Monday 24 August 2020

Story 228 - Dinosaurs on a Spaceship

In which the Doctor puts a gang together to help avert a disaster which may befall the Earth. In the year 2367, the Indian Space Agency has detected a huge spaceship which is on a collision course with the planet. The Doctor received the warning on his psychic paper whilst in ancient Egypt, assisting Queen Nefertiti defeat a plague of alien locusts. He decides to bring her with him to the 24th Century. He also collects a big game hunter named John Riddell from turn of the 20th century Africa. The other members of his gang will be Amy and Rory. The TARDIS arrives in their front room just as Rory's dad, Brian, is visiting, and the ship materialises around him as well. The Doctor initially doesn't notice that he is on board - only challenging his presence when they arrive at their destination.
Rory is forced to reveal to his dad that he and Amy have not been travelling abroad, but in time and space instead. The spacecraft appears to be deserted, but a massive door opens and a pair of dinosaurs emerge. The Doctor identifies the species as the heavily armoured Anklyosaurus. They then encounter a playful young Triceratops. The Doctor finds a control console and looks for a schematic which will show where the engines are. If he can reactivate these, he may be able to steer the ship away from Earth before the Indian Space Agency destroy it. The console is linked to a teleport, however, and the Doctor, Rory and Brian are beamed to the engine location.

They are surprised to find themselves in the open air, on what appears to be a beach. However, beneath the sand is a metal floor. The ship is powered by tidal power engines. They see some large birds approaching, but these turn out to be Pteranodons. They run and seek shelter in a cave system, where they are confronted by two giant robots. Back at the control console, meanwhile, Amy has been able to access the ship's logs and has discovered that this spacecraft was constructed by the Silurians millions of years ago as an ark. However, there do not appear to be any Silurian life signs on board.
The Doctor, Rory and Brian are escorted by the robots to a smaller spaceship which is docked with the ark. Within is its pilot, a man named Solomon who has been badly injured by a dinosaur. On hearing that one of the newcomers is a "doctor", he insists that he help him, and one of the robots is ordered to injure Brian to force his compliance.

The Doctor discovers that Solomon is a trader who intends to profit from the dinosaurs. However, his ship is stuck here, travelling in the wrong direction. Amy contacts the Doctor and explains about the Silurians. Solomon reveals that he killed them all, reanimating them one by one from hibernation and ejecting them into space. His attempts to steer the ark have led it to automatically head for its launch point on the Earth. He refuses to believe the Doctor when he warns of the Indian missile strike which is imminent, suspecting that the Doctor wants the dinosaurs for himself. The Doctor tricks the robots and he, Rory and Brian are able to escape, hitching a ride on the Triceratops they encountered earlier.
Solomon and his robots teleport to their location, where they have been reunited with Amy, Riddell and Nefertiti. Solomon has the robots kill the Triceratops. Solomon has scanned the newcomers and now wants Nefertiti as his prize. He beams away with her to his ship and prepares to break free of the ark. The Doctor locates the control room, and finds that it requires two gene-matched pilots to fly it. Rory and Brian take on this task, whilst the Doctor locates piece of equipment which the Indian missiles are locking on to. He teleports to Solomon's ship where he deactivates the robots. Solomon's ship breaks free but now has the missile targeting equipment on board, as the Doctor and Nefertiti teleport back to the ark. Solomon is killed as his ship is destroyed by the missile strike. The ark is steered away from the Earth by Rory and Brian.
The Doctor later takes it to an uninhabited planet where the dinosaurs can live in peace, whilst Nefertiti elects to remain in the 20th Century with Riddell, for whom she has developed a romantic attachment. Brian, who has never wanted to travel much, develops a newfound wanderlust...

Dinosaurs on a Spaceship was written by Chris Chibnall, and was first broadcast on 8th September, 2012. The story title, inspired by the 2006 movie Snakes on a Plane, was given to Chibnall to develop by Steven Moffat.
Chibnall had previously written the return of the Silurians in Series 5, so he ties this story in with them. Whilst the series had always presented the Silurians as having resorted to hibernation on Earth to avoid the arrival of a small planetoid (the Moon) that would devastate the surface of the Earth, here we see that they also built a space-going ark for themselves and a number of dinosaur species.
Prior to this story, Chibnall had also contributed the five mini episodes called Pond Life, and the second of these could be said to be a prequel of sorts for this story, with the Doctor coming to fetch Amy and Rory too early by mistake.
This week's opening logo has been adapted so that the words "Doctor Who" have a scaly reptilian look, and the overall lighting is tinged with green.
The story adds the character of Brian Williams, Rory's father. He was not present at the wedding in The Big Bang, as far as we could see. Brian is played by comic actor Mark Williams, best known for the BBC's The Fast Show, as well as his recurring role of Mr Weasley in all of the Harry Potter movies. Yet again, the Doctor is shown to have a group of friends whom we have never met, and who have never been referred to before (or since). Whilst he may be meeting Nefertiti for the first time, it is stated that Riddell is an old friend.

Playing Riddell we have Rupert Graves, who is probably best known these days for playing Inspector Lestrade in Sherlock, but who first came to fame in the 1980's in movies such as Maurice, Room With A View and A Handful of Dust. Genre appearances include Krypton, 12 Monkeys and the recent BBC adaptation of War of the Worlds.
Nefertiti is Riann Steele, who played opposite David Tennant in the BBC's adaptation of his RSC performance as Hamlet.
Portraying the villainous Solomon is future First Doctor David Bradley, who also essayed William Hartnell in An Adventure in Space and Time. He is also famous for regular appearances in Game of Thrones and the Harry Potter movies.
In charge at the Indian Space Agency is Sunetra Sarker, who plays Indira. Sarker was a Casualty regular for more than 10 years.
Voicing his robots are comic actors David Mitchell and Robert Webb, of Peep Show fame.
We see a member of the Silurian race on a computer screen, and it's Richard Hope - who previously played Silurian medic Malohkeh in The Hungry Earth / Cold Blood, and in The Wedding of River Song. In this story his character is named Bleytal.

Overall, a perfectly fine story, if you can get past the silly title and its playing fast and loose with what we've always known about the Silurians. Dinosaurs don't actually feature all that much, with David Bradley's evil Solomon being the main threat - and very good he is too.
Things you might like to know:
  • The idea of the Silurians being a space-going race just doesn't fit with Silurian history as we've seen it in any of their previous appearances - even the story that was relatively recently written by Chibnall. They were always Earth-bound, and used hibernation underground to survive what they thought was going to be an apocalypse. We did see them on Demons Run, but presumably the Doctor transported them on that occasion - or they subsequently became space-farers after emerging from hibernation some time prior to the 52nd Century.
  • Only four species of dinosaur are seen on screen - Anklyosaurus, Triceratops, Pteranodons and some Raptors (the latter made famous by Jurassic Park).
  • The Raptors were CGI models which had been created for the ITV series Primeval, which had been intended as a rival for Doctor Who.
  • The robots were reused props - designed for a CBBC programme called Mission: 2110.
  • On being deactivated, the robots sing the song "Daisy Bell" - a reference to the computer HAL's deactivation in 2001: A Space Odyssey.
  • Nefertiti was the wife of the "heretic" pharaoh Akenhaten. He tried to change Egypt's religious belief system so that a single deity would replace all of the other gods - the Aten or sun disc. It is believed that she briefly assumed the pharaoh-ship after the death of her husband. She died around 1330 BC, aged around 40. Her intended tomb remained unfinished at the time of her death, and her mummy has never been positively identified, although there are a couple of possible candidates - so she might well have relocated to 20th Century Africa.
  • It is claimed that the ark is the size of Canada, but this clearly isn't the case when you see the scale of Solomon's spaceship beside it.
  • At one point the Doctor claims to be a Sagittarius - a reference to the fact that Doctor Who began on 23rd November.
  • Originally it was intended that the big game hunter would be real life bison hunter Charles Jones, but Moffat knew that the next story to be broadcast was going to be a Western-themed one, so Riddell was created instead. He was based on Allan Quartermain, hero of King Solomon's Mines.

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