Dinosaurs on a Spaceship ★★★★

Mark Williams plays Rory’s dad and David Bradley is a great villain in this fun-packed romp with dinosaurs and Nefertiti

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Story 227

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Series 7 – Episode 2

“This is the gang. I’ve got a gang. Yes!” – the Doctor

Storyline
In 2367, a vast spaceship is hurtling towards Earth, and the Indian Space Agency is preparing to target it with missiles. The Doctor assembles a motley crew – Queen Nefertiti from Ancient Egypt, Edwardian big-game hunter Riddell, Amy, Rory and his dad Brian – to investigate. They’re amazed to find dinosaurs roaming the vessel. This is an ancient ark built by the Silurians, and at its centre is the small spacecraft of a wicked old man, Solomon, who’s in need of a doctor…

First UK transmission
Saturday 8 September 2012

Production
February to March 2012. Church Road, Penarth; Southerndown beach, Dunraven Park; Upper Boat Studios, Pontypridd

Cast
The Doctor – Matt Smith
Amy Pond – Karen Gillan
Rory Williams – Arthur Darvill
Queen Nefertiti – Riann Steele
Indira – Sunetra Sarker
Riddell – Rupert Graves
Brian Williams – Mark Williams
Solomon – David Bradley
Robot voices – David Mitchell, Robert Webb
Robots – Noel Byrne, Richard Garaghty
Bleytal – Richard Hope
ISA worker – Rudi Dharmalingam

Crew
Writer – Chris Chibnall
Director – Saul Metzstein
Producer – Marcus Wilson
Music – Murray Gold
Designer – Michael Pickwoad
Executive producers – Steven Moffat, Caroline Skinner

RT review by Patrick Mulkern
As a long-termer who bitterly remembers from 1974 the cringe factor of crummy puppets featured in Invasion of the Dinosaurs (an otherwise well-scripted Jon Pertwee/Elisabeth Sladen serial), it’s a delight and relief to see Doctor Who achieving them so brilliantly on screen.

Of course, convincing dinosaurs are de rigueur now (after Jurassic Park, Walking with Dinosaurs, Primeval, endless docs on National Geographic…) and if this latest episode isn’t exactly wall-to-wall with prehistoric creatures, the ones we do see are flawlessly realised, via a mixture of CGI and practical effects.

I needed a little help in identifying them all and have it on authority from Doctor Who producer Marcus Wilson that the pair at the start, bashing around with big tails, are ankylosaurus. The pterodactyls are immediately obvious – except, amusingly, to the Doctor: “What do we do about the things that aren’t kestrels?” Then there’s the sleeping baby T rex…

Marcus Wilson reveals that this scene was nearly dropped because it was initially conceived to feature CGI raptors, which the budget couldn’t afford. But “then Millennium FX realised they’d still got a baby tyrannosaur from a sort of Walking with Dinosaurs exhibition they’d worked on, so how about if we used that?” I assumed the critters fended off by Amy and Riddell were also junior T rex, but Marcus and writer Chris Chibnall assure me that those ones are velociraptors.

Tricey the triceratops (Tracey on set) is a lovable creation, rescuing the Doctor’s party and nuzzling Brian’s nether regions – or at least his pockets like a hound scenting a biscuit. But then she’s zapped to extinction by robots, which might set some younger viewers blubbing. Marcus admits: “Mmm, we debated long and hard over that, yeah.”

We’ve seen space arks in Who before (The Ark 1966, The Ark in Space 1975 and The Beast Below 2010). In a fresh slant, it’s not humans escaping cataclysm on Earth, but the previous “owners” of the planet, the Silurians. (This was the one detail I was asked to withhold before transmission.) Chris Chibnall is steeped in Silurian lore, having reintroduced them in The Hungry Earth in 2010. And here they pop up again “as a little treat”. He says the idea came up in a discussion with Steven Moffat. “I think he said maybe it’s a Silurian spaceship. And it’s a nice reveal and shows you more about them, even in a story that isn’t really about them.”

They’ve always enjoyed advanced sciences: hibernation machines, a molecular disperser, rock-melting eyes, force fields… Last year, in A Good Man Goes to War, they added teleportation, and now a gigantic space vessel. Of course, we’ve always known they keep dinosaurs. Watching their 1970 debut, Doctor Who and the Silurians, I was petrified when Jon Pertwee’s Doctor stumbled across a T rex in a cave, actually quite a good monster for the time (a full body suit). But I’m still trying to forget the Myrka, an appalling panto-lizard from Warriors of the Deep (1984).

“Did you hear what he called him? Doctor! After all this time,” says Solomon. A clever touch from Chibnall makes us think that Solomon is an old adversary – but no, he actually wants “a” doctor. And, unusually, the Doctor shows he’s learnt a few things about surgery. Long gone are the days when he would rebut inquiries with a testy, “I’m not a doctor of medicine!” Indeed, here he makes a lame old man walk again.

There’s been a dearth of decent villains in 21st-century Who, but Solomon is magnificent, nicely judged by David Bradley. Since playing Rogue Riderhood in Our Mutual Friend (BBC 1998), he’s become the go-to man for seedy miscreants. Bradley is a class act with such striking features and would go on to play William Hartnell in An Adventure in Space and Time (2013) and then the first Doctor in Peter Capaldi’s swansong in 2017.

Companion chronicles are always being hastily rewritten. Once again the Time Lord has gathered a whole gang of allies. They instantly add colour to the deserted spacecraft and the line-up recalls his posse in A Good Man Goes to War (Strax, Dorium, Vastra and Jenny). Here, Queen Nefertiti thrusts herself breathily upon the Time Lord; he then seeks out Edwardian big-game hunter, John Riddell, and inadvertently materialises the Tardis around Rory’s dad, Brian and his stepladder.

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Perhaps, we can dismiss Neffy and Riddell as one-offs, but what of Brian? He has clearly just had many travels in the Tardis, off screen yes, but evidenced by Rory and Amy’s postcard collection. And he returns in episode four. So Brian Williams, played winningly by Mark Williams, must qualify as a companion, mustn’t he..?