"WHAT IS HAPPENING IN LIFE RIGHT NOW?!"
This is a phrase that I uttered while watching "Dinosaurs on a Spaceship."
Not because it was bad -- on the contrary, it was quite enjoyable -- but because this thoroughly funny episode was blowing my mind with its borderline ridiculous series of events and all of its blink-and-you'll-miss-it zingers. There wasn't much in the episode by way of character development or story arc advancement (which classifies this as a "filler" episode in my opinion -- a little surprising given the Ponds' imminent farewell), but damn if I didn't have a blast watching it anyway.
(Normally, I'd pepper this review with memorable quotes, but seriously, there are so many gems in this one, it'll be way too much to list them all. As always, PLOT SPOILERS FOLLOW.)
Moffat's series 7 decree to create one-and-done, blockbuster episodes (this week's movie poster is above) was certainly evident in "Dinosaurs," as the plot took off a lightning pace. The Doctor receives a message via Psychic Paper while Queen Nefertiti (Riann Steele) does... uh... something that makes the Doctor's eyes roll back in his head with enjoyment.
Rounding up John Riddell (Rupert Graves, Sherlock), early 1900s big game hunter, and the Ponds -- inadvertently including Rory's father Brian Williams (Mark Williams, Harry Potter) -- to complete his "gang," the Doctor brings all of them to a continent-sized ship in a collision path with earth. If they cannot alter the ship's trajectory within 6 hours, the Indian Space Agency will be forced to blow it up.
As they explore, they find dinosaurs. On the spaceship. And it is fantastic.
The part-CGI, part-puppet dinosaurs were (amazingly) presented very believably. There wasn't a question about the reality of the not-quite-extinct reptilia, as they roamed through the halls of this otherwise-deserted starship. Ankylosaurs headbutted and stomped their way down corridors, their unmistakeable tails ungracefully smashing against walls. Velociraptors were notably menacing when a whole pack of them glided into the episode. And, of course, "Tricey" was priceless. (Short moment of silence.)
The gang gets separated into two within the first 8 minutes of the episode (again, lightning fast pace). Amy leads "Nefi" and Riddell to find answers about the ship, while the Doctor and the Williams boys try to find a way to prevent its crash course with the planet.
At this point, Amy and Rory appear to have truly changed. Not only do they appear to be in a better place in their relationship after last week's divorce (did those papers go through?), but they also seem to be different themselves. Rory, of course, is no stranger to combat as the Last Centurion, but there was something quite different when he actually threatens the robots that hold him captive. Amy, on the other hand, appears to have loosened up quite a bit -- she offers to high five to a queen! -- and also appears to have grown an adventuring intuition, instinctively knowing what buttons to press and what videos to unlock. We've always known Rory to be brave and Amy to be clever, but here, they've taken up a notch -- which, to be honest, was certainly enjoyable but a little surprising.
They discover that the ship was intended to be a Silurian ark, preserving the Silurian race and a few dozen species of flora, fauna, and (apparently) dinosaur life as they could before the "destructive impact forecast for our planet" could strike (presumably referring to the meteor that ultimately killed the remaining dinosaurs.)
Ultimately, the antagonist Solomon (David Bradley, Harry Potter), accompanied by his two initially-amusing, but later-irksome wise-cracking robots, intended to sell the dinosaurs on the black market, but discovered something even more valuable on board - Queen Nefertiti of Egypt.
The ISA's time limit has passed, and the missiles are launched. Each person in the gang just happens to fill necessary voids in the plot: the Williams boys discover they can pilot the Silurian ship, Riddell and Amy protect the cockpit from velociraptors, and the Doctor saves Nefertiti while simultaneously diverting the ISA missiles from the Silurian ship to Solomon's escaping space craft.
The Doctor's companions (all of them) were really very entertaining in their own right. Nefertiti's strong will, Riddell's "walking innuendo," and Williams' "everyman in a fantastic situation" quality added to the levity well. While they did play off as "plot device-y," their success as this patchwork ensemble with the Doctor and the Ponds made you feel as if it wouldn't be totally out of place for the Doctor to light up a cigar at the end while saying, "I love it when a plan comes together."
Victorious, the companions return home. Nefertiti joins Riddell on the African plain. The Ponds return to their flat with the bright blue door. Williams the Elder does some traveling. Happiness and rainbows.
Amidst all of the craziness, we're given just another reminder that the Ponds' journey is approaching its conclusion in a sudden turn for the serious towards the end of the episode. In an otherwise frenetic story full of whimsy, this was the equivalent of dropping an anvil on our heads. The idea of Amy or Rory's mortality, even as an off hand comment, makes the viewer's heart immediately heavy -- yes, yes, we know they're leaving soon, but could they really die? (Of course, the answer is yes, and that's why the idea is so terrifying.) While it certainly did add to viewers' tension of the overarching plot that Matt Smith called the "Fall of the Ponds," it did definitely bring our otherwise general giddiness with the episode to a grinding halt.
And what of the Doctor murdering Solomon? (And, yes, it was murder.) We've covered his aggressiveness in the past, but this seemed different. He has certainly left his enemies to suffer their own poor choices - a kind of Batman-esque "I won't kill you, but I don't have to save you" attitude. But this was different: he had already saved his friend; he could have just left. Sure, he wasn't pleased that Solomon had kidnapped his friend and killed Tricey, but in retaliation he intentionally diverts the missiles to destroy one old (albeit evil) man? And he does it so matter-of-factly with some offhand explanation about a targeting mechanism? I have a feeling that this plot point will be the source of debate for a lot of people for a good while.
I do have to wonder, though: was "Dinosaurs" really time well spent when we could be delving deeper into the soon-departing couple? We do learn how capable and experienced they've become in this episode, but there isn't much exploration of emotional depth with Amy, Rory, or the Doctor.
Oh, who am I kidding?
"Dinosaurs on a Spaceship" is perhaps the most fun Doctor Who episode I've ever had the pleasure of watching. We'll have plenty of emotion when the Ponds say goodbye in "Angels Take Manhattan." Until then, let's savor each moment of fun we get with the Last Centurion and the Girl Who Waited, and go play fetch with Tricey.
Side note: I know I haven't exactly held back on how beautiful I think Karen Gillan is. But something about her was just on fire tonight. I don't know what changed between last week and this week, KG, but keep doing it. Me-ow.