You might have little faith in an episode with a title like Dinosaurs on a Spaceship living up to the standard set by this season’s opening episode, but despite immediately evoking flashbacks to the awful Snakes on a Plane and visions of low-budget dinosaur effects, this is a surprisingly enjoyable, light-hearted bit of relief from the dark and serious Asylum of the Daleks. The Doctor boards a runaway spaceship infested with dinosaurs in order to steer it away from Earth, accompanied by Amy, Rory, an African big game hunter (Rupert Graves), Queen Nefertiti of Egypt (Riann Steele), and Rory’s dad.
That last inclusion shouldn’t surprise anyone who’s been following the show closely; Mark Williams was long ago rumoured to make an appearance as Brian Williams, Rory’s dad, and the BBC officially confirmed his casting in this episode a short while ago. His abrupt introduction is not only funny, but grants a little further insight into the life of the Ponds between their time-travelling adventures, and especially a reassuring glance at their relationship after the divorce papers were literally on the table a mere episode ago.
American viewers on a post-Curiosity high might be jarred by the Earth-based efforts to renegotiate the ship being headed by the Indian Space Agency rather than NASA, but it’s an appreciable deviation from Doctor Who’s usual, firmly fantasy interpretations of the future. The actual dinosaur effects are also very well done; besides a few shoddy CGI raptors towards the end, this episode is an example of the fantastic prop and hydraulics work done by the special effects studios who work on Doctor Who, particularly evident in one overly friendly triceratops who makes a few appearances.
Queen Nefertiti and big game hunter John Riddell are also given the opportunity to shine as the group splits in two early on: Amy, Nefertiti, and Riddell investigate on one side of the ship, while Rory, Brian, and the Doctor investigate on the other. This means we’re not overwhelmed by some forced ensemble cast dynamic, but rather we get the existing snappy dialogue from a leader and two companions in a double-dose (and Amy isn’t around to see the Doctor kiss Rory – no joke). There’s also some fantastic Douglas Adams-esque dialogue from a couple of loveable rusty robots voiced by comedians David Mitchell and Robert Webb.
While a couple of scenes are indicative of this particular season’s darker aspects, with the ethics of the Doctor’s behaviour is once more called into question during a confrontation with this episode’s villain, it’s witty and fun overall, like an episode of Doctor Who ought to be. It’s marred less by cheesiness than Asylum, despite its seemingly ridiculous premise, and the fantastic on-screen chemistry of Arthur Darvill and Mark Williams is easily matched by Karen Gillan’s time with Steele and Graves; remarkable performances all round are what makes this episode most memorable.