[Alternatively: Jurassic Lark]
With Earth training missiles on a mysterious spacecraft hurtling straight for the planet, the Doctor – aided by the Ponds, Rory’s travel-phobic dad Brian (Mark Williams, Harry Potter‘s Arthur Weasley), Queen Nefertiti (Riann Steele) and big game hunter John Riddell (Sherlock‘s Rupert Graves) – discovers that the ship is a Silurian vessel containing a cargo of dinosaurs. But trader Solomon (David Bradley, Potter‘s Argus Filch) is also aboard in search of profit, and he will stop at nothing to gain it.
A lighter tone, a darker ending
Come on. The missiles are locked on to us – we can’t outrun them. We have to save the dinosaurs and get Nefertiti back from Solomon. Isn’t it obvious?
After the visceral horror of Asylum of the Daleks, Chris Chibnall‘s fourth Doctor Who episode – he also penned season three’s 42 and season five’s disappointing Silurian two-parter The Hungry Earth/Cold Blood – deliberately adopts a lighter tone for much of its narrative, and clearly marks a lighter beat before some heavier tales to follow.
From the relentless flirting between Riddell and ‘Neffy’ to the distinctly Pythonesque robots voiced by comedy duo David Mitchell and Robert Webb, much of this episode is played with tongue firmly inserted in cheek but manages to consistently hit the mark, right down to the frankly ludicrous triceratops chase which shouldn’t work but somehow does. Although many fans dislike the lighter turns the series occasionally takes, it is a strength of the show’s format, cast and crew that it can credibly flip from genuine horror one week to comedy the next. Expecting the worst, I surprisingly rather enjoyed this.
I thought we might need a gang. Not really had a gang before. It’s new.
Of course, the presence of five companions for this story means a reduced role for the Ponds, particularly Amy – and it increasingly feels like their story has run its course. But the centrepiece of the episode is the relationship between Rory and Brian, as the pair share a key father/son bonding moment – whether it is DIY tools or medkits, it’s all about the pockets with the Williams men – and then combine to pilot the ship to safety. And the missus has her moments too, as it is Amy who realises the ship is Silurian and defends the control room side-by-side with Riddell with moves reminiscent of alternate-Amy in The Girl Who Waited.
A couple of random observations. Firstly, I can understand him being confounded by the TARDIS interior, but why did Brian look so surprised when he saw the exterior? Although we never actually saw him in The Big Bang, surely he was at his son’s wedding and therefore witnessed the TARDIS materialising in the middle of the reception? You’d think he’d remember that. Or was he elsewhere fixing a light-bulb at the time?
Also, we have seen classical music pieces woven into both stories so far. Last week it was Bizet’s Carmen (in which the Doctor claimed to have played the triangle) this time around Schubert’s Fantasia in F Minor (a two-player piece in which the Doctor claimed to have been the third and fourth hands). Is it a coincidence or is there a developing theme here and, if the latter, is it somehow relevant or important to the season arc? Just a thought.
What’s to come?
Most intriguingly, the closing minutes of the episode are darker and seem full of foreshadowing for future episodes. The Doctor serves as judge, jury and executioner as he condemns the genocidal Solomon to death-by-missile rather than show mercy. (Watch that one get people aerated on the forums …) Amy astutely observes that the Doctor’s visits are becoming less frequent, as if he is weaning them off him. The Doctor responds that she’ll be here until the end of him, to which Amy jokingly snaps back “Or vice-versa”. Now there’s a loaded comment, and one which draws a momentary look of … something from the Doctor.
And finally, as Brian sits in the TARDIS doorway looking down on Earth while nibbling his lunch – a beautifully executed shot and surely a deliberate nod to Charles C Ebbets’ iconic 1932 photograph, Lunch Atop a Skyscraper – there is another fleeting look on the Doctor’s face as he stands behind Amy and Rory. What is that expression? Regret? Loss? Farewell? And is it related to the Ponds, to Brian, or to both? We will no doubt discover more in two weeks’ time, when Brian is slated to return in another Chibnall episode, The Power of Three.
But first, next week: A Town Called Mercy. Or, as I prefer to label it: The Good, The Bad and the Terminator. I’m guessing this one won’t be played for laughs.