My wife would have been impressed with Graham’s mad coupon skills. Couple that with a cheeky joke about deep space squids and mating season, and we just might have a winner.
Warning: Spoilers ahead.
If “Spyfall” was an imaginative pastiche of James Bond, “Orphan 55” starts off as a comedy-thriller reminiscent of the work of Douglas Adams. It’s a foregone conclusion that any vacation attempt by the TARDIS crew – no matter how great a deal – will be met with disaster.
Ed Hime’s script is full of little quips, oddities, and very Who moments (“If I had crayons and a half of a can of spam, I could build you from scratch” needs to go into the Who Hall of Fame). Lee Haven Jones smartly makes use of creative angles on the creatures, with tight close-up and out of focus shots to ratchet up the tension early on. And when we do get a close-up of the Dregs (nope, not a Destiny crossover), they are well-realized and fittingly creepy for the story.
But if we’re going to talk about the direction, there was a scene that really took me out of the story. Like, this was bad. Seriously, what was up when the Dregs overrun the vehicle and everyone makes a run for it, and then they find the soldier Kane on the ground injured. First, she looks like she’s dying, and the sound is poorly overdubbed as Kane – in very few words – explains how she was thrown (what??) and in the next shot she’s sitting up ready to go. I couldn’t help but wonder if my DVR somehow cut out (didn’t appear like it). If this was intentional, then that bit was awfully done.
I’m also iffy on the reveal about Bella being Kane’s daughter.
Wrapped up in “Orphan 55”, as has been a staple under Chibnall’s stewardship, is social commentary. In this case, ecological disaster and classism. The ultimate reveal of what (or rather where) Orphan 55 is was a legitimate twist (Two stories in a row! Is Chibnall on some M. Night Shyamalan shit?) .
But mixed in with all the good ideas and one-off awkward editing are a few missed opportunities. Benni’s off-screen death lacked suspense and felt like something got cut for time or money. Bella’s character arc falls flat, as her connection to Kane never rings true. And looping back to the eco-commentary, the Doctor’s earlier chastisement about ignoring scientists’ warnings about climate change and humanity’s fate borders on forced / preachy. I don’t disagree with the commentary, but so often the attempt is hard to get right. Her monologue later in the episode fairs much better, however, save for the part about it being just a “possible” future for Earth. I suppose Who has always done that to an extent but lampshading it didn’t sit right.
In the end, “Orphan 55” is a strange mixed bag. It starts off wonderfully but gets a bit lost in the middle trying to decide what it wants to be. It has a lot of lovely pieces but some of them just don’t get developed enough. And by the end when it settles into a morality tale for the times, it feels like it’s lost something.