From BBC’s Doctor Who site:
An unmanned spaceship hurtles towards certain destruction, unless the Doctor can save it, along with its impossible cargo… of dinosaurs! By his side are a ragtag gang of adventurers: a big game hunter, an Egyptian queen and a surprised member of the Pond family. But little does the Doctor know that there is someone else onboard who will stop at nothing to keep hold of his precious, prehistoric cargo.
Following last week’s epic season opener, any episode was going to need to go in a different direction and Chris Chibnall has gone into the realm of creating a clever character piece… with some dinosaurs and bitchy robots thrown into boot.
Why do I say “character piece”? Even amongst the dinosaurs, robots, Egyptian queens and big game hunters, I felt this story’s core theme was Amy and Rory along with how the Doctor has influenced their lives. This is done in several ways.
Firstly, by giving the Doctor a larger “gang”… that’s new for him. With this, the story can be split into two narrative strands, with one strand being headed up by the Doctor who along with Rory and Brian, and the other with Amy becoming, in essence, the Doctor by giving her companions in Nefertiti and Riddell. This serves the purpose of giving us new eyes to see how they’ve changed since the start of their travels with the Doctor – Rory by becoming more practical, like his Dad, with his carrying a mini medical pack with him at all times and providing simplistic explanations of events for Brian to understand, and Amy by not only copying the Doctor by pushing buttons, activating data globes and querying ship’s computers for “homo reptilia” when entering strange rooms but also in the way that she explains things to her companions.
Secondly, by underpinning Amy’s theme from the start of her travels with the Doctor as “The Girl Who Waited”. This is done at two points in the story. The first point is where Amy chastises the Doctor for not being in touch with them for another ten months since his last visit and the second during their conversation in the control room of the Silurian spaceship with Amy telling the Doctor that she can’t have a normal life because she’s always waiting for the TARDIS to arrive and is worried that there will be a point where the Doctor will never visit the Ponds again.
The third way isn’t done verbally, it’s done with an expression and comes at the end of the story. You have Brian sitting on the edge of the TARDIS watching the Earth, with Amy and Rory with him and just behind them the Doctor giving an expression that shows that not only has he weaved himself into this family unit… well, he is Amy and Rory’s son-in-law after all, but try as he might, he is finding it more and more difficult to keep to his original intention of steering clear from them following the events of last year’s episode, “The God Complex”.
These three areas give a cosyness to the current TARDIS team and show how important the three characters are to each other, along with how well Matt Smith, Karen Gillan and Arthur Darvill interact with each other as actors whilst foreshadowing that in three episodes time, this dynamic will be torn apart with the Doctor, Amy and Rory’s final adventure alongside each other in Manhattan. I don’t know if this is me, but I think this parting could end up being more of a tearjerker than wiping Donna’s memory, Martha walking out of the TARDIS or leaving the Tylers at Darlig Ulv Stranden.
But, back to this story. The “TARDIS trio” are supported by great casting and characters in this episode. Adding a bit of the Douglas Adams style touch to the proceedings are Solomon’s scavenger robots. With their huge hulking physical performance, you would expect a voice to match, so it was nice touch to hear the voices of David Mitchell and Robert Webb adding a bitchy and “child in the playground” quality to the performance to counterpoint their physicality. No wonder Rory wanted to tear them apart.
Richard Hope returns to his Silurian acting duties, following his performances as Malohkeh in “The Hungry Earth”/”Cold Blood” (Series 5) and “The Wedding of River Song” (Series 6) with a cameo in the role of Bleytal.
Riann Steele makes a nice addition to the real figures of history portrayed in Doctor Who’s near fifty year history in the role of Nefertiti who combines beauty, determination, intelligence and a fair bit of fliratation.
Rupert Graves makes the transfer from Steven Moffat’s other flagship show, “Sherlock”, trading Lestrade’s down to earth bluntness for a more colourful character in the role of John Riddell, a character in the “Alan Quartermain” adventurer mould, full of chauvnistic bravado and packing innuendo with the size of his weapon. (Sorry, couldn’t resist).
But, the highest profile casting is the coup of scoring a double from the world of the Harry Potter film universe in David Bradley as Solomon and Mark Williams as Brian Williams. Bradley gives a solid performance in the role of Solomon – a character on the lesser scale of Who villainy, in comparison to the likes of the big monsters and characters such as the Master, and the character could be thought of as an easy victory for the Doctor, but there is some of that nastiness to his character given that Solomon basically commits genocide against the Silurian crew, plus the fact that he threatens to get pleasure from breaking Nefertiti… short lived given her actions later in the episode.
Mark Williams brings a lovely, down to earth quality to the role the role of Brian. He really has to sell the feeling of being a companion as he looks upon the craziness of pterodactyls, robots and spaceships and face them down with fold away trowels and golf balls. He also carries off his story arc of changing from reluctant traveller at the start of the story to avid traveller at the conclusion whilst re-enforcing that there’s going to be some real consequences for the Pond/Williams family when Amy and Rory leave.
The three regulars get their moments to shine with Amy leading her merry band and Rory interacting with his father, but Matt Smith gets a chance to add more depth to the role of the Doctor switching from giddy schoolboy at his reaction to seeing dinosaurs, his contempt at Solomon’s admission of slaughtering the Silurians and the cold-heartedness of the Doctor’s decision to set the missiles against Solomon’s spacecraft. In addition to this, there is also the return to the mystery of the Doctor being built into the script again having Solomon’s IV computer holding no classification of the Doctor – a part of the Doctor’s return to being a figure of legend or did Oswin’s corruption of the Dalek’s “Pathweb” have wider reaching effects?
The main plot is both logical and sounds barmy… I mean DINOSAURS… ON A SPACESHIP?!?!? But, why not? Fans of the “classic” series will no doubt remember a story from the Tom Baker era, “The Ark In Space”. In that story, a selection of humankind along with plant, animal and cultural samples evacuated Earth in an ark. So… why not have a comparable ark for the Silurians with dinosaurs amongst the manifest. A clever riff on a classic story, and with the inclusion of the Silurians, you get the feeling that Chris Chibnall is becoming the Malcolm Hulke of “NuWho”.
In comparison to last week’s opener, granted it isn’t as high profile and, maybe, not as strong as last week’s opener, but a solid tale with some nice undercurrents to it.