Inspired by Snakes On a Plane Steven Moffat’s pitch to writer Chris Chibnall involved the blockbuster-of-the-week title and the idea of a spaceship plunging towards a collision with Earth. From that thin basis Chibnall constructed a tale that connected with his so-so 2010 outing The Hungry Earth/Cold Blood; introduced three new allies for the Doctor; and took place in Egypt 1334 BC, the African plains 1902 AD, India and outer space 2367 AD, and the Ponds’ living room in contemporary London.
Show runner Steven Moffat had shied away from his predecessor’s trick of featuring companions’ relatives in recurring roles. No equivalent of Jackie Tyler or Wilf Mott for the Eleventh Doctor. The presence of Amy’s parents in The Big Bang led to a not unreasonable expectation of further appearances in the following series and beyond – yet they have not even been mentioned, let alone seen. Rory’s parentage had remained a complete mystery for over two years but now in the glorious form of Harry Potter star Mark Williams came Brian Pond Williams. Armed with his folding trowel and fear of travelling further than the local golf course, the actor/character gelled perfectly with the three regulars and it was easy to believe that he and Arthur Darvill could be father and son.
One of the highlights of the story came at the end with Brian sitting on the threshold of the TARDIS with his flask and sandwich box gazing down at the wonder that is the Earth viewed from orbit. Imagine him and Wilfred Mott (Bernard Cribbens) exchanging tales of the Tenth and Eleventh Doctors whilst sharing tea at the latter’s allotment. The return of Brian Williams in the fourth episode is an event to anticipate and one cannot but hope that the character will make appearances beyond the departure of his son and daughter-in-law.
One of the funniest and surreal moments ever in Doctor Who came with the friendly Triceratops sniffing Brian’s grass covered balls and then fetching them in the manner of a dog with a ball. The callous elimination of the harmless creature by the vicious Solomon was an event rendered heart-wrenching by the compassionate acting of Matt Smith comforting a dying animal and the extraordinary work of the special effects team in creating a creature that had been so instantly believable and lovable.
Since Nu-Who began The Mill (post-production and visual effects) and Millennium FX (prosthetics, animatronics and special make-up FX) have provided some of the most extraordinary work ever seen on television. In Dinosaurs On a Spaceship the two companies combined to produce incredible dinosaur effects and prosthetics, as well as visuals such as the Silurian space ark, Solomon’s spaceship, and the Minority Report-style computer displays. The Doctor’s previous encounters with dinosaurs came in the era of the Third Doctor around 40 years earlier in The Silurians and Invasion of the Dinosaurs and the results were less than spectacular. Nowadays Jurassic Park visuals have replaced Ray Harryhausen stop motion visuals and it was no stretch of the imagination to believe that dinosaurs had been resurrected and allowed to wander around the corridors of BBC Wales.
In The Hungry Earth/Cold Blood Chris Chibnall had invoked another element from the Pertwee years – the Silurians, aka Homo Reptilia, the reptilian race that had dominated the Earth before the rise of Homo Sapiens. Chibnall’s use of the Silurians as the saviours of the dinosaurs was a masterstroke that demonstrated the nobility of the race that has set them apart from so many other Doctor Who “monsters”. The Eleventh Doctor works especially well in association with Homo Reptilia, as seen with Madame Vastra in A Good Man Goes To War, and it has to be hoped that the race makes further appearances.
The naked greed of Solomon stands in stark contrast to this selfless nobility of the Silurians. His killing of the creatures in pursuit of profit leads to a rare act of ruthlessness from the Doctor. In allowing Solomon to die the Time Lord applies a maxim utilised by Batman/Bruce Wayne in Batman Begins in that whilst he will not kill an enemy there is nothing to say that he has to save the person. After manipulating a Dalek into self-destruction in Asylum of the Daleks this is the second story in a row where the Doctor has displayed violent impulses. Donna Noble once pointed out to the Doctor that he needs companions around to keep his darker nature under control.
Since the departure of Amy and Rory as full-time travelling companions in The God Complex the notion has been developed of the Doctor making many additional acquaintances on his solo travels throughout time and space, including the Allan Quatermain-inspired big game hunter John Riddell and Queen Nefertiti (in an adventure that gave birth to the Biblical myth of a plague of locusts). The presence of Riddell and Nefertiti enabled Amy to effectively become the Doctor in a scene with her own companions as she deduced that they were on a Silurian space ark. When Rose tried to evoke the Doctor in The Christmas Invasion and bluff the Sycorax she fell flat on her face. Here Amy triumphed spectacularly. She and Rory have acquired skills and confidence in their years of travel with the last of the Time Lords. Is the day coming when they need to function and live in an environment far distant from the one they grew up in?
In the archives of BBC Wales please let there be an outtake of Matt Smith shouting:
Enough is enough! I have had it with these motherfucking dinosaurs on this motherfucking spaceship! Everybody strap in. I’m about to open some fucking windows.