Sunday, January 19, 2020

Doctor Who 12x03 Recap: “Orphan 55” (Planet of the Dregs) [Guest Poster: Stephanie Coats]

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“Orphan 55”
Original Airdate: January 12, 2020

After adventuring around for a while, the Fam needs a vacation. Graham finds a coupon for a spa and before they know it, they’re transported to Tranquility Spa. While each of them tries to enjoy themselves, there is, of course, trouble a-brewing. Ryan contracts a virus from a vending machine, which the Doctor is easily able to cure him of, but then an alert sounds asking guests to move to their muster stations. Still recovering, Ryan stays behind and meets Bella. When they see security sweeping in, they decide to follow.

Suspicious about the security measures, the Doctor flashes the psychic paper to get into a linen cupboard that is actually the security base. She tells Kane, the woman in charge, that more viruses are in the system, including what they need to safely teleport the guests back home. That’s a pretty big problem because something bigger and worse than a virus is attacking the guests. The Doctor tells all guests to come to the linen cupboard but Ryan and Bella are still investigating on their own. They see a guest attacked by what we soon learn are the locals, known as the Dregs.

Security cameras go offline as the Dregs take out guest after guest. The Doctor builds a new line of defense just in time to save Bella and Ryan but one guest is alive and missing: Benni, a sweet old man who was about to propose to his longtime partner, Vilma, when Yaz accidentally interrupted. The spa is actually a massive dome on an uninhabitable planet and someone has hacked the hotel to let the Dregs in. Benni is outside the hotel’s wall where there is no breathable air and is only still alive because of his oxygen tank.


Convinced to go after him, Kane distributes small oxygen tanks and breathing strips to everyone still alive. En route to Benni’s position in a security truck, the Doctor asks more questions about the planet and learns it’s Orphan 55, a radiation planet not at all suited to a vacation. Orphan planets are so-called because when they could no longer sustain life, the rich inhabitants left and everyone else either died or was killed. But the Dregs did survive because they’ve adapted to their environment. And Tranquility Spa isn’t just a destination spot. It’s Kane’s first step in terraforming the planet so she can own it.

When it’s clear that Benni is actually moving around because the Dregs have him, Kane is ready to turn back until Vilma pays her off with a necklace. Things quickly go south when the truck crashes into a Dreg trap and the survivors must go on foot to a maintenance tunnel that’ll lead them back to the spa. But the Dregs attack the truck and they have Benni. He yells to Vilma, asking if she’ll marry him, to which she says yes. Then he asks for someone to shoot him. Whatever the Dregs are doing to him must be horrible. When they tear into the truck, everyone runs and most of them make it to the tunnel.


Kane tells Vilma she killed Benni because he asked her to and because the Dregs were having “fun” with him. Everyone is horrified by Kane’s decision and Bella uses that moment to take her gun and to reveal that she is Kane’s daughter! She’s there to destroy Tranquility Spa to get back at the mom who abandoned her. “This is not a way to solve a family dispute!” the Doctor interjects. “How about good ol’ fashion passive-aggressive discussion?” When the Dregs attack again, Ryan and Bella alone make it to the maintenance teleport, which sends them back to the hotel. She still plans to blow up the hotel, even if Ryan is inside.

The others slowly make their way through the tunnel. Kane swears she planned to give the hotel (or maybe the whole planet?) to Bella. Everyone’s oxygen levels are dropping but the Doctor’s are going the fastest because she talks the most (and probably also because she has two hearts so wouldn’t she need more oxygen?). The Doctor, Yaz, and Graham find an old sign in Russian and realize Orphan 55 is Earth. You know what comes next, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

With the Dregs closing in, Vilma sacrifices herself to give everyone else the chance to run. The Doctor finds a way to extend her oxygen supply by a) not talking and b) breathing in a sleeping Dreg’s exhales. In order to survive, they breathe carbon dioxide and exhale oxygen, “like a really angry tree!” The stairs back to the hotel are in sight but Kane must stay behind to fight off the Dregs in order for the others to get to safety. As the Fam tries to barricade the Dregs fighting to come through, they voice the final piece of the puzzle: if Orphan 55 is Earth, the Dregs are mutated humans. Both are the result of global warming, mass migration, and war.


Unable to hold them off any longer, the best option is to repair the transporter. Since Bella is responsible for the viruses that left the hotel vulnerable, the Doctor makes her help them. Together they trap the Alpha Dreg and bargain with him for their lives, reasoning that he needs the CO2 they exhale to keep breathing in the oxygen-rich hotel. He lets them escape for the time being. Sylas, the mechanic’s much-smarter son, repairs the transporter and Ryan and Yaz use Bella’s bomb to take out as many Dregs as possible. Everyone jumps onto the transporter... but there are too many at once.

Bella decides to be selfless and runs off to shoot at the Dregs. It’s a losing battle, but at least Kane shows up to help her daughter for the first time ever. The remaining survivors safely transport back to where they came from. The Fam doesn’t bother celebrating. They’re worried for Bella, Kane, and the future of the Earth. The Doctor tries to remind them that Orphan 55 is just one possible future. “In your time, humanity’s busy arguing about the washing up while the house burns down. Unless people face facts and change, catastrophe is coming. ... People can save planets or wreck them. That’s the choice. Be the best of humanity.”

Final Thoughts:

  • I love that Yaz figured out Orphan 55 without the Doctor even telling her. It feels like we’re slowly pivoting towards Yaz being the companion who is as smart as the Doctor and that’s a very welcome change to her being the companion who has nothing to do.
  • Why couldn’t the TARDIS pop down to Orphan 55 and save Bella and Kane?
  • So what were the Dregs doing with Benni and why?
  • Doctor Who has always had to walk a fine line between explaining everything and explaining just enough that the audience is satisfied. The above questions should have been addressed but in series 11 and it seems again in series 12, Chris Chibnall is comfortable leaving a lot hanging. That’s fine occasionally but when it’s too frequent, it makes every episode feel incomplete. Maybe that’s why I finished this episode feeling like something was off.
  • The message about climate change and the need for global cooperation in this episode is a nice one but it also very surface level. It feels like Chibnall’s Doctor Who is often pulling its punches but it’s not clear why.
  • There was only a minor reference to “Spyfall” in this episode and no obvious connection to the storyline established there so I’m wondering if series 12 will truly have a plot arc or if the finale will simply tie into the premiere like last season. 


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