The seventh season of Doctor Who continues with a romp that delivers on everything it promises in the title, although sometimes you can have too much of a good thing.
Following last week’s spectacular opening to the seventh series, one which has promised us a set of blockbusters, Dinosaurs on a Spaceship gets us back to basics. If Asylum of the Daleks was a return to the Pertwee (Third Doctor) era of episodes in its scope, then the second episode of the season takes us through the madness of some of the more extreme episodes of Tom Baker’s more eccentric moments. Before the credits even roll, the ragtag Scooby Doo collection that The Doctor (Matt Smith) gleefully calls his ‘gang’ includes big game hunter Riddell (Rupert Graves) and none other than Queen Nefertiti (Riann Steele) herself. As one can already glean from the title, this is capery at its most capetacular, free of weighty arcs and self-importance, but filled with an eclectic collection of characters.
It’s been 10 months since The Doctor last payed Amy (Karen Gillan) and her husband Rory (Arthur Darvill) a house call, and in typical fashion, he pops in unannounced while Rory’s dad Brian (the always wonderful Mark Williams) is changing a lightbulb. Whisking the lot of them off on a space adventure, they arrive on a ship the size of Canada headed directly for Earth, one that will be shot down by planetary missiles if The Doctor can’t get a response out of them in the next six hours. To their surprise, they find that the ship is impossibly filled with dinosaurs, but what’s that got to do with this creepy old dude named Solomon (David Bradley)?
The mark of these new ‘event’ episodes seems to be that they will run on pure adrenaline, and this succeeds for the most part. While the episode loses some momentum at the halfway mark, the flirting between Nefertiti and Riddell is on the money. Allegedly based on a “well-known nightclub owner with long hair”, Bradley’s Solomon is deliciously slimy, and a worthy foil to the new gang. Mark Williams is just wonderful as Rory’s dad. Armed with a trowel, which he keeps on his person for such occasions, he’s got our vote for joining the series as a permanent companion in The Doctor’s ‘gang’.
Yet if this a return to ‘classic’ Doctor Who, older viewers may find that the focus on younger Whovians might lead the episode down some unfortunate paths. Apart from half of the senior cast of Harry Potter seemingly turning up, the Peep Show/That Mitchell and Webb Look duo of David Mitchell and Robert Webb are unmistakable as a pair of giant robots, their impressive size diminished by the comic voices behind them. However, their depiction is bordering on George Lucas’s droids in Star Wars – Episode I: The Phantom Menace, and this is hopefully not an indicator of the future tone of the season. Equally, The Doctor’s final solution seems somewhat out of step with his heroic persona, with writer Chris Chibnall (echoing his last outing in the fifth season’s two-parter The Hungry Earth/ Cold Blood) exchanging character for bang. Yet there is still enough here to make this a solid old-fashioned romp.