Doctor Who: Orphan 55 Review

My slightly-later-than-normal review of the third episode of season 12 is finally here!

This review was delayed primarily because I was overseas — Japan, to be precise, a country with many, many merits. Sadly, easy access to current episodes of Doctor Who does not count amongst its merits. I’m not even all that sure that the series has much (if any) of a following there.

Also, I was on holidays and less inclined to bother with VPNs and such to watch on a small screen when I was meant to be enjoying myself. So I delayed my Doctor Who gratification, and then delayed it further because I was rather unwell while away. There ought to be some kind of refund scheme for if you get sick while on holidays, but I digress.

I didn’t want to watch Doctor Who while slightly off my head on cold medications, so I waited. But before I get into the review, my customary spoiler space, just in case you’ve ended up here before watching Orphan 55. Lurk beyond the YouTube embed, and spoilers will be there a-plenty!

Mind you, having watched Orphan 55 with a relatively clear head, maybe I would have enjoyed it more had I been off my skull. Because this was one hideous mess of an episode, and it’s hard to pin the fault down to just one area.

Realistically, there’s two strands to this episode, I think.

There’s the bit-that-looks-like-your-standard-Aliens-ripoff  bit and then there’s the preachy-climate-change bit.

I’ll tackle them in order.

fortune! Every formation's a parade... no, wait, wrong series. Also demonstrably not true for this episode.
A day reviewing Doctor Who is like a day on the farm. Every meal is a banquet. Every paycheck is a fortune! Every formation is a parade… no, wait, wrong series. Also demonstrably not true for this episode.

Doctor Who doesn’t actually need to pay homage to Aliens, because it was there first, in terms of the whole “alien planet with deadly monsters” bit (Ark in Space if you want a direct 1970s comparison, but there are plenty more), but you’d have to be flat out blind not to see the very direct homages at play here, from the transporter vehicle to the marine weapons to the sacrifices made by marines (well, there were two of them, but then, budget…)  to save others to… well, I could go on, but if you’ve seen Aliens then you’ll see where this was very much visually inspired by it.

Which again, doesn’t have to be a bad thing if it’s well constructed.

But Orphan 55 is anything but well constructed. There’s a huge array of logical jumps and outright narrative blind spots in the script that simply never get addressed in any kind of satisfying way.

If the purpose of Orphan 55 is to gradually redeem the planet by paying for its terraforming with holidays, why are they giving away vouchers for free holidays? How did Bella, who is unemployed end up there? Indeed, the only cashed up tourists there seem to be Vilma and Benni.

Sorry, BENNI!

His name is Benni. And you'd better not forget that.
His name is Benni. And you’d better not forget that.

We’re not allowed to forget his name, although it’s never in any way mentioned why the Dregs let him specifically live, or indeed why they let him give his rather monotone speech in order to propose to Vilma and then ask to be killed at a level that suggests he’s rather bored with being chewed on by Dregs. None of this makes any sense at all.

I am so essentially nondescript that you've probably already forgotten my character name. (It's Vorm.)
I am so essentially nondescript that you’ve probably already forgotten my character name. (It’s Vorm.)

Equally bewildering are the directorial choices, especially the way they cut to Dregs howling every so often. We get that they’re monsters! We don’t need to see them howling every few minutes, but I can’t help but feel that they shot so much footage of howling Dregs that they had to justify using it just about everywhere.

AROOOOO!
AROOOOO!

While I don’t want Doctor Who to be drawn down into a Michael Bay-esque blood and guts show, the fact that we saw basically nobody actually “die” — just lots of off-screen suggestions that they had — was also notable. Lots of guests die in the introductory Dreg attacks… but there are absolutely zero bodies to be seen in Tranquility Spa afterwards. Not even a half-gnawed leg.

Then there’s the Climate Change bit. Now, I agree with the world’s scientists on this score — frankly, you’re a head-in-the-sand moron if you don’t, but then my words aren’t going to change your opinion if you are a denier anyway.

"Hi, I'm Sylas. My Dad Nevi is inexplicably awful at his job, but I'm an engineering genius. No, don't ask why or how that works. The script certainly isn't going to bother to explain it."
“Hi, I’m Sylas. My Dad Nevi is inexplicably awful at his job, but I’m an engineering genius. No, don’t ask why or how that works. The script certainly isn’t going to bother to explain it.”

Problem is, neither is Orphan 55. Doctor Who can tackle serious issues — last season’s Rosa and Demons of The Punjab do it beautifully, for example — but Orphan 55 has little nuance or indeed much beyond preachy monologues to back this side of the story up. It ends up feeling like those “moral lessons” that US toy cartoons used to have force-fed into them in the 1980s, and with about as much effect.

If this was their "mating season", what KIND of tentacle is this? It doesn't bear thinking about.
If this was their “mating season”, what KIND of tentacle is this? It doesn’t bear thinking about.

In Doctor Who chronology there’s all sorts of problems with it being “Earth”, and I’m not even sure that was necessary anyway. You could have told the same story with another planet with the same issues to draw contrast, and that might have created thought and argument. Instead, it was sledgehammered in, along with every other plot element and The Doctor’s final little monologue.

Climate change is bad kids, mmm'kay? Actually, it seems likely that most of the kids (who will inherit this problem in a very real way) know this already.
Climate change is bad kids, mmm’kay?
Actually, it seems likely that most of the kids (who will inherit this problem in a very real way) know this already.

Orphan 55 is sadly one of the very weakest episodes of the show that I love that I’ve watched in a long, long time. I really do hope it picks up from here.

If this had been one of Hellraiser's Lament Configuration boxes, the whole story would have been very different.
If this had been one of Hellraiser’s Lament Configuration boxes, the whole story would have been very different.

Other smaller observations and thoughts

  • Why the hell does the Tardis have a machine giving advertising coupons in it anyway? The Doctor hates that kind of thing, as evidenced in The Greatest Show in The Galaxy.
  • How long did it take the Dregs to chew on Vilma? Can’t have been long.
  • Bella is not the least bit convincing when she threatens to shoot Ryan. Not that he’s not carrying the idiot ball this week, but given that she’s already responsible for dozens of innocent tourist deaths, you’d think she’d be more cold-hearted really.
  • Sun loungers versus razor-clawed Dregs? Yeah, that wasn’t a great scheme, now was it Ryan?
  • The Hopper Virus when implanted in a human looks an awful lot like a computer’s “busy” animation.
  • “Now, suck your thumb until the hallucinations stop, and remember — they’re not real bats.” — the one line in the whole episode I enjoyed.
  • Who bankrolled the whole enterprise? The more I think about it, the less it makes sense. Kane wanted to leave it all to Bella, but building even the spa bits and hiring staff, etc can’t have been cheap, even on an “abandoned” planet.
  • Why doesn’t the Doctor head back in the Tardis to rescue Bella and Kane? It’s not as if she doesn’t know where “Earth” is. Been there just the once or twice.
  • If the Dregs are apex predators who can adapt to anything, why can’t they adapt to breathing (or at least surviving in) Oxygen rich environments? They seem to be able to wander around in them chewing on tourists just fine, until they can’t for some reason and decide to politely walk into cages FOR BASICALLY NO REASON.
  • Yes, this episode makes me angry for just how logically inconsistent it was. You can tell, right?
  • There’s lots of evidence that Gallifreyans need less Oxygen than humans (or can enter meditative trances to reduce Oxygen need). And yet, the Doctor runs out faster than anyone else, but is saved by the Dregs instead. Because this story exists to annoy me, right?

And of course that means it’s time to…

Rank the episodes of Season 12 of Doctor Who!

  1. Spyfall Part Two
  2. Spyfall Part One
  3. .
  4. .
  5. .
  6. .
  7. .
  8. .
  9. .
  10. Orphan 55

Yes, OK, technically Orphan 55 should sit in third place, what with only having three episodes broadcast so far. However, it’s awful. Really, truly bad, and so I’m proactively placing it in tenth position as a statement of hope.

Because I really do hope that everything else that comes down the pipeline this season is better. I don’t know if I could cope if it got any worse.

Next time: Tesla finally visits the Tardis. I hear he’s a bright spark.

Images: BBC

Author: Alex

Alex Kidman is a multi-award winning Australian technology writer, former editor at Gizmodo, CNET, GameSpot, ZDNet, PC Mag, APC, Finder and as a contributor to the ABC, SMH, AFR, Courier Mail, GadgetGuy, PC & Tech Authority, Atomic and many more. He's been writing professionally since 1998, and his passions include technology, social issues, education, retro gaming and professional wrestling.

1 thought on “Doctor Who: Orphan 55 Review

  1. Agreed. Aside from the two episodes you mention, Rosa and the Punjab episode, it seems like every script runs ‘meet monster, flee monster, beat monster’. Gotta hope they do better, for Jodie’s sake.

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