Did… did the Doctor just kill someone?
This week’s episode of Doctor Who came from writer Chris Chibnall, who has a bit of a rocky reputation amongst Who fans. His previous episodes include the dull ‘42’, where the Doctor had to protect a spaceship from hurtling into the Sun, as well as the two-parter ‘Hungry Earth/Cold Blood’. Which you may recall as being the two-part story last season where lizards dragged people underground for little discernible reason, and Rory began his long cycle of dying/resurrecting. Based on this fourth episode from Chibnall, we may well have reason to worry.
Slightly more gimmicky than the usual episode of Doctor Who, ‘Dinosaurs on a Spaceship’ quickly lived up to the name after an extremely crammed opening sequence which introduced three new characters in the space of two minutes, before transporting everybody into the spaceship of the title in order to see the dinosaurs of the title. The story from here on out was: why were there dinosaurs on the spaceship? From here on, the tone was vaguely farcical throughout, as Chibnall seemed to be revelling in the idea of doing strange things with The Doctor. This led to some fun moments, mostly regarding Amy.
Amy has struggled as a character at times, as the crew seem to want her to be grumpy while Karen Gillan clearly prefers to be light-hearted. Chibnall gives her something to latch on to here, with a succession of fun one-liners and great moments which refreshed the character – in particular, her decision to pretend that she was a Queen was a laugh-out-loud moment. Likewise, there was much to like in the relationship between Rory and her father Brian (played by Mark Williams). The two actors hit into an immediate rapport with one another, mimicking aspects of each other’s performances to create a believable father/son bond.
However, there were the other members of the cast. Queen Nefertiti was played by Rian Steele with grace, while Rupert Graves was clearly relishing his role as a big game hunter. However, what a strange message this episode gave out regarding misogyny. Graves’ character was a wanton sexist throughout, to the point where Queen Amy even told him that he should probably go take lessons in gender equality. So how did his story end? With him getting the girl, who came to live in HIS time period instead of her own, where she was a QUEEN. What kind of message is that to send?
And of course, that brings us to the insane ending, in which The Doctor actively murdered somebody. It turns out that the spaceship was an ark, which had been taken over by a bounty hunter (David Bradley!) due to the high price dinosaurs apparently carry on the intergalactic black market. After getting caught and held hostage by Bradley and his two bungling robots (played by UK comedians Mitchell and Webb, neither of whom had any good lines), Nefertiti agreed to become Bradley’s new prize in order to buy freedom for the others. This led, finally to the Doctor arranging the situation so a missile strike was placed on Bradley’s spaceship. He teleported in, rescued Nefertiti, and then GLOATED ABOUT BRADLEY’S IMPENDING DEATH.
Now here’s the thing. Doctor Who has NEVER been about this sort of thing. I only recall him resorting to purposeful murder once, and that was when he dropped an alien off the side of his ship, to his doom, at the start of the Tennant era. And that was in self-defence, and also the alien was charging him with a sword. And also The Doctor had only just regenerated and wasn’t thinking clearly. Bradley was completely defenceless at this point, lying helpless on the floor of his ship, alone. And The Doctor decided to have him killed. It’s incredibly out-of-character, and horrendous. Again, you have to wonder just how this got approved. We not only have extraneous characters (Amy and Rory could have done everything that the other two had done), but we have a murderous, cold-blooded Doctor. In anybody’s eyes, that has to result in a low score.
Chibnall has another episode this season, and there are rumours he might come on as showrunner once Moffat steps down in a few years. Let’s hope he writes a single decent episode before that time, because Dinosaurs on a Spaceship was a silly misstep which fundamentally misunderstood the point of Doctor Who.
Steve Morris is the head and indeed only writer for Comics Vanguard, the internet's 139th most-favorite comic-book website. You can find him on Twitter at @stevewmorris, which is mostly nonsensical gibberish you may enjoy or despise. His favorite Marvel character is Darkstar, while his favorite DC character is, also, Darkstar. He's on Team X-Men, you guys.