Doctor Who: Orphan 55

And we are back, unfortunately, to many of the deficits which plagued the first series of Jodie Whittaker’s DOCTOR WHO with today’s third episode, an entry that’s heavy-handed, completely forgettable and which does nothing to broaden our understanding of the core characters. This is a distressing development given how much progress the opening two-parter seemed to give us. And yet, I cannot truly say that I’m surprised, really.

The third episode slot in any series of DOCTOR WHO typically tends to be one of the weaker or safer episodes; after having laid out the particulars of the season and the series in the opening two, the production team almost always follows that up with “just an episode”, a meat-and potatoes entry, which is the category that ORPHAN 55 falls into. And in fact, it’s another take on one of DOCTOR WHO’s most perennial structures, the “base under siege” storyline. Except in this instance, it doesn’t really do anything all that interesting or novel with that structure, and so all of the best moments in the episode bring to mind other earlier, superior installments, such as MIDNIGHT. This wasn’t a bad episode per se, but it didn’t have much to recommend it apart from rounding the bases.

It did serve to underline one of the ongoing weaknesses that the series struggles with: the cast is simply too big. Here, we’re introduced to a bevy of new characters, none of whom are drawn particularly subtly in the scant time we spend with them, but all of whom we’re meant to care about at least a little bit as one by one they are picked off by the inexorably attacking Dregs. And this might have worked if we were facing this situation with the Doctor and a single companion (or no companion, as in MIDNIGHT.) But here, we’re also trying to service four lead characters, most of whom are once again woefully under-served–this time out, it’s Graham who gets the worst of having nothing to do. The result here is that we don’t get to spend enough time with the Fam regulars to really make them pop, and all of the new characters are battling as much with one another to get some viable screentime just as much as they’re battling the Dregs. I like this cast in theory, but in practice I cannot help but hope that we get a few episodes along the way where we leave one or more of them behind, simply so that the rest can get some much needed attention.

I also screamed a bit at the end beats, in which the Doctor and her team leave Kane and her daughter Bella behind, facing certain death to buy the Fam time to teleport back to the safety of the Tardis. And then, rather than firing up the box that can go anywhere in Time and Space and effecting a rescue, the Doctor instead chooses to lecture the audience through the surrogates of her passengers on the hazards of global warming and climate change, and the need for people to do something about it. It’s another in a string of occasions over the last two series where the Doctor has an opportunity to do something heroic and doesn’t carry through on it, and it’s maddening. I want to root for the Doctor and I want to see in her what the rest of the characters around her see in her, but it’s difficult when the production team forgets to allow her to be the hero. I don’t know, maybe the production team needs its own Donna Noble there to remind them to have the Doctor “just save somebody, just one person!” Preferably, somebody beyond the Tardis Team who are protected due to the fiat of being regulars on the show.

I was also a bit bothered by how easily the Doctor hand-waved away the events they had just lived through as being only “one possible future.” This isn’t really a card that the show has played so overtly so often (though of course events have been changed in the past.) But bringing it up in this fashion really does make me wonder what the big deal was when we discovered that Orphan 55 was (spoilers!) Earth all along! On top of being a plot twist that didn’t carry the weight that somebody thought that it would, the very fact that its importance is dismissed at the end makes the whole production suspect. Why is any future that we happen to go to of any consequence? For that matter, the present exists only thanks to our relative position in time, so is the present any more relevant? (Especially when we retreat into the past for a story–did the Doctor really need to wipe out those historical figures’ memories last week in order to preserve the timeline? )

But that’s all timey-wimey stuff. The bottom line here is that I was never all that caught up in the episode, the cast was under-utilized and generic, the guest stars never rose beyond being types and the threat seemed at once underwhelming and uninteresting. This was an episode of DOCTOR WHO, sure, but not one likely to get a lot of repeat viewings in the future. It just didn’t have all that much to offer.

4 thoughts on “Doctor Who: Orphan 55

  1. I’d love to hear your thoughts on New Who generally. Doctor by doctor. Season by season. The best and worst openers, finales, specials and companions. Genius moves and missteps. Who made the most out of limited material and who should have done better with what they were given.

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  2. Seeing all episodes late (in our house hold it has gone from ‘must-see-tv’ to ‘let’s-just-watch-it-tv’), I like reading your comments after the fact, if only to see if anyone is as annoyed as I am. Nope, with this and the previous episode you come across as more mild than I am. I read your opening statement hat this is not the Doctor we are used to and that is normal. But bad storytelling is bad storytelling and I believe it should be called out. In this case, the whole basis of the danger depend too much on bad character development. So there is a holiday resort on a future version of Earth called Area 51 – sorry, Orphan 55. It is run by two people, one of whom seems to be the girl who set the whole thing up to make some money out of it. And the people who get there come from all different points in the galaxy and time, because they are collecting coupons from a brand of coffee. So, she also owns the brand of coffee, which is distributed through time? And there is no larger corporation working behind that? And she is doing this to make money from it so she can terraform the planet. So how does that work? Much is made of the fact that it is a freebe holliday. How do you make money of that, if you don’t own the coffee. And why would you want to make money of it if you could make more from the coffee itself? Or is she a subcontractor, who is paid by the coffee people to give customers an expensive looking holiday for very little, pocketing the remainder herself? And how can the Doctor and her friends have come from the past? Is that coffe distributed through all time? Does she get her coffee from the future (no, because it is a surprise to her as well that they aren’t in the present). Seems like they had two ‘coll’ concepts they wanted to marry, but forgot tell how they met: free holiday from coffee coupons, resrot isn’t what it seems to be. And then the whole thing is under attack from the natives, which turns out to be a result of a black woman who is the white woman’s daughter she doesn’t resemble in any way (yeah for woke casting, even if it takes away a way to visually hint at a plot point), who does this to hurt her mother without any other reason than “she left me alone when I was a kid”). And she wants to do that so much that she is willing to a. cause the death of people (which can be explained away saying she didn’t know what she was doing) and b. actively threating to kill everyone who stands in her way (which can be explained because, er… she’s mad). In fact she is so cluless that when we first meet her, she is almost killed by the threat she caused herself (which she can’t reveal yet of course). Why not throw a little “I didn’t want this to happen” in there and explain that away in some other way (like her accidentally hitting companion #3 in the stomach or something like that). When she finally confronts her mother, she only replies by saying: “I did it to give ot all to her”. No reason why, no background that would have deepened the drama (they could have all been refugees from Earth, the ones who got away, but she got remorseful and wanted to go back and save earth for her daughter). And of course, the doctor herself never suspects anything is wrong until she finds a physical clue, instead of guessing there is something with the characters and forcing that out of them. I am not going to mention the whiz kid getting an undeserved emotional moment when his dad finally let’s him do the last and most important job (which could have been so much better written in the same space if the writers owned what they were doing instead of mimicking it). And I never thought I’d get tired of people sacrificing themselves. First the old guy, who gets shot because he wants to be dead. Then his ‘wife’ who has nothing left to live for. And then the resortowner, who has a change of mind for no shown reason at all. Bad storytelling.

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