by Paul Kelly
A decidedly kid friendly episode, with something for just about everyone: providing your interest in Who isn't restricted to Moffat's more adult oriented, time twisting high jinks. This felt like Jurassic Park in space, with lots of running around, ineffectual camp robots, and more ham than the Hammer House of Horror wrapped in bacon. There was some nice foreshadowing regarding Amy's departure, too. Of course, now the Doctor and Rory are kissing buddies, we needn't worry too much about Rory being alone. And I dare say there'll always be a place for him around the Weasley table.
This whole episode was a sometimes jarring mix of light and dark. On the one hand there was a lot of fleeing from dinosaurs, over-the-top characterisation and awkward familial banter; on the other there was the death of Tricey (the dinosaur who thinks he's a dog), a not-so-veiled rape threat, and the Doctor Batmanning Argus Filch (“I won't kill you, but I don't have to save you”.) I do like it when they explore the Doctor's darker side, and I thought Smith did an excellent job of channelling Sylvester McCoy. It just all sat a little uncomfortably next to Riddell's 'big weapon' and Brian 'I'm not a Pond' Williams' grassy balls.
In hindsight, the episode would probably have benefited from an extra ten minutes. There were simply too many characters to do them all justice. I liked the idea of expanding the gang and then splitting them up; I'd just liked to have seen more of them. Queen Nefititi was cool and carried on the show's tradition of having a character from history turn up and be a total bad-ass, and Solomon was the perfect villain, deserving of our boos and hisses. Kudos to David Bradley for playing him straight. If he'd hammed it up an much as Rupert Graves did with Riddell, it just wouldn't have worked. The character of Solomon gave the episode balance. Riddell just made me want to chop my own head off.
I loved the inclusion of Arthur Weasley. Did his character fit the show tonally? Possibly not. Does Mark Williams play virtually the same character every time he's on TV? Probably. But when he's this much fun, who cares? Let's face it, Mark William's just makes everything better, and his chemistry with Arthur was undeniable. Brian even turned out to be more than just a not-so-pretty face: graduating from chief cobweb cleaner, to saviour, all in the space of 40 minutes. Which should come as no surprise as this is what Doctor Who does best: takes ordinary people and turns them into heroes. I could totally see Brian becoming Wilfred Mott's spiritual successor. He has that same air of wonderment, and that almost instant acceptance of his environment. Assuming we ever see him again.
Is the 45 minute blockbuster every week working as a format? It's probably a little early to tell. The episode posters are certainly better, but I am missing the deeper story integration. The only thread currently tying this season together is the Ponds, and I got some very bad vibes from the Doctor tonight regarding the nature of their departure. Is Amy going to die? Why did the Doctor stare at her when she said “or vice versa”, yet remained unmoved when he said “you'll be there until the end of me”? And what was with the sad look he threw them both as they were stood gazing out of the TARDIS? What does he know? And where did Brian get that flask and sandwich box from?
Amy's frustration at having a diminished role in the Doctor's life is becoming more and more evident. Despite it being part of their agreement, she looked decidedly envious of Neffy and Riddell. Not that they are his new companions, thank goodness. Neffy I could probably cope with. John Riddell would pose more of a challenge. Is John Riddell an actual person and my knowledge of historical figures is letting me down? Although a fan of Rupert Graves from Sherlock and Garrow's Law, the character of John Riddell didn't offer much in terms of realism, although I did enjoy seeing Amy and Neffy kicking his gender stereotypes into touch. Would Neffy seriously have ended up touching his 'big weapon' (as per that final shot)? I suppose he did try to save her life, even if he was a walking cliché.
Chibnall did a good job with the dialogue in a script heavily weighted towards the humorous. I could quite happily sit and listen to Rory and Brian's banter all day long. The comedy robots I could perhaps have done without, despite them being voiced by David Mitchell and Robert Webb. (Whom I absolutely love.) In the Radio Times, the two robots were listed as Noel Byrne and Richard Garaghty (evidently their human operators -- according to Mark Greig), but it was obvious who were supplying the voices. The CGI was also a little hit and miss. The Ankylosaurus (if that's what they were) walking in slowmo looked weird, and Solomon's ship exploding at the end looked like something from a video game -- but it mostly worked. For a show with a moderate budget, I think they did pretty well.
Next week's story looks a cracker. It's probably the most highly anticipated episode of the series, so I'm ratcheting my expectations up to ridiculously insatiable proportions.
Bits and Pieces:
-- Why are official organisations on earth always so inflexible? They're hardly ever prepared to compromise. All they ever want to do is blow stuff up and create all manner of false tension.
-- When hiding from dinosaurs, lesson number one: if you think you hear one in the shadows, don't point a torch at them.
-- Triceratops may be herbivores, but they still have horny heads. Some have speculated the horns may have been for courtship rather than combat, but horned or horny, they're just too big and too unpredictable to stand that close to.
-- Loved the Doctor kissing Rory and then slapping his face. Comedy gold.
Doctor: “Oh dear, I liked you before you said missiles.”
Brian: “You're wobbling the ladder. I don't want another loft incident.”
Rory: “You know when Amy and I first got married and went travelling?”
Brian: “To Thailand.”
Rory: “More the entirety of space and time... in that police box.”
Doctor: “This is Neffy, this is Riddell, they're with me.”
Amy: “With you? They're with you? Are they the new us? Is that why we haven't seen you?”
Doctor: “No. They're just people, they're not Ponds. I thought we might need a gang. Not really had a gang before. It's new.”
Brian: “What sort of a man doesn't carry a trowel? Put it on your Christmas list.”
Rory: “Dad, I'm 31. I don't have a Christmas list any more.”
Doctor: "I do!"
Doctor: “That's the plan... amendments welcome... move away from the pterodactyls.”
Amy: “So, walking sleeping potion, or human innuendo? Take your pick.”
Doctor: "Brian Pond, you are delicious."
Doctor: "Come on Pond, you'll be there until the end of me."
Amy: "Or vice versa."