Tag Archives: dinosaurs

5 things I learned from Dinosaurs on a Spaceship

1. Stripes on a companion

No couple should ever wear the same pattern. Even if one’s covered it up slightly and they’re not planning to leave the house. Further stripes for Rory came in the form of a Doctor lip-lock. I’d completely forgotten about the old RTD house rule that all companions had to get a snog at some point. Although I think they might have left Adam Mitchell out. Oops!

2. Entire childhood on a SINGLE Saturday night

The dinosaurs looked great. Doctor Who’s got a long history of trying to put them on screen and results have been… variable. It depends how bothered about the quality of special effects you are of course; personally I’m very fond of the Plasticine 1974 ones.

When I think of everything I was obsessed with as a kid I think of robots, dinosaurs, Ancient Egypt, spaceships, spiders… and here they all were in one place! How fitting that Rupert Graves was in it then – the sight of him in a certain scene in 1987’s Maurice was pretty much the point at which my childhood ended.

3. Plot functions on a spreadsheet

But much as the shopping list approach to populating a story set the tone for a decent romp – and I’d happily see Nefertiti back in the show every week – it wore painfully thin towards the end. You see right through the casual ‘Thought we might need a gang!’ shtick when it turns out each new member of the group has a characteristic specifically required as a plot function. It just so happened that to finish the story there needed to be a big game hunter, someone who was related to someone else and a powerful, iconic historical figure. I don’t like it when they show their working.

4. EGGS ON A NEST

EGGS! Did they think we wouldn’t notice? There they were, right out where everyone could see. Nice big ones. Eggs! Say what you like about the ongoing theme of the Doctor’s anonymity or the developing dynamic of his relationship with his companions, clearly eggs are this year’s Bad Wolf/Torchwood/Mr Saxon repeated meme thing. Watch out for the eggs!

5. Passive-aggressive arsehole on the wrong show

Dinosaurs On A Spaceship starts so promisingly – lots of sparkling dialogue and fast-moving fun.  But it all grinds to a crunching halt halfway through as the Doctor enters Solomon’s Chamber of Exposition. I’m reminded of 1983’s Mawdryn Undead, another story in which the Doctor gets stuck on a pre-programmed spaceship with an injured, passive-aggressive bore. And then Solomon goes and makes that comment to Nefertiti about ‘breaking her in’. It’s not every week the Doctor has to stand by and listen to someone announce they’re going to rape one of his friends. I’m not sure it should happen at all. It was a horribly misjudged line, only equalled in tonal dissonance by the Doctor sending Solomon off to be killed at the end while making jokes about it. I’m not sure Chris Chibnall gets the spirit of Doctor Who at all.

I’d like to end this post on a positive note by expressing my love for the Indian Space Agency and the fixtures, fittings, people and uniforms therein

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Chicken & Lantern: Series 2

As we have seen, the success of the first series of Chicken & Lantern was marred by the acrimonious departure of David Yip after the final episode. With a second series to be written and produced, and BBC executives pronouncing that it should be appealing to a potential North American audience, up-and-coming actor Bruce Willis was cast as Lantern. His wisecracking performance shifted the dynamic of the show entirely, forcing Prunella Scales to play Chicken as a more thoughtful, maternal character — perhaps understandable after the events at the end of the first series.

Controversially, the title sequence was reshot, and while its story of how a rotisserie chicken escapes her spit to travel through time on a Chinese lantern was much the same, it was relocated from a Basingstoke shopping precinct to Chinatown, New York City. No on-screen explanation was ever given for this contradiction, although after the show’s cancellation the continuity-heavy fan-written novels of the 90s put forward any number of wild theories to reconcile it.

SERIES 2 EPISODE GUIDE

6 x 10 minute episodes (one episode never transmitted)

Transmitted on BBC1, Mondays at 4.45pm, 7th January – 11th February 1985.

Episode 1: Whaddya Know, JCDecaux? Touching down in what they believe is present-day New York after some unseen adventures, Chicken & Lantern soon realise they are in their personal future after catching sight of a billboard featuring Chicken advertising a new egg-based easy-bake cake mix. Throughout the episode, Chicken is accosted by fans, and the contrast between her unexpected celebrity status and her insistence that she would never advertise such a product is played for full comic effect. Today this episode is generally regarded as poorly-written and an excuse for Bruce Willis to oversell his role. The fact that the events leading to future Chicken’s apparent change of principles are never explored is cited by many as the beginning of the end for the show.

Episode 2: Kentucky Fly Chicken Arriving at Knob Creek Farm in the 19th Century, the duo help to convince a young Abraham Lincoln that slavery is wrong, in an episode widely derided by TV historians for its uneasy mix of sledgehammer moralising and childish innuendo. The scene in which the boy Abraham nearly drowns in the swollen Knob Creek is thought to contain some particularly inappropriate dialogue.

Episode 3: [untitled – never broadcast] There are a lot of rumours about the banned episode of Chicken & Lantern. This is the truth. On seeing an early version of the season’s first episode in post-production, Michael Grade was furious. At a now infamous BBC drinks party, he attacked the production team for going too far to appease the hoped-for US audience and shouted “It! Should! Be! Educational!”. When challenged as to what he thought would be a good educational topic, he responded, off the cuff, “Oh, I don’t know! Do something about the chicken’s evolutionary relationship with the dinosaur.”  Skulking away furiously, the production team came up with the never-shown episode that the fans have since unofficially dubbed ‘The Partridge Family‘.

The myth goes that Prunella Scales refused to record any dialogue for the episode upon reading the script and ordered the rest of the voice cast to walk out too. Lines like “Get the cluck away from him, you motherclucker!” were quoted in fanzines. But in reality, the creative team always intended, mutinously, that it should be a dialogue-free episode.

The plot was simple: arriving in Jurassic times, Lantern is trapped in a muddy swamp and Chicken is carried off by a pterosaur. The rest of the episode follows Chicken’s epic battle with a tyrannosaurus rex and is soundtracked only by the relentless, terrifying beat of a taiko drum. Those of us who saw the pirate VHS tape that was circulated in the late 80s will never forget the sight of Chicken — her skin torn to reveal a flash of white breast meat, a flint knife tucked under her wing and a strip ripped from her pinafore to form a grim bandana around the stump of her head — emerging bloodsoaked from the prehistoric jungle. It could never have been broadcast.

Episode 4: Fowl Play With creative tensions at breaking point behind the scenes, this gentle episode was conceived as a throwback to the style of Series 1. While the idea of the adventurous pair meeting Shakespeare in a woodland glade on the banks of the Avon during the writing of As You Like It — with Lantern inspiring the character of Touchstone — was a sound one, the execution is generally considered boring. These days the episode is only really remembered for Bruce Willis’s terrible delivery of the line “Thou art damned like an ill-roasted egg,” and the audible tut from Prunella Scales that somehow remained in the final edit of the sound mix.

Episode 5: I’ll Be Beak

Chicken and Lantern arrive in the post-apocalyptic wasteland of a 21st century that they soon learn is ruled by vengeful machine overlords. They quickly head back to the present day, but a relentless cyborg goose pursues them. Lantern takes centre stage in the high-octane thrills that follow, as he darts and drifts through an abandoned foie gras factory to lead the cybernetic goose (voiced by Dolph Lundgren) to its doom. Bruce Willis often fondly recalls his performance in this episode as a career-defining highlight, claiming that he’s never grunted harder.

Episode 6: To be hidden in the face of God from the disturbance of men is to be fortified with this dark contemplation against all the chances which may come upon the soul

After the dinosaur fiasco, the creative team knew they’d never work for the BBC again. They knew that the third series of Chicken & Lantern would be put together by new blood and that this was their last chance to produce an episode that defined their era. And so the episode of C&L that ensured its lasting status as a student cult classic was born.

We see Chicken ensconced in the wimpole and habit of a Carmelite nun. She slowly paces the cloisters of a mediaeval Spanish monastery, her crispy, half-roasted skin gleaming with the secret ecstasy of mystical contemplation — the exact opposite of a headless chicken.

We see Lantern, captaining a silver rocket ship as it zips through an increasingly psychedelic landscape, dispensing bolts of red and golden light into the ether.

And we see an old man, named as ‘Qi’ in the credits, collapsed across a table in the Cantonese restaurant from the title sequence, his food-poisoning fever-dreams seeming to encompass all of Chicken and Lantern’s adventures to date.

None of these realities are presented as any more “real” than any of the others. Children everywhere were mystified and haunted by the closing sequence.  We zoom in through the window of Chicken’s monastery cell, towards her and right down her gaping neck cavity. There we find Lantern in his silver rocket ship, passing through the great red and yellow caves of her insides, before we plummet through the windows of the cockpit, right up to Lantern, and right inside him, where we see that he contains a monastery on a hillside, which we plunge towards only to find Chicken, as the sequence repeats again and again. All the while a not-quite subliminal image of Qi sweating and retching flashes on and off. After two lifelong minutes of this, the screen goes blank and we hear Prunella Scales squawk one final word before the credits roll silently. To this day the fans wage online wars as to whether her defining proclamation was “Source!” or “Sauce!”.

But of course the third series would change everything again…