‘Lizard people herding dinosaurs onto a space ark? Absolute tommyrot.’ There are many hints of Chris Chibnall’s future approach to the series in this, from the extended TARDIS fam (sorry, ‘gang’), the location-hopping storyline that throws things at the screen (dinosaurs, Queen Nefertiti, comedy robots, Silurians) rather than taking one idea and running with it, and the straightforwardly evil corporate villain. The good news is, it works here as a neat contrast to Moffat’s more elaborate puzzles, and it’s much better than Chibnall’s previous Silurian episode.
Also, some of Chibnall’s ideas are very good. Why wouldn’t the Silurians, fearing an imminent extinction event, build an ark in space just like their mammalian cousins? The vast, impossible interior of the ark, with its tidal power section, is a better realisation of ideas revisited in Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS. Brian Pond is a great character that finally gives us a chance to see Rory have a life of his own outside of being Amy’s plus one. The Indian Space Agency paints a different vision of Earth’s future than the show has typically attempted. Solomon is genuinely vile: greedy, murderous, lascivious – the Doctor’s decision to abandon him to fate is unusual, but not unique.
It’s also made very well. Clearly the CGI dinosaurs can only appear on screen for a fraction of the running time, but the script works round this with ominous shadows or noises off, and the set-piece scene of the Doctor, Brian and Rory attacked by swooping Pteranodons is great (and only slightly undermined by the show having already done it a year earlier in The Wedding of River Song).
There are problems: we’re told how fabulous and famous she is, but we don’t see Nefertiti do anything but flirt. Chibnall fails to make us understand why Amy’s so awestruck. It’s difficult to know why the Doctor would hang out with Riddell, who might be a rough diamond, or might be exactly as he appears: an imperialist big game hunter. Other than fulfilling functions in the plot, neither really has a character beyond Steele and Graves’ performances. And while Solomon is evil, and Bradley plays that brilliantly, there’s no sense of anything more to him. This absence of characterisation might be a problem should Chibnall ever be in charge of the show – but here, as a fun one off following the darkness of Asylum of the Daleks, this is fab.
Next Time: A Town Called Mercy