[Review] - Doctor Who, Series 7 Episode 2, "Dinosaurs On A Spaceship"

Courtesy of the BBC
Is it wrong that I feel you can just ignore the existence of last week's episode, and pretend that this is the series seven premier? Because nothing carries over. As I said last week, the Pond's troubles were self contained contrived drama. This episode sees the Doctor return to them after an extended time apart, and really kicks things off with a bang. Except for whatever the implications are with Oswin, and far future dealings with the Daleks, I think Asylum was largely a bottle episode, and one I'm content to throw into the ocean.

Because this week there were dinosaurs! On a spaceship! With cheeky robots, and the janitor from Harry Potter!

Hit the jump for the review, which contains spoilers which were saved from extinction by an ancient and compassionate race.

Here's how this review will work. First, I'm going to say a lot (a lot) of words about what I found most distracting, as I did last week with the whole "parliament of the Daleks" idea. Then, I'm going to say a few things about the dinosaurs in the episode, as they are one of my areas of obsessive interest. Then, finally, I'll get on to the episode in general. However, I should point out that this episode featured the Doctor, a Time Lord of Gallifrey, riding a Triceratops, whilst it played fetch with a very bouncy golf ball, down a corridor of a spaceship. Someone has been reading my Christmas list.

My big problem with this episode isn't really with this episode. It's with every episode featuring the Silurians. Their redesign, both physically and culturally, has made them a personal favourite, but I cannot get over, or beyond, the constant gaps in logic when dealing with the creatures. The casting off of basic scientific knowledge and logic (I say basic. It's not). So, here we go.

In their initial appearance, and every subsequent one, they are called Silurians, because they were initially believe to come from the Silurian period of the Earth's history, 443 million years ago. In their second appearance, the Third Doctor corrects this by saying they should be called Eoceans, as they lived during the Eocene period, about 56 million years ago. The second fits better. During the Silurian, life on Earth was just starting out. Basic marine life mostly. During the Eocene era, mammals first start to dominate the planet. The first whales appear, as do the forefathers of the horse, elephant, pig, squirrel and monkey. Reptilian life flourishes, mostly because the planet is a giant humid forest, though that changes before the end. Also during this time is the domination of the Terror Birds. As a time period for a reptilian race to evolve intelligence, develop civilisation and be ruined, the Eocene fits.

Except, their first appearance, and this one both state they co-existed with dinosaurs. Creatures that either didn't exist for another 186 million years, or died off 9 million years earlier. To put that in perspective, you can't. It's too big a number. To try, the first creature that could be recognised as a Homo sapien first appeared 200,000 years ago. Even if they cloned dinosaurs in some way, it still seems unlikely. The woolly mammoth died out 10,000 years ago, we have both frozen tissue and living relatives, and we still can't clone one of them. So, no matter when the Silurians come from, they're relationship with dinosaurs makes no sense, and shouldn't be mentioned again. Because it gives me a headache.

The cause of their surrender of Earth has always, unwaveringly been given that they thought the planet was doomed, to be struck by a rogue planet, when actually it was the moon coming into alignment with the Earth. In the 1970's, when the first Silurian episode was made, the leading theory was that the moon was a rogue rock that was captured by the Earth's gravity. Today, we pretty much know this to be bunk. The moon was made from materials either left over of jettisoned by the Earth when it was cooling after initial formation. Either way, it happened 4.5 billion years ago. When the Earth was molten. This is fact. The moon theory should not have made it past draft one of the Cold Blood script. It is nonsense of the highest order, and needs never be mentioned again. What would make sense is if the Silurians were reacting to a series of asteroid impacts (as all intelligent species should be) that actually happened at the end of the Eocene era. Called the Grande Coupure, it happened 33 million years ago and wiped out the majority of ocean life, and most of the land based reptilian life. This mass extinction allowed for the surviving mammal species to take their respective places in the food chain, including for the first time, at the top.

Finally, their name. No Silurian character has ever referred to themselves collectively. Silurian is the human word. As is Eocean. Homo reptilia is scientific technobabble, and is an insultingly stupid phrase. Homo refers to the genus, the larger set in which individual species exist. So, we are Homo sapians. There used to be Homo erectus. In X-Men, there are Homo superior. Homo refers to a mammalian lineage. Reptilia refers to a class, which is about three ranks higher in the chain of description then Homo would appear. If anything, the words are reversed. And would be separated, and followed by other classifications. Except they wouldn't. Homo refers to mammals, Reptilia to reptiles. Taxonomy strictly prohibits using the same classifications to identify separate species in separate classes. For them to have a Latin sounding classification, they would need to have their evolutionary history traced by researchers. Even the fan used "Earth Reptile" is insulting, as would you liked to be referred to as an "Earth Mammal"?

You know how I know all this? I took ninth grade science. But even still, you know how I found this stuff out again? I checked wikipedia. Took me about five minutes. So, there is no excuse. Chris Chibnall, if you ever write another Silurian episode, please don't mention the moon, please stop calling them Homo reptilia, and do even a tiny bit of basic research first before you start just making stuff up.

Now, the dinosaurs. I thought they looked fab. Really, the blend of CG and animatronics was fantastic for a budget like Doctor Who's. It wasn't Jurassic Park, but it also wasn't Primeval, or that horrid time travel show that FOX just cancelled, whose name I can't remember. I wonder if they borrowed any of the props from the Walking With Dinosaurs show? I have to say, they were some of the best TV dinosaurs I've ever seen. That being said, I noticed the following things.

They featured the Big Three dinosaurs (T-rex, unspecified raptors, and Triceratops) despite the ship's log saying that 49 species had survived. Which is expected and disappointing, though obviously they were going for instant recognition. Points for having the initial reveal be a pair of Ankylosaur though. Not a usual choice. And bonus points for all featured dinosaurs coming from the same time period, the late Cretaceous (depending of course on the unspecified raptor species). I'm sure it was accidental though. Some other nick picks include the fact that Pterasaurs wouldn't attack large animals. Except for the giant Quetzalcoatlus, they ate fish and carrion. Attacking any creature larger then a hatchling risked damage to their wings.

Also, T-rex wouldn't have slept like that. They'd more likely have slept with their legs a their sides, like a bird perched on a nest, so they could push themselves up with their leg muscles. Laying on their side would have made them slow to right themselves, if possible at all with their tiny hands.  Happily, that was balanced by the raptors have proto-feathers. While still not accurate, it's more then most shows would include. The T-rex had no feathers at all, sadly. As a culture, we need to move on, with this featured appearance being a reality. We've done it before with dinosaurs, we can do it again.

Nefertiti would have no idea what a dinosaur was, or what one looked like. Riddell might have heard about them, but they were poorly understood in his time, and certainly not thought of as predators worthy of big game hunters. Certainly not to the extent that he would want a tooth as a trophy. Though, really, any good dinosaur story needs a big game hunter. I'd very much like to see Riddell return to the show in the future, and if at all possible, it'd be nice for him to have something to actaully do.

Question: why would the Doctor return the dinosaurs to their native time period, when they weren't time displaced, and that action would only result in their deaths, which the Silurians were trying to avoid? Why not deposit them in a zoo in the future? Or on an empty planet, for them to flourish (unless that was what the postcard was implying. I took it to mean he returned them to the past. I could be wrong).

And now for the episode in general. While a lot of people will be giving Mark Williams the kudos for playing Rory's father, Brian (and all of them well deserved), I cannot in good conscious say he was my favourite part of the episode. Nor, amazingly, were the dinosaurs. No, my favourite part was the Mitchell and Webb robots. Mostly because they were actual, practical suits, rather then CG (the budget of which was probably spent on the dinos). But also because their personalities had a certain Douglas Adams feel to them. They weren't the robots you were expecting.

But besides them, the episode really did belong to Rory and Brian. They instantly felt like father and son, with Williams even saying "what" the same way Darvill does. Rory really is getting the best of the material this series (I really liked the detail that Rory picks up medical supplies for his first aid kit whilst travelling through space and time), and while Amy was leagues more enjoyable here then she was last week, or has been for a few episodes past, I feel like Moffat is really pushing her "strong, powerful female"-ness on us. Once again however, a person's entire world view is changed and improved for having spent time with the Doctor. Baring the ultimate fates of Amy and Rory, is it too much to ask that Brian Williams to become the new Wilfred Mott?

Beyond that, this is the second episode in a row where the Doctor takes credit for playing a role in a piece of classical music. I'm beginning to wonder if that, more then "the question" or the Ponds departing, is the unifying theme of this series. It also ccontinued the trend of the same actors playing multiple Silurian characters, which is a nice touch. I'm also sure that this was, I think, the episode of Doctor Who with the most sexual innuendo in it's fifty year history, and almost certainly the first episode with a twisted threat of rape. Which sits even more uncomfortably considering how light and whimsical this episode was. Until the Doctor committed murder. Almost without hesitation. Yes, he was avenging a genocide, and preventing another, but still. He did has he has punished so many others for doing, and never thought twice about it. Dark stuff, that.

My last comment has to do with dating Amy and Rory, something that has been an unusual task since The Eleventh Hour. I have established, using maths, that Amy and Rory from this episode are from 2020, the same year as Chris Chibnall's first Silurian story, the Hungry Earth, takes place. Undoubtedly the events of this episode are what inspire Amy and Rory to go to Wales and watch their past selves arrive.

I know it is 2020 because of the very few numbers the show has given us in relation to the Ponds over the years. Amy and Rory are the same age. Amy met the Doctor when she was 7, established to be in 1996. Which means they were born in 1989. Rory says to his father (who would know) that he is 31, thus placing their native time zone in 2020. This assumes that the Doctor returns them to a time relative to the amount of time they've spent on the TARDIS (for example, the nine months they spent which the Doctor during the first half of last series). Since Rory's father doesn't react with shock regarding his son's age, we can assume this to be true (or that Mr. Williams had other things on his mind). So, time is really moving along for the Ponds.

Next week, cowboys and cyborgs. At this rate, there will nothing left on my Christmas list at all. Yeah!
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About MR. Clark

Adopting the descriptor of "successfully unpublished author", MR. Clark began writing things on the internet in 2012, which he believed to be an entirely reputable and civilized place to find and deliver information. He regrets much.

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