The Doctor and friends try to take an idyllic holiday, only to be interrupted by toothy, bloodthirsty monsters.
The Doctor generally doesn’t have much luck with vacations. Previous attempts to step away from the TARDIS and get a little R&R led to being stranded on an inhospitable diamond planet or getting stuck in two timelines and forced to watch a person you love age and die. This week’s vacation itinerary is similarly disastrous, as the Thirteenth Doctor, Graham, Yaz, and Ryan soon find that the Tranquility Spa they’re visiting might need to be renamed.
After the spy-centric, continuity-altering upheaval of the two-part season premiere, “Orphan 55” is a return to basic Who. Written by Ed Hime (who wrote last season’s bonkers talking frog episode, “It Takes You Away“), this installment feels like a checklist of everything we’ve come to expect from the show: We’ve got an exotic planet with some dark secrets! Lots of technobabble about ionic membranes and hopper viruses! Some bloodthirsty creatures and a whole lot of running! And that’s not a bad thing! “Spyfall” felt occasionally overstuffed, what with all the big reveals and action setpieces. Sometimes it’s okay to strip the show back and watch the Doctor and her friends try to outrun — and outsmart — some monsters.
As is to be expected, things initially appear idyllic at the Tranquility Spa; Yaz goes to check out the pool, Ryan finds someone to flirt with, and Graham makes plans to just sit. It’s the Doctor who feels the most lost amongst all this luxury and pampering, and you can almost see the relief on her face when the spa’s alarms start blaring. Problems to solve and aliens to fight? No problem. It’s the threat of doing nothing — or being alone with her own thoughts — that terrifies her.
The Doctor soon discovers that the spa has been built on an orphan planet, a world stripped of its resources and poisoned until it can no longer support life. The planet’s wealthiest residents have long since departed for greener pastures, leaving the rest of the population to die as the planet withers. As the spa’s patrons soon learn, however, new monsters have taken custody of this particular orphan, and these so-called Dregs would very much like to break in and wreak a little havoc.
As the Doctor and her friends try to repel these murderous creatures, they assemble an unlikely crew of allies. It’s a lot of new faces for a pretty short episode, and some characters leave more of an impression than others. (RIP to the strange cat lady named Hyph3n, who looks like she came from a failed audition for Tom Hooper’s Cats.) There’s the elderly lovebirds Benni (Col Farrell) and Vilma (Julia Foster), the father-son mechanics Nevi (James Buckley) and Sylas (Lewin Lloyd), the no-nonsense spa administrator Kane (Laura Fraser), and the mysterious Bella (Gia Ré). We soon learn that Bella is the one causing all the mischief, attempting to destroy Tranquility Spa in an attempt to get back at Kane — who’s revealed to be her absent mom. Bella’s plan sure has a lot of collateral damage for what ultimately boils down to a mother-daughter tiff. As the Doctor puts it: “This is not the way to resolve a family dispute! How about good ol’ fashioned passive-aggressive discussion?”
The bigger emotional thread throughout the episode is the discovery that Orphan 55 isn’t just any orphan planet — it’s our planet. The scorched earth outside is actually our Earth, centuries in the future, and the Dregs are the long-abandoned humans who’ve since mutated into something new. Doctor Who has often imagined how a future Earth might look, but “Orphan 55” makes it clear that this particular future is what will happen if we humans don’t wake up and combat climate change. As political statements go, this episode is a fairly mild one, suggesting, hey, maybe take care of the planet and don’t let it become a charred wasteland? But it’s still powerful: The Thirteenth Doctor get a rare moment of seriousness as she tells her companions, “In your time, humanity’s busy arguing about the washing-up while the house burns down. Unless people face facts and change, catastrophe is coming.”
And if we don’t, well, we all might be left here with the Dregs.
TARDIS log notes:
- The show has started hinting at a potential romance, or at least flirtation, between Yaz and Ryan, and I’m not sure how I feel about it. This season feels like it’s finally settled into the “fam” dynamic, and tossing in a companion romance might crowd the already crowded TARDIS. That being said, I am glad that Yaz has had a little bit more to do so far this season. In “Spyfall,” she got to grapple with the effects of being exiled to the Kasaavins’ home world, and here, she figures out that Orphan 55 is actually Earth without the Doctor even telling her.
- I love that the Doctor is the first one to run out of oxygen because she simply can’t stop talking.
- Fun fact: If you’ve been watching His Dark Materials on HBO, the little chartreuse-haired Sylas in this episode is Lewin Lloyd, who plays Lyra’s friend Roger. I almost didn’t recognize him under that green wig.
- See you next week, when the TARDIS takes a trip to New York and runs into famed inventor Nikola Tesla.
- Doctor Who recap: A grand Master plan
- Doctor Who season premiere recap: New year, new foes
- Doctor Who boss says show is coming back ‘with a bang’ — but without Daleks!