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Random thoughts on Doctor Who: Dinosaurs on a Spaceship

Dinosaurs on a SpaceshipLet’s cut straight to the chase here, I didn’t enjoy Dinosaurs on a Spaceship.

The other night we recorded Staggering Stories Podcast 141, where we discussed this episode (and Asylum of the Daleks). I was given the opportunity to rant about Dinosaurs on a Spaceship but I found I just couldn’t. It’s not that I didn’t want to but, when the time came, I just couldn’t perform! The problem was that I just couldn’t quite figure out what I didn’t like about it. That’s the problem with liking or disliking things, often you don’t really know why. It’s an emotion and that all happens in the more primitive, subconscious, parts of the mind. Nonetheless, after a routine night of not being able to sleep, because of all the oh-so-dark thoughts that constantly hurtle around my brain, I think I may have figured it out…

Dinosaurs on a Spaceship was trying to be a comedy. Such things are always subjective, comedy more than most.  Script writing is an art and comedy is another art again, fusing them is always difficult and you’ll never please all of the people any of the time! Now, don’t worry, I won’t get into the discussion on how Hollywood are trying to turn the art of filmmaking into a science, though given how much this episode of Doctor Who relied on common Hollywood formulae, perhaps it wouldn’t be entirely out of place! Anyway, it seems that the vast majority of people enjoyed it and even found it funny. I barely laughed.

My frame of mind at the time my be considered relevant here. To get into the mood for Dinosaurs on a Spaceship I watched, back to back, A Good Man Goes to War and Let’s Kill Hitler, directly before. I had no real knowledge of the upcoming episode, other than its name. I didn’t know if the eponymous Dinosaurs were real, mechanical or even outright imaginary. Nor did I know anything about the guest stars or characters. Basically I knew nothing, I hadn’t even watched the ‘next time’ trailer at the end of Asylum of the Daleks. I was going in cold but for the fine warm up double act of A Good Man Goes to War and Let’s Kill Hitler. I greatly enjoyed rewatching those two ‘old’ episodes and laughed many times. I was in a good mood. That wasn’t the problem.

Sat there watching the new episode, with its comedy double act robots and golf ball chasing dinosaur, I just thought it was silly, rather embarrassing and generally (as I said to myself at the time) rubbish. I honestly expected a severe backlash against this episode due to how childish it was. Clearly I was very wrong!

I normally enjoy Mitchell and Webb’s work but bringing them in as the robots gave me a nasty flash back to the likes of Hale and Pace in the last ever broadcast Classic Doctor Who story, Survival.  True, it’s not the first time that New Who has called upon comedians to ‘fun it up’, with perhaps the most blatant being Lee Evan’s Malcolm from Planet of the Dead.  This time we had bickering robots, though.  Cheesoid this is not! It wasn’t just the robots or the dog-like triceratops but the tone of the whole thing and the general lack of any real drama.  Oh and the comedic robots then suddenly slaughter the aforementioned innocent triceratops. Mixed messages?

It’s time for me to accept that it isn’t you, Dinosaurs on a Spaceship, it’s me.  Some almost primal fear that was instilled in me as a teenager, that everybody will suddenly hate Doctor Who (again), welled up.  Note that I had no such problem with the abundant humour in A Good Man Goes to War and Let’s Kill Hitler. I’d like to think that’s because it was just smarter humour in those Moffat penned episodes – no contrived testicle gags, for example!  Then there’s the convenient picking up of a big game hunter – why did the Doctor do that, exactly?  Yet another literal count down to destruction? The two control chairs needing familial DNA, really? Yes, all plots are engineered with the best crafted to near perfection but this one was still rather showing its workings out in the margins.  Things you can probably accept if you enjoyed the experience.  A few people have said of this episode that you shouldn’t complain about such trivial matters, with a title such as it has, you knew going in it wasn’t a serious one (as if that’s really an excuse for lazy writing). The point is, if you don’t enjoy something you may not really be able to say why and all you can latch onto are those untidy little bits but they aren’t generally the cause, at least not wholly.

I may never like Dinosaurs on a Spaceship or I may get lucky, as I did with Victory of the Daleks, and have an enjoyment epiphany after three or four watches.  Time will tell. Even if not, it doesn’t really matter – not even for my ongoing enjoyment of Doctor Who, let alone the bigger picture.  It’s just one episode and they’ll be another along next week.  It’s just ironic that it is probably my deep seated fear that Doctor Who will become something of a laughing stock again, hated or dismissed (as it seemed to be in the mid to late 1980s) that actually prevented me from enjoying it myself.  I so want everyone to love every episode of Doctor Who (most of all me) but I think that has at the very least contributed to me not liking one at all…

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