Doctor Who – “Orphan 55”

“Orphan 55”
Doctor Who: Series 12 – Episode 3
Written by: Ed Hime
Directed by: Lee Haven Jones

Synopsis: The Doctor and her friends discover that the luxury resort where they are holidaying is hiding a number of deadly secrets. What are the ferocious monsters attacking Tranquility Spa?

After a dense two-part opener that was replete with twists and turns, “Orphan 55” offered viewers a more streamlined and action-centric episode that had less bluffs and double-bluffs in its plot, and instead made use of the archetypal “base-under-siege” format to tell a high-octane story. Remixing familiar plot beats from the likes of “Smile”, “Voyage of the Damned” and “Waters of Mars”, the episode felt like a pair of comfortable shoes as it evoked memories of past Doctor Who stories. Much like “Waters of Mars”, this episode was genuinely scary at times as both writer and director riffed on classic sci-fi horror like “Aliens” and “Predator” as much as they could within the pre-watershed boundaries.

The Dregs were possibly the scariest monsters that have been seen on Doctor Who for a long time, resembling a cross between Nemesis from the Resident Evil series and the poly-morphs from Red Dwarf. The high death count in this episode contributed towards the effectiveness of these monsters as they ploughed their way through the supporting cast. Similar to the sci-fi horror movies that inspired the story, the cast were systemically dispatched throughout the 50-minute duration and it became a case of scratching names off a list. It reminded me a lot of “Voyage of the Damned” and “Waters of Mars” which saw a similarly-sized list of characters being whittled down to a bare minimum.

Even though the majority of them were introduced as cannon fodder, I really enjoyed the depth that writer Ed Hime gave to the supporting cast. I particularly liked how he subverted the proposal scene between Benni and Vilma, and the burgeoning relationship between Ryan and Bella – did you notice how jealous Yaz was getting? I wonder if we’re going to see them become an item before the season is out. Laura Fraser’s role as Kane was standout and she gave a surprisingly nuanced performance as the cold-hearted head of security. I didn’t see the connection between her and Bella until it was announced on screen, which made this reveal equally as shocking as when O revealed himself to be the Master at the end of “Skyfall – Part One”. I also enjoyed the father-son dynamic between Nevi and Sylas, although James Buckley seemed to just playing himself with green hair.

My main gripe with the episode was the end reveal that Orphan 55 was actually Earth – for some reason I expected this twist to happen, and I have mixed feelings about the final scene. While I do recognise Climate Change as one of the most important issues facing mankind at the moment, I felt including it as the “main villain” here intruded onto the story too much. One of the main criticisms of Chris Chibnall’s era has been that Doctor Who has become “woke” and is on a social justice crusade, and while I agree that the series’ political leanings have become more overt than in previous series, I don’t think it is necessarily a bad thing to raise awareness of these issues – I just don’t want it to overshadow the actual story and the escapism that is Doctor Who, and I feel that it did here.

The core cast continued to shine in this episode, and I loved how Ryan got more of a spotlight as he grew closer with Bella. Tosin Cole does a great job with Ryan, playing him as understated and surprisingly sensitive. It was great to see Cole get some dramatic moments to play against instead of providing light-hearted one-liners alongside Graham. One of my favourite moments of the episode was when Graham searched for Ryan in the wake of a Dreg attack, and his relief in discovering his grandson alive. The relationship between these two is a true highlight of the current line-up, and I would love to see the companions get more focus and character development in future episodes. Yaz also feels under-utilised at times, especially when writers focus more on single-episode supporting characters.

I have always been partial towards a good “base-under-siege” story and “Orphan 55” might be one of the better examples of the sub-genre since Russell T Davies’ era. Simple, straight-forward and full of thrills, “Orphan 55” was the perfect follow-up to the convoluted plot antics of “Spyfall” and continued to demonstrate the darker tone to this sophomore season of stories for the Thirteenth Doctor. While this episode didn’t feature any classic monsters, it still maintained the feel and tone of a Ninth, Tenth, Eleventh or Twelfth Doctor episode due to its structure. While Series Eleven might have deviated from the traditional Doctor Who formula regularly, it seems that Series Twelve is focused on nostalgia and evoking those unmistakable Doctor Who feels.

Score – ★★★★ ½

Next Episode: “Nikola Tesla’s Night of Terror”
1903. Who or what is sabotaging Nikola Tesla’s generator plant at Niagara Falls? And has this maverick inventor really received a message from Mars?

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