Doctor Who – Orphan 55

Not unlike the opening two-parter there is a lot going right with this episode compared with last season and some things going wrong. What is going right is the episode manages to create tension, has some relevant twists and risks. There is a surprisingly high body count, not that people dying is necessary for a good episode but sometimes a story calls for it.

What is going wrong is that once again, I felt like the script was just a bit half-baked and had rough edges that stood out. It felt to me like there were a few instances where just a bit more thought would have made for a better episode all round. Some spoilers after the fold.

The story is set on a luxury resort which turns out to be a bit of a fake. The resort is actually in an enclosed dome on an environmentally hostile planet. Guests teleport in, so are unaware that beyond the edge of the resort is an unbreathable world in ruins full of hostile creatures. The resort itself is essentially just a commercial claim on the planet in the hope of later terraforming it. It is an effective and clever premise that is both familiar and unusual. Of course things go horribly wrong quickly.

I won’t list all the bits that tripped me up and pulled me out of sitting back and just enjoying it but I will focus on one that I think exemplifies what I mean. The resort comes under attack from ‘Dregs’, the mutant aggressive creatures that live outside. Many of the guests and staff are killed, leaving a few survivors with the Doctor and her companions. One guest who nearly escapes to safety is taking away by the Dregs rather than killed. It is decided that the survivors (who are now safe from attack) will go outside to rescue them. SO THEY ALL GO. All of them hop in the same vehicle and head outside into a toxic atmosphere full of violent creatures, including an old lady and a kid. Why? Just because. It is obvious why dramatically the script wants all the characters in one place but it’s as if the writer hadn’t thought of a reason initially and so no one ever gave one, even though it would be trivial to come up with a better rationale for doing so.

It amounts to the Doctor deciding everybody should do something stupid and then complaining about it later. Canonically, The Doctor has been very cavalier with the lives and safety of their companions but her current version it seems particularly off given her kinder demeanour and apparent pacifism. I don’t think that is intentional, it’s just the kind of looseness with the plots were characters go off to where they are needed for scenes rather than them being given clearer story reasons for being there.

Elsewhere there has been objections to The Doctor’s speechifying at the end. One objection is the ‘politics’ of it which is absurd. On principle the message of “don’t wreck your planet because it is the only one you’ve got” has been moral to Doctor Who stories since the second story the show ever told (that oh-so obscure one set on the planet Skaro with pepper-pot monsters that might have ended up being a tad famous). There’s a touch of Skaro to this story also.

The other objection to The Doctor’s final speech is that it takes a future-is-not-fixed stance on time. Yes, that makes zero sense in the context of the show but then the future-is-fixed makes no sense either. Hence why the show has wobbled around both stances (and special “fixed points in time”) over and over. It is also why the near future of Earth is all over the place (even more so now, given we live half a century after the show started). The Doctor’s explanation of time in “Blink” will forever remain the most coherent.

6 thoughts on “Doctor Who – Orphan 55

  1. I was getting a terrible Paradise Towers vibe at the start of the episode that only abated a bit.


  2. Also “Trial of a Time Lord”, which also featured underground station signs that survived the apocalypse…. Overall, I thought this one had some good ideas, but sort of fell apart during the execution. (And I’m not sure I believe the carbon-dioxide-breathing monsters, much. Especially the bit where there are two people and one monster in a room, and that somehow constitutes a perfect ecosystem….)

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  3. I thought this one was a mess. Relentless and frantic pacing does not does not paper over an incoherent story with ridiculous plot holes. (You point out many of them above).

    I thought they were going somewhere interesting with Benni when he asked Vilma to marry him and then anyone to kill him, but then that was just thrown away. There was actually an interesting question about why and how the Dregs got him there alive when the others had to take a vehicle, but that was ignored too.

    I suspect the whole Benni-Vilma thing with them never being married and him finally taking action only for it to be too late is an allusion to the whole climate change thing as well.

    Don’t get me wrong, the political message is an important one with a lot of precedent in Doctor Who (the Green Death is the 70s version for instance), but the writers need to do better service to it.

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    1. They explained how Benni could survive outside: he had an oxygen tank. (We saw him with cannulae in his nose.) As for why: the Dregs were enjoying torturing him rather than killing him quickly.

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  4. The episode started out well and then continually didn’t make any sense. And not even Doctor Who no sense, which we’re used to, but complete no sense on numerous plot details. (The Dregs are fast then slow, smart then unintelligent, far away on the other side of an ion shield and then in a nest right next to the spa, etc. It also started off as Alien, morphed into Galaxy Quest and then finished with Planet of the Apes. Some of the dialogue bits were quite good but i think the screenwriter was high when writing it.

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