Orphan 55 Review

(59 comments)

An episode with its heart in the right place and its head largely on the moon. In this regard it resembles Himes’ previous effort. The problem is that where “It Takes You Away” moved among a bunch of elements that were batshit weird and largely unlike anything we’d ever seen before, “Orphan 55” moves through a bunch of Doctor Who standards. These are generally among the more interesting Doctor Who standards—a dodgy resort a la The Macra Terror or Delta and the Bannermen, the main reveal from The Mysterious Planet, and a big heavy-handed environmental message like it’s The Green Death. These are all basically good components.

Unfortunately, Himes’s sugar rush sense of momentum keeps any of them from going anywhere. The supporting cast is overstuffed and undercooked, feeling at times like a cut-rate Voyage of the Damned. Interesting ideas flop oddly around the screen, briefly contemplating becoming significant plot threads before declining to. What exactly are the Dregs doing, killing some people and weirdly torturing Benni in a way that doesn’t actually make him stop being a weird comic relief character? What’s the actual substance of the relationship between Kane and Bella? There are stories here, but they’re being rushed past in favor of something that structurally feels more or less like The Ghost Monument.

This remains extremely puzzling to see. There’s a continual failure to quite remember what stories are supposed to look like. This is structured like a serial that we’re watching all the parts of in 45 minutes. And the parts appear to be about six minutes long. This is a more coherent structure than Chibnall himself generally manages, but it’s baffling to see Doctor Who suddenly attain the basic narrative cohesion of a shitty 90s cult television show. Ian Levine’s hilarious “friendship over with Doctor Who, now Babylon 5 is my best friend” bit two years ago actually makes a vague amount of sense in a world where Doctor Who feels like it’s on the same basic quality level of Seaquest DSV. It’s like a peek into the universe where Fox picked Doctor Who over Sliders in 1996. 

Reviewing it ends up feeling a lot like when I did comic reviews—that immensely frustrating sense week after week of going “you are failing at the most basic tasks of actually telling a coherent story.” Except comics are a low-paying medium run by companies more exploitative of both employees and customers than usual in which the reason people work is usually fannish love instead of actual talent. This is BBC One in the age of Peak Fucking Television, and it leaves you wishing they’d go hire Dan Weiss and David Benioff, who at least understand what earning your dramatic payoff should look like in the abstract, even if they can’t actually make it work. This isn’t even broadly shaped like coherent televisual narrative—it’s just vomiting a random set of concepts at the screen and hoping a point comes out somewhere.

Actually, that’s unfair—it’s perfectly willing to hammer you in the face with its point. And to its credit, its point is basically sympathetic. Not doing a climate change episode in 2020 would have been inconceivable. Given that, the utter lack of compromise in its message and the unwillingness to hide behind allegory was admirable. And sure, I’ve learned not to have any real hope that Doctor Who is going to suggest anything than warm platitudes about individual heroism. Obviously the strongest message about climate change that we can realistically hope for is “so recycle more” and not “so drag the billionaires who are profiting on the destruction of the world out of their houses and drown them.” It’s fine. Honestly, the cynical line about how the elites will abandon the planet and leave us all to die was better than I’d hoped for. Like I said, this is an episode with its heart in the right place. 

It’s just that it lacks literally any of the technical skill needed to make that heart remotely effective.

  • So… how does time work now? The declaration that it’s climate change that does humanity in makes it clear that the orphaning of the planet is near term instead of long term—this clearly isn’t happening in parallel with Starship UK or the whole Wirrin incident. So this is clearly the existence of a timeline in which large swaths of the future history of Earth that we’re familiar with doesn’t happen. And the Doctor’s declaration that this is one of a number of possible timelines is extremely weird and not how the future has ever appeared to work before. Moving between alternate universes is supposed to be hard, and yet it now appears to be how time travel works.
  • For that matter, when is the present? What parts of history are written? How subject to rewrites are they anymore? And more to the point when the fuck did all of this change?
  • Obvious answer, of course, is the re-destruction of Gallifrey. The fact that this didn’t happen after the Time War is just down to the Time Lords not actually being destroyed. Now they really are gone, so time works differently. And since this new understanding of time is obviously going to be completely ignored by every future story, it won’t be a problem when Gallifrey is inevitably brought back and time silently goes back to actually making a goddamn bit of sense.
  • And hey, at least the Doctor’s reaction to being the last of her kind is just to be a bit surly instead of vast cosmic angst. I suppose when you’ve lost the planet multiple times you stop being quite so upset about it. Honestly her reaction is probably more about “ugh I have to go fix that and that’s probably going to mean seeing the fucking Time Lords again” than it is “oh woe I am once more the last of my kind.”
  • Getting back to review instead of wild continuity speculation, I think the thing that really makes this episode so frustrating is that it’s probably going to remain in the top couple for the season. This is what success looks like these days. How utterly dispiriting.

Ranking

  1. Orphan 55
  2. Spyfall

Comments

anonymous 4 days, 17 hours ago

The whole "possible future" angle could work if one looks at Pyramids of Mars, where the Doctor takes his companions to 1980 and shows the a destroyed Earth thanks to Sutekh's evil schemes and unlimited power. To quote the scene:

"DOCTOR: That's the world as Sutekh would leave it. A desolate planet circling a dead sun.
SARAH: It can't be! I'm from 1980.
DOCTOR: Every point in time has its alternative, Sarah. You've looked into alternative time.
LAURENCE: Fascinating. Do you mean the future can be chosen, Doctor?
DOCTOR: Not chosen, shaped. The actions of the present fashion the future. "

So in regards to this episode, the future seen is the future if the issue of climate change isn't resolved and prevented. This is what will happen if those events play out. Much the same way that if the aliens managed to win in a standard episode of Doctor Who than that future Earth would be likewise destroyed.

So in essence this is a Doctor Who story set after the world-ending event that the Doctor normally prevents, but this time the only prevention is if humans do anything about it. It fits with what we've canonically seen before. So it's less moving between alternate universes and more that time can be rewritten constantly, that there is no fixed idea of 'the future', and that the timeline is constantly changing because that's what happens when a universe has time travel in it.

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Bedlinog 4 days, 14 hours ago

Yeah, but at least in Pyramids of Mars, the Doctor showed Sarah the future hellscape, and they then did what was necessary to prevent that happening.
In Orphan 55, the 'fam' are deeply shaken by the future hellscape, the Doctor makes a stirring speech about 'stepping up', and then we forget all about it, and go to New York to meet Tesla.
Because that's what people ought to do in relation to climate change, isn't it? Get a bit upset about how terrible it seems. Do some tokenistic hand-wringing. But then carry on regardless and ignore it and do something more fun.
So, yes. Climate change is scary and terrible. But let's not actually do anything about it.
Honestly, this show couldn't be more shit if it tried.

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Aylwin 4 days, 11 hours ago

That was fictional characters fixing a fictional problem. They can't really do anything about a real problem except grab the audience by the lapels and yell at them that *they* have to fix it. Or illustrate specific ways of doing that, but Doctor Who, with its magical technology and constantly changing settings, seems an ill-suited vehicle for going about that directly, rather than by analogy. This episode could certainly have done more of it, even if, as stated in the review, it was never plausibly likely to, but it's hard to see it being effective as an ongoing thing. Even if the ongoing series weren't being run by Chibnall, whom one imagines as being rather less committed than Hime here.

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TomeDeaf 4 days, 6 hours ago

The onus is on US, not the fictional characters.

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Dan L 4 days, 5 hours ago

But that's the same cop-out the people who are actually causing this problem use to avoid responsibility. The average viewer is going to come away from this episode thinking "yes, I should stop using plastic straws", not "I should stop voting for billionaires and their mates".

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TomeDeaf 4 days, 4 hours ago

Why would the average viewer think that? Did the episode say anything about plastic straws? It went as far as denouncing the rich elite whose fault it all was... (though yes, obviously, it ought to have gone further, but the BBC in 2020 on a Sunday evening between Countryfile and Call the Midwife is unlikely to go much further).

On which note, it's still kinda astonishing that *this* came between those two shows.

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Rodolfo Piskorski 4 days, 12 hours ago

Both Kill the Moon and The Long Game suggest that the future is not set.

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Paul M. Cray 4 days, 4 hours ago

Whenever the UNIT years were, they are decades passed now and the UK didn't have a crewed Mars programme in the 1970s, much less defence astronauts in Jupiter space a few years later, so I think we have to accept that almost the whole of DW is all set in a single timeline!

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David Claughton 3 days, 22 hours ago

Quite the opposite surely? If DW of yesteryear suggested the future contained Moonbases, Mars outposts and space stations around Jupiter and non of these things happened, that suggests the timeline has changed since, doesn't it?

As this blog has already pointed out any number of times, it's completely impossible to bring the whole of Doctor Who into a consistent Canon, simply because no-one in its entire history was much fussed about details like that.

I have a feeling it's possible to explain all or most of the series' inconsistencies if you take the approach from the "Time Travelers" novel of "we change history every time we step out of the Tardis" and accept the Doctor has been creating timelines left, right and center since An Unearthly Child. You might even be able to explain UNIT dating with this approach - but you might have to squint really really hard :-)

All of which means, I'm not especially worried about the multiple timeline explanation in this story, though it'd be better if this theory of time travel was the one Doctor Who explicitly blessed.

BTW, am I wrong or was the other security guard called Vor, like the company from last ep? Coincidence?

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CJM123 2 days, 6 hours ago

Guard's name was Vorm. Honestly, I think a lot of the characters in the script were written to be gender neutral, or at least easy to swap about.

Apart from Ryan's love interest, and possibly the old woman, every other character felt distinctly easy to swap about. An episode which has a female character called Kane (because she betrayed her family obviously) seems interested in being gender neutral in character naming at least.

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Alex 4 days, 16 hours ago

So Chibnall, as showrunner, should've helped shaped this script into something better, the way that Davies or Moffat did with their guest writers. But I bet Chibnall was like "Okay, looks good, love the environmental message at the end. I see you had Yaz being relevant to the story, please remove that, but otherwise good."

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Annie 4 days, 16 hours ago

To be fair, time in Doctor Who has never made sense.
From the first doctor's insistence they can't change anything in the past, to then constantly changing things in the future, and the show runners after seem to forget about it completely.
Russell T Davies tried to sort this out with the concept of fixed points in time but it wasn't a particularly compelling idea and Moffat over wrote it with his own version, where fixed points can be created and uncreated whenever the show feels like it.
There is also that strange bit in the angels take Manhattan where the idea that reading your future written down means that you can't change it, which the doctor of course ignores.

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Riggio 3 days, 3 hours ago

I think time travel in Doctor Who has attempted to make sense, and came closest to a coherent picture in the Moffat years. But that was the product of a few years of Moffat thinking through the nature of how time could work in a universe where there were no separate timelines per se, and no universal present either. He built on the idea Davies developed about fixed points, which was largely so that he could have some stories where "not one line" of history could change, and some where everything's all over the place.

The sense I got over the Moffat years was that the entire universe is a field of development, and that development process is time. When time travellers interfere in events, the field of development changes from what it would have been otherwise. Some events are relatively fixed points, when a whole lot of other events specifically depend on that central one occurring as it does. Most events are up for whatever flux time travellers end up causing. But time travellers don't make the universe split into multiple timelines. What happens is that the universe changes: the whole field of existence shifts around a bit.

Where constraints like Angels in Manhattan happen is that the knowledge of time travellers affects what they can change. So when a time traveller knows when and how some event is going to happen, it can cause paradoxes where the structure of existence all around you starts to break down. Once the Doctor knew the dates of Amy and Rory's deaths, he couldn't go back to interfere in their lives anymore, because it would have messed with the field of his own life. Or why Barbara couldn't change Aztec culture to help them better resist the Spanish invasion, because it would have radically altered the history of her own world and prevented the circumstances of her own birth.

That was the closest that time travel and changing history has come to making any kind of coherent sense in Doctor Who as far as I'm concerned. At least the most original conception of fluctuating history in Doctor Who, instead of just falling back on "not one line," Star Trek's alternate timelines, or Back to the Future's total chaos.

Judging by the way Hime and Chibnall had the Doctor talking in this episode, I'd say the ontology of time, knowledge, and omni-directional causality didn't make it into Moffat's transition package for the new crew.

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Christopher Brown 4 days, 15 hours ago

I know your observations about the timeline are for the sake of it rather than an ideological commitment to consistency in Doctor Who, but I definitely feel like throwing out established Who future history to emphasize the more imminent message of "there won't be humanity in the future if we don't solve climate change" is an okay thing :D if anything, it's thematically consistent with the era-defining rewrite-the-narrative themes of The Beast Below, ironically enough...reinforcing that thus far, Hime is the biggest successor to the Moffat approach.

I mean, based on It Takes You Away, that is. I'm not interested enough to actually watch Orphan 55.

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Dan L 4 days, 3 hours ago

Maybe the BBC are picturing:

Scientists: The very existence of humanity is at risk!
DW fan: [shrugs]
Chibnall: Doctor Who continuity is at risk!
DW fan: [sits up and takes notice]

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Christopher Brown 3 days, 18 hours ago

Hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha! :D

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Bedlinog 4 days, 13 hours ago

One of the predicted consequences of climate change (alluded to in this episode) is that loss of agricultural land (which did initiate the collapse of Syria, ultimately leading to the 2015 refugee crisis) will lead to societal break-down and mass migration.
One result will be that countries (such as Hungary) will start putting up border walls to keep out the 'invaders' and protect the nation.
Looked at from that point of view, Orphan 55, and the Dregs being simply monsters trying to break through, and deserving nothing more than to be shot at or locked up, becomes deeply morally ambiguous.
At least there was one character who wanted to blow up the luxury resort. Pity it wasn't the Doctor.

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CJM123 4 days, 9 hours ago

I think I'm more onboard with this episode than other people. The Doctor seemed pretty disgusted with the state of affairs.

Honestly, the dregs aren't necessarily good, but they are an old, weird science-fiction tradition starting with at least the Morlocks, though I'm sure someone else might be able to give an older example, pre-Darwin.

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FezofRassilon 4 days, 13 hours ago

I’m seeing a lot of people on twitter etc. saying this episode needed to deal with its theme with more subtlety, but also, hasn’t the time for subtlety passed with global warming?

Maybe the reason people feel preached to in climate change narratives like these is that they’re already aware of the issues but actually powerless to stop it? Or maybe because the characters themselves are powerless to stop it and so have to petition the audience?

I do think the episode is right to push the point, but I just can’t think of any particular time when environmental storytelling has been done well? If anyone knows of any, I’d live some recommendations.

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FezofRassilon 4 days, 13 hours ago

Wall-E. Obviously.

Maybe the problem is that the environmental themes aren’t actually that integral to the episode? Sure, it’s a ravaged Earth, but if it were any other planet it would turn out the same way? It’s seasoning rather than content.

Please let me know if this is bad analysis. I need to get better at criticism and I don’t want to just be another person ragging on Chibnall for bad faith reasons.

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Peeeeeeet 4 days, 13 hours ago

It's not specifically about global warming, but Edge of Darkness recently got remastered for Blu-Ray, and for the most part has weathered fairly well - definitely feels like it could have been an HBO mini-series from recent years.

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TheHabbadasher 4 days, 2 hours ago

I think Miyazaki's stuff - Mononoke, Nausicaä, and so on - tends to be about as good as it gets as far as environmental themes go.

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Christopher Brown 3 days, 18 hours ago

To that list, I'll add Mad Max: Fury Road (and maybe the previous three as well) and Godzilla vs. the Smog Monster :P

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Lambda 3 days, 15 hours ago

Earth Maiden Arjuna is explicitly environmentalist, and I remember it being good, although it's a very long time since I saw it and my critical faculties were minimal at the time so I may be totally off.

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RobertSaysThis 4 days, 12 hours ago

In the same way that the Moon that’s an Egg isn’t the same Moon as the one in The Moonbase because the real world’s concept of the future has changed, I think the structure of the future in Doctor Who will splinter into multiple possibilities the harder it becomes to convince ourselves we have any kind of future at all. The canon of the show is something that’s not stronger than the widespread idea of what the past and future are, and this might be the beginning of it morphing to fit— in which case this is a watershed moment for Doctor Who in a similar way to Kill The Moon; a different bit of the past’s concept of the future snapping under the strain.

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Prole Hole 4 days, 9 hours ago

I would have thought an obvious point of comparison here would have been the Haemovores from "The Curse Of Fenric" and I'm surprised nobody's brough them up yet. We're not given much of a reason for their "alternative timeline" either - certainly nothing like the Pyramids Of Mars scene - they're just presented as mutated examples of humanity due to environmental catastrophe much as the Dregs are here. You can do a bit of hand-waving "Fenric is powerful enough because he's evilevilfromthedawnoftime" but it's still functionally "this is the story about environmental catastrophe we want to tell" but in the 80's rather than the 2010's. I'm not defending the weird, clumsy timeline business here (even one line about "the teleport interfered with the TARDIS so some other timeline thingy happened" would fix this and should have been there) but it's not unprecedented.

What a mess this episode was, I had such high hopes for it after "It Takes You Away". Nice thought, shame about the execution. Also, if your story doesn't require fifteen million characters, don't write fifteen million characters. Especially not if the only defining characteristic of one of them is going to be "cheap green wig".

(That's a cheap shot. I appreciate the idea of paralleling the familial relationship between Graham and Ryan with the father-and-son bonding - basically the same emotional arc carried one in one episode rather than over the course of one season - although I don't think the episode works hard enough to land it. Though "I don't think the episode works hard enough to land it" is pretty much my review of this episode).

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Aylwin 4 days, 12 hours ago

Yes to all of this. Though, for all that I've mostly been crochety about it, I'm perhaps marginally more sympathetic to it for at least making the attempt, and being willing to be explicit about it. Given that it's probably the only time this will be addressed, though, it's a real shame that it fluffed its shot to the extent it did.

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Bennett 4 days, 11 hours ago

Love that phrase "sugar rush of momentum". It's absolutely bang on.

There's a moment towards the end of this story where Kane reappears ten minutes after her sacrifice scene, seemingly running in from the rest of the group without explanation or even a beat. In that moment I honestly wasn't sure if she had been there the whole time. Even reviewing it I can't tell you if we got the intended story beat, or whether she pulled a reverse-Boatswain in the edit.

For me, this story was wall-to-wall moments like that. So many characters pulling so many story threads with nothing but pace and ADR to hold it together. Which is fine if it helps us get to the meat of what the writer wants quicker, but not when that ends up just as perfunctory and under-cooked.

It's very frustrating because it has all the ingredients of an episode I would like, but instead of getting served a delicious meal I have to sit and watch the chefs frantically spinning plates without knowing why they are doing it.

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Annie 4 days, 11 hours ago

Ive recently started re-watching series 1 of Doctor Who and I find it depressing and somewhat poignant that the show 15 years ago was much more abrupt and heartfelt in tackling the issues of today than the modern show is, I prefer the ninth doctors rebellious anti-authority vibe over the 13th doctors much more passive stance.
I'm on the long game, an episode I didn't much like when it first came out but now i'm amazed at how Davies was able to capture how important media and those who manipulate the media are able to push particular agendas to manipulate society, The dialogue was a lot better in series one as well.

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kevin merchant 4 days, 10 hours ago

"Only a being of Sutekh's power can alter the future": Maybe human's have now reached the ability tobe as destructive as Sutekh so multiple timelines are possible.

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prandeamus 4 days, 9 hours ago

Still haven't bothered to watch this season, partly because of family circumstance but partly because I've been spoilered and don't think much of what I've seen. I'm dutifully wheeling out the DVR and I'll watch some time.

The consistent theme from this episode reaction seems to be the Doctor not actually fixing anything. While I respect a move away from "great man" theories and "white English guy fixes stuff for the natives" tropes, the passivity of the lead role and failure to resolve situations seems like a dramatic idiot ball.

May have a different view when I actually watch. :)

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Kazin 4 days, 9 hours ago

So what's up with the relationships between parents and their children this series so far? In Spyfall there's Lenny Henry and his mum, and this one has the parent/child pair, and in both instances, the kid tries to kill their parent (and in Lenny Henry's case, succeeds).

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co 4 days, 8 hours ago

The un-characterizations of the guests wreak havoc with the plot---all we know of Benni is that he is going to propose to a woman whom we've also just been introduced to. That's literally it--we know nothing else about him, ever. And yet "saving" him becomes the hinge of the episode's second act---it's just ciphers sacrificing themselves to save other ciphers. what a mess this show is, writing-wise.

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TheWrittenTevs 4 days, 8 hours ago

During "It Takes You Away", Ed Heim seems to be doing an variation of a Moffat era story, all shifts between multiple genres that resolve into a fairy tale aesthetic about the need to move on from things. Here, we instead seem to get an Ed Heim who's actually watched Chibnall's Who and now starts recreating that instead, all massive groups of people walking across desolate planets and improvising their way through great swaves of technobabble while delivering aesops to each other.

Through it all, there does seem to be the constant aim of out-Chibnalling Chibnall. Oh, you like bleak, grimdark landscapes - here's the entirety of humanity's future turned into a grey landscape. You like ensemble plots - here's the biggest cast list Doctor Who has had in years. And you want a science moral for the kids - well I'm going to end it with Jodie Whitaker literally talking to camera about the themes of the episode.

The thing is, Ed Hime has been able to find a topic that actually justifies what's going on here. The horror of climate change right now is that it's about to mark humanity's official end date, yet we're still here shouting at each other and are increasingly flagging behind the issue, requiring us to significantly catch up right now if we want to anything about it. While watching the episode and having to divy our attention between the insane cast list while racing to keep up with a plot that's aggressively speeding to its end point, we end up feeling like we're constantly behind the curve, holding on while things threaten to fall apart at any time. And so the structure of the piece makes us feel the same terrors that it argues global warming should inspire. Set in a land defined by the horrors of global warming, the episode becomes defined by these horrors too, putting us as an audience through the wringer as much as it puts its characters. The tropes of Chibnall era are ramped up until they match the horrors of climate change.

I kept thinking back to your review of "It Takes You Away" and your idea that that shows how close the Chibnall era is working. To me, "Orphan 55" presents a similar thing from another perspective: it takes the tropes and narrative techniques of the Chibnall era, thinks about what types of stories can be told through these tropes, then writes a story using them.

And I think it works on these levels, while remaining consistent with the type of writer Ed Heim seems to be based on "It Takes You Away". It might be a bit too much of a "Warmonger" or "The Two Doctor" redemptive reading, but it's the one that kept coming to mind while watching it and is one that did make the episode feel quite bold and brash in all of its maximalist trappings.

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Alex Watts 4 days, 8 hours ago

I did appreciate that there was a degree of thematic unity on display here that's not been normal for Chibnall's Who.

We have a base under siege full of parents and children trying to relate to each other, and then the broader canvas of the episode reveals that the monsters are humanity's own abused children.

It feels like it knows what 'being about something' looks like and is doing that. Good?

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Riggio 4 days, 6 hours ago

Good for the Chibnall years anyway. I feel like I'd expected lowering expectations a little, since I never thought Chibnall was going to equal one of Moffat's masterpieces like World Enough and Time / The Doctor Falls. But sometimes, it disappoints me that this overstuffed yet otherwise solid and thematically stimulating story will probably be among the best of the season, instead of an above-average entry with a fair share of benefits and flaws.

I feel like this year will be an improvement over the last, but overall I think the next era of Doctor Who will progress by learning from Chibnall's mistakes. It's a shame, but I'm comforted by thinking of what followed from the Saward years.

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Elizabeth Sandifer 4 days, 5 hours ago

Inevitable cancelation?

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Nick Brough 2 days, 21 hours ago

It feels like this is Chibnall's plan to me. Certain levels in the BBC has never liked Doctor Who and Science fiction, so failing to force Chibnall to fix the obvious quality issues from Series 11 feels deliberate. The other alternative is that having selected Chibnall/Whitaker they can't loose face by getting rid of them.

The overnight audience in the UK is already the bottom end of Series 11 and looks like declining further at the moment.

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(Not That) Jack 2 days, 4 hours ago

All levels in the BBC like money, and Doctor Who's made a lot of bank for them since 2005. If they wanted to kill Doctor Who they just could have let Moffat leave after season nine and just not replaced him.

No, the sad truth is that someone at the BBC thought Chibnall was a good, safe choice, had Moffat come back for a year he didn't plan on just to give Chibnall time to start, gave him a sweetheart time slot for his first year between two highly rated shows, and he's simply doing a bad job. There's no conspiracy to kill Doctor Who at the highest levels of the BBC. They just picked the wrong guy.

Simple fact is, if the BBC wants the show gone, they'll just cancel it. They won't spend millions on producing a deliberately lousy show to justify canceling it. They'll just kill it.

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Edward Craft 4 days, 5 hours ago

As a long-time Who fan (Pertwee was MY Dr) this may end up being the episode that makes me throw the towel in - what a heap of steaming rubbish!

Woefully written with plot holes that beggar belief:

We're being attacked by aliens so lets send out a squad including an old bat and a kid.To rescue a minor character who's then killed off-screen anyway.

The human race have evolved into apex predators on a world with no prey - so how have they survived at all?

Climate change is going to turn the planet into a radioactive wasteland - ummm, what?

I have no issue with Whittaker as the Dr - she's a far better actor that some who have taken the role. But for God's sake, why did they appoint Chibnell as showrunner. Because of his sterling work on Camelot? Move it to Sundays when kids won;t watch it. Ditch the Christmas day episodes. Take a 12-month break to lose any momentum for JW fans. Give the DR a unisex outfit to flog more costumes to the dwindling fanbase. Fill the tardis will too many companions to share a story.. for 'inclusivity'.

If it gets cancelled due to plumetting ratings the cause will be obvious.

Never mind - we've got next weeks pseudo-historical to look forward to. Chibnell must have been one of the six people in Britain what watched last years 'The Current Wars'. And then thought he could fix a hollywood-budget turkey by throwing BBC money at it.

A waste of the talents of everyone involved.

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Nick R 2 days, 9 hours ago

"Climate change is going to turn the planet into a radioactive wasteland - ummm, what?"

I thought the episode said that climate change leads to war, which then escalates to nuclear war, leading to the wasteland?

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CJM123 4 days, 5 hours ago

My proposition: Ed Hime is the most ambitious Doctor Who writer of the Chibnell era. He has an image he wants to show and creates a script with as many twists and turns as possible to get there.

Last time that led to an otherwise brilliant episode with a weird goblin that wasn't necessary but got made up for with the setting, the moment Ryan finds the speaker system and the entirety of the Doctor talking to a puppet frog that was also a sentient universe about the wonders of life. It was a strange episode, but one that was so nostalgic and ultimately joyful it made up for it.

This time Hime (I don't know if that rhymes actually) sets up an episode with an either bigger twist, one that is sort of very dispiriting. Doctor Who is not going to save anyone, and maybe the world isn't just in danger, but totally doomed. And starts with some of the most light-hearted Doctor Who since possibly Arachnids or even Empress of Mars. But it's in an episode with at least one set of characters too many, poor editing and, as Twitter's big takeaway from episode was, animal people worse than New Earth.

Still I admire it, and Hime's style, for trying something incredibly weird. Unlike the twist in Kerblam! which felt like a twist on the formula for its own sake, this twist felt less like a twist and more a casual rejigging of the way Doctor Who works. How often do we see the fallout from other planets' political messes?

Finally, I'd put money on Ed Hime reading Iain M Banks.

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CJM123 4 days, 5 hours ago

Serious No-Prize time I guess. Some member of The Guardians, probably the White Guardian, set up those hologram cubes to send them into an alternative universe for a strange reason. Perhaps to get the Doctor to finally give up on "Being the last of her kind".

Or, as our reality breaks down, so must Doctor Who's. Alchemy as a two-way process. You can change so much but only if you change with it.

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Camestros Felapton 4 days, 4 hours ago

The episode annoyed me in various ways but overall it feels like the show is finding its feet again. There was more boldness to the episode than last season that (aside from the frog god) always felt like it was backing away whenever it encountered an interesting idea.

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TheMagister 3 days, 23 hours ago

They were teleported to the Tardis. Spacially, not time-wise. Why could the Doctor not have TARDISed back to Orphan 55 to save Kane and Bella?

You could ask the question if either would have deserved it, sure, but that's the Doctor's way, right?

Also, if Hime had really wanted to be obvious with the message, the Sylas plot would have been more developed, to make the allegory for all the youth climate movements. But I guess that would have taken away from all those lovely Benni and Vilma scenes.

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Rodolfo Piskorski 2 days, 23 hours ago

But don't you see your own point? Benni and Vilma are the other side of the equation, the boomers who don't realise how severe the situation is and actually make the situation worse. Benni is also literally privileged in that he has an oxygen tank, so he can survive while the others are indebted to the oxygen machine. You're supposed to find them annoying!

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taiey 2 days, 13 hours ago

...I didn't.

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Scurra 3 days, 23 hours ago

I'm starting to tend more and more towards 'the "and then the Capaldi Doctor woke up and it was all a dream" at the end of next season' interpretation (well, perhaps not that trite although this is Chibnall that we're talking about.)
There are so many obvious inconsistencies with established canon (yeah, yeah, alright) for someone who really does know something about the show that I genuinely can't believe it isn't really going somewhere. And if Chibnall agreed a three-year deal with the BBC then he may have planned something properly long-term.

That doesn't take away from the obvious problem that most episodes of this era have felt like Classic six-parters compressed down to 45m by cutting out the middle episodes but without any attempt to make them coherent.

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Alan 3 days, 21 hours ago

I am astonished at the positive comments about Orphan 55 and gobsmacked to see it ranked above Spyfall. I mean, Spyfall wasn't /good/ by any means, but I never felt like I was watching a train wreck in horrified fascination.

Not one character had comprehensible motivations for anything they did. The entire plot depended on Kane being unable to recognize her own adult daughter. Oh, that an Kane loading up all the civilians into a vehicle and taking them out into the badlands to get killed. Were there literaly only 2 security people on a planet with hostile indigenous creatures? Oh, and let's not forget Kane's adult daughter picking the perfect time to punish her mother for being an absentee parent by becoming a bomb-throwing terrorist. But not just bombs -- she also had access to a virus that could affect humans, computers, and (apparently) fuel.

I had a brief moment of hope when they revealed that Orphan 55 was the former Earth because I thought (like Elizabeth suggested) that it might tie into the Spaceship UK/Ark In Space solar flares. But no, it was just a clumsy tacked on environmentalist PSA. And worse, exactly the sort of environmental PSA that is the reason why nothing will be done about climate change.

Because among people who reject evidence for climate change, the usual rationale is that it's /not real/. It's just an alarmist hoax being pushed by crazy liberals and pointy-headed scientists and tv/movie celebrities who think they're so smart but who've probably never even read the Bible!

So what are these conservatives going to make of Orphan 55? Well, it's a tv show pushed by the "liberal" BBC under the auspices of an "SJW producer and star" using incredibly shoddy science to push a tacked-on ecology message meant to guilt trip people over global warming without offering any remotely viable suggestions on how to fix things. All we know is, if we don't do /something/ everyone will die except for the ones who evolve into "apex predators" that can adapt to lasers and also apparently don't need food. The episode was almost a caricature of what a conservative might imagine a liberal "environmentally conscious DW episode" to be.

TBH, I think Orphan 55 is more proof for my theory that Chibnall is actually very conservative but thinks he has to push what he considers a "liberal agenda "on DW. But he has no idea how to do so, so he churns out episodes that are a conservatives impression of what a liberal might say.

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CJM123 3 days, 9 hours ago

This episode isn't aimed at us. It's aimed at the kids watching. And the kids watching are who this is trying to impress climate change on.

Not to say that Doctor Who isn't for lots of people, but why should the solar flares, something that was last mentioned 10 years ago be used. The point of the episode is the twist.

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Alan 2 days, 21 hours ago

The "twist" that the dead planet was Earth was shocking only to people who've never watched television before. Twilight Zone was constructing episodes around "We were on Earth the whole time!" before I was born.

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Nick Brough 2 days, 20 hours ago

Well that's a bit stupid then. I doubt many kids will have appreciated laying the message with a trowel and limited skill using a facile lecture to push home the point at the end. Complete turn-off I'd guess (not being 10 anymore).

Not withstanding that, if Global Warming is going to be acted up and you believe the 11 years until extinction/end of the world/its too late to fix anymore, then by the time they grow up and have some political power to change shit it will be years too late.

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Dave 2 days, 11 hours ago

Isn't it more about engaging with an issue that kids are most likely to be concerned with? The idea seems to be an inversion of how family TV would traditionally be expected to work, with the kids taking the upper hand in any conversation that would follow the episode rather than the old 'kids turn to adults for more information on what's come up in the episode' model. That would explain the bluntness - not because the material earlier in the episode would go above their heads but because it directly references stereotypical homelife as it occurs now...

I'm still not sure how well I think the closing speech worked, but I do think there's thought behind it beyond the old 'rammed down my throat' messaging that some people complain about.

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Rodolfo Piskorski 2 days, 9 hours ago

So I was frustrated by how negative the responses to this episode were in some quarters. Some Gallifrey Base posters were genuinely interested in knowing why I liked it, so I decided to put down my thoughts, or rather, my approach to an Ed Hime episode.

Ed Hime's style

I believe Hime is a very subtle writer, and when I pointed this out people thought it was hilarious, because they were thinking of The Speech™. But I mean in the details.

A random example from It Takes You Away are the t-shirts. Hanne was wearing an Arctic Monkeys t-shirt, over which Yaz bonds with her, and then Hanne reveals that her mother liked the band. So mother and daughter had that in common, which is then contrasted with Erik's Slayer t-shirt. It conveys very quick characterisation about parental allegiances, about the fact that Hanne lost the parent she was closer to and then was abandoned by the other. Similarly, it casts light in Erik's interest in keeping mother and daughter separate.

Orphan 55's themes

Anyways, back to Orphan 55, which I have to say I watched only once. So I might watch again and find fault with the editing, like many did, even though I didn't find them in the first viewing, or many other things. But I want to make a case for why the episode makes sense.

Like ITYA, this episode does a genre switcheroo: from a B-movie about monsters caused by pollution, we get a harrowing cautionary tale / disaster movie. But as if nested inside a dome, before the genre switch, there is a detailed allegory which already connects to the issue of climate change, which I think is actually more polemical and controversial than the blunt message about global warming: the generational divide in modern society (especially British).

OK, Boomer

55 years of age is when the baby boomer age bracket starts. The episode is about the orphans of the baby boomers. Which takes us to Vilma and Bennie.

They are fucking annoying. And they are supposed to be. We are introduced to them via the saccharine image of the marriage proposal plan, which is an odd look for such an old couple. Proposals are promises and hopes for the future, but they don't have that long (Bennie is clearly ill, after all). It conveys the erroneous belief that there is a future ahead, even though prospects are dire.

This is made most acute when Bennie goes outside the dome. How does he do it? He has the material resources: an oxygen tank. As the episode Oxygen taught us, in scenarios such as these, oxygen is literally currency. He is a wealthy boomer who is shielded from the effects of the devastation around him. This is especially obvious when we encounter him again, captured by the monsters. The structure of his two questions (marry me? and kill me?) points to the cluelessness I pointed before: even when things are clearly going wrong and ending, he is still acting as if there is a future to look forward to. And there is his levity, his light tone: I honestly read this as his being literally high on oxygen, riding the wave of his privilege, which can happen if you sniff too much from an oxygen canister. (Which I believe explains why he is alive: the Doctor is very curious why the monsters don't kill him, and then after that we see her try to sniff the monster's breath. I think she concluded they kept him alive because, with his oxygen supply, he could produce CO2 for them.)

This makes the oxygen rationing by the others still more cruel, as it shows that the resources that Bennie has must be preciously guarded and sparingly used by the others, and constantly paid back to the oxygen reader by refilling it.

These kinds of allegorical mini set pieces are spread throughout the episode. Yes, everyone goes into the bus thingy together, when some could have stayed safe in the hotel. Well, maybe the Doctor reasoned that everyone would be safer with her (I don't really remember what she says when they all decide go), but that's not the most interesting part: the relevant aspect is the image of everyone "in the same boat", tossed back and forth by the calamity, and all because of Bennie, who cannot even grasp the severity of the situation anyway! Certainly when Vilma dies it is indeed a relief, as she renounces the selfishness that he represented and helps the other, bequeathing something useful to them: more time.

Bella and Kane

Let's go to Ryan and Bella. She is introduced right after Ryan is infected by the virus. One aspect of the virus treatment plan is to suck on your thumb. So Ryan and Bella first see each other like this: two big babies sucking on their thumbs. It creates an instant parallelism between them, which is grounded on their characterisation as children - meaning both young and offspring.

Bella is a literal orphan whose father has died. She was his carer, so she was keeping a positive inter-generational thread alive there. The scene when the Doctor clumsily interrupts their flirting is funny because it makes Ryan say out loud how cringy their topic of conversation was, but it also highlights their similarity as orphans. (After that, they bond over their precarious employment - unemployment in her case - which I think points to the precarious lives left for young people.) So both Bella and Ryan had one parent die and another abandon them, but of course much of the episode will show us that Ryan has more or less already healed, and that he disagrees with Bella's reactions.

Bella is mad with Kane. It is framed in dialogues in a silly "didn't come to my birthdays" thing, but what we are actually shown is more serious. Bella resents what Kane did instead of parenting her: the hotel business venture. Not only that, she is rebelling against Kane's idea of what she needs to bequeath to her child. Kane of course justifies her actions by saying she was building that business so she could leave it to Bella. Which leads us to our exhibit #2 of generational selfishness. Kane may tell herself that she is doing that for the next generation, that she needs to guarantee Bella's well-being, but that is what people always tell themselves, isn't it? Think of the children. But they never mean all children. So Kane knew what was going on and was exploiting the situation. She allegedly wanted to give Bella prosperity, when what Bella wanted was a different inheritance. Not some kind of blank cheque in the future, but the actual closing of the generational gap. And, even though Bella as a character does not seem to have as motivation defending the environment or avenging its destruction, her attack symbolises that: a rejection of the previous generation that believes they can bequeath worse worlds as long as they provide for their own children.

But Bella of course is wrong. The episode is very clear on that. It says that inter-generational war is in no way a solution to the problem. So when Kane and Bella reconcile, it shows that the generations have to work together, forgive each other to solve the problem. Kane has to save the "children" (represented by Ryan, Yaz, and the green-haired kid) from the problems she either created or appeased, and Bella must renounce her revenge and help her. Crucially, Bella repeats the thumb-sucking gesture to remind both us and Ryan that this happens: "look at us, both orphans, abandoned, and this is how I'm dealing now".

(Crucial to all these inter-generational tensions is the very peculiar scene of Graham feeling very anxious with dread for Ryan. The scene makes a point of showing us how Graham cares for him so as dispel any idea that these clashes could be happening between them.)

Nevi and Sylas

The other inter-generational pair we have is Nevi and Sylas. I believe they represent the other response to the generational clash, with the parent unwilling to consider the knowledge and experience (even if little) of the child. Of course, Sylas storms out and endangers even more people when he continues being ignored, but surely it is understandable that he is frustrated? That children sometimes get to do that? But they show the "correct" response to the clash. They put their differences aside, Nevi recognises that he needs the knowledge of his child, and the child reaches out. Parents can inherit from their children, too.

All of this happens before we even know that the planet is Earth and that the problem was global warming and climate change, but the themes are already here of parents bequeathing shitty planets/futures to their children. When we learn what an orphan planet is (which is before the plot twist), we get the same idea of one generation leaving the future generations behind, stranded, orphaned.

Okay, then we see the Doctor learning the monsters expire O2 and that the planet suffered global warming and war. Then she realises it's the earth. (I'll discuss whether this is well-done, or "cool", later).

The Dreg's Dilemma

Then we get the scene which I suspect may very well have been the initial seed of the episode: the Dreg's environmental dilemma. The Doctor creates an artificial closed environment inside the room where they are with the monster. Since she now knows they are breathing each other's expired gases, she puts the Dreg in the position of humanity, and the Doctor (and Bella? who was there with her?) are trees, nature, the ecosystem. The Dreg may very well benefit in the short term from killing his enemies, but in that closed environment without them, he will suffocate. He wouldn't be able to open the door (i.e. we have only one planet). It's a stalemate, and the Dreg realises that only de-escalating it any of them can survive. He has to accept the terms imposed by the Doctor, who is literally his life support system. So in that way, the Dreg was wiser than his human ancestors who did not accept nature's terms. Of course, the cruel irony is that the elite could indeed escape. And here spaceships stand alongside oxygen tanks as markers of privilege. In practice, climate change will not affect everyone equally and the elite may be able to shield themselves, maybe indefinitely. (Btw, I don't think that flimsy cage could actually contain the monster. He stepped in willingly to give time for the Doctor to escape, to signal that he would give time.)

The Speech

So now we have to talk about The Speech™. Three things.

First: I was already waiting for one. When the Doctor revealed the Earth twist to the companions, it was obvious to me that we would need one of those end-of-episode TARDIS talks in which the Doctor would explain the significance of the events to the companions. Not only that, but it was obvious to me that the Doctor - and the show - would need to explain what kind of time travel conventions we are really following here. As I knew the episode was absolutely not going to suggest we are fated to destroy ourselves, I was patiently waiting for the moment when the Doctor was going to come up with an explanation similar to that given to Clara in Kill The Moon: just because we saw the moon in the future, doesn't mean the moon won't get destroyed today. The future in is flux. And just like in that episode, the tone is of moral dilemma, which requires that kind of time travel mechanics. (I first thought it was clumsy, but I then liked that they discuss the Earth reveal while actively holding off the wave of monsters, as if holding the future at bay.)

Second: There is a funny gag during the episode regarding the chirpy AI voice system. Everything is falling apart and the tannoy messages are very relaxing and lively. But the funniest line for me is when it says "if you can hear this message, you shouldn't be here". I laughed at the moment. It's some sort of Douglas Adams joke, like a button that says "do not press this button" and if you press it it says "please don't do that again". It almost says "you should not be hearing this message". And that is precisely it. Yes, the message is absurd and the tone is off, but why the hell are you hearing it anyway? The only reason you're hearing it is because you didn't act yet, you didn't evacuate the hotel, you didn't address the issue.

Third: while I believe the Doctor's message starts with the tone I described in my first point, I actually think it's quite funny! It reverts back to B-movie style, to "lake monster caused by pollution" when it shows the last shot of the monster. This is precisely the kind of tonal shifts and genre mix-ups I would expect from someone who wrote ITYA, including the way it manipulates the conventions and structures of a Doctor Who episode.

Conclusion

So this is my attempt to explain why I enjoyed the episode: it was thematically coherent and its themes were woven with a loving (but also wittily self-referential) craft into the details. The mix of the suspense, the big ideas, the plot twists, the weirdness, the delicate attention to characterisation and symbolism, the unexpected humour, the playing with DW conventions is the reason why I think Ed Hime is the best writer of the Chibnall era (a low bar, I know...)

Other random things I liked

I was actually one of the people agreeing with that guy Ryan that Thirteen was not being written as the Doctor, at least until Spyfall. But this episode completely debunks that theory, as she is absolutely and completely Doctorish. Love it.

I liked the Earth reveal, I got chills. Maybe because I never saw Planet of the Apes or the Classic Who episodes with similar twists, but it was fresh to me.
The (admittedly very little) confrontation by the companions of the Doctor regarding if she had known all along it was the Earth

The off-putting scene when Ryan is infected, as we are not sure if it's being played for laughs or if this is the point when things are already going downhill. I think it fits with the themes of the episode of people not realising how severe the problem is.

Things I didn't like

The episode is very short, so many things have to happen quickly, which makes it difficult for them to breathe. I think all the characters are important for the point of the episode, but the episode needed to be longer to explore them more, especially Nevi and Sylas.

It looks very stupid that a coupon can teleport people from out of the TARDIS and even more stupid that something can then take them back.

Score: I gave it an 8/10, but I'm considering giving it a 9/10. Spyfall 1 and 2 were 8 and 10 for me. Series 11 average for me was 6.2, with 10 for ITYA and 3 for Resolution.

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Paul F Cockburn 2 days, 8 hours ago

“We are introduced to [Vilma and Bennie] via the saccharine image of the marriage proposal plan, which is an odd look for such an old couple. Proposals are promises and hopes for the future, but they don't have that long (Bennie is clearly ill, after all). It conveys the erroneous belief that there is a future ahead, even though prospects are dire.”

I must admit my assumption was that Bennie wanted to marry Vilma to ensure she was, legally, his widow when he died—simplifying inheritance issues, etc. But then, I’m sometimes just an old romantic at heart!

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CJM123 2 days, 6 hours ago

I'm something of an old romantic, and assumed Benni asked about marriage at the end not because he thought he had a future, but because he wanted to show Vilma how much he had valued/believed in their relationship.

I've known old couples who have got married for both the practical answer you give, and to just show that this was something they were happy to define as their love.

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Andrew 2 days, 9 hours ago

Well, I didn't hate this episode but it wasn't good. I actually enjoyed Spyfall I and II a lot more. To me, Orphan 55 harks back to the mid 80s, my least favorite era of classic Doctor Who, with muddled scripts and lackluster production values.

Lets talk script first. There is too much in it. It suffers from what I am now calling The Rise of Skywalker problem, where every vague idea the writer had is shoved into big sticky mass in the hopes that something will stick.

The result is a) half the plotlines just don't work because they are just not good. And b) the plotlines that are potentially good don't have time to resolve properly. Orphan55 would have been much stronger had it been a lot simpler.

On to production - for a big budget flagship show, this episode sure looked cheap. Hyph3n (love the "with a 3") looked like something out of a school play. The Dregs were OK but a very uninspired design.

But the biggest problem I had was with the direction. Did we even see a shot with the human cast and the dregs in the same frame? Instead we get lots of shots a dregs looking vaguely menacing and lots of humans reacting but it is hard to tell where the dregs. Are they close? Are they moving fast? Who knows?

The action scenes should have been the focus of the episode (if you are going to rip of Alien, at least do it well) but instead they look like a zero-budget straight-to-dvd horror film from 1998.

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Sedric-and-Charlie 2 days, 2 hours ago

I do sincerely wonder if the deal with Hyph3n was that she was made to look like a panto dog to in some eccentric way recanonise the cheap production effects of 20th Century Who, but maybe I'm overthinking it

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Jesse 1 day, 18 hours ago

It's impressive, in a way, that this managed to be both aesthetically conservative in the least interesting way possible *and* politically progressive in the least interesting way possible. Like someone mashed up the worst base-under-siege script of the '60s with a public service announcement.

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