Good Grief, It's a Stegosaurus! (Dinosaurs on a Spaceship)

(90 comments)

Title accomplished. 
It's September 8th, 2012. Little Mix is at number one with "Wings," with Florence and the Machine, Sam and the Womp, and Taylor and the Swift also charting, the latter with "We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together," which is the second best title we're going to discuss in this post. In news, since it's been a while since we've checked in, there's been most of the US Presidential campaign, and at this point it's settled to a nice, drab Mitt Romney vs Barack Obama contest. 620 million people lost power in India. The Mars Rover Curiosity landed. Oh, and there was Queen Elizabeth's Diamond Jubilee, which was celebrated by forcing unpaid workers to sleep under a bridge.

While on television, Dinosaurs on a Spaceship, which is about what you'd expect. It’s not entirely unfair to accuse this story of aiming for mediocrity and hitting it squarely. Its title announces a somewhat spectacular lack of ambition - a Snakes on a Plane riff. That said, Doctor Who can fairly be expected to occasionally do frothy adventure stories, or, as we call them in fandom, romps. This one may come off as being particularly unambitious, but equally, there’s a brazen cheek to it that appeals.

Still, let’s look at what’s in this simple little romp. First, of course, is the premise - a Silurian ark that got hijacked by a man who can discern the value of anything in space and time, but who can’t actually fly it. The ship is given enough little details to be memorable - the tidal power is a clever image, although the physics of it seem strained at best. The "two people of the same genetic line" piloting is a contrivance, but again, at least a memorable one. We're back in the territory of Doctor Who being about unraveling the nature of a world, which is always a nice sort of return.

There's also the villain, Solomon, who's one of the nastiest pieces of work the show has had in a while. David Bradley is one of several bits of top notch casting in this story, but in many ways what really jumps out is the fact that Solomon is so different from Bradley's other recent famous nasty piece of work in a sci-fi/fantasy show. There's a casual sadism to Solomon that crackles, especially in the blasé way that he describes killing off the Silurians. He's sufficiently nasty that what would normally be the slightly shocking resolution of the Doctor actively killing him (which we all know he's not supposed to do unless the villain isn't human) seems oddly satisfying.

Also significant in terms of the premise is the Indian Space Agency, which is notable as the closest thing Doctor Who has ever done to actually setting a story in India or in any substantive way engaging with Indian culture. It's a small touch, but one that carries real weight, even if the ISA ultimately just does the same stuff that every earth-based governmental organization always does when aliens are involved in Doctor Who, namely delay a bit and then try to blow them up to provide a climax to the story. 

And there's the comedy robots voiced by Mitchell and Webb, another triumph in the new series' grand tradition of punching above its weight in terms of the actors it gets through the simple trick of not actually requiring more than a couple of hours' work. As one would expect, they are suitably funny, providing yet another way to keep things moving, and the contrast between their comedy and, for instance, the pathos generated by casually killing a triceratops is tremendously clever.

On top of the multi-faceted premise is the guest cast. Rupert Graves makes his inevitable jump from Sherlock to be a big Edwardian hunter. This is a solid combination - Riddell is written as an over the top Robert Holmes character, but Graves is adept at a wry understatement that elevates the role, making an impact pleasantly out of proportion to his screen time.

Nefertiti is not quite as well acted, but is such a delightfully bonkers character to put in a story called Dinosaurs on a Spaceship that she works as well, especially given the savvy decision to put her in the same plot as Amy for the first chunk of the story, and then to give her two major and decisive moments of glory in the climax, first in turning herself over to Solomon, and then in upending him during the Doctor's rescue.

And then, of course, there's Brian, who is basically the best thing ever. Slyly extrapolated from Rory's own ambivalence about traveling on the TARDIS, he is, like Nefertiti, a character who is spectacularly ill-suited to the story he's in, which in turn allows him to be clever in a number of ways. Almost all of the story's best bits revolve around Brian, and,  fittingly, they're mostly small ones: his casual production of a trowel, for instance, but also the sense of horror and wrongness when Solomon orders him tortured to force the Doctor to comply. He's sufficiently brilliant that it's in some ways actively painful that he wasn't introduced more than four episodes prior to Amy and Rory's departure, but at least he's here now.

But wait a moment. In the course of this supposedly simple story, we've now done seven straight paragraphs on major aspects of it. This story may not be aiming for much, but it's as jam packed as Asylum of the Daleks was. There, I made something of a joke in suggesting that it was a return to the days of Bob Baker and David Martin, but to be honest, they seem like explicit models for this story, which never explores a concept it's already introduced when it can introduce a new one instead. 

As an approach, it makes sense, especially when one recalls that this was filmed first in Season Seven. Season Seven is repeatedly interested in the question of "just how fast can we move the plot," at times to its detriment. But in terms of executing these experiments, starting with an "everything and the kitchen sink" approach on a straightforward romp is a sensible way to proceed. And in many ways, it works. Like Baker and Martin, Chibnall has a solid sense of when it's time to dramatically alter the status quo of an episode. He keeps things moving at a nice pace. 

This excess of concepts also serves a practical function. Doctor Who can finally deliver the giant lizards that Malcolm Hulke always dreamt of, but what it can't do is deliver them for a sustained forty-five minutes. You can have dinosaurs on a spaceship, and you can even have impressive dinosaurs on a spaceship in several clever set-pieces, but you can't actually fill an episode with dinosaurs. Given the need to keep the effects shots down, there has to be more to the concept. So this proves a solid and sensible place to start playing with the question of how much you can pack into the script. 

The problem is that it's a Chris Chibnall script, and is perhaps too faithful to the Baker and Martin inspiration. Ideas are piled on with little regard for how they're going to fit together. This may be a story about understanding the rules of the spaceship, but those rules really just amount to Chibnall introducing a new concept whenever he needs one. Nothing in the spaceship fits together in a particularly coherent way - it's just a series of narrative patches.

Similarly, the secondary characters, apart from Brian, are thin despite how interesting they are. Plenty of people have pointed out that possibly choosing a Hebrew name for the insatiably greedy character was not the greatest decision ever, and they are very much correct. The love affair between Riddell and Nefertiti is a late contender for Tat Wood's About Time list of the oddest romances in Doctor Who. (I'd personally put it right between Stevens/BOSS and Brigadier/Doris) Though that's being charitable, as another perfectly fair assessment is that Chibnall writes the love story that everyone wrongly accuses Moffat of writing, in which the misogynistic jerk charms the independent woman out of her independence. And while the Doctor killing Solomon is perfectly in keeping with his character, and a nice relief from the slight xenophobia implicit in Doctor Who's usual ethics about who can and can't be casually murdered (See also the Androgums), there's a lingering sense that someone should probably have reacted to it or commented on it, not least because the next story makes so much out of a not entirely dissimilar plot point.

And yet at the end of the day the title largely saves this story from its own worst instincts. It's perhaps cynical to decide to demand less of a story just because it's called Dinosaurs on a Spaceship, but what else can you do? The story is openly inviting us to revel in superficial fun, and it gives us lots of it. Among a TARDIS crew who can do this in their sleep (and, one occasionally suspects, might actually be), Rupert Graves, David Bradley, and Mark Williams, there's a cast that can make a bit of madcap silliness work. One might fairly wish they'd been used on more substantial stuff, but in many ways it's with the sillier episodes that having a rock solid cast in place matters. And it's the debut of Saul Metzstein, who ends up being the defining director of Season Seven, helming a slightly absurd five episodes. He's far from the most accomplished of visual stylists, but he's solid and capable and gets the job done. 

In the end, the worst you can say about this episode is that it's called Dinosaurs on a Spaceship, and that this is a pretty solid and reasonable title for what the story is. This is also the best you can say about it. Actually, it might just be all there is to say about it. 

Comments

bbqplatypus318 2 years, 4 months ago

Not to be confused with Earthshock, which was a spaceship on dinosaurs.

(Quote attributable to someone on the Internet I don't recall. Several people probably thought of it anyway).

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Matter-Eater Lad 2 years, 4 months ago

Amy's TARDIS-blue fingernail polish is a nice little touch.

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Richard Pugree 2 years, 4 months ago

Somebody on these boards once pointed out something which made me appreciate this episode a whole lot more, re it's gender politics, Riddell, murder, Solomon etc.

"The dinosaurs are not the only dinosaurs on the spaceship"

I can't remember who it was unfortunately, and once they had said it it seemed so blindingly obvious, but I hadn't twigged on it before. So, thanks whoever that was!

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arcbeatle 2 years, 4 months ago

This is actually my favorite "romp" on Doctor Who. I have so much fun watching this its pretty high on my rewatch list even though its so light and fluffy. While its debatable how the "move the plot forward fast" experiments worked out (I liked them, though I know they were controversial) I think they really work best here.

The title allows the episode to be zany, and not hold back on being zany, but equally the episode never goes too far. We never get the kind of jokes that would ruin the tone of the episode by pushing it too far over the edge.

The episode is also one of the strangest successes for "the harder you laugh, the harder you cry" in that the death of the triceratops I find strangely moving. The triceratops is such a wondrous creature, and the scene of them riding it and leading it by throwing golf balls just so.... Doctor Who-y that the loss of such a wondrous being really gets me.

That the Doctor kills Soloman there makes me wonder what he'd have done in an alternate darker ending of Kill the Moon!

Anyways, this episode made me giddy like a child, and that's harder than I'd like it to be. Best romp ever.

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Jarl 2 years, 4 months ago

This is, I believe, the first time they subvert the old "The villain knows who the Doctor is either personally or by reputation" trope that's been running through the series, thus tying into the very nebulous "Back into the Shadows" arc, which seems to eventually go nowhere. This and A Town Called Mercy (you have to say the whole name, like "A Tribe Called Quest") have the best implementations of it, so far as I can remember.
I think what we're supposed to take away from the Back to the Shadows arc and its lackluster non-finish, in terms of our host's Narrative Substitution interpretation, is that "The Doctor is too big" is a false premise, that the Doctor can never be too big. If we're to take this as a metaphor for the show itself (not unreasonable, main-character-as-stand-in-for-the-show is well trodden ground at this point), coupled with the rise of Doctor Who in international ratings, we could read it as Moffat saying that though there may be some trepidation over those crazy Americans getting to watch Doctor Who live on the air date and buy action figures at their toy stores and all that myriad stuff, it's going to be okay because Doctor Who can never grow so big that it's too big for Great Britain (and, hypothetically, the rest of the UK) and just because Americans now are going to know what "fish fingers" are, doesn't mean Doctor Who is ruined.

That's one of the longest sentences I've written in a while, I think.

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Aylwin 2 years, 4 months ago

Surprised to see no acknowledgement of Solomon's other wince-inducing characteristic, his disability. There's a real "sinister cripple" thing going on there, which has all the more stereotypical resonance in a character emphatically cast as a miser. And whereas you could make a reasonable-doubt case that it didn't necessarily occur to Chibnall that Solomon was an ever-so-slightly Jewish-sounding name and that giving it to a calculating villain characterised chiefly by all-consuming avarice might therefore be a bit off, there's no way that putting him on crutches was not a deliberate and considered creative decision.

And because I basically am "that guy", I'm going to observe that dinosaurs are not lizards.

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storiteller 2 years, 4 months ago

Another one that I just sheer enjoyed, as a person whose main interests in SF are spaceships and dinosaurs. What I thought was so striking about it besides the name was that they managed to cram everything totally bonkers featured in the preview into the first five minutes of the show!

The Indian Space Agency does bring up a question for me when dealing with lack of diversity on Doctor Who. For the number of black characters on the show and/or the question of there not being enough black characters, it's really surprising to me how few Asian characters there are. In the U.K., there are actually twice as many Asian folks (6%) as there are black people (3%), with most of the the Asian population being Indian and Pakistani. Yet I personally haven't read any complaints about the lack of representation of that population. Has Doctor Who ever had an Asian companion or really any major character at all?

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Alex Antonijevic 2 years, 4 months ago

Yeah, it struck me on rewatch that it was a bit odd we never saw Rory's parents, particularly at the wedding at the end of The Big Bang.

And now Rory Williams and Ron Weasley are brothers of sorts. And that's canon.

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macrogers 2 years, 4 months ago

Here's what struck me about the Doctor killing Solomon: he did it after Solomon was defeated. At the point the Doctor leaves Solomon on his ship, Nefertiti has disarmed him, his robots are disabled, he's outnumbered by the heroes, the missile problem is solved, and they're on their way to rerouting the Silurian ship. At that point, killing Solomon doesn't defeat his plans any further. I get that it's a myth that the Doctor doesn't kill, but how often has he killed adversaries - human or otherwise - who are already comprehensively routed and stripped of their ability to do harm? I'm looking at the Wikipedia list of stories, trying to think of other examples, and I'm sure there's plot points I'm forgetting, but I couldn't think of others. It seems like in most cases the show avoids this coming up by having the Doctor kill the adversary in the course of defeating them, as one aspect of defeating them.

(One could argue that Solomon could well go back to doing harm later, although it seems like that opens a slightly different can of worms.)

The thing that struck me about the Season 7 Chibnall episodes wasn't their several flaws apiece, but how much better they were than his previous work for the show. Not good enough that I'd ever want him to be show runner, but this and Power Of Three felt like he chugged a quart of empathy with a structure chaser before writing.

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Monicker 2 years, 4 months ago

Not many, agreed, although Amara Karan had played Rita in The God Complex about a year earlier.

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Patrick 2 years, 4 months ago

To be honest, I don't feel that Mitchell and Webb were that big a coup. And for so-called comedy robots, they... weren't that funny.

My whole recollection of this episode is heavily influenced by what came after, which was Ian Levine launching a full-on assault on several fans on Twitter and threatening to come round to our houses to beat us up. And demanding that someone give him Lawrence Miles' address so he could sue him for libel.

I'm not sure of the timing, but that might have also been the night Steven Moffat quit Twitter.

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Philip Sandifer 2 years, 4 months ago

It's possible I'd stopped trying to pay attention to the changing explanations of things by this point, but I thought launching Solomon's ship with the core thingy from the Silurian ship was how the Doctor handled the missiles - making them hit Solomon's ship instead, which now contained what the missiles had locked onto.

The Doctor could have rescued Solomon from his own ship, but didn't bother. But blowing up Solomon's ship was the last part of beating him.

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Lewis Christian 2 years, 4 months ago

And it's the debut of Saul Metzstein - also, isn't this the debut for integrated date/location captions? By that, I mean when "Egypt" flashes up, it's in that Papyrus font. When the date appears for the Indian Space Agency, the font 'fits' the image and isn't just Bland Font 101 On The Bottom Of The Screen (as has been the case beforehand). This continues into Series 7 - memorable ones include "China" in The Angels Take Manhattan, the date in the ice in Cold War, the location on the side of the street building in Crimson Horror, etc.

(Fun fact: Marco Polo was the first story to use narrative devices like this, with the maps, etc. and, later, Silver Nemesis also used on-screen captions -- and, long before Series 7, it even used a different font for different captions.)

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Lewis Christian 2 years, 4 months ago

Yeah, it struck me on rewatch that it was a bit odd we never saw Rory's parents, particularly at the wedding at the end of The Big Bang.

Considering a big plot point of the end of Series 5 was Amy getting her parents back, I find it odd that we never saw or heard from them ever again. Which possibly leads into a conversation about Steven Moffat and how many events happen off-screen. In his era, arguably more than any other, there are many gaps between episodes (often covering long periods of time). There's a three-month gap between The Impossible Astronaut and Day of the Moon; the Doctor runs from his death for 200 years at the end of Series 6; there's a whole summer between A Good Man and Hitler; a decent amount of time occurs between each 'pick-up' of the Ponds in 7A; the Doctor retires on a cloud for 200 years; the Doctor stays on Trenzalore for 900 years (with us only catching tiny snippets).

The divorce of the Ponds, whilst thrown in to the end of Pond Life, appears out of the blue in Asylum of the Daleks. The Doctor searches for Clara mostly off-screen before The Bells of Saint John. The Doctor goes searching for Melody off-screen for many months. There's a decent chunk of time (from Clara's perspective) between each pick-up and drop-off in Series 8 (and a lot of Clara/Danny's relationship is seemingly off-screen). And, perhaps the biggest point is that, overall, the Smith Doctor lived for over one thousand years - more than all the previous incarnations added together, it seems.

Some people will like this, some won't. But, to take this back to the original point, I think Rory's parents (or lack of) is just another "happened off-screen" thing we're meant to accept along with all the other bits and pieces. It seems Moffat only introduces characters when they're important - Mels isn't important until she needs to appear in Hitler; Amy's parents aren't important for her story/character beyond the Series 5 finale; it's not important to see all the Doctor's off-screen adventures and friends until it is (his army in A Good Man - we only see those he's befriended off-screen when the story demands it). We get a montage of Clara's parents/life as a child in The Rings of Akhaten and then no more family until The Time of the Doctor, and then we haven't heard a peep from them since - because they're not immediately important or required.

So, from The Eleventh Hour until Dinosaurs on a Spaceship, I theorise that Moffat and co. simply didn't feel it was necessary for Rory to have any family on-screen. Just my theory though; would love to hear what others think. Also, running with this, another question raised could be why specifically we get Brian as the Ponds' time comes to an end and not, for example, the return of Amy's mum and dad?

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John 2 years, 4 months ago

There's also Nasreen in The Hungry Earth/Cold Blood.

I believe the only Asian companion is Anji in the Eighth Doctor Adventures novels.

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Anton B 2 years, 4 months ago

I'm struck by the fact that whole blog posts and countless comment threads have been dedicated to disparaging, calling out and generally declaring irredeemable classic stories such as Talons of Weng Chiang, Tomb of the Cybermen and Celestial Toymaker not to mention the recent The Caretaker for racial stereotyping (perceived or otherwise) but the horrendously upsetting anti-Semitism (and, yes, ableism) in this episode gets one dismissive line and an 'oh well' shrug.

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John 2 years, 4 months ago

I believe Brian was Chibnall's idea, specifically. Note that he only appears in Chibnall's two 7A episodes.

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Aylwin 2 years, 4 months ago

While I'm carping, describing Solomon as a Hebrew name doesn't quite hit the mark. A large proportion of the names in the standard Christian set, and hence of the names in widespread use in the Christian/post-Christian West, are Hebrew names. Solomon is, in the Western context, a pretty specifically Jewish name, in that it never entered widespread Christian use, while remaining in Jewish use.

All in all, Solomon is wrong enough that the character would give me considerable problems with this episode even if I otherwise liked it. So it makes things easier for me that I really didn't.

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Philip Sandifer 2 years, 4 months ago

Fair point.

Ultimately, it's that this has been talked about a lot in just the two years since this episode aired. It's a major, known part of the episode. And there's nothing really to say about it beyond "yeah, that's atrocious."

The Ark and The Celestial Toymaker had never been substantively called out on their racism. Neither had Tomb of the Cybermen, at least in a full and developed way that linked it to the intrinsic xenophobia of the base under siege format. Nor had The Caretaker, which had literally just aired a few hours earlier.

Talons is obviously the big exception, in that the racism is one of the things everyone knows about it, but what's striking there is that it's such a fundamental part of the story, and that the story is simultaneously so brilliant and so racist, and that's such a bizarre tension.

Here... what is there to say? It's an offensive decision. He should have been renamed. Everyone involved should feel bad about themselves. But... what do you wish I'd said that I didn't? I honestly couldn't think of an insight there.

That's the thing about racism. It's generally stultifyingly banal.

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jane 2 years, 4 months ago

That was me. Thank you!

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Anton B 2 years, 4 months ago

Phil, at least you did mention it which I appreciate. I feel, as a Jew, in a position of being able to pull the 'check your privelege' card here. I was very upset by the portrayal of Soloman as a caricatured greedy crippled miser and I felt this was also exacerbated by the casting of David Bradley who while, to my knowledge, isn't Jewish certainly has physical characteristics which were exaggerated by make-up and costume to portray Soloman as an obvious ethnic stereotype.

I felt there might have been some mileage in exploring how, within this innocuous 'romp' were hidden references to genocide, ethnic cleansing, genetic markers, an ark, creationism (admittedly a stretch) a 'man who can discern the value of anything in space and time' presented as a callous and heartless murderer and, inferred, rapist (of an Arab woman no less). Probably enough there to be going on with.

Again I need to say I'm not criticizing you Phil, I'm just slightly taken aback that your usually finely tuned xenophobia radar seemed to be turned down for this episode that you clearly don't even like that much.

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jane 2 years, 4 months ago

...it's going to be okay, because a sentence can never grow so big that it's too big for TARDIS Eruditorum...

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Philip Sandifer 2 years, 4 months ago

I think I really do just sort of hit a wall with the title of this one. I mean, yes, you're right, there is a hideously and systemically anti-semitic reading of the episode, especially given Nefertiti's ethnicity.

But such a reading would imply that anyone had thought that much about this episode. Whereas I'm pretty sure Matt Smith's delivery of the title in dialogue was more or less the extent of the scripting meetings on this. The episode so ostentatiously aims for dumb fun that it seems almost too high praise to suggest that it would ever be so thought through in its offensiveness.

But yes, that's a very good reading.

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David Anderson 2 years, 4 months ago

The Doctor killing Solomon is only a side effect of his overall aim which is to stop the missiles from hitting the larger space ship. And if he'd teleported the transmitter onto Solomon's ship as Solomon was actually on course there wouldn't really be a moral problem. (If it's a trolley problem where it's a choice between Solomon and the dinosaurs there's a clear answer.) I'm sure the Doctor's teleported exploding bombs onto departing dalek motherships before now, even if I can't think of a specific occasion. It's arguable that the Doctor doesn't have time to do that and give Solomon a chance off Solomon's ship if the ship is to gain sufficient distance from the missiles. The bit that makes it appropriate to say that the Doctor kills Solomon is that the Doctor is quite happy about not giving Solomon a chance to get off his ship before it launches.

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Ozyman Jones 2 years, 4 months ago

Until just a few months ago I had a bit of a problem with the light and frothy Doctor Who episodes. I'd grown up with the series and wanted the series to grow up with me. I wanted, indeed needed Doctor Who to be dark and brooding, heavy and deep, violent and scary.... then it all changed....

My son, all one hundred and ten centimetres of blonde hair and blue eyes and enthusiasm for life, discovered that the rest of the family watched this strange show without him, after he went to bed; and he wanted in on it. So we decided to try him out, during the day so it would be too scary.

His first episode was Dinosaurs on a Spaceship. A no-brainer for a four-year-old boy... dinosaurs and spaceships... in the same show... I mean, really, can it get any better? And he was hooked. Since then he's devoured most of the 11th Doctor's run. a chunk of the 10th and even some 4th (although the slower pacing really does try a four-year-old's attention span).

He was reluctant to accept Capaldi as the Doctor, until the 'handover' phone call scene at the end of Deep Breath (insisted on seeing it at the cinema with us), but again it was a frivolous episode that sealed the deal and now we watch Robot of Sherwood twice a week along with Dinosaurs on a Spaceship. And I couldn't be happier. Now I love the romps for all they are worth because Doctor Who fans come in all shapes and sizes... and ages and it's for everyone, not just the old stuffy, entitled fans like myself.

I love Dinosaurs on a Spaceship !

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jane 2 years, 4 months ago

Metzstein is Jewish, yes? Though perhaps with it being his first gig on the show, he just didn't say anything.

I find the choice of "Solomon" for naming the villain peculiar. Peculiar, because other than the Doctor's suggestion of how "wise" they'll be after the adventure, there's nothing in the story that actually refers to the biblical Solomon, let alone the apocryphal and fairy-tale versions of Solomon. Not even the sins of King Solomon match up with the characterization of Solomon the Trader. In other words, there's no sense of historicity in this episode vis-a-vis the name. As Phil says, it seems very little thought went into this one.

But Anton's reading doesn't require much in the way of historicity -- it's the confluence of broad points that's damning. Looks the writer is a bit a dinosaur as well.

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jane 2 years, 4 months ago

"there's a lingering sense that someone should probably have reacted to it or commented on it"

And yet there's a dramatic beat that serves that function -- in the aftermath of Solomon's death, Amy and Rory decide they want to go back home for a while, rather than immediately continuing their adventures with the Doctor. And the look on the Doctor's face when they say so -- I think that was the reckoning of his inglorious choice.

The characters may not have commented on it, but I do think the text did.

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Jarl 2 years, 4 months ago

(and, hypothetically, the rest of Phil's website)

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Aylwin 2 years, 4 months ago

Well, Nefertiti was not an Arab (nor, I think, do people generally think of ancient Egyptians as such, so I wouldn't really say that she "codes as Arab", as it were), so I think Chibnall can probably be acquitted on that particular item on the charge sheet. Though of course Solomon wanting to enslave, rape and humiliate an ancient Egyptian queen could very well also be rooted in a notion of him as Jewish, what with Exodus and all that.

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Seeing_I 2 years, 4 months ago

See, I never got an anti-Semetic vibe from Solomon - I took it as an inversion of "Solomon the Wise" contrasted with someone who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.

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peeeeeeet 2 years, 4 months ago

Yes, I've noticed the lack of Asian characters. It doesn't help that I've lived a lot of my life in the west of Leeds, so the difference between reality and telly can be very obvious.

Actually, season 26 doesn't do bad - we have both Shou Yuing and Shreela, and their non-whiteness is incidental to the plot if it's even brought up at all, which was not general practice at the time.

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peeeeeeet 2 years, 4 months ago

I don't feel that Mitchell and Webb were that big a coup

Agreed. Their dramatic chops rest pretty much entirely on one long-running but low-rated sitcom - much as I love them to bits, it's not like getting French and Saunders to play Glitz and Dibber would have been (yes, that was considered!)

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Corpus Christi Music Scene 2 years, 4 months ago

Is it not possible to watch a "romp" episode without worrying about whose sensibilities it may offend? If a writer creates a disabled villain (Davros?) , it hardly means that writer is poking fun at the disabled. Also, regardless of his name , Solomon doesnt strike me as a man of faith of any kind.

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peeeeeeet 2 years, 4 months ago

... as an aside, I wondered for years - nearly a quarter century of them, in fact - why the English subtitles for the Russian dialogue in Fenric looked so odd. It never occurred to me until very recently that they're supposed to look like they've been spat out of the Ultima machine...

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Spoilers Below 2 years, 4 months ago

Davros: The Daleks shall become Lords of Time! We shall become all-
The Doctor: Powerful! Crush the lesser races! Conquer the galaxy! UNIMAGINABLE POWER! UNLIMITED RICE PUDDING! ET CETERA, ET CETERA!
[...]
Davros: You have tricked me!
The Doctor: No, Davros. You tricked yourself.
Dalek: Omega Device returning! Impact minus-25!
The Doctor: Did you think I would let you have the Hand of Omega?
Davros: Do not do this, I beg of you!
The Doctor: Nothing can stop it now!
Davros: Have pity on me!
The Doctor: I have pity for you! [...] Goodbye Davros. It hasn't been pleasant.

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Sean Case 2 years, 4 months ago

I'd have thought the name Solomon was an attempt to reference Rider Haggard, given the presence of the Great White Hunter and related tropes.

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Anton B 2 years, 4 months ago

@Jane. That's exactly why the final effect can only be read as anti-semitic. There's no other reason for using a name that would be recognised (by a British audience at least) as a name associated, along with its diminutives Sol and Solly, as a 'typical' Jewish name (as in one you'd use for a character in an anti-semitic joke).

@Alwyn. I actually hesitated before describing Nefertiti as an Arab but your thought process matched mine in the end. Yes Egyptian etc.

@Corpus Christi Music Scene. Anti-Semitism has little to do with faith (I wouldn't describe myself for instance as being 'a person of faith') it is to do with ethnicity. As to 'poking fun at the disabled' whether that is the intention or not the habit of associating evil with disability is upsetting to those who are differently abled. As to your question "Is it not possible to watch a "romp" episode without worrying about whose sensibilities it may offend?" It shouldn't be and, to quote a response from a previous thread on the subject. You do not have that right.

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Wm Keith 2 years, 4 months ago

Phil, would you really have written differently about "The Ark" if it had been called "The Elephant in the Space Room?" I'm not sure if I'm reading psychochronography or psychoapologetics. I find it hard to see anything past "Dinosaurs"' casual but crashing anti-Semitism.

(And, in response to Aylwin, of course Nefertiti codes as Arab, the same way that Boadicea is Margaret Thatcher in woad.)

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Seeing_I 2 years, 4 months ago

Am I the only one who was really bothered by the way Nefertiti was used in this story? Such a fascinating historical figure and used just for generic sass and, as Dr. S pointed out, exactly the kind of sexist plot resolution Moffat is often accused of.

She was, by all accounts, a powerful and militant woman who was given unprecedented prominence for a royal wife by the visionary Pharaoh Akhenaten, and nothing in the (admittedly spotty) historical record indicates anything but a deep bond between them. There is amazing scope for a Doctor Who story there (more than one writer has theorized that the "Aten" worshiped by Pharaoh Akhenaten might have been aliens, or even that the royal daughters were human-alien hybrids - just Google "Amarna Princess" and "Hands of Aten" to see why...indeed there was a Brian Hayles story proposal called "The Hands of the Aten").

Anyway, her portrayal here was deeply disappointing to me.

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Seeing_I 2 years, 4 months ago

The scene where Solomon casually describes massacring the Silurians is a masterclass in silent acting from Matt Smith. The pained look on his face, the way each additional confession makes it clear he's thinking "Oh, that'll cost you...oh, that one's REALLY going to cost you..."

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Corpus Christi Music Scene 2 years, 4 months ago

@Anton B. I disagree . I should be possible for the writers to create villains of any ethnicity or gender and whether they have a disability or not. Thats diversity. Villains are villains and shouldnt be be limited to British and American white men.

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Philip Sandifer 2 years, 4 months ago

That's certainly true, but a villain with an ethnic name who displays traits consistent with negative stereotypes about that ethnicity is a problem. Nothing wrong with a Jewish villain. Nothing wrong with a villain driven by sheer greed. A Jewish villain driven by sheer greed, however? That's a problem.

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jane 2 years, 4 months ago

"I'd have thought the name Solomon was an attempt to reference Rider Haggard, given the presence of the Great White Hunter and related tropes."

From a literary perspective this makes a lot of sense, but that doesn't erase the overall effect of picking that particular name for this story. Furthermore, a more pointed reading ends up being missed because of this gaffe -- had a name based on some variation of, say, Rand (Randall?) or Ariel been employed, the ensuing discussion could've been oriented on the problems of capitalism (conflating people to objectified products for consumption) or even the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, in such a way that it was more about philosophy and ideology as opposed to ethnicity.

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Philip Sandifer 2 years, 4 months ago

Equally, however, I don't think it's a terribly complex problem. Rename Solomon to George, and you've basically fixed it. I mean, there's still the abelism, but there's a major paper to be written on Doctor Who's treatment of disability and monstrosity. It's as fundamental as its treatment of otherness and imperialism. It's also just not been one of my dominant themes. There's another version of TARDIS Eruditorum that's much more focused on the fascination with monstrosity, but, well, I've never been one of the fans who's terribly interested in the monsters in the first place.

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elvwood 2 years, 4 months ago

I'm with macroagers here: it was the worst bum note in the episode, because it's an execution rather than something done "in the heat". Off the top of my head the only other times I can think of this happening - other than with Daleks, and that particular failing is addressed elsewhere - are The Ribos Operation and, at a stretch, Remembrance (as quoted by Spoilers Below above). Both of those made me uncomfortable; and the latter, actually, is the reason Remembrance is my son's least-favourite story.

I felt a little bit better about it here when the theme was picked up on in the following story, with Amy calling him out for something similar though less extreme. but I still dislike it intensely, because I prefer my Doctor to be a force for life even if he has to kill to save others, rather than a death penalty advocate.

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Triturus 2 years, 4 months ago

It's funny, but now we're finally getting to these series 7 episodes, that I've spent so much time reading and occasionally commenting about them in the discussion underneath previous posts, that now we're here, I don't feel like I have much to say about them.

I do love Dinosaurs, though. It has a story that's in many places as black as pitch dressed up in 'romp' trappings, which doesn't happen that often in Dr Who, great cast, great acting, great sets, and I enjoy it more each time I see it.

Series 7 is one of my favourite seasons of Dr Who ever; although Series 8 looks like its going to run it very very close.

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elvwood 2 years, 4 months ago

I picked up on (and winced a bit at) the Jewish stereotyping, but I'm sorry to admit I never even thought about the fact that Solomon was disabled. This, even though I am not Jewish but have myself been verbally attacked on the London underground for needing to use a stick .

Hmm, not sure where I was going with that, beyond "stereotyping's bad, m'kay?" - never mind.

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jane 2 years, 4 months ago

The plot resolution isn't sexist, though. It's a subversion of Riddell's claim that Nefertiti is looking for a man with a big gun -- for it turns out that it's Riddell himself who is looking for a woman with a big gun. It entirely turns on Nefertiti's brandishing the big gun when she emerges from the tent. She has bagged the big game hunter, not vice-versa.

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inkdestroyedmybrush 2 years, 4 months ago

as a jfew, i 'm going to say that i got ZERO anti semitism out of this episode. they used an old biblical name because its an old name and thats about it.

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quislibet 2 years, 4 months ago

"It seems Moffat only introduces characters when they're important"

As TV Tropes puts it, "Remember the New Guy" is a time-honored TV tradition; it arguably does make some kind of sense for once if we're skipping centuries.

Doctor Who can be very good at this trope -- for me, Riddell and Nefertiti in this story and, even more, the friends in "A Good Man Goes to War" work right away, so well that it sometimes almost seems as though I must have missed or forgotten the earlier episodes they were in.

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Philip Sandifer 2 years, 4 months ago

I would suggest that this is only true if you limit yourself to cases where the Doctor consciously kills basically humanoid creatures. He goes to kill the Sontarans easily enough in The Poison Sky, but they have potato faces. He blows up an entire fleet of Cybermen in A Good Man Goes to War. There's the end of Family of Blood. The only thing is, those are all monsters. They're not human, even if they have expressive faces. But they're still people. In the cases of the Sontarans or the Family, people with distinct and individual personalities.

I found extending the same treatment to Solomon that he would get if he happened to have a potato for a head a perfectly acceptable reversal of the frequency with which the show (quite rightly) does "it's not a monster, it's a perfectly understandable alien!" I just think it needed to actually be highlighted in some way. A moment between the Doctor and Brian, perhaps.
Brian: You killed him.
The Doctor: Yes.
Brian: (pause) OK.

Played very straight, with Brian thinking about it for a moment, and concluding that, nope, he is not going to even bother with a moral judgment on something so outside his worldview.

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inkdestroyedmybrush 2 years, 4 months ago

yes, i've thought about those two things before: the lack of rory's parents and the years that the smith doctor lived in those gaps.

on the first one, i simply put that up to the demands of hiring actors to play characters on the a TV show. people have lives and there are budgets and all that. no big deal. its a TV show, not reality. I can live with that.

secondly, the gaps are very, very interesting. I've always felt, in headcanon, that the fourth Doctor had many, many more years that he was out exploring the universe than were shown on tv. by the time he was on Logopolis, we had only seen a small part of his life. especially after leaving sarah jane back on earth, the last tie to earth broken, he was footloose and fancy free and the universe his oyster. Him and Romana pre-city of death? They're in a shagadelic mood after falling in love and exploring... everything.

We're just more consciounce of it with smith's doctor since we had benchmarks along the way to let us know how much time had passed. again, an excellent reminder from the showrunner to make us, ordinary linear humans living a linear life, realize how different the world of the time traveller really is.

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inkdestroyedmybrush 2 years, 4 months ago

really, really enjoyed Dinosaurs, it was one of the best Holmes/hinchcliffe episodes that never got made. extrememly dark in resolution, in the same way that many of the first two seasons of Tom were, and still lots of rompy fun along the way. This is, in fact, on of my favorite of the entire season, partly for its modern take on (i was going to say "classic Who") a version of Doctor Who that i really liked: the interesting Doctor lands TARDIS in weird place with weird stuff happening and gets sucked in. I occasionally like that storyline. a lot. its fun and gives the writers a chance to be imaginative. and i especially like it when that fun stuff is a chance to have a metaphor for other things happening in the longer arcs, because it makes Who work on a number of different levels.

This was a dark romp in a split season that was extremely disjointed. it extended the Pond's life with the Doctor, when i don't think that it needed to be extended. It delayed Clara's intro, and then let the impossible girl storyline and the impending anniversary episode almost derail a good part of the season. and it gave us interesting modern takes on Hartnell stories (Rings) and Letts & Hinchcliffe (HIde). It was, for a series that can go anywhere and do anything, a disjointed series, ultimately less than the sum of its parts IMO.

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Richard Pugree 2 years, 4 months ago

Jane, I might have guessed! It's a point that has significantly shaped my reading of it since.

On first viewing I had really enjoyed the romp in its delightful silliness. On second viewing I hated it because of all of the really serious gender and racial and anti-semitic stuff that has been being discussed below. Your suggestion, seemingly so obvious afterwards but which had eluded me, gave me a renewed appreciation.

I don't think Chibnal is really being quite that clever, unfortunately, but it's a reading that makes it work a lot better.

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Seeing_I 2 years, 4 months ago

OK jane, I will go with you on that, but it's STILL such an irksome Moffat trope - the weak willed male who looking for a ballbuster - that it makes no difference. It was a waste of a fascinating historical character.

And she should have been BALD, dammit, not with long luxurious locks just so the straight boys making the show now could display her "sex hair."

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Anton B 2 years, 4 months ago

@inkdestroyedmybrush. Well you said it. An old biblical name therefore an old Jewish name and then pinned onto an avaricious murderer. Who, by the way to compound the offence, is the only human villain it's okay for the Doctor to kill because...well actually I don't think they even bothered to explain that. You have to ask why he wasn' t called Xeon or Shazbutt or some alien sounding name. Anyway I'm not really that upset about it. It only means I'm loathe to rewatch a pretty mediocre episode so it's no great loss. While I'm here I'd also agree that Mitchell and Webb were cringingly unfunny and the concept of a triceratops on a spaceship isn't even new. Dan Dare did it first in the 1950s
http://prog464.com/images/dan-dare/Dan-Dare-Operation-Triceratops5.jpg

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Tymothi 2 years, 4 months ago

I wonder if they were referencing Ikey Solomon, a well-known fence in the early 1800s, and supposedly the basis for Fagin from Oliver Twist. Which hardly makes it not anti-Semitic, but maybe gives it a bit of grounding in a single person, as opposed to a general "Jews are greedy". Incidentally, as far as I know, the name Solomon has been used two other times since the new series started; the other two were black and heroic.

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inkdestroyedmybrush 2 years, 4 months ago

@anton B - fair point about why he wasn't called shazbutt. I believe that there is a point in science fiction where, because so many different concepts have been introduced, renaming all of them (the Thals and Daleks Rels for instance) seems counter productive. It takes you out of the world.

I also think that there is a counter naming thing as well. On the surface, say Solomon to most people and as a rorschack test they'll say "wisdom" or "mines". the surface criteria isn't anything beyond that. This Solomon is anything BUT wise. I like the counter productive aspect of his naming.

And it was clear, to my mind at least, that he was killed by the Doctor's action here, for all his atrocities visited upon the silurians. the sheer number. just like the Captain in Ribos Operation, the horrific number of deaths at Solomon's hands couldn't continue.

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Matthew Blanchette 2 years, 4 months ago

People are calling out this episode for anti-Semitism (which I still cannot see, despite the name) and ableism (which, in this disabled person's opinion, is a grotesque term for the able-bodied to use), but no one ever points to the biggest anti-Semitic thing in Doctor Who -- Julius Silverstein in "The Web of Fear"?

That's so anti-Semitic that even I, as a non-Jew, cringe horribly while watching that whole segment with him in it.

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Matthew Blanchette 2 years, 4 months ago

...as an American, I find it very strange that Brits immediately picture "Asians" as Indian, whereas in my country, that term generally refers to people from China, Japan, the Koreas, Vietnam, etc., but not generally the Indian subcontinent.

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ferret 2 years, 4 months ago

There is Navin Chowdhry in "World War Three/Aliens of London" as Indra Ganesh, the Ministry of Defence secretary that discovers the Prime Ministers corpse. I remember hoping he'd make companion as he was great in the TV show "Teachers", although possibly I also remember him as he's one of the rare instances of an actor with Indian/Pakistani ethnicity in Doctor Who.

Also along with Shou Yuing and Shreela we have Toshiko Sato and Chang Lee from the "other ethnic type of asian descent" to Indian/Pakistani, for want of a better phrase. I've never found the word "Asian" to be a particularly useful visual identifier.

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ferret 2 years, 4 months ago

My head-cannon has Amy failing to remember Brian back into existence until quite late in the wedding reception, and he comes out dancing to something awfully embarrassing the DJ has on.

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Philip Sandifer 2 years, 4 months ago

It's called out in the Discontinuity Guide.

I also make a point of it, using it to pivot from the success of the Yeti to a critique of the paranoid and reactionary tendencies of Hainsman and Lincoln that will go on display in full next story.

Not sure what it has to do with this story though.

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Matthew Blanchette 2 years, 4 months ago

What REALLY irked me was that she called herself the wife of "Amenhotep IV", and whom she deemed "boring".

Yeah... does that sound like Nefertiti, to you? :-/

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Matthew Blanchette 2 years, 4 months ago

Compared to that story, "Dinosaurs On A Spaceship" looks like Exodus.

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You Know Who... 2 years, 4 months ago

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You Know Who... 2 years, 4 months ago

Absolutely agree. My son, for a while, loved 'Voyage of the Damned' so much that he basically forced me to love it too. Yes. 'Voyage of the Damned.' I must have seen that thing twenty times...

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Anton B 2 years, 4 months ago

@Mathew Blanchette. I sincerely meant no offence with the term ableist and apologise if any was taken. Tell me what you'd have preferred and I'll use that in future.

Yes Julius Silverstein is horrible and made me very uncomfortable when I first saw Web of Fear as a small child. However he's only in one scene right at the beginning; almost a cut scene, or a prequel. What would be a pre-credits scene in modern Who. So, though it is indefensible it can easily be forgotten while you enjoy the Yetis in the underground. Solomon is the main villain in DOASP and lustful greed is his MO throughout.
Also I don't see 'there' s another example' excuses this one.

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Anton B 2 years, 4 months ago

@Tymothi.'...the name Solomon has been used two other times since the new series started; the other two were black and heroic.

Okay Solomon in Daleks in Manhattan where it's obviously referencing the wise king aspect of the name Solomon. Who's the other one?

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elvwood 2 years, 4 months ago

Given that I've picked up on two of the things I considered negative in other strands, for balance I should say here that I too loved it as a 'romp', including many of the black bits (the comedy murderbots, the death of the triceratops). My favourite DW Chris Chibnall script to date.

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elvwood 2 years, 4 months ago

Ah yes, I would certainly add The Family of Blood to my list - another one that made me really uncomfortable. A Good Man is ambiguous enough that in my headcanon the Doctor was fighting the cybermen at the time, so he and Rory made use of the moment to extort the information they wanted, rather than blowing up a fleet just to make a point; but that might just be me looking for a way out.

Were the Sontarans no longer a threat by that point in The Poison Sky? I can't remember it clearly enough, but I thought the fight was ongoing. Because that's the difference for me. He can kill as much as necessary, but he shouldn't kill (or inflict cruel and unusual punishment on) humans or aliens who have already been defeated.

None of which is to take away from your point about the bias against non-humanoids, which definitely exists.

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Monicker 2 years, 4 months ago

Interesting comment from the Doctor in this episode in retrospect after Kill The Moon. "Try not to bump into the moon, otherwise the races who live there will be livid."

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Lewis Christian 2 years, 4 months ago

ferret, headcanon accepted.

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jane 2 years, 4 months ago

Except Riddell is not a weak-willed man. He's a very strong-willed man, who apparently can only be satisfied with someone at least as strong-willed, if not more so, than he is himself. It's not the "weak man" that's the Moffat trope here, it's the "strong woman." The latter does not imply the former; it's not a strict dichotomy.

As to her hair -- it rather reminded me of River's fabulous locks. If that's deliberate, then perhaps there's a way to look at the Nefi/Riddell pairing as a mirror of River/Doctor.

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jane 2 years, 4 months ago

"I just think it needed to actually be highlighted in some way. A moment between the Doctor and Brian, perhaps."

I still think the text handled this adequately through Amy and Rory's decision to go home, and the Doctor's obvious personal disappointment at this development. That is the consequence of the Doctor's actions -- losing the companionship of the Ponds.

Which is actually reiterated in Mercy/Power of Three, Mercy being the last adventure before the three of them return to the anniversary party.

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David Anderson 2 years, 4 months ago

I can see why they didn't pick it up. The two fictional characters I can think of off the top of my head with the name Solomon are Grundy (nursery rhyme, and supervillain), and Kane (Howard). Both Christian.
I have a feeling the resonance they were aiming for was Puritan. But it's fair to say that they should have spotted that they could easily hit Jewish instead.
That said, I've seen it suggested that Hungry Earth/ Cold Blood is anti-semitic, and the critical tradition certainly associated silurian stories with the Israel-Palestine conflict. If that is consciously going on here as well, then it's nasty.

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Seeing_I 2 years, 4 months ago

Yes, I can see that River/Doctor parallelism, but that doesn't mean I have to like it. Especially when wasted on an otherwise fascinating historical character.

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Ombund 2 years, 4 months ago

I'll repeat the comment I made on the Angels Take Manhattan post because it's relevant here:

"I remember reading an interesting theory that for the Doctor episodes 2-4 of series 7a take place after The Angels Take Manhattan. The Doctor loses the Ponds in New York and so just goes back to points earlier in their timeline when he’s still able to see them and they can have a few more adventures. It’s a nice idea, and one that explains some of his intense behaviour in these episodes; he’s still so upset over what has happened/will happen to the Ponds that he can get angry enough to murder Solomon in Dinosaurs on a Spaceship and to actually consider taking up arms in A Town Called Mercy. Not only is the Doctor angry about their loss, he also knows that what he’s doing is wrong – what if Amy gets killed in Mercy when he know she has to get to New York? Will he "break time" again for the sake of a few more adventures with them? It gives added weight to the Doctor’s conversation with Brian at the end of The Power of Three: he knows exactly what happens to these companions and what’s more, he knows there’s no running away from it any more. His story with the Ponds is truly over and has been for some time".

You can also add leaving everyone else when they save Rory from the spaceship in The Power of Three to that list. It's headcannon for sure but I like it.

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Matthew Blanchette 2 years, 4 months ago

I read a really funny idea somewhere, wherein Brian got locked in the bathroom by accident early in the wedding and missed the whole Doctor portion.

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jane 2 years, 4 months ago

Not saying you have to like it -- but there are certainly other lines of interpretation besides "sex hair for straight boys" that are arguably more aligned with what the show's been striving for for the past couple of seasons. I mean, given that this kind of mirroring is pretty much the stock and trade of Moffat's tenure, I'd think at the very least it should be front and center for obvious consideration when it comes to critique, as opposed to the more blithe speculation previously offered (even if the latter is more truly reflective of your overall aesthetic experience).

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Tymothi 2 years, 4 months ago

@Anton In The Art Of Destruction, a BBC Books Tenth Doctor book written by Stephen Cole.

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Lewis Christian 2 years, 4 months ago

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Philip Sandifer 2 years, 4 months ago

Due to Broadchurch, surely.

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Lewis Christian 2 years, 4 months ago

It's interesting that Chris hasn't been back since Series 7A. Wonder if he'll be on the list for Series 9. I'd rather he wasn't, but it'll be interesting to see his next move (if he has one regarding DW).

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Lewis Christian 2 years, 4 months ago

Had to amend my comment because I was slightly wrong, but yes, Broadchurch seems likely. I think he's done an interview in the past stating he'd like to return to Who but only if it doesn't clash. So I'm curious as to whether or not he'll be penning for Series 9 and, if so, what we may get this time from a rather hit and miss DW writer.

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Ozy Jones 2 years, 4 months ago

Voyage is coming up for us, and I have a sinking feeling.....

Also, he now carries a spoon with him at all times, even to daycare, where he challenges kids to sword/spoon fights!

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Roderick Thompson 2 years, 4 months ago

@Philip Sandifer
Too late, perhaps, to ask for something on "The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail" (Henry Lincoln) and the Da Vinci Code, but it would be fascinating to hear what you would say.

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Daru 2 years, 4 months ago

I absolutely adored Brian and it feels such a shame to not have seen him more than here and in PoT. Such a great character and I love his straightforward responses to the Tardis life.

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Seeing_I 2 years, 4 months ago

Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, and sometimes fabulous locks have a thematic point and sometimes they are just there because somebody's idea of sexy doesn't include bald women. If I'm being generous, I'll say it's half and half.

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SochghajwI' 1 year, 7 months ago

I'm just going to leave this here... http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p7O5ewGQm80

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