I’ve been writing a lot about how Doctor Who has from the very outset been several different types of show. One of them, comedy, is to the fore in much of tonight’s episode of Doctor Who, “Dinosaurs on a Spaceship.” But other genres are there alongside it, and at times come to the fore, including suspense, mystery, and drama. Spoilers ahead!
The Doctor does something new-ish, gathering a “gang” for this particular mission, including Queen Nefertiti of Egypt. It is good that the show ditched the idea of “not changing the course of history” and avoiding taking people from the past into the future, since every time a character from our time went to the future, they were doing just that, from a certain point of view. And there is something cool about having a famous historical person from the past come along for a trip into the future. It isn’t the first time Doctor Who has done this, and we could debate whether it works better with H. G. Wells, Nefertiti, or any other example. But that would distract from the thing that gets the Doctor excited like a child in the trailer for the episode (and obviously also in the episode itself). Dinosaurs…on a space ship!
The mystery is part of the fun in the first half or more of the episode, as the Doctor and his companions figure out what the ship is and who launched it and why they would have dinosaurs aboard. Since that is really best discovered at the appropriate moment, let me give a second spoiler warning. If you haven’t watched it yet, bookmark this page and come back later.
So eventually, Amy uses an approach she learned from the Doctor (pushing buttons) to figure out that the ship is a Silurian ship, and was created as an ark to save them and other living things on Earth from the catastrophe they expected, which in fact never materialized. The ship had been boarded by a pirate named Solomon, who threw the Silurians out the airlock in order to take the precious cargo of these extinct species.
As you can imagine, that made the Doctor angry, and we see the Doctor, having spoken not merely of piracy but genocide, showing his least merciful side.
The episode provides many entertaining moments, but also significant food for thought. Everyone in the episode is trying to survive – whether the Ponds dealing with ordinary things in their lives, Nefertiti saving her people with the Doctor’s help, Riddell the big game hunter making a living hunting other animals, the Silurians, and even Solomon the pirate.
The difference is whether they are happy to kill and harm other people in order to do so, or seek to save others along with themselves.
Rory’s dad being along for the ride is a fun element, and we are nicely shown the aftereffect of his experience. Whereas before we were told that he didn’t like traveling, at the end, we see lots of postcards from him. One significant trip can be a life-changing experience.
I was struck by the Doctor’s absence from Solomon’s database with the value of all people. Unless it was a Dalek database, Oswin’s erasure should not have affected it. Is the Doctor presumed dead at this stage? If so, then how could he be known to Earth to the authorities who authorized him to investigate the approaching spaceship? I wonder if this is something that will be important later, or like most such aspects of Doctor Who, is a sign of a demand for logic from a show that, for all its serious philosophical, religious, and ethical themes at times, is mainly for fun.