Sunday, September 9, 2012

"Dinosaurs...on a spaceship!"

For the first time since it was revived back in 2005, Doctor Who featured some tasty nonavian dinosaur action last night. Not only that, but they were dinosaurs in space (one has the distinct feeling that the title of Dinosaurs on a Spaceship came before the script). It was an absolutely brilliant episode that moved at a scorching pace, bringing together not only the Ponds but also Rory's dad alongside Queen Nefertiti and an Edwardian big game hunter. Of course.

Now, don't get me wrong; while I am a massive geek - as is evidenced by my writing about Doctor Who on a dinosaur-related blog - it would be really daft to seriously critique the show's dinosaurs based on their scientific accuracy.

Of course, I am never serious. Never knowingly. (As usual, all images are copyright The Beeb and used under the perhaps naive assumption that they'll be OK with that.)

The first two dinosaurs in the show (in the pre-credits sequence, in fact) were ankylosaurs, which I thought was an excellent move. Although well known by those with even the slightest interest in dinosaurs, ankylosaurs are certainly not as familiar to the public at large as The Usual Suspects (Tyrannosaurus, Velociraptor, Stegosaurus etc. etc.) Moreover, they are certainly very dramatic-looking animals, and capable of wreaking a suitable amount of destruction. The animals in the show were clearly modeled on Euoplocephalus tutus, although they were never referred to as anything more specific than 'dinosaurs'. In spite of this, they were remarkably well done - although only enjoying a brief screen time, one could see that they had been accurately given wide-gauge hips and the right sort of armour even if they were probably a bit oversized. Check them out on YouTube.

The real saurian star of the show was a Triceratops, nicknamed 'Tricey' by the Doctor. It was realised by a combination of CGI and animatronics, with the Doctor and crew even hitching a ride on a real puppet front half. Any faults that it had were quite minor, all things considered - the hands weren't quite right, and the neck frill wasn't exactly the right sort of shape, but it certainly could've been a lot worse. Some people may have flinched at its characterisation as an adorable dog-like beast, but it's Doctor bloody Who. I thought it was wonderful, and was really quite sad when (spoilers!) the villain's two childlike pet robots exterminated it.

In fact, the only rubbish dinosaurs in this show were theropods - surprise, surprise. Amy, Nefertiti and Big Game Hunter Man stumbled upon a sleeping juvenile tyrannosaur early on in the show, and it appeared to be a bit tubular, without shoulders to speak of. Far more important than that, however - in that they actually had a significant role to play - were what everyone referred to as 'raptors'. Alas, Doctor Who trotted out the usual silly Jurassic Park-esque bunny-handed monstrosities, virtually devoid of feathers. It is worth noting, however, that they were not the same CGI models as used in Primeval, as some people have concluded - they were made from scratch by a different special effects studio. Any similarities are a result of the convergent need to rip off Jurassic Park.

Of course, the dinosaurs had spent over 65 million years on board that spaceship, in which time they might well have evolved bunny hands and a sparser feather covering. Stranger things have evolved.

Removing my tongue from my cheek, though, I must reiterate that this was an excellent episode - an absolutely inspired maelstrom of time and space-spanning lunacy. Also, I absolutely LOVED that Earth's primary space agency was apparently Indian.

Oh, and there were some pterosaurs too. But nobody cares about pterosaurs, especially Pteranodon longiceps. Yawn.


  1. Is that Arthur Weasley? I clearly don't watch Doctor Who. I just never got into it.

    1. I never watched the Harry Potter movies - I could never get into them. But yes, it's the same actor.

  2. Oh, I did assume the 'raptors' were recycled from Prinmeval. My bad.

    But as I said elsewhere: Queen Nefertiti and dinosaurs; what's not to like?

    1. Now see here, I didn't mention you by name. :P

      Also: too right, too right.

  3. Prinmeval?? What on earth is that?! Apologies for typo.

  4. It should also be noted that all creatures actually did live at the tail-end of the Cretaceous which is when this ship was supposed to have left earth, though that may be sheer coincidence. Except the raptors but I am willing to just drawn an "undiscovered species" card on those. Especially with atypical plumage like this.
    I now dub them Hystriximimus. There you go, new genus discovered on DW.

  5. This will likely be the 7th episode of doctor who that I've ever watched. I'm sure you can guess the other 6.

  6. ...the title of Dinosaurs on a Spaceship came before the script...

    Steve Moffat has basically said as much. He claimed that he came up with the broad idea and then passed it to Chris Chibnall to write.

    Not to detract from it's sheer awesomenessity, but the idea is really just an upsized "Snakes on a Plane". I have an idea, take any two of the following iconic character classes and you have your next movie/TV show/novel/comic/West End musical - dinosaurs, aliens, cowboys, medieval knights, zombies, and pirates. Some of these have already been done...

  7. 'Dinosaurs on a Spaceship' is WAY older than 'Snakes on a Plane', see the novel 'Day of the Dragonstar' by David Bischoff (1983) and it's sequels for the original version of this plot.


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