Written By: Ed Hime
Broadcast Date: 12 January 2020
Featuring: 13th Doctor, Graham, Ryan and Yaz
Despite one of the most exciting openings to a Doctor Who episode in the past couple of years, “Orphan 55” descends into a messy narrative that has too many ideas on show without doing anything great with them.
The promotion of this episode was actually very clever, with all trailers only covering the first ten minutes of the episode, when the resort comes under attack. This immediately puts the TARDIS crew in grave danger and was a good switch up from the slower paced series 11 episodes. But then it deteriorates into a drawn out section in a military truck and subsequently in dark tunnels, that don’t feel original or especially thought out. I also can’t help but think the “dead planet is a future Earth” twist has been done too many times in the last twenty years of TV to actually feel shocking.
The larger than usual cast also meant there were some issues with the writing team, so insisted upon giving every single guest character a side story. This included a tepid romance plot for Ryan (Tosin Cole). Whilst this bogged the plot down with characters doomed not to make the finish, it also led to a highly frustrating last five minutes. Those who survived or presumed dead didn’t receive much closure, not helped by a teleport system that wasn’t clear on how many could teleport at once. As the TARDIS crew were returned to safety, there was no attempt to rescue those in peril, a strange move considering the paradoxical nature of the previous episode. Every aspect of this episode felt rushed, like a 60 minute episode being squeezed into 45, so “Orphan 55”, much like a character in the planet’s toxic air, couldn’t breathe.
It is a shame that this episode became a mess under the weight of too many elements, as some had the potential to be taken much further. The design of the Dregs looks inspired by Ridley Scott’s Alien, with monstrous teeth and animalistic movements. They were pretty scary in the darker scenes and could have been used in more jump scares than they were. However, judging by the comments made by cast and crew before the episode, that the Dregs were “one of the most terrifying monsters in the history of the show”, they became the victims of their own hype and lost the fear factor when they appeared in the light.
Then there was that speech at the end, hated by many on social media. I don’t have a problem with Doctor Who being political, as it has done it many times in its history. I could have actually bared the quasi-breaking of the fourth wall by the Doctor (Jodie Whittaker) to plea with viewers to save the planet, if the show wasn’t trying to manipulate them into seeing certain characters as evil people. Much like last season’s “Kerbam!”, poor Kane, whilst not Mum of the year, doesn’t necessarily deserve all of the anger aimed at her for the majority of the episode. By being preachy about who is good and who is bad, the show is not letting its viewers have their own opinions, which is why the speech left a sour taste in my mouth.
This episode was a case of “too many cooks spoil the broth” or, in this case, “too many ideas without development spoil the episode”. Despite several tantasiling ideas on show, “Orphan 55” is let down by writing that is overly preachy, and a plot that is overly complicated and feels better suited for a two part adventure.
Star Rating: 2.5/5
Next week sees the TARDIS crew meet Nikola Tesla and Thomas Edison, whilst someone or something is trying to hijack Tesla’s base of operations. You can read my review of “Nikola Tesla’s Night of Terror” in the next few days.