Friday, 22 August 2014

Dinosaurs on a Spaceship written by Chris Chibnall and directed by Saul Metzstein


This story in a nutshell: It's all in the title…

Nutty Professor: ‘Did the Silurians beg you to stop?’ What happened between the Doctor’s seventh and eighth incarnation? Did he suddenly acquire some of Red Dwarf’s sexual magnetism virus and become and overnight object of instant arousal? Once upon a time there wasn’t a hint that the Doctor was even slightly interested in sex and nowadays its unusual if he isn’t shoved against the TARDIS and fondled as he is here. I still don't like it and I hope that it is jettisoned along with Smith at the end of Time of the Doctor. There is a lovely touch when Riddell asks where the Doctor has been because he popped out for some liquorice seven months ago. It looks like Amy Pond isn’t the only person he pops in on sporadically. As I said in Asylum of the Daleks, Matt Smith has nailed the part by this stage of the game and it was even more noticeable this week as he ran through a myriad of emotions. He holds the frantically paced and complexly plotted show together by the sheer force of his confidence and charisma. If the Doctor can navigate his way through this increasingly complex show we just hang onto his coat tails and enjoy the ride. Of course the Doctor still has a Christmas list, all the best adults do. Is there a single piece of music, work of art or historical event that the Doctor didn’t have some participation in? I’m starting to get the picture that the entire spectrum of human endeavour can be summed up in one word: Doctor. The Jagaroth and the Daemons and all the others that claimed to have pushed humanity forwards have nothing on this meddling Time Lord. The Doctor is a very emotive man when it comes to words like piracy and genocide and the thought of over a thousand Silurians being slaughtered by Solomon is enough to get his blood boiling. I screamed with laughter when he snogged Rory one minute and slapped him about the next – these two would have made a great pair without Amy. The Eleventh Doctor sure likes to talk big but often his bark is much worse than his bite so it's pleasing to see him follow through on a threat here and take a life so ruthlessly. He had every opportunity to rescue Solomon but chooses to walk away and rid the universe of his scourge. I like my Doctor to have some edge (it's one of the reasons I feel in love with Colin Baker’s sixth Doctor) and this really struck a chord with me. I’m sure there’s some parents at home appalled to see their children’s hero committing murder so bold facedly after an hour of popcorn television but I’m willing to bet that the kids loved it. Count me amongst them. The look the Doctor gives Amy when she suggests a bleak future ahead speaks so many words…does he know what is going to happen to the Pond’s?
 
Scots Tart: ‘I’m easily worth two men!’ Ten months on and it looks like Amy and Rory have sorted things out and are living in wedded bliss once again. What the hell? What was the point of that upset in Asylum of the Daleks then if things were going to go back to normal so quickly? It’s great to see Amy so well written for just as she is about to depart the series. Although I have never been keen on the character, it would be lovely for her to go out with some fond memories. She gets to play Doctor by having her own companions and press buttons and ask the right questions. Clearly when she’s not being a total harridan to her husband she is quite a resourceful woman to have around. I love the way that Amy figures out what happened to the Silurians through some clever deduction long before the Doctor is told about their demise. She disapproves of weapons so clearly she has learnt from the best. It's lovely to hear her say that she is Rory’s Queen and not the Doctor’s. Finally she has her priorities straight, ready for that all important decision she has to make in The Angels Take Manhattan. 

Loyal Roman: How unusual in this post 2005 Doctor Who to meet a companions relation so long after their debut. How great that they managed to procure the deadpan services of the irreplaceable Mark Williams to play Rory’s down-to-Earth father. Doesn’t like travelling, carries useless paraphernalia in his pockets…Brian reminded me rather worryingly of my Nan. Splitting Amy and Rory up gives us a chance to bask in the what-could –have-been Doctor/Rory partnership (much overlooked when the red headed vixen is about) and a chance to indulge in some humorous like father/like son gags. When a triceratops starts sniffing at your crotch stay very, very still… Brian sipping tea and eating a sandwich on the threshold of the TARDIS as it is suspended in space above the Earth is so magical it almost hurts. What a phenomenal image, it captures the magic of travelling in the TARDIS in a very humble way. He’s slightly underused here so its nice to learn that he will be turning up again later in the series.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘You don’t have any vegetable matter in your trousers do you, Brian?’ ‘Only my balls…’
‘Argos for the universe…’ – what a terrifying idea!
‘How do you start a triceratops?’
‘Where’s a Silurian audience when you need them?’

The Good:
  • It's clear to me now that within Moffat’s regime an episode of the series simply cannot begin with the TARDIS landing somewhere randomly like it did in the classic series week in, week out. Instead every episode is kicked off with a breathless stroll through a myriad of locations to set up the episode ahead. This really annoyed me last year (it's like the show wants to justify its budget by wasting cash on set up scenes) but I’m kind of just going with the flow these days and have accepted that’s how things are. I’m still not keen on the approach but it's clear that even the guest writers are adopting Moffat’s in house style so I should just get used to it or move on. The events that happen in the pre-titles sequence would have taken place over an introductory episode in the classic series (and the reveal of the dinosaurs would have made a stonking cliffhanger) and there would have been more time for more character building, dealing Rory’s dad’s abduction, why the Doctor has cherry picked his gang…but saying all that this is quite economically told and gets to the heart of the episode in record time. It lacks atmosphere but it does get us where we need to be 15 minutes sooner than Asylum of the Daleks did.
  • Love the idea of the Indian Space Agency. Dinosaurs on a Spaceship is bursting with gorgeous ideas like this, almost as if Chibnall has finally been let of a leash and allowed to let his imagination run riot. The exotic design of their spaceship is awesome. It's also very classic Who to film the Doctor and friends having fun on a beach and pretending that it’s the engine room of a spaceship powered by an ocean (just think of the entire fake Earth in The Android Invasion). As the Doctor says its quite ridiculous but also brilliant and it strikes me that most of the best ideas to come along in Doctor Who could have that slogan tagged to them. Whilst I’m on the subject of great designs, the Silurian ark looks unlike any spaceship I have ever seen on television and is all the more impressive for it.
  • Umm…dinosaurs on a spaceship! Let me say that again…dinosaurs on a spaceship! Unless you have had your inner child surgically removed by mortgage repayments and PTA meetings this is a fantastically exciting prospect. And we are in an age where the show can not only promise such an ambitious concept but deliver it too. The CGI involved in bringing the beasts alive is stunning and the action sequences wouldn’t look out of place in a feature film. Watching a dinosaur stomp merrily past the TARDIS literally had my inner fanboy tingling. This is what Saturday night telly should be all about! Only Doctor Who could get away with the wonderfully daft gag of Riddell trying to step over a baby T-Rex without waking it up. Simon and I were clutching at pillows as it started to stir… The scenes of the Pterodactyls are excitingly realised with the camera literally swooping down from the sky with them to hunt the Doctor and friends.
  • Doctor Who is the sort of show that has such a rich mythology that it can dip into it from time to time to tickle the fans and broaden the knowledge of the newbies. Having the spaceship turn out to be a Silurian ark works a treat because it fits in perfectly with their original appearance in the classic series. You can imagine a contingency of them leaving the Earth when they thought the moon would collide with the planet and taking specimens with them to repopulate a new homeworld. They had a T-Rex in Dr Who and Silurians so it all fits together beautifully. I just adore the fact that Doctor Who can add depth to a story 30 years after it was first broadcast (I got the same feeling with the Dalek Invasion of Earth/The Stolen Earth moving the Earth plot device). Nice Silurian musical sting from Murray Gold too.
  • It's been a long time since we’ve enjoyed a really loathsome slime ball of a villain like Solomon. These days the writers are so invested in making their bad guys three dimensional they often come with a sob story attached. Solomon is just a nasty piece of work, obsessed with wealth and willing to murder anybody to ensure that he leaves with the highest profit. David Bradley is superb in the role, his weariness suggesting that a lifetime of corrupt and despicable behaviour has left him a twisted, vengeful wreck of a man whose heart only beats faster for money. Truly hissable and certainly the only nasty in recent memory to make a allusion to rape. Perhaps Chibnall has been reading too many of Terrance Dick’s original Who novels.
  • Despite being told at a pace that Roadrunner would consider breathless (and that is down to the running time rather than the fault of the writer) Chibnall’s script is quite tightly written. The ready-to-launch missiles give a sense of jeopardy from the off and the Doctor and his friends a time limit to discover the truth behind the mystery of the artefact. It's purpose and abandonment are deftly explained and there is a threat ready and waiting at the heart of the ship in shape of Solomon. Lots to overcome, much to save and a cast of characters that all do their bit to achieve it. It's all wrapped up nicely with a touch of sadness, a sleight of hand trick and a satisfying death. Masked as a big, daft movie on a TV budget, this is actually a pleasingly plotted piece of work.
  • Maybe I’m just a big soppy Jessie but killing Tracie made my heart bleed. Its blatantly manipulative but it scored a bulls eye with this viewer.
The Bad: 
    *   I realise I’m trying to apply logic to a situation that has none but there was once a time when taking a character from the past and placing them in the future would cause all manner of confusion and questions. Queen Nefertiti takes it so much in her stride you would think that the Egyptians were used to dealing with intergalactic space arks all the time.
  • ‘I thought we might need a gang…’ Strange that the week that the Doctor needs a gang he happens to choose (and baring in mind has the pick of time and space) the two people who just happen to be perfectly suited to this situation. Had the Doctor chosen to bring them along because he knew what was going to happen it might have made some kind of sense (and given Steven Moffat’s wibbly wobbly approach to time travel it could have been explained in a line or two) but the whole ‘oh look I just happen to have a big game hunter and two people who share the same DNA to hand’ approach just feels contrived.
  • A friend said to me this week that it does seem odd that Steven Moffat should praise the show for being more complicated but churn out episode titles that would only appeal to a two year old. It’s a valid point (the episode titles have been shaky since Moffat took over) but just this once the title completely matches the tone of the episode. It suggests a fun blockbuster and it delivers.
  • Nice chunky robot designs are somewhat spoilt by a rare casting mistake in the new series. David Mitchell and Robert Webb are comic gold usually but something went a bit amiss here and their very human sounding robots fail to strike a chord at any point during the episode. The pissing oil gag falls way short of the mark.
  • Just a comparison but the Rory/Brian scenes flying the spaceship weren’t a patch on the Wilf ones from The End of Time. Bernard Cribbins managed to tap into a sense of wonder and excitement that I just didn’t feel here.
  • One small request: can we make the camerawork a little less posey in future? The way some of the shots capture the Doctor and his companions make it look as if they are on a photo shoot for a fashion magazine and are clearly designed to front a trailer. I can’t think of a time when the Doctor has been shot so consciously. It kind of takes you out of the drama.
The Shallow Bit: Matt Smith gets more beautiful by the episode, his puppy dog look just makes me want to hug him. The ISA is like the set of a Bollywood film, many of which I would personally recommend and not for storytelling purposes. Phew! I’m sure Amy handling a gun to knock a number of dinosaurs out provided a thrill for more than a few men.

Result: A frantic, colourful, wildly imaginative adventure which fits into Doctor Who mythology like a hand slipping into a glove. After Chibnall’s previous Doctor Who scripts I wouldn’t have suspected he would be able to conjure up anything as convivial as this but he has managed to whip up an effortlessly enjoyable hour of television. The only reason you wouldn’t take pleasure in something as crowd pleasing as this would be if you were deliberately denying yourself child-like thrills and in such a horror packed world why would you do that? This is the story where the Doctor escapes from a pair of stomping robots on a Triceratops and there’s no universe in the multiversal spectrum where that isn’t just cool. Energy, laughs, gorgeous visuals, a Doctor to be laughed at and feared and a host of colourful characters – the reasons to watch are manifold. It's true that Doctor Who feels more Disney than ever before but in a TV schedule that is as bleak as the current one just means there is more room for child friendly entertainment that adults can enjoy. This big, bold adventure is the most purely pleasurable slice of Doctor Who since The Unicorn and the Wasp and I would happily take its giddy thrills over much of what was coughed up last season. Sometimes Doctor Who just has to be fun and its sad that some people (polar reactions to this episode have been dramatic) have forgotten that. Not perfect but worth getting in touch with your inner child to enjoy: 7/10

2 comments:

Pink!Dalek said...

As always, an spot on critic!

I don't like all those sexual malarkey either. I remember a time when the TVM kiss was sooo controversial... and I personally DON'T dislike that kiss, or the possibility that the Doctor can fall in love but... the Moffat era is so extreme that I've got sick of that. One thing is that you can have a companion falling for the Doctor, another is this constant sexual arousal. You have tons of series out there where there is sex, flirting, more sex... I prefer Doctor Who to be other things, thank you very much

This is what I don't like from the Moffatt era: too sex and too empty companions (I miss Donna soo much)

Pink!Dalek said...

PS: I loved Rory's dad to bits!

When I say I miss Donna, I mean from the RTD era, I also miss companions such as: Sarah Jane, the Brigadier, Romana, Leela (yep, I have a weakness for the 70s companions), Jamie, Ian, Barbara...
I can't engage with the actual era companions (Amy or Clara) enough as I used to do with the past ones