Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Jurassic Farce


The title Dinosaurs On A Spaceship invites ridicule, making it sound like some B-movie plot.  One has faint images of, perhaps unintentionally, something like Snakes On A Plane.  I imagine that the uniqueness of the scenario comes from mixing the most futuristic of locations (a spaceship) with the most iconic of prehistoric figures (dinosaurs).  DOAS is not as disastrous as it could have been, but that is not a compliment.  It's still on many levels, rather bad and uninteresting, but it does have some quite beautiful moments.

We start with 1334 B.C., Egypt.  The Doctor (Matt Smith) has just saved Egypt, and a grateful (and hot & heavy) Queen Nefertiti (Riann Steele) wants him...and wants to go with him to wherever he goes, in this case, to the Indian Space Station.  Now we jump from ancient Egypt to futuristic outer space: 2367 A.D. to be exact.  Here, the Doctor is told that there is a spaceship heading towards Earth, and it will be destroyed via missiles in eight hours.  He doesn't like the sound of that, so...

he goes to get big-game hunter Riddell (Rupert Graves) in 1902, then pops over to the Williams' home to get Amy (Karen Gillan) and Rory (Arthur Darvill).  Alas, in the excitement the Doctor also collects Brian Williams...

NO, not THAT Brian Williams, but THIS Brian Williams...

who happens to be Rory's dad.  Now with his 'gang' (his words) aboard, we see what the ship has.  It has Dinosaurs On A Spaceship!

As it turns out, the Williams men and the Doctor become separated from Amy, The Queen, and the Hunter.  The elder Williams is angered that he's been swept up into outer space since he is not fond of travel with the exception of golfing.  We quickly learn that this is an abandoned Silurian ship but what and/or why the ship carries nothing but dinosaurs and plant life is a mystery.

We soon figure out why.  The ship was taken over by Solomon (David Bradley) who with his two bickering robots have done a shocking act: they have expelled the Silurians who had been aboard in a systematic act of genocide.  The Doctor is forced to heal Solomon, but now Solomon wants more.  He doesn't just want to keep the dinosaurs as bounty, he holds the group hostage.  Solomon now has a bargain: an exchange of Neffy for all their lives.  Obviously, the Doctor refuses, but also obviously, Neffy gives herself up to spare them. 

The Doctor now learns that the missiles are launched, while Solomon attempts to escape aboard his own craft.  The Doctor manages to rescue Neffy and release Solomon's ship while having the missiles target it.  Her Majesty Queen Nefertiti and Riddell now are on the African plain, enjoying each other's company.  Rory and Amy are back home, marvelling at the many travels Brian takes, including, curiously, to a new world called Siluria.

It is a curious thing in Dinosaurs On A Spaceship that Chris Chibnall's script provides a breathtakingly beautiful moment that actually pushes the story a bit higher than perhaps it should have been.  Chief among them is the sight on the left: Brian Williams, a man who dislikes travel, looking down upon a beautiful Earth whilst drinking a cup of tea and having a sandwich.  Given what kind of man we're told Brian is, it is a precious moment.  In the credit where credit's due department, Saul Mertzstein created a beautiful moment here, and directed some good performances out of the guest stars (less so from the three main cast members).

That, however, really is one of the highpoints of DOAS, but just about everything else in Chibnall's script appears to be redundant of other adventures, and even situations.  Some of the imagery is a rip-off of Jurassic Park.  We have yet ANOTHER woman, and even more coincidentally, another QUEEN who wants to bang the Doctor (we've had Elizabeth I, we've had Elizabeth X, and now Queen Nefertiti who wants to all but rape the Doctor--having already gone through that scenario with Amy Pond.  Why do ALL women appear to want to have sex with the Doctor, especially if it's Matt Smith.  David Tennant I can understand, but Matt Smith as Sex Object?!?).  We get to meet MORE of the Companion's family (we've had Rose's mom, Martha's mom, Donna's granddad, and now Rory's dad.  Enough with the family reunions).  We've had the Doctor collecting a group of disparate people in order to go onto a floating station (River's Secret Part I: A Good Man Goes to War). 

If we go further into the past (something NuWhovians are loath to do) we can see that Dinosaurs On A Spaceship echoes similar stories where a mysterious force has taken over a spacecraft carrying life to another world.  The First Doctor experienced this with The Ark, and the Fourth Doctor experienced something similar with The Ark In Space.   At least the second ark story had some ideas behind it (and a beautiful speech by the Fourth Doctor), but this one was apparently done just for laughs.

And were there some groaners within Chibnall's dialogue.  One of the dinosaurs appeared to have taken a liking to Brian Williams, with the beast suspiciously smelling the elder Williams' crotch area.  The Doctor asks him, "You don't have any vegetable matter in your trousers, do you Brian?"  "Only my balls," Brian responds.  Granted, it's quickly established he meant his GOLF balls, but this is an embarrassing line that was frankly too easy (i.e. too lazy) to go for a cheap laugh.

It's a bit like Mrs. Slocombe from Are You Being Served? talking about her pussy, ain't it?

The whole 'bickering bots' routine was done by two British comics I (and I imagine many Americans) haven't heard of, and even if we had, it would have been worse since it would have been more distracting.  It's a bit like when a Bond villain hires two inept henchmen who bicker with each other.  People MAY have been attempting a bit of a laugh, but none was to be found.

At least the Doctor was conscious that saying, "Take me to your leader," was ridiculously cheap, but it doesn't make it any better.  I actually wrote, 'can it get worse?', and while it could (the Doctor and the Williams men riding a triceratops), at least by the end we did manage some serious moments; those were provided by Bradley's Solomon (who looked a bit like a cross between Mr. Finch from the Harry Potter stories and the Emperor from the Star Wars films).  He was a chilling villain: ruthless, cold-blooded.  Too bad he was apparently killed off, for he would have made a great adversary for a future Doctor Who story.  Still, one never knows...

Speaking of Harry Potter, I'm not well-versed in Potter-lore to know who Mark Williams was in the series, but his Brian Williams was a delight.  This working-class guy who doesn't take great pride in his son but who at the end joins him to fly a spaceship was a knock-out performance.  It's unfortunate the Chibnall was unaware that one of the American networks evening newscasters is also named "Brian Williams", which makes for moments of unintended comedy for American viewers.  However, I confess I LIKE THIS Brian Williams.  When he tells the Doctor off by shouting, "Well, Thank You Arthur C. Clarke," when the Doctor tells him he's not on Earth, there is something delightful in the elder Williams using a genius to ridicule the Doctor.  I think it's because the Doctor at times has become almost this God-like, infallible person, that whenever he meets someone who ISN'T enthralled with him, it makes the moments all the more hilarious.

The other guest stars (and NO, they don't count as Companions just by being in one episode).  Graves was great as the big-game hunter who falls quickly for the fiery Steele's Queen.  One wanted to see MORE of them, and especially when you consider that either or both would make great Companions.  Curiously, this leads to a digression on that subject.

This brings to mind something I read about NuWho Companions.  What do Rose Tyler, Martha Jones, Donna Noble, and Amy Pond have in common (apart from the fact that it's a collection of hot women...and Catherine Tate too)?  Take a guess.  Well, Spoilers: they are all 21st Century girls.

The characters of Riddell and Nefertiti bring up something I once read somewhere, and I wish I remembered where.  NuWho has the ability to go throughout time and space, but for some reason the Doctor keeps picking up London chicks (with fiery Scots lass Amy being the exception).  In short, NuWho suffers from a lack of imagination when it comes to Companions.

Let's take a quick look at Classic Who Companions.

The first new Companion to join after An Unearthly Child was a girl from the future (Vicki) quickly following another person from the future (Steven Taylor).  You also had people from history: ancient Greek girl Katerina,  Highlander Jamie, and Victorian child...Victoria.  The Doctor also picked up Australians (Tegan Jovanka) and even, horror of horrors, AMERICANS (Peri Brown, with Dr. Grace Holloway a question mark).  There were humanoids from other worlds (Leela, Adric, Turlough) along with regular Tellurians (Jo Grant, Sarah Jane, Ace), but by and large there was a wide variety of Companions from various times and places. 

NuWho doesn't have that.  All good-looking girls (and Catherine Tate) from 21st Century Earth, the U.K., London being a particular haunt.  

Again and again it introduces great potential Companions only to discard them by either death or forgetfulness.  I'd like to see Riddell and Neffy have adventures and romances on their own, and I'd think they'd make great Companions.  I hope that the Doctor Who team will eventually decide to wander either to other worlds or Earth's past for Companions.  The fact that they appear resistant shows to me at least that they don't trust the audience.  They might think, 'oh, the viewer won't accept someone from the Restoration or the Elizabethan Age or someone from India or South Africa could be a Companion'.  I marked about how it was a wasted opportunity for new Companions, but I hope that soon they will see the light and be more inclusive of both alien and historic Companions.

One thing I wasn't too thrilled about was the deus ex machina of there needing to be beings with the same genetic chain to pilot the ship.  It appeared a bit too pat to have Williams elder and junior there to resolve this problem (although it was nice that at least one man in that family told the Doctor, "I'm NOT a Pond").  Now, while this line proves that the peculiar quirk of referring to Rory and Amy as "the Ponds" may be signs of the Doctor's stupidity (and in this case, he IS stupid), it doesn't excuse everyone else from calling them "the Ponds". 

Even NuWhovians should know better.

I do say that having the ship by a Silurian ship is a good twist, completely unexpected, but given that they played almost no part in the story it seemed just a way to HAVE a twist on some kind.  In short, there was no real need: it could have been human or anything else.  The Silurian angle, while welcome, wasn't ultimately important.

I end with this.  My mother is a BIG Indiana Jones fan.  I'm not sure that extends to Harrison Ford since she always refers to him as "Indy", with a girlish squeal when saying "Indy".  When she saw Ford was appearing in something called Cowboys and Aliens, she looked with dismay.  "Indy's been reduced to THIS," she said sadly, commenting that just by the title alone she knew it was going to be stupid.    I can say the same about Dinosaurs On A Spaceship.  The title alone tells us that it's going to be stupid. 

In certain ways no.  Williams' performance, along with Steele and Graves, were excellent.

In certain ways yes.  Smith now irritates me with his frantic, frenetic, insane take on the character.

Some good performances and beautiful imagery save Dinosaurs On A Spaceship from being a disaster.  However, I wouldn't mind if the episode became extinct. 

Rory Williams Death Count

In Episode: Zero
Overall: 4.1


Next Story: A Town Called Mercy

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