Why do I watch Doctor Who? What is it about it that makes me keep watching? Why has it been my favourite television show for the vast majority of my life? It’s a very hard question to answer, because there are so many factors, but an important one is hope. Doctor Who shows us good triumphing over evil, gentleness and intelligence triumphing over brutality and ignorance. It gives hope for the future. The Doctor loves humanity, his favourite, indomitable species.
I don’t watch it for a party political broadcast on behalf of the Green Party.
Look, I’m not going to argue with climate change. I’m certainly not getting in to the rights and wrongs of that and to what extent any individual viewer watching this can do anything about it, because this is supposed to be a review of a Doctor Who episode. I don’t come to Doctor Who looking for politics or scaremongering journalism (and if anyone thinks the world is really as terrifying as the tabloid press would have us believe, then you need to read Factfulness by Hans Rosling – and before you ask, no, he’s not a climate change denier – far from it). I certainly don’t come to Doctor Who for this:
“How did Earth end up like this?”
“Good warnings from every scientist alive.”
I don’t come to Doctor Who for a writer who has no understanding of how Doctor Who even works, stamping over any significance of anything we were just watching by saying it didn’t happen because it’s just one possibility. Oh, so everything we’ve ever watched that was set in the future from our point of view is meaningless then? If only somebody had told me we were watching a series about parallel universes all this time. How did I miss that one for the last 37 seasons?
I don’t come to Doctor Who for a writer who knows so little about Doctor Who’s past that he has the Doctor struggling to breathe immediately when her oxygen starts running out, or for a lazy rewrite of Jurassic Park set in yet another rewrite of the future of the Earth. I don’t come to Doctor Who for a Doctor who stands around looking mopey instead of actually flying her damn TARDIS back to where she was, to save two stranded people, and instead acts as the mouthpiece of the writer with a diatribe to the viewers, telling us nothing other that exactly what we all know. I don’t come to Doctor Who for a writer who thinks that a bunch of people running from one place to another and being picked off one by one is in any way what a Doctor Who story actually is, rather than some lazy, derivative horror flick, or a writer who thinks an enormous explosion can go off a few feet from where a group of people are standing, blasting a hundred feet up into the air, and they will be just fine.
Most of all, I don’t watch Doctor Who for misery, dreadful writing and… I can’t quite believe at long last I’m going to have to use this sickening word that has been thrown at the series so much… an agenda. I can’t tell you how close I came to switching off this utter trash before I got to the end, and only my loyalty to a series I have loved since I was a child stopped me from doing that. But I won’t suffer having to sit in front of this kind of rubbish any more. No, there’s too much good television competing for my attention. Doctor Who gets to do this once, and once only, and then I’m gone.
Once more, and I’m out of here. Enough is enough. Can we please have our Doctor Who back? RP
The view from across the pond:
It’s a bad sign when Sunday rolls around and I forget Doctor Who is on. It’s a sign of the times. The series is losing a fan of 40 years by having gaps that are over a year long and having writers that can’t actually write. So I sat down to watch Orphan 55 and the first thing I can tell you is that I missed the title because I wasn’t interested in the title; I was interested in the writer. Not seeing Chibnall’s name was all I needed. (I had to go back when the episode was over to see what the title was!) Ed Hime wrote last seasons It Takes You Away, and while that was the strongest episode of that season, we still had a number of questionable choices with it. How does his second outing work out?
The first 8 minutes are a deluge of getting the plot setup. It’s so rapid fire that it feels rushed instead of the way last weeks Spyfall felt exciting. We get another off-screen adventure referenced as a giant tail is moving in the TARDIS and the Doctor has to apologize for not knowing it was mating season, while Graham doesn’t care about that at all and gets coupons for a free vacation leaving said creature in the TARDIS while they are away. Something was bothering the Doctor based on Yaz’s “mood” comment, but we have no idea if that’s meant to be from last weeks ending, or the reptile in the TARDIS. Within minutes, they land, meet “Hyphen with a 3” (which makes sense when she explains it: Hyph3n.) And we get an over-use of the UK-centric phrase “get in” which undoubtedly comes from some sport nonsense but ever since Bill Potts, I’ve heard it used more and more and this episode gets a whopping 3 “get in’s” out in under a minute! Like I said: rushed.
The episode starts to go somewhere when Ryan gets a virus that you know immediately will play a part later, but has no logical place in the story now. Luckily the Doctor has Hopper First Aid Training which entails a series of idiotic things like pinching an ear, sneezing, and sucking ones thumb. (Great! Just what we need: child fans running around sucking their thumbs to spread as much sickness as is possible because they think it’s cute!) Like I said, this is all happening in the first 10 minutes of the story. Once we get our first flash of teeth, a glimpse of an eye, and a peek at the faces of the Dregs, the mood changes. We are dealing with a rushed version of Alien as the 23 guests are 10-little-indian’d out of existence.
This leads to some great drama with the main cast: Graham’s concern for Ryan is marvelous when he’s not sure if his grandson is alive or one of the victims of the Dregs. (In fact, watching Ryan and Bella as they are trapped is terrifying!) Mandip Gill, as Yaz, really sells the terror too. I was especially impressed by her acting when she has to watch Vilma get killed by these nightmare creatures. On the other hand, I felt the non-married pseudo-romance between Vilma and Benni was wasted. The ring was there solely for the audience and is never used again. When Benni goes missing, we don’t even get to see what’s happening to him. Is he being turned into one of them, like Noah in Ark in Space? I was sure that was what we were going to find out when he was speaking to Vilma through the (impressive looking) vehicle. Worse, when he announces that he has 2 questions, his “would someone shoot me” almost sounds like it’s in response to her accepting his marriage proposal. So much for romance! And Silas seems to be his dad’s pride and joy until he has the opportunity to throw a fit and runs out of the room into danger with a “you never listen to me”; a grossly out-of-context response from a kid whose dad did listen to him every other time!
It’s not just the personalities that felt out of whack. When the group escapes into the tunnels, did no one think to close the hatch behind them? Seems too obvious, but I’m not being chased by hungry humanoids. And for a group of creatures on the hunt, what was that one Dreg doing just standing there? Maybe playing Charades? “Oh, I know, it’s a tree! It gives us oxygen in exchange for CO2!” Lucky that! But when it opened its eyes after the Mind Meld and lifts the Doctor up, her leg movements really sold me on the scariness of the situation.
And you know what? The Dregs are something I’ve wanted since the 1994 Star Trek: The Next Generation episode Genesis where the crew are trapped by a primitive Worf after he degenerates into a monster. Doctor Who always encounters creatures that can be reasoned with. Hell, even the Krynoid of Seeds of Doom, a plant creature, can speak English! I wanted, just once, a creature that can’t be reasoned with; one that can just be terrifying without having to discuss its motives. And we got it, finally and done beautifully in this episode. So why criticize it? Because that was the main thing about this episode: for every good thing, it was coupled with a stupid thing. I loved the look of the truck, the dome, and the vacation spot. Turn the coin over, and I thought the Breath Right nose strips was lazy on the part of the costume designers. What happened to the days of David Tennant’s orange space suit? I love the humor and laughed deeply when Graham walks into the invisible wall and says “Am I having a stroke or something!” His “I’m a bus driver” was a close second; I just wish he’d master that like McCoy from classic Star Trek. “Damn it Doctor, I’m a bus driver, not a …” The Doctor gets a few good lines. I loved her attempt to defuse the family conflict (but flip the coin and that was idiotic too because it didn’t make sense!) but her best was “If I had a crayon and half a can of SPAM, I could recreate you!” But even as I type those good things, I think, what was the point of Bella anyway, barring looking pretty? Ok, more on her in a second…
So the big reveal in this episode is Ravolox. Oh, no, sorry… wrong season. Orphan 55 is a planet “too toxic for life”, uninhabitable. The Doctor explains what an Orphan planet is and … I missed the boat. I said to my wife: that’ll be what happens to Earth one day. But I didn’t put it together until they find the sign from Marble Arch. (Oh, sorry, did it again! Wrong episode!) The Russian underground sign, I mean. I had that moment where I thought “oh, how did I not see that coming?” As a cautionary tale, yes, it’s great, but what lost me was the Doctor’s monologue at the end. Suddenly, there are multiple time lines and this is a “possible future”. Two episodes in a row and the series is taking away any threat for the future. Last week, the Doctor can stop her friends from dying by going back into their past to create a get-out-of-dying-free card. Now, no threat to earth really matters because it’s only one possible time line. It was there solely to smack the audience in the face with a message about global warming. The episode ends with her saying “or…” and we get a flashback to the terrifying Dregs. But this is where they missed a golden opportunity to be heroic, which is, according to my records, what the Doctor is supposed to be! To quote a certain web series, how it should have ended was…
“Or…” Flash to the Dreg. Then we hear the TARDIS rematerializing around the mother and daughter who were left to die (even though Graham tried to convince Ryan that they’d be alright as they shoot through something more terrifying than the Walking Dead!) The Doctor comes in and saves Bella and Kane and we get a heroic ending after all. Instead, we get a message forced down our throats. While I may be in agreement with the message, this was not the way to get it across to us. And I’ll add one last thing. The problem with the Apex Predator on a barren planet: like any series where Vampires want to eat all the humans, eventually there’s nothing left to eat. There were an awful lot of those creatures on a planet with nothing else to eat. Something to think about…
Well, I just hope next week I remember it’s on to begin with. I think more than Global Warming, what the writers should be worrying about is a future without Doctor Who. I think that future is far closer than the world of the Dregs. (Although perhaps not by much!) ML
Read next in the Junkyard… Nikola Tesla’s Night of Terror