Dear Steven Moffat: Dinosaurs on a Spaceship

Dear Steven,

Right, down to business: no tangential wank, no horsing around and certainly no mention of the cease and desist letter from Messieurs Cork, Bench and McKettridge, accepted under duress, in which you inveigh against our private correspondence while stuffing the corpulent wallets of these guileless proxies.

Dinosaurs on a Spaceship?! Are we now in the reductive phase of Doctor Who, the era marked for the under fives? What’s next week’s episode called, Doctor fights the Monsters? Perhaps the week after that we’ll be enjoying Bad Man Does A Thing and the week after th- look, you get the idea.

I warned you, didn’t I? I warned you, that if we returned to the days of the inconsequential, self-contained 45 minuter, you’d end up with an episode like this: a high concept disposable wipe. My mind has already tossed it into the bin, where it joins many artefacts that we won’t discuss here.

During the course of this light-touch romp, I was forced to consider that you and writer Chris Chibnall, who filed down his teeth writing episodes of Torchwood, had been the victim of a rare split-possession, the spirit of the late Who producer John Nathan-Turner, compelling you to raid your black book of chortle merchants for guest star casting.

When Doctor Who was in trouble in the mid-late ’80s, most agreed that you could measure the decline by the presence of light entertainment personalities in key roles; a sign that JNT and his retinue of halfwits had fallen to the twin maladies of camp and stupidity. Tax cheat Ken Dodd and the unwelcome sight of Hale and Pace, told us that someone, somewhere, wasn’t taking our beloved time traveller seriously. Now in 2012, with those dark days thought to be buried and the topsoil watered with urine from committed Whovians, two pairs of hands have broken the surface and given us the finger. Whose hands? Mitchell and bastard Webb, that’s whose.

If I want this pair of spacks on my Who, I’ll ask for them, thank you very much. What I don’t want is to tune in unawares, only to hear their whiny, gormless voices emanating from a pair of robot bodies. This was the worst piece of voice casting since Brad Pitt in Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas. Yes, I know it’s supposed to be fun for the kids, but which kids? Do we really want to cater for tadpoles that crack a rib at these charmless mechanoids?

Which isn’t to say that some of the humour didn’t work in Chibnall’s ragbag of miscellaneous shit. When Queen Nefertiti, whose presence suggested a tombola approach to scripting, asked Amy if she too was a queen and she answered, with a puffed up chest, “yes, yes I am”, I was mirthful. I also chortled during the robots’ powerdown – a little nod to 2001: A Space Odyssey and Rory’s Pa cutting down our hero with “thank you, Arthur C. Clarke”, but three moments do not an episode make.

There were too many cheap laughs, adding to the aura of indifference that accompanied the story. I’ll do the cock and ball jokes thank you, there’s no need for your writers to follow suit. Also, if we’ve reached the point where the Doctor has to smooch Rory to raise a smile (I’m of the opinion that Rory shouldn’t be touched by any of the principle characters) then you may as well tell Chibnall and his fellow hacks to pack away their crayons and return to their alcoves. It’s not enough to sell each episode as a “blockbuster”, Steven. If you want them to be truly unmissable, they must advance the characters, tell a great story, deepen the lore and, please God, provide talking points of interests.

When I start work at the underground nuclear silo next Tuesday, part of the government’s Civil Defence Initiative, what am I supposed to discuss with my bunker mate as we develop cabin fever and place our shaking, sweaty mitts on those launch keys – why is it Amy and Rory’s mobiles still work in space? Actually, that really annoys me, Steven. I know that Russell Dust established they could, back in the ninth Doctor Era, but it’s bollocks, isn’t it? Just give the TARDIS crew communicators or something. Oddly, I find their working iPhones harder to accept that an alien ark full of dinosaurs. Each fictive realm must have some real world limits, else they become free-for-alls; a flight of fancy spectacular where anything goes, and in Who, as in life, rules provide structure and add weight to our interactions. Laws matter: except those on harassment, which are patiently absurd.

You’ll notice I haven’t discussed the story in any depth because there wasn’t one. A backstory to be sure, but that’s not quite the same thing. I know, you’ll say there was a mystery to be solved here, but it was paper-thin. Plus, Chibnall’s got to get his head straight. Does the Doctor disapprove of violence or not? If not, why allow David Bradley’s Solomon to be killed at the close? I know he was a bastard and he killed that dinosaur, oh and those Silurians, ah yes and had Rory’s Dad shot, though in fairness he was one of those broad, wide-eyed comic characters of the kind we came to despise during Davis’ tenure, so conflicting emotions, but it seemed a little cold blooded.

I’m sure a man of the Doctor’s intelligence could have found an alternative – you know, putting the tracker orb on the little ship and sending it off on autopilot, perhaps? But then he couldn’t have enjoyed a vicarious revenge of behalf of all those that had suffered. A question though: shouldn’t our man espouse the principle that it’s justice, not revenge that must be served? Why not take Solomon to the oubliette on Tankaris 9 and force him to spend eternity there with only his robots for company? That would have been a proportionate sentence. Were I a child, looking to this show for moral guidance, I’d have a headache this morning.

So that was that – Dinosaurs on a Spaceship: fun but already fading from memory. I’d dare to suggest that the series couldn’t withstand too many throwaway episodes like this, not if you want to keep the constituency of viewers that can stay up as late as they like and were looking at more than Nefertiti’s head gear. This show has the most potential of any on the air. That’s a fact. Is it to be a frivolous romp for the tots or a mind-bending adventure that keeps us all enthralled, entertained and insatiably curious? It’s up to you, Moff features.

Yours in time and cyberspace,


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One CommentLeave a comment

  1. I don’t like this habit of the show introducing old friends of the doctor’s who we’ve never heard of before, but we’re expected to go along with it like we’re all best buddies. It’s a bit like going home for christmas to find Uncle Peter sitting at the dinner table and you can’t figure out why no one else doesn’t know who he is.

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