Doctor Who 12.3 – Orphan 55

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.

Doctor Who 11.9 – It Takes You Away

And then there was that day in December 2018 when a handful of Doctor Who viewers had hilarious meltdowns when the story gave us an animated frog with whom the Doctor had a conversation about friendship. This was by no means the first time that the big visual effect at the end of a Who adventure was a tad underwhelming, but you’d think the world ended with these fellows. Maybe they were unfamiliar with the original run and missed the end of “Kinda”. Neither that snake nor this frog are especially convincing as “real,” but they are what they are. I get what they were trying to do and I like it.

“It Takes You Away” was written by Ed Hime and the story doesn’t have a villain, just a strange quirk of the universe that ends up briefly looking like a frog. That’s nebulous, but I like it. It’s exactly the kind of outside-the-box thinking that I wish we could have seen in the previous story. “The Witchfinders” needed an alien force or energy or something much more like this frog than what it ended up doing. This is a good story, albeit a sad one, meditating on grief and loss. I’m not sure I buy all of it, particularly the shockingly poor parenting, but it’s an intelligent story with believable, real characters. Foreshadowing: Hime is much more successful in that regard here than in his next story.

One again, this is an installment that our son didn’t remember at all from three years ago, although this time something probably stuck with him. The Doctor claims that in the year 2211, there will be a “Woolly Rebellion” in which sheep and humans renegotiate their arrangements with each other, and he’d now like to see that story, so somebody at the BBC needs to get on that for him. As for me, I also remember something fairly minor more than the rest of the adventure, even the frog. I love how Graham has started packing cheese and pickle sandwiches in his coat because he can’t trust that the Doctor will stop for a meal anywhere and he gets cranky when his blood sugar gets low.