‘Doctor Who’: ‘Dinosaurs on a Spaceship’ spoiler-free review

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With a title so gleefully ambitious that it really should end in an exclamation mark, Dinosaurs on a Spaceship delivers exactly what it promises.

Containing everything you’d hope that a standalone episode of the show would have, it demonstrates one of the enduring strengths of a nearly 50 year old formula: that week after week Doctor Who can be anything it darn well wants to be… and get away with it in spectacular fashion.

One week there’s the body-horror and mystery of Asylum of the Daleks, the next we have Egyptian queens and stone spaceships and dinosaurs. Lots of dinosaurs.

Not since Jon Pertwee wagged his sonic screwdriver at a clunky stegosaurus in 1974’s Invasion of the Dinosaurs has there been the treat of a Who story featuring anything close to a Cretaceous creature, but here they are by the Park-load, and looking not a day over 165 million years old thanks to some tremendous SFX work.

With a strong grasp on the individual characterisation of the TARDIS trio, Chris Chibnall turns in his finest Doctor Who script yet. It’s a story that pulls several elements from his previous work on the show but delivers brontosaur-sized imagination and, surprisingly, some frequent Carry On style innuendo. Yes, amid the dino-dramarama and Matt Smith’s clenched jaw, there are plenty of solid laughs that’ll please the kids and oldies. Dinosaurs is genuinely the funniest Who to date, with humour that compliments, rather than detracts, from the urgency embedded in the episode.

It helps that there’s a talented ensemble of guest actors working with the words. Mark Williams is as loveable as he is entertaining as Rory’s dad Brian Williams (not the American news anchor, just a bloke who’s good with a trowel), and the dynamic between he and Rory is so charming you’ll wish there was a wee bit more time in between roars and screams to explore it further.

Williams’ fellow Harry Potter alumnus David Bradley makes an otherwise pantomime baddie into a genuinely malevolent interstellar David Dickinson (and, if you’re reading this Mr. Gatiss, we reckon Bradley would make a splendid William Hartnell in the BBC’s forthcoming drama on the creation of Doctor Who). But it’s Rupert Graves who, as the big game hunter Riddell, may well become this series’ Madame Vastra and gain a cult following of fans demanding his own spin-off. Riddell is purposely written as a walking cliché of the blunderbuss-wielding stalkers of the Veldt, but in such an unusual setting his can-do Colonial bullishness works perfectly.

A truly enjoyable romp, Dinosaurs is mad sci-fi for all ages, and nails the ‘blockbuster movie every week’ feel that Moffat and his production team have said they’re aiming for in Series 7. Based on what Chibnall’s done here we’re very much looking forward to his Episode 4 script, The Power of Three.

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Just sit down on Saturday and watch as The Doctor and his new gang run. From dinosaurs. On a spaceship. We’re grinning just typing those words.

Airs at 7.35pm on Saturday 8th September 2012 on BBC One.

> Order Series 7 Part 1 on DVD on Amazon.

Are you looking forward to Dinosaurs on a Spaceship? Let us know below…