With a motley retinue of companions and helpers in tow – ranging from Amy, Rory, and Rory’s bewildered dad to a big game hunter and Queen Nefertiti of Egypt – the Doctor boards a spaceship on a collision course for 22nd century Earth, quickly discovering that it has a live cargo: dinosaurs from Earth’s past. The Doctor, Rory, and Rory’s dad find themselves in the ship’s control area, herded by strangely-behaved robots toward a meeting with the ship’s captain, while Amy and the others discover that whoever’s in charge of the ship now isn’t the one who loaded and launched it. The man in charge, a vicious space pirate named Solomon, hijacked the ship from its Silurian crew and killed them, intending to sell the specimens of the extinct dinosaur species on the black market. Solomon wants the Doctor to heal the injuries he suffered as a result, but the Doctor knows something he doesn’t: the Indian Space Agency has launched missiles toward the ship to destroy it before it collides with the planet. No matter what threats Solomon makes, the dinosaurs, along with the last Time Lord, may be facing extinction once more.
written by Chris Chibnall
directed by Saul Metzstein
music by Murray Gold
Cast: Matt Smith (The Doctor), Karen Gillan (Amy Pond), Arthur Darvill (Rory Williams), Rupert Graves (Riddell), Mark Williams (Brian Williams), David Bradley (Solomon), Riann Steele (Queen Nefertiti), Sunetra Sarker (Indira), Noel Byrne (Robot 1), Richard Garaghty (Robot 2), Richard Hope (Bleytal), Rudi Dharmalingam (ISA Worker), David Mitchell (Robot 1 voice), Robert Webb (Robot 2 voice)
Notes: Mark Williams is probably best known now for appearing as Ron Weasley’s father in the Harry Potter movies; longtime fans of British SF may also recognize him as Red Dwarf’s Swedish crewmember Petersen, or as one of the wayward alien leads of Red Dwarf co-creator Rob Grant’s short-lived SF comedy The Strangerers. This is the first on-screen evidence that the Silurians were capable of space travel; the Doctor’s previous encounters with them all involved enclaves of Silurians who opted to wait out the Earth’s extinction event in underground chambers. It could be that the Silurian space ark was a more desperate, radical attempt to preserve the Earth’s species. Ironically, this also gives the Silurians – normally enemies of the human race – something in common with their foes: both species, faced with imminent extinction-level events on Earth, took to space to preserve the planet’s life forms (also see Nerva Beacon in The Ark In Space). There seems to be no indication that other Silurian ships were launched. The notion of an artificially constructed beach providing the ship with hydroelectric power matches up well with previous evidence of Earthbound Silurians utilizing geothermal power. The Doctor’s warning about messing with Egyptian queens comes from experience; this may be a reference to the Big Finish audio stories, in which the fifth Doctor traveled with Erimem, the first female Pharaoh, following an attempt on her life.
LogBook entry & review by Earl Green
Review: In 1974, fearing that they’d picked a story title that was a little too obvious, the then-producers of Doctor Who abruptly renamed part one of Invasion Of The Dinosaurs, simply retitling it Invasion. (In any event, the Radio Times proceeded to promote it as part one of Invasion Of The Dinosaurs, which blew the surprise that the show’s makers were trying so hard to keep.) Maybe they were onto something there: in some ways, Dinosaurs On A Spaceship not only does exactly what it says on the box, but is in danger of not doing much more than that.
Helping to elevate the story is guest star Mark Williams as Brian, Rory’s dad, an affable golf-playing bloke who is completely oblivious as to what Rory and Amy are up to when they say they’re “traveling.” Williams, who starred in Rob Grant’s post-Red Dwarf series The Strangerers (after a recurring guest role on Red Dwarf itself), is no stranger to the genre, but his wide-eyed-and-skeptical portrayal of Rory’s everyman dad is the highlight of the episode. The characters of Nefertiti and Riddell are fun, but they’re so far removed from reality and anachronistic that they become caricatures (and they’re really there to point up how clever Amy is anyway); Brian is the heart and soul of the episode, and the scene in which he and Rory end up piloting the ship is surprisingly touching.
The revelation that the Silurians have space travel, and that some opted to wait out the extinction-level event the ended the dominance of reptiles on Earth by taking to deep space, is an intriguing new addition to the Silurian mythology as already established, and actually melds well with where we already know about them.
Dinosaurs On A Spaceship is a prime example of Episode Needs Better Title. Sure, it’s a spoof of Snakes On A Plane, but it really deserves its own identity, if only because one of its characters makes it more fun than it would be if it was only about a spaceship full of giant lizards.