Orphan 55

Posted in Episode by - January 13, 2020
Orphan 55

Aired 12 January 2020

SOME SPOILERS FOLLOW

Drawing upon many trusted influences from throughout Doctor Who’s history such as a base under siege, a holiday resort hosting a dark secret, and a grim prognosis for the future of Earth, ‘Orphan 55’ by Ed Himes looks to solidify this current twelfth series of Doctor Who with its first standalone episode since the Doctor learned of Gallifrey’s horrible fate and the suggestion of a lie at the very foundation of its history.

Effectively filling what would have been a trip to New Earth during the early Russell T Davies years, ‘Orphan 55’ offers a far grimmer outlook for Earth that sadly mirrors the heightened tensions and fears that now pervade the public consciousness. Intriguingly, the Thirteenth Doctor has thus far been written as something of a more passive incarnation than many of her predecessors, overtly interfering when necessary to ensure survival and time’s proper progression but not necessarily holding those responsible to account. Whether letting those who have inflicted horror walk away as in ‘Arachnids in the UK,’ simply observing so as not to lose a companion as in ‘Demons of the Punjab,’ or actively engaging in acts of social injustice in ‘Rosa’ to ensure events happen as recorded, the Thirteenth Doctor has often decided not to take a firm stance against the many wrongs she has confronted. With climate change explicitly described here as the trigger for the eventual devastation of this dead world discovered to be Earth far in the future, the Doctor attempts to describe how common it is for societies to follow in this path as resources dwindle and mass migrations result while the wealthy manage to escape with no consequences or regard for those they are leaving behind. However, this rather callous notion doesn’t quite land since the well-meaning wealthy couple simply seeking a vacation as well as the enterprising Kane never really connect to this thought and instead leave it as something of a dangling thread.

Accordingly, amidst numerous semi-shrouded reflections about today’s world such as a hotelier looking to rule the world is a story that looks to spread the blame for the current situation with mixed results. This doesn’t quite work as an appeal for everyone to accept blame and meet somewhere in the middle, however, since Bella is explicitly at the resort to blow it up and so cannot be equated to Kane who is looking to make a profit to leave for her daughter. Kane is simply built up too much as well-meaning but poorly-communicating whereas Bella is mischaracterized as more temperamental and reactive to really fill this role, though this dynamic contrasted to that of Nevi and Sylas as another dysfunctional family unit is certainly a strength of the episode. Admittedly, the Doctor effectively addressing the audience directly by saying that the Earth is not going to be okay unless people face the facts and change is a bold move for a family programme that is sure to inspire children in particular to stand up for the future as the Doctor essentially admits that she is a fictional character who will not be there to save the day in the end. Considering this incarnation’s seeming unwillingness to truly alter events and to instead watch, her plea for everyone to accept the need for change to bring about a different future than the one seen is a poignant contrast that opens up a slightly different side to the character and interpretation of fixed and non-fixed outcomes within the context of Doctor Who since an outside influence such as the Doctor has always been needed to affect such change in the past.

Yet it’s the subversion of the classic base under siege formula as the true identity of the horrifying dregs is revealed that will me the most memorable aspect of ‘Orphan 55.’ Few creatures have featured such stunning visuals that highlight the true production values that Doctor Who now enjoys, and the danger these apex predators pose and the terror they elicit is palpable in every scene. This allows each of the characters to express a true range of emotions as the blistering pursuit rarely relents and sacrifices must be made, and those looking for a more traditional monster story will assuredly be pleased with what is on display. However, despite the incredible ambition and stylish presentation of ‘Orphan 55,’ there are simply too many hard-hitting ideas and comparisons to the modern world that are skirted around until the Doctor’s emotional monologue at the conclusion which makes it more of a superficial- though still truly enjoyable- outing than what could have been offered.

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