Doctor Who: Threatening Abundance Really Destabilizes Insecure Story

by thethreepennyguignol

Doctor Who, I’ve decided, has a people problem.

And now, it’s a much better people problem than its previous iteration had, to be fair – Capaldi’s era had problems with people insofar as it seemed to fucking hate them, which is a problem far more destabilizing than this one. In fact, Chibnall’s Doctor Who run has probably been characterised by the opposite problem – which is to say, liking people far too much. And, as a result, just stuffing his stories so far full of them that they’re bursting at the seams and barely holding together in the process.

These week’s episode, Orphan-55, is perhaps the primest of prime examples of this problem in his run so far. Maybe it’s just because it’s coming after the double-header-of-bangers of the last couple of weeks, but this outing is all people, no story – and God, it’s a mess. 

The Doctor and company are whipped off to a spa planet for what looks like a fun vacation, until shit starts to hit multiple fans and a mysterious race of apex predators (with some great monster design and real effects to bring them to life) come to slaughter the lot of them for sport. This is a fine premise (though the seemingly-idyllic-planet-hiding-secret doom has been Done Before on this show), and honestly, I think this story could have actually worked pretty nicely had it not been for the violent over-cramming of every character archetype known to man in this mere fifty minutes of television.

At its surest,this Doctor with these companions has felt like a chance to explore a selection of viewpoints and attitudes to the situations within which they find themselves; at worst, they are constantly bending over backwards to find something useful for everyone to do and usually running out of ideas for at least one of them. This episode is one of the latter; between attempting to give Ryan a romance plot which lasts all of ninety seconds of screentime, chucking in a few Bradley Walsh gags, and giving Yas at least something to say, it feels as though it could have done with divesting itself of at least one assistant for this outing.

Which would be bad enough, if they didn’t insist on shoving another half-dozen one-shot characters into this as well. Great actors like Laura Fraser are wasted with mere minutes of screentime, as a busy supporting cast find themselves devoid of actual character. Look, I’m all for really committing to creating a world and the people to fill it, but when you’ve only got a lean fifty minutes to do so, you really have to make your characters both vital to the story and a quick route to further filling in the world. There are whole characters here who add nothing at all, and others who could easily have been streamlined: Orphan-55 just doesn’t feel like it really understands how to use its character, and that it has mistaken overfilling a world with actually fleshing it out.

Not to mention the fact that there is just some really dodgy writing here. I would call the environmental commentary an undertone, but that would ignore the Doctor basically looking down the lens and delivering a deeply unsubtle monologue about the climate crisis.

Look, I am strongly on the side of the notions that this episode is trying to put forward (did you know that Extinction Rebellion, by the way, has been classed as putting forth “extremist ideology” in the UK? Shit is wild and scary and needs more attention), and I don’t want to pretend for a moment that I don’t think it needs to be said and that a primetime show like Doctor Who isn’t well-placed to do it. But this is just some painfully awful writing via Ed Hime, an important message delivered with a grinding lack of skill that renders it nearly impossible to take seriously.

Look, I think Chibnall has proved with his run so far that his Doctor is best suited to historical outings, and that his science fiction, for the most part, could use a little work. With a return to history once more next week, I’m hoping that the season will be able to right itself after this overstuffed and badly-written wobble.

If you enjoyed this article, please feel free to check out the rest of my Doctor Who recaps right here and hey, how about checking out my movie blog, No But Listen? If you just stop by for these recaps, then might I draw your attention to the fact that my first book, Rape Jokes,was released in between the last couple of seasons, and, oh, just so happens to have a few five-star reviews, not that I’m counting? As ever, thank you for reading, and drop your take on this episode in the comments below!

(header image via Blogtor Who)