Title: ‘Orphan 55’
Release Date: 12 January 2020
Network: BBC One
Genre: Science Fiction, Drama
I was skeptical after watching the next time trailer for ‘Orphan 55’. James Buckley’s wild green hair had me worried. The Doctor and his ‘fam’ take an all-inclusive holiday to Tranquility Spa. Of course, not all is as it seems.
Two soldiers, Vorm and Kane (played by the magnificent Laura Fraser), are aware of an internal breach to the Spa, something is on the loose, and Ryan becomes infected by a vending machine virus. For all that’ll be said about this episode, Laura Fraser’s performance was a highlight.
I found myself instantly rooting for Ryan and Bella upon their introduction. Ryan’s fumbling charm goes down well with Bella as he fails to decide if he’s a pilot or a surgeon.
Everything is moving at a nice pace. The Doctor investigates a linen cupboard (in reality, a deadlocked security room) as something begins to attack guests. All of a sudden, as sharp, flashing cuts provide the first glimpses at the skeletal, toothy Dregs, the Tranquility Spa doesn’t appear to be very tranquil, or safe.
At this point, it’s time for the first criticism of the episode — James Buckley’s green hair. Worse still was the burning question as to why his character was added to the story in the first place. He plays maintenance engineer Nevi, father to Sylas. Throughout the episode, Sylas outsmarts him with his knowledge of maintenance engineering, suggesting ‘Orphan 55’ would have worked better if Sylas was cast without a father.
By the end, I felt Nevi served no relevance to the story and progression of the plot, underwhelmed by everyone and everything else. At times, I forgot he was even there.
Orphan 55 Revealed
So there are walls around Tranquility, as it’s revealed another world exists beyond the Spa. If this is the second act of the episode, this is where it all starts to go wrong.
The spa’s built on an orphan planet, a barren, apocalyptic wasteland which is also home to the Dregs. Now I feel like they’ve stepped into a new story, considering the radical direction this episode takes. The spa remains essential to the story going forward, but it’s a question of whether or not the apocalyptic landscape and a hotel spa really work together.
The story welcomes several plot twists; revealing Bella as Kane’s daughter, a woman we discover doesn’t have much of a conscience, the deaths of two instantly forgettable characters in Benni and Hyph3n, (Hyphen with a 3, so annoying), followed by Vilma’s noble sacrifice in the tunnels against the Dregs.
But the biggest twist to come is that Orphan 55 is actually…, Earth!. The tunnels are a Siberian Underground Station, Novosibirsk, and the Dregs (humanoid versions of the Cloverfield monster, in my opinion), are actually human survivors from nuclear fallout. Yet this story started as an all-inclusive holiday at Tranquility Spa…
Meanwhile, Bella begins her plans to sabotage the hotel, an act of payback against an unoriginal estranged mother/daughter storyline. The story starts to move toward its conclusion, and this is where, unfortunately, it goes from bad to worse.
A Message On Global Warming
Graham, Ryan, and Yaz question what caused the devastation across Earth, and transformed it into an orphan planet. The message is clear: It’s global warming. It’s a global disaster that went ignored and subsequently destroyed nearly all life on Earth. From the collapse of the food chain, mass migration, and eventually war, everything falls apart, and the Dregs are what remain.
Kane swoops in to save her daughter, and they go on to fight the Dregs alone, as the others teleport back to the TARDIS. There’s hope Ryan and Bella’s story will continue later in the series, and further wishes to see more of Laura Fraser’s Kane.
In 2013, during Matt Smith’s era, Steven Moffat gave us the episode ‘Let’s Kill Hitler.’ Undoubtedly it was a tricky storyline to work with considering. Still, ultimately, Hitler was given no more than five minutes of screentime before he was pushed into a cupboard and forgotten about. The story changed direction so radically that by the end, it had me wondering why they’d set the story in 1938 Berlin in the first place.
‘Orphan 55’ suffers from the same problem. It opens on Tranquility Spa, but by the end, they’re delivering us a message of an impending catastrophe that will happen if we fail to act against global warming. ‘Orphan 55’ was a universe away from the strong two-part opener. It reached a disappointing conclusion to a story that could have gone a completely different way, and as a result, may have been salvaged.
It wasn’t all bad. There were exciting character developments between Ryan and Bella, as well as the magnificently heartless Laura Fraser. On the flip side, James Buckley’s Nevi was pointless and forgettable. It feels like ‘Orphan 55’ was effectively a galactic metaphor in warning us against the dangers of global warming. A real low point to Season 12.
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- Laura Fraser - cold and brilliant
- Ryan and Bella romance
- The Dregs
- James Buckley's green hair
- Vilma and Benni
- The story's radical shift in direction halfway through
- Hyphen with a 3