After the rollicking two-part season opener of Doctor Who, it’s time for a bit of relaxation, right? Graham seems to think so and thanks to him mucking about with some snazzy sci-fi coupons, the TARDIS fam ends up on Tranquility Spa. Not everything is as it appears, though and soon enough the gang finds themselves in a holo-resort of sorts…that’s based on an inhabitable planet.
A quick trip to the linen closet (aka base of security operations) shows the resort is under attack, and another spa-goer (an unsuspecting senior citizen there on holiday with his long-time love) is lost beyond the base of the holo-resort, so the Doctor does what she does best, and instructs the security team and her companions to split up in order to get to the bottom of things and get return any spa-goers from the grips of the Dregs (or the so-called aliens that roam this orphan planet).
As the chase continues, many elements unfold at once, which may or may not be directly linked to the plot. Kane, who’s heading up the security efforts, built the holo-resort of Orphan 55 to turn a quick buck. Turns out that took up most of her time and kept her away from her daughter, who is revealed to be Bella (who’s spent most of her time knocking about with Ryan). Bella, in turn, wants to blow everything up to get back at her absent mother.
And there’s still the Dregs to worry with. Over the course of the episode, Thirteen is able to place more about the enemy they’re fighting. The monsters convert carbon dioxide into oxygen and after a quick mind read, yep, it turns out the monsters were humans, monstrously mutated after years of pollution and global warming and Orphan 55 was, in fact, Earth. (All that’s missing is the TARDIS team crying on a beach next to Big Ben for it to be Planet of the Apes.) There’s some more rustling about, with all the characters but Kane and Bella escaping Orphan 55 thanks to a last-minute teleport fix, and the TARDIS crew is shaken up and Thirteen tries to brighten the mood by saying that was just one possibility out of multiple timelines and that, hey, humans might be able to wise up and not throw their whole planet away, (Let’s hope).
Ed Hime was the mastermind behind last season’s “It Takes You Away” which was bizarre and bonkers in all the right ways for me. For a run-of-the-mill monster of the week type episode, “Orphan 55” is cluttered with too many characters I couldn’t be bothered to care about (even though I probably should have). There’s the old vacationing couple, then the bumbling father and wiz-kid son duo who are literally there to fix the teleport, and the (surprise!) estranged mother-daughter trope. I feel like Hime could have picked maybe one or two of those, but not all three.
However, the Dregs hit somewhere between classic Doctor Who baddie and X-Files test subject and the monster costume design is stunning and scream-inducing. The Doctor also gets some cracking dialogue and Whittaker is allowed to show a darker range of emotions than last season. It’s nice to see her test the waters and be a bit more brusque and bitey with folks right out of the gate. The TARDIS fam is also left reeling from the events of this week’s episode, so we’re also building in that additional tension and questioning why they should keep traveling with the Doctor. (Time to take bets on who’ll still be there by season’s end.)
The message of environmental conservation is a good one but leans into the heavy-handed message territory we found ourselves in during Series 11. Still, the Doctor has the last word, reminding us of the power we have to create or destroy.
“People can save planets or wreck them. That’s the choice. Be the best of humanity, or…”