‘It’s quite ridiculous,’ the Doctor says at one point during this supercharged, Jurassic Park-meets-Alien-meets-Carry On Cleo romp. ‘Also: brilliant.’ He’s right on both counts.
Dinosaurs on a Spaceship is possibly the most preposterous episode of Doctor Who since the days when Tom Baker proposed a talking cabbage as his new companion; yet it’s easily the funniest since Douglas Adams hung up his script-editing pen and went off to hitchhike around the galaxy. It also finds time to be poignant and thrilling by turns.
The episode is also positively dripping with sex. Not the Fifty Shades of Grey or 9½ Weeks variety – this is still basically a kids’ show, of course – but the nudge-nudge sauciness of a seaside postcard. From the moment the Doctor’s psychic paper makes the comedy iPhone horn alert as Queen Nefertiti touches him up at the beginning to the closing, clearly post-coital scene to the Lady of the Two Lands, Wife of the Great King Amenhotep emerging from John Riddell’s tent with her hair down and a big gun in her hands, Chris Chibnall’s script is bursting with comedic filth.
And when it’s not being rude, it’s still amusing. This is mostly due to the ongoing comic double-act skills of Matt Smith and Arthur Darvill (not to mention the former’s Three Stooges-style slides across the floor) and the addition of the excellent Mark Williams as Rory’s dad, Brian.
Inadvertently picked up in the TARDIS when the Doctor takes the Ponds on their latest adventure, Brian is bewildered and fascinated by being swept off to the year 2367 – but never lost for words. Nor for a handy garden implement to dig up a beach that’s actually the engine room of a giant Silurian spaceship. ‘What sort of man doesn’t carry a trowel?’ he asks his son, who hasn’t quite recovered from the mortification of his father’s earlier, supremely hilarious remark from a few minutes earlier.
When a friendly triceratops starts exploring Brian’s crotch, the Doctor asks, ‘You don’t have any vegetable matter in your pockets, do you?’ ‘Only my balls,’ Brian replies, causing Rory to clasp a hand over his eyes in despair. ‘Golf balls,’ his dad belatedly explains.
But beyond the slapstick and single entendres, there’s still a story and a lot of seriousness. The Silurian vessel has been commandeered by Solomon (David Bradley) – a shabby, fallen-on-hard-times Peter Stringfellow presumably sacked from Intergalactic Hogwarts for being too horrible – who has massacred its lizard crew and is hoping to flog the dinosaur cargo for big bucks.
A genuinely nasty piece of work, Solomon is willing to slaughter triceratopses, leer threateningly at Egyptian queens and have his rusty robots assault former members of The Fast Show cast without compunction. Yet it’s still somehow a surprise when the Doctor, having saved the day, is ruthless enough to let the missiles from the Indian Space Agency blow the piratical bastard to bits.
Having flexed his comedy muscles throughout, Matt Smith is even better showing the Doctor being merciless. ‘Did the Silurians beg you to stop?’ he whispers, deaf to Solomon’s pleas for clemency.
The only moment that can top this is when the Doc and Amy are chatting breezily about the future. ‘You’ll be there till the end of me,’ he says. ‘Or vice versa,’ Amy chuckles – and the horrified look on the Time Lord’s face is heartbreaking. If he – unlike us – knows what’s going to happen when Team Pond bows out, it’s safe to say their future doesn’t look particularly bright.
Thankfully, the opposite seems true for the show itself. Dinosaurs on a Spaceship has its flaws (the Mitchell and Webb-powered robots look great, but their camp bitchiness is a gag that quickly becomes tiresome; elsewhere, the Dalek Emperor-sized coincidence that Rory just happens to have brought his dad along when they need two operators of the same gene chain to fly the ship is a lazy bit of plotting) but the Doctor’s gang (notably Riann Steele and Rupert Graves as Nefertiti and Riddell) are great and help the episode nimbly avoid being an anticlimax after ‘Asylum of the Daleks’.
It’s funny, sexy and – as the great man himself said – brilliant. Ridiculous has never been so good.
Aired at 7.35pm on Saturday 8th September 2012 on BBC One.
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