Though this episode’s title is seemingly a parody of Snakes on a Plane, at no point does our favorite Time Lord scream obscenities about dinosaurs being somewhere else than on the spaceship. The plot of this Doctor Who episode is also less straightforward than Snakes on a Plane, and in addition to the dinosaurs, serves up multiple guest characters and zany situations. But was it all worth it? Was this episode this year’s “Curse of the Black Spot?” Read on to find out.
The episode begins in a similar fashion as last season’s “A Good Man Goes to War,” only this time the Doctor is gathering a “gang” together for other, less personal reasons. A giant spaceship the size of Canada is on a collision course with Earth sometime in the 24th century and the Doctor has rounded up a big game hunter named Riddell from the 1900’s (played by Sherlock’s Rupert Graves) Queen Nefertiti of ancient Egypt (Riann Steele), plus Amy, Rory, and Rory’s dad Brian (played by Mark Williams, mostly famous for his role as Ron Weasley’s dad in the Harry Potter films).
The future government of India is going to shoot down the ship with missiles if the Doctor doesn’t get to the bottom of it. Why he’s rounded up this particular group of people to help him with this task is never really explained—he simply tells Amy he “ha[s] a gang now.” It’s a funny-ish moment, if not altogether coherent. Before he can really explain/dissemble further, a couple of ankylosaurs barge through a door revealing there are, indeed, dinosaurs on a spaceship!
In an attempt to figure out what’s going on, the “gang” gets separated by an intuitive teleport system, which sends the user wherever they say they want to go. When the Doctor says he wants to see the engines, he, Rory, and Rory’s dad Brian are beamed to what appears to be a beach. But it’s not a beach! The engines of this spaceship are wave-powered! Unfortunately, there are circling
pterodactyls Pteranodons, which soon become serious trouble for Rory, the Doctor, and Brian.
Meanwhile, Amy quickly deduces that the spaceship they're aboard is actual a dinosaur ark built by the Silurians (remember those reptile people who live underneath the Earth?) The only trouble is, while she can find log entries from the Silurians, she can’t find any living Silurians aboard. That’s because the ship has already been boarded by a poacher. Enter Solomon, played by actor David Bradley (also famous for a Harry Potter role: he played Filch! Not to mention his work in Game of Thrones...). Solomon is a straight-up evil dude who admits openly to having massacred all the Silurians in order to obtain the precious, super valuable cargo of dinosaurs. At some point though, some raptors screwed up his leg and he wants the Doctor to fix it. If the Doctor doesn’t do what he wants, he’ll have his robots kill/maim Rory and Brian.
The Doctor reluctantly agrees and fixes up Solomon’s leg. Meanwhile the clock is ticking for the missiles to hit the giant space ark and everyone’s freaking out. Suddenly, there’s a game-changer from Solomon: he’ll let everyone go if the Doctor hands him over Queen Nefertiti. The Doctor is adamant that he won’t do it, but Nefertiti beams herself over and offers to sacrifice herself for the Doctor and the greater good. Rory and Brian, meanwhile, have figured out how to steer the spaceship away from Earth while Amy and Riddell keep busy shooting some raptors with stun guns.
Eventually the Doctor manages to outsmart Solomon, rescue Nefertiti and ride a triceratops with Rory and Brian. He places the homing beacon from the dinosaur space ark on Solomon’s ship, causing the missiles to destroy the poacher instead of the dinos. Everyone is happy and the Doctor moves on to dropping everyone at home, including the dinosaurs, though it’s implied by some postcards received by the Ponds that the Doctor may have taken Brian on a little adventure...
The logistics of this episode were oddly complicated, considering that the premise of the episode wasn’t all that complex. Why the Doctor needed to round up a macho big game hunter and Nefertiti to help save a giant space ark from crashing into Earth isn’t clear. Why he’s ditched the Ponds for 10 months also doesn’t seem to make any sense. I liked all of the guest characters well enough, but didn’t feel like enough time was spent on any of them to really amount to anything.
Further, an episode with dinosaurs on a spaceship should probably deliver a little bit more of a storyline involving dinosaurs. Sure, they get to ride a triceratops and zap some raptors Jurassic Park-style, but really these could have been any exotic creatures on the space ark. Bringing the Silurians back into the fold was cool, but it almost would have been cooler if they were actually around, rather just a plot device to explain how dinosaurs got on a spaceship.
The “funny” robots Solomon used as his muscle were really, really irritating. It reminded me of the Tenth Doctor’s sentiments in “The Waters of Mars”: I hate funny robots. More precisely, I hate funny robots when they’re not actually funny, and these things seemed like some kind of poor man’s version of Marvin the Paranoid Android crossed with some kind of bickering sitcom couple.
Furthermore, we’ve got dinosaurs in this episode! We don’t need robots, too! There’s a tendency in the post- Tennant/Davies era for the episodes to be filled to the brim with different and competing elements. Why is Nefertiti even there at all? Conveniently, she becomes central to the conflict because Solomon wants to keep her and enslave her, but that’s hardly a reason for the Doctor to bring her there in the first place. Not to mention, it's really regressive to have such a famous and powerful female figure only be present as a token plot-device.
Also, why waste awesome actor Rupert Grave in this cartoony role? Is he only there because they were trying to do some kind of Jurassic Park shout-out? If you wanted to do that homage, just quoting lines like “clever girl” or “must go faster” would have sufficed.
There’s a cold-blooded murder on the part of the Doctor in this one that feels like it could have been avoided. I know Captain Kirk wouldn’t have done that. The plot made it seem like the Doctor had no other option, but that doesn’t really seem true. I understand and appreciate the idea that Matt Smith’s Doctor might be “darker” than he comes across, but I don’t really buy it in this one and it seems a little out of character, here.
All in all, the episode was entertaining and I found myself chuckling a few times...I like that the Doctor has a Christmas list. Cute. But overall, I couldn’t help but feel like there was just too much stuff jammed into one episode. It was called “Dinosaurs on Spaceship,” not “Rory’s Dad, a Game Hunter, Nefertiti, Funny Robots, the Doctor, Hogwarts’s Janitor, the Ponds and Dinosaurs on a Spaceship.”
I suppose I’m sort of longing for a Doctor Who episode that will take its time with a premise, develop some characters and really suck me in with a plot twist. The season is entertaining so far, but I’m waiting to really be hooked.
Ryan Britt is the staff writer for Tor.com. He really likes dinosaurs.