Walking with dinosaurs - Live!

In the course of my palaeontological adventures, I have walked with dinosaurs in Spain, Utah and Patagonia.  I have never, however, done it on Tyneside.  [Though please feel free to insert your own joke about a Bigg Market Saturday night here.]

So it was with a mixture of concern and excitement that I went to see Walking With Dinosaurs - The Arena Spectacular at the Metro Radio Arena.  It was my 12th birthday for the third time, and what else would a boy of my age want to go and see than some real, live, fake, dead reptiles?

One of the favourite haunts of dinosaurs.

Arriving in Newcastle in the early evening, my dearly beloved and I went to pick up the tickets, which she and her parents had kindly bought for me as a present.  There were dinosaurs sitting beneath the railway bridge, and salesman already flogging plastic replicas on the steps of the arena.

"Dinosaur for the lady?" asked one of them, romantically.  I said yes, and took said lady to Nando's, where we feasted on derived theropods.

Waiter! There's a dinosaur in my rice!

At a different venue, there was an enormous queue for a boy band I thought had died out long ago.  When did McFlies evolve, I wondered, and how did they survive?

Back at the Metro Arena, our crowd had begun to gather, and it was unsurprisingly dominated by under-12s and their parents.  I was glad Hen was with me, otherwise it would have looked extremely dodgy; any claims that I was there alone for research purposes would surely have cut no ice.

And talking of ice, this warning greeted our entry to the arena.

Having been to see the NHL, I knew this was true, and it made me curious as to how Walking With Dinosaurs On Ice might work.  Hen asked me if there were any polar dinosaurs, and I said yes, but that I wasn't quite sure how much cold they could cope with.

This may not be scientifically accurate.

Disappointingly (but not surprisingly, given that the tickets cost a fair whack and the online booking fee was a fiver per person), there were lots of empty seats in the arena.  Perhaps consequently, lots of expensive tat was being flogged by disinterested-looking ushers.  £12 for a rubbishy glow-stick?  No thanks, not when I can buy a high-quality dino-mug for much the same price!

But on with the show, which I'm pleased to say was very enjoyable.  I was slightly put out when the 'palaeontologist' presenter said his name was Huxley - surely they could have chosen Mantell or Buckland or Anning - but he did a very good job of running the evening's entertainment.

We began in the Triassic, in Pangaea, and the eggs of Plateosaurus hatching in the rocky desert.  A Liliensternus (a genus I have to say I'd never heard of) then sauntered in and scoffed a hatchling, before mother Plateosaurus skateboarded to the rescue and led her surviving offspring to safety.

"Wheee!" says the skateboarding Triassic dinosaur.

In advance, I wasn't sure how the creatures would move.  Would they be robots, giant puppets, or remote controlled vehicles?  The answer seemed to be a size-dependent combination of the latter two: tiny dinosaurs (like the baby plateosaurids) were just remote-controlled, medium-sized species had a person inside a costume, and the real monsters had a driver inside assisted by controllers upstairs.

It was all very impressive and realistic - though feathers sadly never appeared, the skin textures looked both reptilian and elephantine - though of course any fight scenes were inevitably bloodless.  I would have liked to see a theropod bite open the flank of a sauropod to reveal a shocked puppeteer inside, but I suspect this might have undermined the magic (and cost a fortune to repair).

In the Jurassic, the Pangean break-up and continental greening was nicely expressed.  Mountains moved magnetically apart, and inflatable plants sprouted vividly from the scenery.

The Jurassic of post-Pangaea

To my pleasure, Mr Huxley then began explaining why ichnology was critical to our understanding of dinosaurs.  Illuminated footprints appeared on the floor of the arena, and the name of the show became literally true.  I found myself wondering what kind of traces the skateboarding dinosaurs might leave behind.

Then a pair of Brachiosaurus made their entrance and began to feast on the vegetation, and the kids who'd lost interest during the science started paying attention again.

After a brief tete-a-tete with an Allosaurus, the Brontosauruses didn't get up to very much, but they didn't need to.  If your curiosity isn't piqued by two gigantic model dinosaurs sedately ambling around in front of you, chomping the odd bit of vegetation, then you probably need help.  It was deeply impressive.

To allow us to gather our thoughts, and for some more plate tectonic activity to take place, there was then an interval before we entered the next period.  It also allowed the arena owners to flog food to the ravenous, presumably including the prey-starved theropods.

The Cretaceous started with a pterosaur (over-sized, according to an expert on the beasts) suspended from the ceiling, gliding in front of a projected landscape.  Unfortunately, the projector hadn't been focussed properly, so only part of the moving landscape was sharp, and some of the effect was lost.

Rather better was the evolution of flowering plants.  First we got the colours, then Huxley explained their importance to insects and vice-versa, before we got to enjoy a fight between two torosauruses/torosaurids/torosauri/giant-spiky-skulled vegetarians, which ended with one of them breaking a horn.  Bloodlessly, of course.

Torosaurus was the biggest-headed animal that has ever existed, apparently, whilst Mr Huxley described a new entrant to the show - Ankylosaurus - as the most stubborn, defensive creature to walk the Earth.  When the fast, deadly T. rex appeared, I couldn't help but think of this:

The bowler's Holding, the batsman's Boycott.

My thoughts on the fossil record of cricket were coming to life, in a fashion, though I'm fairly certain that no scene like this has ever been seen at Lord's:

The quick young upstart meets his match

Eventually, T. rex junior had to be bailed out by his mother, and after much roaring and posturing, the scene finished on a faintly touching note, as a human inside a lizard costume snuggled up to a giant reptilian contraption on wheels.

Sadly for them, we all know what happens next.

It was a very dramatic end to the night, though I would have liked to see the corpses of the unlucky reptiles strewn across the floor, whilst tiny mammals and a few birds strutted around celebrating.  I fear, however, my contributions to script development will not be incorporated into future performances.

Nonetheless, I very much enjoyed the evening.  I think it got the balance between education and excitement about right, and I'm very glad we went along.  To my fellow fossil-lovers, I'd recommend WWD, but I'd suggest pretending not to be a palaeontologist for the evening, and simply enjoying the spectacle.

Should you wish to see some more photos of my evening, you can do so here.