Monday, October 22, 2012

KKLAK! to the Future

Edit (Dec 2012): All right, perhaps 7.5 rather than 8.5.  It's not substantial enough for the higher score, but it's solid enough to deserve at least 7.5.
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Several other people seem to have beaten me to "Jurassic Ark".  Bastards.  Now I have to resort to a blog post title that requires footnotes.

Dinosaurs on a Spaceship: a cute title in search of a story.  It's surprising that Steven Moffat should have handed this wide-open brief over to the ever-risky Chris Chibnall.  It's even more surprising that he should have done so well with it.  He keeps the story simple and the brush strokes broad, and this suits the slam-bang title, the old-school adventure style, and the need after last year's series to settle back and take a bit of a breather before the forthcoming Pond departure episode.  The characters are also somewhat simplistic, but sufficiently lurid and different from one another to allow for some lively interaction.  This is the right episode at the right time, done the right way.

Not to mention: it's taken DW nearly 50 years to combine dinosaurs and spaceships?!  Well, all right, Invasion of the Dinosaurs has both, but not on screen at the same time.  It's kind of an obvious thing for Who to do, now that Who's actually done it.  Hindsight's great, isn't it?

The idea of the Silurians firing off arks to settle new worlds is a nice one, although it may not retcon as easily as one might hope with the backstory to DW and the Silurians.  And just how long has Solomon been waiting on the ship if it started to return to Earth when he boarded, and is already nearly there?  (A possible answer: were these the Hungry Earth/Cold Blood Silurians a thousand years later?  A possibility which leads to the uncomfortable conclusion that they were not only forced to bugger off for a millennium to spare humanity's blushes, but were pushed off the planet altogether when they re-emerged.  Hmm.)  Some very nice use of models alongside CGI effects - I was particularly surprised and delighted to learn that the comedy robots and the front part of the stegosaurus were physical props.  Speaking of, the comedy robots were a lot of fun.

And so to the vexed question of the Doctor's morality, which is raised once again, dear oh dear.  Solomon is such an outright black-hatted bastard that it's hard not to feel that he deserves it, but there's no doubt that the Doctor is responsible for his death.  He could have pulled Solomon out of there, sent his empty ship off with the missile beacon on it, and dragged him off to trial if he'd wanted to - what we get instead is vigilante justice, a summary execution.  It's awkward.  Still, there's some distance between this and such horrors as the Doctor subliminally programming the human race to commit genocide, the vivisectionist fist-bump, and anything involving Melody Bloody Pond.  It's actually a pretty close match for the resolution to The Dominators, in which Patrick Troughton's Doctor similarly causes some simplistic villains to be blown up.  The show is merely veering a bit too close to James Bond territory, which is uncomfortable but not exactly unfamiliar for DW.

Whether this is something that will be developed and/or addressed head-on this season, or fumbled as in previous seasons, remains to be seen.  I understand the very next story plays even more with the Doctor's morality, which suggests some kind of broader plan.

And hey, it's the only really iffy thing I can spot in this episode.  In gender politics news, Riddell is a bit of a grotesque, but that suits his Quatermainish adventurer persona, and he seems to be put in his place by Nefertiti.  As noted in the previous post, the presence of a strong, capable female character in Nefertiti not only plays well here but also offers an amusing counterpoint to the portrayal elsewhere of Amy Pond.  Of course Amy admires her.

In the final analysis this is a very simple adventure yarn, but embellished with enough interesting characters and quirky moments that it doesn't feel stretched out at 45 minutes.  It feels more like an Old Who four-parter with Part One intact (ooh, look at the dinosaurs - but what are they doing on that spaceship?) and the rest edited down to the bare essentials.  On the whole I'd rate this episode as another 8.5 7.5 out of 10 - it's not punch-the-air stuff (with the possible exception of the Rory's dad packed lunch scene), but it's good, and if the 2012 season can maintain this standard I'll be a happy bunny.


Sarah said...

“He keeps the story simple and the brush strokes broad” is this the diplomatic way of saying “there's not much of a story here”? And don't tell me “he writing for kids” because kids can handle more complex story lines. (/rant)
I'm puzzled as to the point of the Doctor collecting all sorts of people from Earth’s history. The only point I can see is that the surplus of extra characters were there to beef out the “story” without whom the episode would have lasted about 5 minutes.
On the other hand I thought considering the actors didn't really have much to go on apart from good ol' stereotyping (and I include Nefertiti in this) I thought they did really well.

John Toon said...

True, the story is light - for me, at this specific point in DW's run, that's a welcome break after some of last year's overexertions. That's more or less what I was trying to get across.

Not sure there's a surplus of characters - the cast actually looks smaller than the usual, if anything. As to why more than the usual number of them travel with the Doctor in this episode, shrugs. It mixes it up a bit. It demonstrates that there's more to the Doctor's life than just Amy and Rory, not that that's expressly picked up on in the script.

Re stereotyping. Solomon is certainly a simplistic villain, possibly too much so. Riddell is stereotyped, but I'd suggest that he's supposed to be, given the kind of Victorian big game hunter character he's meant to be (and all of that is appropriate to the basic concept of Dinosaurs on a Spaceship). I'm not convinced that Nefertiti is stereotyped, but even if she is, it'd be worth noting that even a stereotype is better than Amy Pond. No obvious stereotypes among the rest of the cast.