When Doctor Who doesn’t work for me, it’s usually because of a big problem with the narrative or the structure or, as I’ve mentioned often in relation to Chris Chibnall’s run, the failure to tackle a real issue in our world with any force. It’s very uncommon for Who, certainly in the modern era, to fail because it’s done poorly, rushed and slapdash. So Ed Hime’s “Orphan 55” is a completely bizarre hour, because finally, this story has teeth and it gives us a cold, serious warning. And yet it’s as rushed and slapdash as late seventies Who at its least memorable, trying desperately to finish something, anything, before the BBC unions cut the power to the studio.
Hime wrote “It Takes You Away” for the previous series, but the only resemblance I can find between these two stories is that they both focus on terrible parents. But “Away” gives us characters that we get to know and understand, even if we dislike that father quite a lot. This story doesn’t have any room to breathe at all. There’s no time to learn who the characters are, or much of anything about their location. The disaster happens far too quickly, so almost the entire running time is an ongoing calamity full of people we don’t care about.
Honestly, the only thing about this one that’s at all cute is the way the Doctor realizes they’re on (a possible) future Earth by finding a sign from a train station in Novosibirsk, which is a fun callback to the Doctor and Peri finding the ruins of Marble Arch Tube station in the first episode of “The Trial of a Time Lord”. But all I can do is imagine how much better this story could have been if the entire utterly pointless plot about taking the truck out into the wasteland – all of it just padding – had been excised. Imagine if those ten minutes were spent building the world, learning the characters, finding reasons to dislike the situation of elites terraforming the same planets their predecessors had ruined and abandoned, before the disaster struck.
Well, okay, I’d like one minute in the TARDIS kitchen with Graham clipping coupons from dozens of intergalactic newspapers. One there and nine at Tranquility Spa. That could’ve worked.