Everything about this week’s episode of Doctor Who, “Dinosaurs on a Space Ship,” was youthful, adventurous, and whimsical. The Doctor forms a sort of historical human super-gang which includes an Egyptian queen, a big game hunter, and the Ponds (plus an extra Williams.) Together, they try to solve the mystery behind a Silurian spaceship loaded with spiders, dinosaurs, and wise-cracking robots before the ISA blows the whole thing up.
Solomon, the unscrupulous space trader, was a clear cut villain. He’s the kind of unambiguous bad guy that you expect to see in children’s stories and he was the kind of villain that made you cheer when your heroes eventually defeated him. Solomon didn’t flinch when telling The Doctor about how he slowly killed off all the Silurians on the spaceship, and he thought of Queen Nefertiti as an object for sale. Worst of all, he mercilessly killed an innocent bystander, The Doctor’s friendly Triceratops – just to prove a point. The Doctor has has his moments of mercy, but there wasn’t anything redeeming about Solomon to deserve leniency this time around.
The musical score was playful and much more pronounced in this episode than in recent Doctor Who episodes. It was practically a character of its own, playing up The Doctor’s punch lines and building up tension when our protagonists were in trouble.
Silly humor and lighthearted jabs were peppered throughout the episode, and when darker or more adult issues were brought up, they were brief and veiled in innuendo that would slip past a younger audience. The flirting between Nefertiti and John Riddell was quite aggressive, but not at all direct. Had it not been for Amy pointing out that the two of them were flirting, it could have been construed as simple bickering between a powerful queen and a pompous chauvinist.
Having Rory’s dad, Brian, around for the adventure definitely added to the family feel of the episode. I think I would have enjoyed seeing a little more development in their father-son relationship, but that would probably have been a theme for a less adventure-centered episode. The two of them saw one another in a new light which was the purpose of the story line. Once Brian was able to see Rory as a capable adult functioning in a high stress situation without a hitch, their relationship changed, and they started to work together to save everyone on that ship.
I absolutely loved the final scenes where Brian sat on threshold of the TARDIS, looking down serenely as he ate his boxed lunch. The series of postcards he sent Rory and Amy were hilarious and it was a totally heartwarming way to wrap up the episode.
Although this was another stand alone episode, there were little tidbits of foreshadowing that I expect will become significant later in the season. When Solomon scanned The Doctor, he came up as unidentified. It would have been one thing if the scan revealed that he was The Doctor and his status was “deceased,” but to not even have him show up as a Timelord in the scan is perplexing. In last week’s episode, The Doctor had been erased from the Dalek’s collective memory, but this scan seems to insinuate that there is perhaps a much wider reach to the “erasing” of The Doctor. If so, who is behind it? (Or perhaps Solomon’s scanner is not high tech enough to pick up on a Timelord when it sees two hearts?)
The Doctor also had a brief serious moment with Amy which foreshadowed the fall of the Ponds. After Amy tells The Doctor about her fears of him never coming back, he reassures her that she’ll be there till the end of him. She jokes back, “or vice-versa” and The Doctor immediately turns solemn. Unfortunately “vice-versa” is the usual truth for The Doctor and I suspect he’s got a feeling their time is coming up soon.
I imagine that if I had watched Doctor Who as a child, “Dinosaurs on a Spaceship” would have been the episode that defined my TV-watching youth. As an adult, “Dinosaurs on a Spaceship” didn’t have quite the same impact, but I know there’s something special about an episode when I watch it and think: I wish I could have watched this as a kid.