January 13th, 2020

Me

Doctor Who: “Orphan 55”

***SPOILERS AHEAD***

After the strong two-part season opener, “Orphan 55” is your typical base-under-siege Doctor Who story — although this time the base is a resort, a setting that, alas, could have easily led to a lot more humorous or insightful moments than it did. Regardless, it plays out like a base under siege anyway, with security guards, military vehicles, laser rifles, people sacrificing themselves to hold off the monsters while everyone else escapes, etc. etc. etc. But even if the premise isn’t all that original, the episode does have some things going for it. The pace is quick, thanks to the story essentially being one big chase, and there’s a good amount of tension and suspense. The monsters, called Dregs, have an interesting design, although their motivations are never quite clear, which I’ll get back to later. There are a few funny bits at the beginning, such as when Ryan is suffering the aftereffects of the hopper virus, or when Graham reveals that his idea of a nice vacation is to just sit somewhere for three hours. Ryan gets a love interest, which sparked some weird feelings in me when I realized I had been subconsciously shipping Ryan and Yaz. Why do I want them to get together? I have no idea. Maybe because it would make them both more interesting? Anyway, the episode is enjoyable, and though you can tell it was made on a smidgen of a budget, it looks really good. It’s only a shame the ending is so terrible.

The finale relies a lot on coincidences and things happening solely for the sake of the plot. Once the Doctor and the other survivors get back to Tranquility Spa, they discover the monsters are coming for them and there’s no way out. Their only hope is to use a certain kind of fuel to power the one remaining teleportation device, but they don’t have that fuel, they only have a different fuel. Except the Doctor announces that the fuel they have can be transformed into the very fuel they so desperately need thanks to the hopper virus she just happens to have extracted from Ryan and is still carrying around in a potato chip bag. How lucky!

I have a lot of issues with the Dregs. Why do they keep Benni alive but kill everyone else immediately? Why are they attacking the resort in the first place? Why does that one bit of land matter to them? If they’ve existed for generations and exhale pure oxygen, why isn’t there more oxygen in the atmosphere by now, especially if there’s nothing else around that’s sucking it up? Why did the Alpha Dreg not only allow the Doctor and Bella to talk their way out of the room they were locked in with it, but also willingly walk into the cage and close the door? Well, that one I can answer: Because it was what the plot needed, not because it made any sense. How the hell did Kane, who was attacked by the Dregs, survive and make it all the way back to Tranquility Spa completely unharmed in order to help her estranged daughter fight off the monsters? Same answer. After an exciting base-under-siege setup, the finale’s writing was frustratingly lazy.

Oh, and also, the ruined and toxic planet Orphan 55, on which Tranquility Spa is built, is actually the far-future Earth and the Dregs are our mutated descendants. Is that necessary to the story? No, it exists pretty much just to be a big twist. Too bad we’ve seen it before in everything from The Planet of the Apes to the 1986 Sixth Doctor serial “The Mysterious Planet,” which just so happens to utilize the exact same method of revealing that the planet is Earth: they find a subway sign!

And then there’s the end. Hoo boy. So the Doctor and her companions are teleported safely back to the TARDIS, where they ask her if it was really Earth and how that could be, and then for a good couple of minutes the Doctor lectures her companions on how important it is for humans to listen to scientists’ warnings about global warming! Look, I’m as concerned about global warming and climate change as anyone else, but someone needs to tell Ed Hime, who wrote this episode, that at some point you have to trust your audience to get the message without the main character lecturing about it at the end. (Even Hitchcock knew that the scene tacked onto the end of Psycho, in which the psychologist explains everything that came before, was terrible and unnecessary, but the studio insisted.)

Ugh. Really, “Orphan 55” isn’t a bad story, but the finale left such a bad taste in my mouth, from the lazy writing to the lecturing, that it colors the whole episode for me.

And now for a bit of Doctor Who neepery! Aside from the (possibly intentional?) callback to “The Mysterious Planet” that I mentioned earlier, there are also similarities here to the monsters featured in the 1989 Seventh Doctor serial “The Curse of Fenric.” Those were the Haemovores, mutated, vampire-like humans from half a million years in the future who were the evolutionary result of humanity living with excessive pollution. At one point, the Doctor tells her companions, “When I say run, run,” which is something the Second Doctor said quite often.

Next week, the Doctor meets Nikola Tesla and what appear to be some giant alien scorpions!

Originally published at Nicholas Kaufmann. You can comment here or there.