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Doctor Who S12 Ep3 Orphan 55 Review

Dear reader, Episode 3 already and Orphan 55 roared its way into our consciousness. When I heard the title initially I had visions of something completely different. Episode 3 is a dystopian story, a scattershot warning of the Earth’s future. What I am finding out about the Chris Chibnall era is that it is a divisive time in the fandom over his interpretation but we are also being given lots of talking points in every episode garnering discussion. Online reaction to the episode has been ferocious so let’s get into it…

So, the biggies for me this episode were the speech at the end by the Doctor and the revelation this is Earth in one timeline. Yes, the speech was a sermon. It was a sledgehammer approach which I initially didn’t like as I felt lectured at. But thinking about in the bigger picture “we” (take that to apply as you want) do need to do more to preserve the beauty of our home this magnificent blue planet. In this age of evidence of global warming perhaps subtlety is no longer working.

I am reminded how at the beginning of the episode Benni and Vilma were looking over the blue pool (or lagoon) and commented how beautiful it was so maybe a bit of uncomfortableness in a painfully preachy final speech is excusable to preserve that view. It just struck me when the doctor says “People can save planets, or wreck them. That’s the choice “is she also referring to the Master’s destruction of Gallifrey and her? This is the second planet in a row that has been obliterated so is this an emerging theme this series?

You know that. The future is not fixed. It depends on billions of decisions, and actions, and people stepping up. Humans. I think you forget how powerful you are. Lives change worlds. People can save planets, or wreck them. That’s the choice. Be the best of humanity. Or… – The Doctor

The highs and lows of the episode

Talking of the Doctor I do like the more decisive tone they are taking with her character. Jodie has gained some confidence in making the Doctor more of the taking charge character we know and the companions bringing up the rear which I approve of. The way she takes charge of building the ionic membrane (a shield) is interesting although she seems to find the DNA filter very quickly.

I really enjoyed the initial set up of the teleport cube and the arrival at Tranquillity Spa although how the team can travel to an alternative timeline is strange. An alternate timeline is a reality which diverges from the true timeline due to the actions of time travellers and Graham didn’t do anything. Unless the cube has an ability to make them change team streams but that would require tremendous power? How did the Doctor know it was only one possible timeline?

Graham takes in Tranquility Spa
Graham takes in Tranquillity Spa

I didn’t feel that the supporting characters we met were as well developed as they could have been. There were a lot of them but they were briefly introduced and the monsters took over. Vilma could have offered Yes a cup of tea and a bit of a gossip. Nevi and Sylas could have bumped into the Doctor whilst looking at the teleport. The character Hyph3n was probably not needed and perhaps could have been Bella instead, hired and undercover. Good supporting characters add depth and character to a story. With the running time for the episode as 46 minutes, I do appreciate there was a lot to cram in but if you compare this with another episode “Midnight” where more time is given to establishing the characters before the peril starts it might have made us care a bit more as they died.

I don’t know whether Ed Hime deliberately was adding black humour where Benni was heard to ask Vilma to marry him and then shoot him but it is one of the funnier parts of the whole episode between Vilma and Benni. Someone did a count on YouTube and Vilma shouted out 18 times for Benni apparently throughout the script. The other “character” which gave some black laughs was the tannoy announcer “Welcome to the Tranquillity steam room. Please leave immediately”

The Doctor with Hyph3n
The Doctor with Hyph3n

I did think the design of the Dregs as mutations of the humans left behind was terrific in shadow as they were stalking their prey in the hotel. Truly scary and alien-like they were just full of rage and instinct. Humans are mammals but this was a terrifying devolution to a more primitive form that couldn’t speak. Of course, out of the shadows in the quarry terrain as design, they were a little lumbering so there was a disparity but they still looked unrelenting.

The script

I did enjoy some of the brief comedy we saw in the episode mainly from Graham wanting to relax and drink cocktails and Ryan reacting to the hopper virus. I enjoyed Ryan’s flirting with Bella, there seemed natural chemistry between them but thumb sucking was a big thumbs down from me especially their goodbye at the end.

The revelation through the Russian sign that Orphan 55 was Earth reminded me of a similar story about Ravalox from classic Who. The idea of the dome as a fake-cation was actually an interesting one and a differing planet outside but I don’t think it had to be Earth. The message would have still been as powerful. Would Kane really have been able to terraform and reduce the C02? Not without getting rid of the nasty Dregs. The pace was quite frenetic throughout the script at times too much so and the tone felt quite desperate, for the characters trying to make it out alive from a harsh terrifying world. I do question the decision to get everyone out in the vehicle. Why didn’t most stay in the hotel and just Kane and the Doctor go with Vorm. Vilma, Hyph3n, Vorm all died as a result of that decision.

There is definitely nothing wrong with a story extolling the ecological message. The third Doctor’s era is probably the most well known with stories such as Inferno and the Green Death which mirrored real-life concerns about environmentalism more than 50 years ago. It’s nothing new where Doctor Who used allegory to tell its messages. I do applaud the lesson within the story but perhaps not the execution of it. I do wonder though whether Orphan 55 aimed its withering eye at the right audience?

Should the story have made more criticisms aimed at industry, at governments instead? As individuals in the western world, I assume the majority of Doctor Who’s audience is well aware of the environmental issues. I reuse and recycle and do what I can but pollution and climate change come mostly from rising dioxide emissions from the industry with China, United States, India, Russia in the top four as the most polluting countries. When will they listen?

Not a Doctor Who story to give you comfort on a warm winter day 7/10

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