Well to say Series 12 started with a massive game changing two part story in ‘Spyfall’ would be an understatement to say the least. Not only did with have a new threat in the form of an inter-dimensional race known as ‘the Kasavin’ but also the return of The Master. But the biggest chance came in the reveal that The Master personally destroyed Gallifrey, leaving it in a ruined state due to discovering that the very foundation of the Time Lords is a lie, leaving the 13th Doctor in shock and anger.
But now episode 3 ‘Orphan 55’ will take the Doctor, Graham, Yaz and Ryanand the Doctor to a luxury holiday on an alien planet. But their stay at Tranquillity Spa becomes a fight for survival against terrifying monsters and following Spyfall setting such a high benchmark for this new series, it has a lot to live up to.
Orphan 55 has a rather nice lighthearted start to the story with a little exposition to give us some insight that The Doctor is still processing the end of Spyfall as Yaz comments that The Doctor has been in a mood to which The Doctor almost angrily denies, no doubt still reeling from the revelation that The Master has destroyed Gallifrey. Graham completes a “coupon cube” which teleports the team to a 2 week holiday on ‘Tranquillity Spa’ resort, which leaves the Doctor to explore on her own before it is revealed that the resorts systems are being damaged by a system virus. It all feels a little rushed to get to the monster part of the story.
Ryan infected with a “hopper virus” which the Doctor manages to remove from him leaving Ryan a little discombobulated for some light comedy fun, standard Doctor Who “hide behind the sofa” story. Speaking of Ryan, romance definitely seems to be his focus for series as 12 as he meets a young woman named Bella, who Ryan takes a shine too and actually flirts back with him. This is a nod back to Spyfall where Yaz warns Ryan off from trying to chat up her sister, and she even teases Ryan when The Doctor interrupts a little chat Ryan and Bella are having later in the story.
The Doctor begins to investigate what is going on at the resort, using her Physic Paper to convince the resort staff that she is a Resort Inspector, trying to get to the bottom of what is happening as security guards exchange gunfire and guests are running scared with creatures attacking from the shadows. We soon learn that the resort has been built on what is classed as an ‘Orphan Planet’, a planet that has been abandoned and unfit for habitation and that those in charge have built the resort in order to fund the terraforming of the world What is happening to the resort. The monsters are in fact the native life form known as Dreggs, an apex level predator capable of adapting to any environment and they are rather unhappy with the unwanted presence of this resort and its guests.
For me the running issue of having so many characters on board the TARDIS shows its head again as the team is simply sent off in different directions so they can all meet guests at the resorts to be their vehicle to be brought all together. Another problem with this episode is that even the guest stars have very limited moments in the episode, James Buckley players the resort’s maintenance engineer who is seemingly rubbish at his job and requires his young son, the actual engineering genius, to pretty much tell him what to do. Laura Fraser has a bigger role as the person in charge of the resort operation but the extremely unbelievable story-line for her and Bella was never convincing throughout.
So much of this episode is just made up of different story genres all blended together that you can visibly notice when the story switches from one to the other. We go from an Aliens type hiding from the monsters to suddenly having to go on a rescue mission where everyone has to tag along in order to recover one of the guests lost outside the resort and all before it then becomes a survival story as the group then has to retreat back to the resort whilst the Dreggs are all hunting them down. There was clearly a budget restriction as well following the epic opening Spyfall as a lot of devices were used to explain how something worked without relying on heavy special effects such as each person having an oxygen tank to breath outside the protection of the dome and was just accepted so the actors did not have to wear protective suits or even oxygen masks which made it all feel very silly.
Ultimately and the very thing that killed the episode for me was how it all boiled down to something that made Series 11 so painful to watch at times when the truth about the planet Orphan 55 is revealed to be that is in fact, Earth in the future, an earth where following a Vulcan Timelord Mind Meld with a Dregg, The Doctor learns about what happened and the story just devolves into social commentary about how if humanity does not stop arguing and being selfish and does nothing about Global Warming, it could lead to a possible future whereby the Earth’s natural resources are used up resulting in a World War and Nuclear apocalypse. The Doctor gives a speech to Ryan, Yaz and Graham about how Orphan 55 is just one possible future, and that people can make a difference if they started now.
It just made the ending feel completely flat and very heavy handed way of delivering social commentary which is never a bad thing if it is done in the right manner but this is an episode that could easily have featured in Series 11 and is a stark contrast to Spyfall which showed some much needed reactions to feedback of the last series. This episode had all the elements I just did not like from Chibnall’s first series and a lot of my complaints about it are on display here with too many characters for the story to focus on. Whilst Yaz commentating that the Doctor has been in a mood goes someway to show the Doctor is still impacted by what The Master has done, the rest of the episode is what I would call filler and felt more like a middle of the series episode rather than the follow up to Spyfall.
Following Spyfall I had hoped for something more substantial but for the first non Chibnall written story, it sadly was nothing more than a blend of multiple Sci Fi elements leading into a “if humanity does not stop arguing and focus on saving the planet together it will be destroyed” lecture, whilst the intention is honourable, the execution left the episode with a tired and lame finish and makes this the first very forgettable episode of series 12, which is disappointing after how promising Spyfall left me for Series 12.
I also hope that this whole ‘just leave the TARDIS behind as we go on an adventure’ that annoyed me in Series 11 and happens again in this episode quickly stops becoming a thing..it is the TARDIS for crying out loud, The Doctor and the TARDIS, I mean you wouldn’t want Batman without the Batmobile would you?