Doctor Who Season 7 Episode 3 The start, though, is frankly unpromising, as we find ourselves in ancient Egypt, with the Doctor (Matt Smith) having apparently just saved its people from disaster, burbling something about a plague of alien locusts. Queen Nefertiti (Riann Steele) intercepts him as he returns to the TARDIS and comes on to him in exactly the same way Amy did at the end of 2010’s “Flesh and Stone”. When he receives a sudden temporal newsflash on his psychic paper, she forces her way into the TARDIS to accompany him.
Her appearance is striking (and faithfully recreated from Doctor Who Season 7 Episode 3 the famous limestone bust currently in a Berlin museum), and she is certainly not badly acted, but her dialogue conveys no sense of another time or place—she comes across as just a standard present-day “feisty” female character who happens to be wearing a blue wastebasket on her head. Later, the story does find a way to use her that justifies her inclusion, but at the beginning “Neffy” (as the Doctor calls her) feels like a bizarre, fan fiction-style indulgence.
Doctor Who Season 7 Episode 3 In one of the more blatant cases of Doctor Who using a B-movie style episode title to pull in the viewers, “Dinosaurs on a Spaceship” lets us know up front that this is going to be a “romp”—big, loud, and hopefully fun. Writer Chris Chibnall, starting from that bare four-word premise given to him by showrunner Steven Moffat, has come up with a very enjoyable stand-
Doctor Who Season 7 Episode 3 alone adventure that lumbers a bit in the set-up (as is usual with Chibnall) but ultimately delivers some excellent tension and excitement, making good use of previously established Who continuity along the way.
We next see them in 2367 A.D., where an enormous unknown spaceship (“the size of Canada”) is on course for Earth. Doctor Who Season 7 Episode 3 The necessary ticking clock for the story is set up right away—in six hours, the ship will be close enough to Earth that missiles will have to be launched to destroy it. I liked the nicely unexplained touch that the organization handling the planet’s defences is the ISA—which turns out to stand for not the International but the Indian Space Agency. It doesn’t make any difference to the actual plot, but it helps make the futuristic environment a little more distinctive than usual, with the understated but effective Indian influence in the background set architecture and graphics.
Doctor Who Season 7 Episode 3 Despite the Doctor saying he’s “not really had a gang before,” the rest of the teaser rather unwisely invites comparison to the first part of last year’s “A Good Man Goes to War”, with the Doctor collecting people from various times and places to accompany him. He arbitrarily stops off in 1902 to pick up John Riddell (Rupert Graves), an English big-game hunter who is evidently a prior acquaintance, and then pays a surprise visit to the home of his friends Amy (Karen Gillan) and Rory (Arthur Darvill). Not bothering to explain
what’s going on, and presuming that Amy and Rory will be happy to drop whatever they’re doing to go along with Doctor Who Season 7 Episode 3 him (as Rory later says, “Why can’t you just phone ahead, like any normal person?”), he simply materializes the TARDIS around them, meaning that Rory’s father Brian (Mark Williams) gets dragged along for the ride as they all arrive on the mysterious spaceship. Almost immediately, they discover what sort of life forms are on board this ship—dinosaurs!
Dinosaurs on a Spaceship
As Chibnall has noted in various interviews, while the “dinosaurs on a spaceship” premise forms a great hook to bring in the audience, it’s not enough on its own to sustain a 45-minute episode. So the main thrust of the story is the mystery of who built the ship, why it’s heading to Earth, and how it can be saved from the threatened destruction by missiles. In the course of investigating, the group is split up, with the Doctor, Rory and Brian being unexpectedly teleported to a beach that is actually just another part of the huge ship.
One of the things that quickly distinguished the new Doctor Who from the classic series was its approach to the emotional life of companions, outside their relationship with the Doctor. The original series took almost no interest in companions’ family lives, but already by “Aliens of London” in 2005 Russell T Davies was building major plot arcs around Jackie Tyler finding out about her daughter Rose’s involvement in the bizarre world of the Doctor. As succeeding companions came and went, various permutations of the same dramatic idea were used. Since Steven Moffat took over as showrunner, the companions have become more like those of the classic series, with Amy’s parents having appeared only very briefly (in the 2010 season finale “The Big Bang”) and Rory’s parents being absent altogether. It was time for the idea to be revisited, although here it’s mostly presented in a comic manner—after the requisite boggling at the inside of the TARDIS and the idea of time/space travel, Brian very quickly settles down to become a useful member of the Doctor’s team.
Mark Williams presents a very likable, warm character, and he and Arthur Darvill make a very believable father and son. The episode gets a lot of fun out of the traits Brian and Rory have in common, notably their efforts to be ready for all eventualities. When Rory notices that the beach seems to be humming, Brian produces a handy trowel he happened to have with him (“What sort of a man doesn’t carry a trowel? Put it on your Christmas list!”) so he can dig down and find there is a metal floor under the sand. Later, Brian gets injured, and it’s Rory’s turn to show his preparedness when he pulls out some medical supplies he has picked up in his travels—a nice character touch that makes good use of Rory’s nursing background.
Meanwhile, Amy and the others manage to find the ship’s data records and discover its true nature. Unfortunately, this section in particular exposes Chibnall’s weaknesses with dialogue and characterization. As I mentioned above, Nefertiti gives practically no sense of being a person from the remote past—in fact, she is more modern in outlook than Riddell is, leading to a great deal of tedious “battle of the sexes” bantering between them. As they wander through the ship with Amy, all three are exchanging quips as if they were in an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I did get a laugh from Amy’s reaction when she realizes that Nefertiti and Riddell are (cliché alert) starting to become attracted to each other (“No, no, no—I will not have flirting companions!”), but on the whole Amy is a more superficial character here than at any time since the last time Chibnall wrote for her.
At least, unlike in that 2010 two-parter (“The Hungry Earth” and “Cold Blood”), Amy manages to actually contribute to the story and uncover what’s really going on. And here I have to give praise to Chibnall—the revelation that this ship was a creation of the Silurians, a space-going ark containing samples of Earth animals in search of a colony planet, perfectly explains the dinosaurs’ presence aboard and is a lovely usage of the previously established reptilian species. It was a nice touch to bring back Richard Hope, one of the main Silurian actors seen previously, to play the recorded Silurian who delivers the necessary information (he’s credited as “Bleytal,” but I don’t think the name is actually mentioned in the episode). Even better, Amy then gets to use her brain and perform some detective work with the ship’s sensors that reveals another, much smaller ship attached to this one.