“In your time, humanity’s busy arguing over the washing up while the house burns down.”
Even in Doctor Who terms, this one is shaping up to be controversial. After the gang accidentally win a holiday, they end up at the beautiful destination of Tranquillity Spa. Before they even get chance to relax and have a cocktail, things take a turn and they’re soon running for their lives across the dead planet – joined by a myriad of colourful characters. The result? A mixed bag.
After the Gallifrey revelation in the last episode, The Doctor is a little out of sorts. So it’s a good job that Graham has won them a holiday! This will be a perfect opportunity for the gang to relax and chat and come together a little. Except that never happens. The gang are exploring Tranquillity Spa for all of a minute before things go awry – and awry they do. The destination is soon besieged by a mob of terrifying aliens, who begin to wipe out every holiday-goer. But this all happens very quickly, there’s just not enough time for us to get accustomed to the setting. And imagine what a great opportunity this would have been to really learn about this incarnation of The Doctor. Or how cool it would be for the group to actually have a conversation.
There’s no two ways about it, this episodes has far too many characters. It’s a hotel, so obviously there are going to be background characters. But problem here is that they’re all pointless, worse some are annoying and actively spoil the episode. Firstly you have the father and son mechanics, who do nothing except have green hair. There’s a running sub-plot about how the son is a better mechanic than the father, but it’s ultimately pointless. They look ridiculous, yet there’s not one humorous line between them. Next there’s the older couple, Benni and Vilma. Despite a really great line (“Will you marry me? Also, if you see me, will you shoot me?”) the incessant screaming of Vilma grated on me and succeeded in ruining any scene she was in. Combined with her ludicrous “heroic sacrifice” (the first of about a half dozen in this episode) and you have possibly one of the worst characters of NuWho. And don’t even get on the weird furry or the
There’s also a subplot about the manager of the Spa and her long-lost daughter, which was again entirely pointless. I like the idea of this person opening a hotel, using the funds to teraform the planet. And she’s played by Laura Fraser from Breaking Bad who is excellent. But it was so underdone. Her death was rushed and so was her return. And her daughter did nothing except add a bit of drama to Ryan’s story, which is a waste. And I always feel a little uncomfortable with these sort of “Token Minority Couples” – like the writer’s room couldn’t conceive of an interracial couple and took the racist route (though no doubt unconscious, it’s there). In this new iteration, The Doctor now has three interesting companions, which they already struggle to do anything with. It doesn’t need more. Especially not over half a dozen more.
This may sound like a complete write-off of an episode, but there’s one hell of a twist. A twist I really loved. In the vein of Planet of the Apes, Orphan 55 is in fact Earth (“Oh my god! I was wrong! It was Earth all along!“). But this is an Earth ravaged by war and climate change, a warning to us all. Ok so it wasn’t subtle, far from it. But in 2020, the sad truth is that it can’t be subtle, we’re not ready for that yet. We’re currently seeing some of the worst effects of climate change, in Australia especially. The planet is suffering more than ever. Yet through all that, people still don’t believe climate change is real. Just this week, the non-violent protest group Extinction Rebellion was put on a list with known terror organisations, being called an “extremist ideology” along with Nazis. So as far as I’m concerned, The Doctor needs to be as un-subtle as possible to hammer this message home. Science fiction is the home for these ideas, and Doctor Who has never been any different. The people lambasting it for being “too preachy” need to take a look around and realise that they just might be part of the problem.
Overall, it’s not a bad episode. But at this point, “just ok” isn’t going to cut it. There are some really great science fiction ideas here. The plot is great, the action is fun, and the twist is superb. But it’s let down by a quick pace that’s trying far too much at once and supporting characters who are either painfully annoying or utterly unnecessary. This one might have benefited from being a two-parter.
Next week, we’re going back in time for ‘Nikola Tesla’s Night of Terror’ – which already sounds like a great episode. We’ll have to wait and see.