When the last season of Doctor Who ran (the first starring Jodie Whittaker, the first run by Chris Chibnall), one of the big talking points from some fans, according to one of the Facebook groups I’m in, is how they didn’t like how the show seemed to so strongly espousing a left-wing liberal social agenda.
Then the other big talking point on the same groups was how the franchise has long espoused something of a left-wing liberal social agenda. Just see The Green Death, from all the way back in 1973, they’d say, with its strong anti-big business environmental message, for just one example.
Usually, leaned toward the second opinion, above. Sometimes things would be a bit too “on the nose”, but usually I could just accept the show’s “social commentary” as just the characters’ points of view coming through (although the Doctor’s argument for not wanting to put down the suffering and dying giant spiders last year simply because it involved using a gun was just nonsensical).
But then the most recent episode of the newest series, Orphan 55 by Ed Hime came along, an episode which demonstrates the series’ inability to handle its social message with anything remotely approaching subtlety.
The story has a promising beginning as disaster suddenly hits a holiday spa that the lead characters are visiting. The Doctor has to race to stop deadly monsters that are savagely attacking the staff and guests in a breathless first act.
The story then moves on to a slightly more confused second act in which things get a bit muddled. We are to believe, for example, that when one person is endangered outside a protective shield, that it is necessary for everyone go to and look for him, whether those people are trained fighters, untrained guests, or even children? Once they’re out there, the Doctor in one moment berates the local authority figure for not caring enough to look for the guy, and the next for leading everyone into the clutches of dangerous monsters.
And when the story pulls out its twist, things get especially shaky. Revealing that the ruined planet you are standing on is actually a future earth is an old, old science fiction cliche which Doctor Who itself already has used, at least as far back as 1986. It’s a pointless inclusion until you realize the point, which is so the show can drill home it’s poorly developed, poorly delivered climate change message.
I’d like to say that it was an “underlying message” of the episode, but the last few minutes prove otherwise. The Doctor delivers a straight-up sermon to the audience, where she preaches against selfish humanity of the 21st century for ignoring environmental responsibility, and does so so blatantly that it’s now the “over-flattening” message of the show. Now I’m a Christian and a church-goer and I actually like a good sermon–but that’s not what this was, and the attempts to make it so took away from the story that could have been told. Really, the screen time taken up by her little speech would have been better served with the Doctor using the TARDIS to rescue Kane and Bella from the Dregs rather than just leave them to fight a doomed battle–the last of the episode’s many faults in logic.
On the plus side, Jodie Whittaker is always fun. Companion-wise, Ryan has the best showing this week (we basically never see all the companions getting solid roles in the show) and Tosin Cole does a good job with his scenes. Laura Fraser is in the show as well–I didn’t recognize her while watching but she was funny as Kate, the armorer in The Knight’s Tale with Heath Ledger from years ago.
On the whole, Orphan 55 had a good start and a lot of potential but then became a sad, wasted opportunity.