It seems like traveling with him for so long has instilled her with some survival skills. She is no longer the naive Amelia Pond, and this is part of what makes this episode greater than the original premise. “Dinosaurs on a Spaceship” delivered a characterization of Amy Pond that has been long missed. Here was the abrasive, smart, brave and funny character that I was waiting for. The episode lacked quirked eyebrows and hair tosses, unattested cockiness, and Doctor praising. Tonight, she was a character who stole scenes and I very much would have enjoyed seeing this version of the character for the past two seasons, rather than the character the writers decided she needed to be each week to fulfill plot points. This was Karen Gillan at some of her best due to the natural charm that was allowed to ooze off of her with the allowance of true characterization.
The boys, the Williams and the Doctor, have been chased into a cave by the pterodactyl, which is where they run into the sassy and sarcastic robot duo. They are held captive and brought to a room where they find adversary of the week, Solomon, played by Harry Potter vet and Game of Thrones star David Bradley with just the right amount of threat and hints of evil. He has been injured and asks the Doctor to help him, and follows it up by threatening him, injuring Brian in the process. The Doctor, not one to quiver under threats, is initially conflicted. But the overwhelming need to protect is greater and he fixes Solomon’s legs.
While searching through the computer, Amy’s team comes across a video of a member of the previous crew. It is here that they realize the purpose of the ship. Initially, it was to create another place of life. Realizing that something seems wrong, she calls Rory to talk to the Doctor and explains. The Doctor understands, he’s met Solomon and knows the lack of humanity, so he asks him what happened to the previous crew, and without a moment of self-doubt, Solomon admits to killing them. He said the crew welcomed him onto the ship and once he realized the cargo on board, that he believed could make him rich, he ejected the crew allowing them to die.
The Doctor if you could imagine, is not pleased.
Solomon goes on to try to bargain with the Doctor. He says that he will trade the safety of everyone on board, in return for Queen Nefertiti. He believes she could be his prize possession. The Doctor is vehemently against this, but Solomon takes it into his hands by painfully killing one of the dinosaurs. Nefertiti, being a self-sacrificing woman, makes the decision for him. She teleports herself, Amy and Riddell down to where the others lie and walks up to Solomon in order to free the others.
Now that the gang is back together, they can work things out like they usually do. They figure out a way to get Nefertiti and make it so the missiles aimed to blow them up, target Solomon’s ship instead. Solomon is an interesting counterpart to the Doctor; both travel the world in search of greater experiences. However, it is in the way they conduct their traveling that marks the great distinction between the two. Solomon will kill, gleefully, in order to obtain objects that are worth a hefty price. He lives for the money, for the pride ownership can bring. The Doctor will travel and lure companions in with a sense of wonder in order to stall the looming loneliness. He manipulates for the simple pleasure of company, to be able to show off a vast universe that he’s grown to know so well after such a long solitude.
There’s been a strange bit of continuity concerning this aspect of the Doctor, noticeably in Smith’s reign as the Eleventh. The Doctor has a low, diminishing, perception of himself. We saw it in “Amy’s Choice” with the dream lord being a mirror of himself, in “The God Complex” where he speaks of old and tired creatures, and in tonight’s episode where he speaks of his worthlessness. When with the Ponds he can hide this, he can submerge into the busy activity that follows. While alone though, and when he’s given a moment of reverie, he admits his failures, his misgivings. He’s a hero that has shades of gray which is what allows his decision to let Solomon literally be blown up into flames so compelling. Because here is an individual so dead set on protecting the ones he loves, but for the ones he holds nothing but contempt there is an underlying ruthlessness that surfaces. The Doctor isn’t a saint and it’s an admission I never believed would be explored in an episode where one of the major plot points were dinosaurs. It’s a point of importance that I hope will be explored in the upcoming episodes.
After coming down from the high of their latest adventure, the Doctor rushes into the TARDIS, wishing to know where they would all like to go next, and the word Amy says is “home.” She wants to go home, just for a couple of months she says, and the look the Doctor makes is chilling and recalls an earlier moment when Amy had confronted him about the way he had grabbed them for this trip. She spoke of how she’s afraid there will be a point where he stops dropping by at all. He responds with a “You’ll be there to the end of me,” and she replies with a seemingly light-hearted “or vice versa.” That is a cold realization. Those two moments are what elevate this episode. The Ponds are growing tired and are awaiting some long, overdue, uninterrupted peace. And as Brian Williams sits from the TARDIS, drinking his tea and looking down at the earth, we can realize how much the Ponds have been through and we have to wonder, wherever the imminent leave of the show happens, what shape will they be in.
This episode was about dinosaurs, robots and evil pirates. It was about an elegant Queen and the flirtation between her and Riddell. It was about Brian Williams learning to love a bit of traveling. It was a silly episode in theory, a highly-spirited, easy-going hour of fun. However, the moments that will stick will be Amy and Rory’s survival skills, the mention of Amy’s morality and the chilling decision the Doctor makes to watch a man die. Was this a perfect episode? No. Yet it was an episode that brought gravity and planted the seeds for upcoming episodes. How much more will we see of the Ponds? How often will they be happy to travel alongside the Doctor? Are we in for a heartbreaking end?
We’ll simply have to wait and see for next week’s adventure.