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Recap / Doctor Who S38E3 "Orphan 55"

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Good thing this is Orphan 55, 'cause if it was Eiffel 55, they'd be feeling really blue.

The one where Team TARDIS goes on vacation. If you even need a moment to guess how this is gonna go, you're watching the wrong show. You get three guesses and, no, the first two don't count.

This episode first aired January 12, 2020. Written by Ed Hime.

After the events of the previous episode, Team TARDIS is in need of a much-deserved lie down. Fortunately, Graham's collected enough space coupons for an all-inclusive luxury vacation, and all the companions agree that they could use one, perhaps to cheer up the Doctor, who's been understandably glummer than usual. When the assembled coupons turn into a teleport cube and abruptly whisk the "fam" off to the beautiful Tranquillity Spa, they're greeted by Hyph3n (with a 3), and Yaz, Ryan and Graham immediately set off to enjoy the amenities. The Doctor decides to have a look around by herself. Among the guests, elderly couple Benni and Vilma are sitting and watching the scenery, but Yaz's arrival interrupts Benni's attempt at proposing to his long-time partner. Ryan, attempting to get a snack from a vending machine, gets a shock instead, finding himself infected with a hopper virus. Fortunately, the Doctor knows just the right first aid for that.

But then an alarm goes off, with the PA system claiming it's for a standard safety drill. As Yaz, Benni and Vilma head for the nearest muster point, the Doctor decides to investigate, and Ryan, still disoriented, meets a woman named Bella who is recovering from the same thing he is. The two of them wind up in the perfect position to see one of the security guards running through the halls with a gun, which suggests that whatever's going on definitely isn't a drill. Graham, meanwhile, meets maintenance man Nevi and his considerably more tech-savvy son Sylas. The Doctor uses her psychic paper to get herself into the security room, where it transpires that the spa's ionic membrane is down. Now that's something, as the Doctor points out: what kind of luxury resort needs to defend itself with an ionic membrane? Deadly creatures burst into the hotel and begin killing guests, but although Graham, Yaz and some of their companions make it to security when summoned, no one else does, with Ryan and Benni missing, the latter having stopped to retrieve Vilma's dropped hat. Ryan and Bella are quickly found safe after the Doctor repairs the ionic membrane, but Benni is still missing.

It turns out that Tranquillity Spa is built inside a hologram-disguised environmental dome on an otherwise uninhabitable planet, and Benni has been taken outside, surviving only due to his medical oxygen tank. The planet is Orphan 55, the designation meaning it should be utterly barren and lifeless — so what are the Dregs, and how did they survive whatever disaster befell this place? The only way to find out lies, perhaps, in rescuing Benni, and the Doctor persuades Kane, the woman in charge, to lead all the survivors of the attack on an expedition for that purpose. So Kane, other security guard Vorm, Hyph3n, Nevi, Sylas, Bella and Vilma set out in the resort truck with the Doctor, Ryan, Graham and Yaz. Everyone's issued an oxygen tank, capable of replenishing itself automatically in high-oxygen environments, and they set out into the dangerous wastelands of the orphan planet to rescue Benni from the "Dregs". But the Doctor is wondering about something else, too, noting that the Dregs don't have the capability to infect the resort's computers with hopper viruses, suggesting that someone wanted the resort vulnerable.

On the drive, Ryan and Bella bond over dead parents, Bella having lost her father a month ago and her apparently neglectful mother when she was 10. Yaz takes interest in the flirting, but when Benni's motion abruptly changes direction, indicating the Dregs definitely have him, Kane attempts to abort the mission. At everyone else's protests, she reluctantly orders Vorm to continue following Benni's tracker. But eventually the truck is caught in a trap, laid by the Dregs, that renders the vehicle immobile. Scouting outside, Kane tells the Doctor that the mist is toxic, and the sunlight causes lethal blistering with ten minutes' exposure. Fortunately, there's a hatch leading to a maintenance tunnel not far away, but the Dregs are coming. A first attempt to evacuate everyone from the truck fails, and after everyone's back inside, Benni's voice is heard. He asks Vilma to marry him (which she accepts), before requesting that someone shoot him. As the Dregs begin to break in, the Doctor leads everyone out the bottom of the truck towards the hatch while Kane and Vorm hold the Dregs off. Hyph3n is the first to be killed, followed by Vorm, but Kane is thrown a ways and rejoins the group after they find her on the ground near the hatch. Everyone flees underground.

But once they get underground, Bella grabs a gun and reveals herself as Kane's estranged daughter, who sabotaged the resort with hopper viruses to destroy everything her mother has built.


  • Adaptive Ability: The Dregs have the ability to adapt to laser fire, meaning the weapons used by Tranquillity Spa's security force have to have power randomisers built into them to be effective for sustained fire. They've also mutated from being oxygen breathers to carbon dioxide breathers in response to the environmental damage done to the planet.
  • An Aesop: Look after the planet and treat each other as equals, this is the only planet we have and there's no going back once we destroy it beyond repair.
  • Almost Out of Oxygen: The Doctor nearly asphyxiates during the journey through the tunnels thanks to her Motor Mouth before she discovers she can replenish her supply from the Dreg leader because they exhale oxygen.
  • Arbitrary Scepticism: Graham doesn't seem to take the warning message over the intercom seriously, even though he should recognize the Doctor's voice and know she means it.
  • Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking: Bella's rant against Kane mentions that she never came to Bella's birthday parties, didn't come to her dad's funeral, and she named her "Trixabelle".
  • Artistic License – Chemistry: In the area of the Dreg nest, oxygen levels are stated to be 1%, and yet there are several prominent fires burning.
  • The Atoner: Kane accepts that she has been a poor mother to her daughter Bella, and claims she was planning to gift the renewed planet to her to make amends if she ever got the funding for her terraforming scheme.
  • Bizarrchitecture: Graham is not sure if the TARDIS coffee machine is upstairs or downstairs from the control room.
  • Bolivian Army Ending: Bella and Kane are last seen standing together against a huge horde of Dregs, with their survival looking unlikely.
  • Borrowed Catchphrase: The Second Doctor's "When I say run, run."
  • Bread, Eggs, Breaded Eggs: While trying to impress Bella, Ryan can't decide whether to tell her he's a pilot or a surgeon, so he settles on a surgeon for pilots.
  • Broken Pedestal: The pedestal the Fam have for the Doctor, especially Yaz, is starting to crumble, with her bad mood affecting everyone and them asking more angry questions than usual.
  • Busman's Holiday: As is traditional for this show, the Doctor and her companions just cannot catch a break when trying to have a rest, because showing them actually having a relaxing trip would be boring.
  • Call-Back: The Doctor's morose mood, which is why the companions think a vacation would be good for everyone, is a clear holdover from the events of "Spyfall".
  • Casual Interstellar Travel: Clients teleport to Tranquility Spa and it's said to be cheaper to build the spa off-planet and just teleport people there.
  • Cat Folk: Hyph3n-with-a-Three, Tranquillity Spa's holiday rep, has a very felinoid mouth and ears, as well as a tail that the Doctor takes quite a liking to.
    The Doctor: Now, are you and your excellent tail going to let me have a look, or am I going to have to bark at you?.
  • Chekhov M.I.A.: Bella, telling Ryan about her parents, mentions that her father died a month ago and her mother died when she was 10. Or so she claimed...
  • Chekhov's Gun:
    • The hopper virus the Doctor saves Ryan from at the start of the episode also has the ability to upgrade syrillium 3 fuel into syrillium 4, which is needed to power the off-planet teleporters.
    • In an Averted example, one of the first things the Fam hear upon reaching tranquility is that, if they ever want to go back to where they came from (i.e. The TARDIS) then they can use the teleport system to immediately go back. When trouble starts happening you think the Doctor will beam back so that they at least have the TARDIS to assist in things but no one even suggests it as a plan, and it only seems to exist to not explain how the Fam can get back to the TARDIS despite having no idea where it is.
  • Competition Coupon Madness: Graham had to collect six coupons for the trip to Tranquillity Spa.
  • Continuity Nod:
    • Yet again, the Doctor and company are forced to flee dangerous creatures on the surface of a Death World by heading into a tunnel belowground.
    • A possible future in which Earth is wrecked was previously visited in "Pyramids of Mars".
    • The Doctor pretends to be a "Health & Safety" employee once again. Unsuccessfully this time.
  • Crapsaccharine World: Tranquillity Spa is an absolutely gorgeous holiday resort, but most of the gorgeousness is just holograms projected onto the inside of the environmental dome. Everything beyond the dome is a Death World full of vicious predators that keep invading the resort and killing the guests.
  • Death World: Orphan 55 is all that remains of Earth after it was rendered too toxic for habitation by human civilisation. The oxygen level is too thin for humans without technological assistance, the mist is toxic, and the sunlight causes lethal blistering after 10 minutes of exposure.
  • Domed City: What Tranquility Spa looks like from the outside.
  • Earth All Along;
    • Orphan 55 turns out to be Earth, utterly wrecked by an avoidable set of environmental Disaster Dominoes.
    • The Tranquility Spa customers think they're still on their home planet and don't realise they've been teleported to Earth/Orphan 55.
  • Earth That Used to Be Better: Humans abandoned Earth due to environmental catastrophe, and there's evidence that no one even remembers what planet "Orphan 55" used to be.
  • Embarrassing First Name: One of the reasons Bella hates her mother is for naming her "Trixabelle".
  • The Elites Jump Ship: This happens so often there are at least 55 (and presumably more) 'orphan' planets.
  • Finger-Suck Healing: The final stage of recovery from infection by a hopper virus is to suck your thumb until the hallucinations stop.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • The Doctor comments that the Dregs are not capable of having introduced the hopper viruses, suggesting that someone else wanted the spa vulnerable, and Bella is introduced while recovering from being infected by one of the viruses.
    • Bella, telling Ryan about her parents, says that her (allegedly) late mother made Nevi look like a top-notch model of parenting. She also walks off in a huff when Graham vents to Ryan over how worried he was, hinting at her own anger over her mother's apparent lack of concern.
    • An instance of a Dreg taunting its intended victims by dragging a claw along metal to make a squeaking sound, something few animals would do, is an early sign that It Can Think.
    • The mention that The Elites Jump Ship leaving everyone else behind make "Dregs" a Meaningful Name, as in "the dregs of society".
  • Forgot About Her Powers: Several times in the past, the Doctor has made use of a "respiratory bypass system" which allows a Time Lord to survive on little or no oxygen for extended periods. Here, she uses up oxygen faster than anyone else, and appears to be getting woozy and disoriented almost as soon as her system's light turns red.
  • Forgotten Phlebotinum: The TARDIS' Translator Microbes should have made Graham read that Russian sign as English. This might be explicable due to the fam's distance from the TARDIS at the time, but that would then presume that everyone else at Tranquillity Spa speaks 21st century English, which seems unlikely given how far in the future the episode is implied to be set.
    • Then there’s the TARDIS itself at the end. Kane and Bella are left on their own to fight off a hoard of Dregs while the heroes teleport safely to the TARDIS…and don’t immediately use it to travel back to the resort to rescue the two. No one even brings it up as a possibility, so there’s none of the usual handwaving given for why this can’t be done.
  • Freudian Excuse: Bella is trying to take revenge on Kane for a childhood of neglect.
  • Future Primitive: The Dregs are descended from humans who didn't have the means to escape Earth when the environmental catastrophe hit, forcing them to evolve into carbon dioxide-breathing apex predators to cope with the resulting harsh conditions.
  • Gone Horribly Right: Bella brought along a small bomb to blow up the bar area, which she intended to use when the area was unoccupied. Its detonation also destroys the mainframe she was trying to hack, with the result that the teleport is rendered inoperable enough that Bella and Kane don't have a chance to escape. In general, it's clear that Bella underestimated the dangers of Orphan 55 when she came up with her plan to destroy her mother's project in revenge.
  • Green Aesop: Orphan 55 is so designated because its native civilisation left it so polluted it was written off as being incapable of supporting life, and this has happened at least 55 times in galactic history. It's later revealed that the planet is Earth. The Doctor does give assurance in the epilogue, however, that Orphan 55 only exists in one of many possible timelines, and such a fate can be averted and the Earth does not have to wind up that way.
  • Heroic BSoD: Thirteen definitely ain't doing too great from the last episode; shorter on patience, exploding for a second when Kane touches her and her voice suddenly getting cold when the Fam questions her mood. Yaz and Ryan are left reeling from the episode's events too, and their faith in the Doctor was already slightly eroded anyway.
  • Heroic Sacrifice:
    • After learning of Benni's death, Vilma sacrifices herself to the Dregs so the others can escape.
    • Kane stays back to Hold the Line and Bella jumps off the teleport pad to allow the others to escape. No-one knows if either of them were able to escape.
  • In the Blood: The similarities between Bella and Kane become crystal-clear after they're revealed as estranged relatives, a tendency not to care about others being the most prominent.
  • I Resemble That Remark!: When Graham first mentions the spa, Yaz tells the Doctor, "It might get you out of your mardy mood." The Doctor sulkily replies that her mood is fine.
  • Improbable Infant Survival: The prepubescent Sylas is one of only two guest characters to definitively survive.
  • Internal Homage:
    • Much like "Midnight", this episode is titled after the planet it's set on, involves a luxury resort on a Death World, an expedition out from the protective dome in a vehicle that is eventually rendered immobile, attacks by mysterious creatures when the planet is supposed to be devoid of life and lethal sunlight.
    • This is by no means the first time that the discovery of an underground station has revealed that a planet is a devastated future Earth. (Nor the second — in the Doctor Who New Adventures book Birthright, the Channel Tunnel plays a similar role.)
  • Invisible Wall: The hologram-disguised wall of the dome takes this form when the disguise is up, and Graham ends up bumping his head on it when he attempts to walk around an area where Kane has had the hologram deactivated to reveal a breach.
  • It Can Think: The Dregs' initial behaviour towards humans makes it easy to treat them as barely intelligent predators, but their leader is smart enough to recognise that when the Doctor has it trapped in a Mexican Standoff, co-operating and behaving nonviolently gives it the best chance of surviving.
  • Kill the Cutie: Directly or indirectly the Dregs get Benni, Vilma, and Hyph3n.
  • Letters 2 Numbers: The Doctor has to ask Hyphen-with-a-Three where the Three goes. She replies that it's the last-but-one letter — so, Hyph3n.
  • Mercy Kill: Benni requests to be shot after being captured by the Dregs. Kane obliges him during the escape from the crashed vehicle.
  • Mexican Standoff: When the Doctor locks herself, Bella and the Dreg leader in a sealed room, she points out that the Dreg can survive by breathing the waste carbon dioxide from the human and Time Lord, who in turn can survive on the waste oxygen from the Dreg. The Dreg recognises that killing them will only result in it asphyxiating in the sealed room, and breaks the standoff by allowing itself to be put into a cage so that the Doctor and Bella can escape.
  • Missing Mom: Kane is Bella's mum, and walked out on the family when Bella was a child. Bella calls her out for not recognising her own daughter when she confronts Kane with a loaded gun.
  • Moment Killer:
    • Yaz interrupts Benni's attempt to propose to Vilma.
    • The Doctor and Yaz both interrupt Ryan and Bella flirting with each other during the vehicle ride.
  • Move Along, Nothing to See Here:
    • The Doctor after curing Ryan of the hopper virus, as he's waving his arm at hallucinatory bats.
    • The Doctor also tries to do this with the Siberian sign, but it doesn't work.
  • Name of Cain: The head of security is named Kane and is shown to be cold-hearted, ruthless and single-minded. She's also revealed to have abandoned her family and to have been the one who tried to set up Orphan 55 as prime real estate despite it being inhabited by the Dregs.
  • Negative Continuity: Graham (and the audience) see the characters on the plaque in the tunnel as Cyrillic characters, needing the Doctor to translate. This is in keeping with "The Curse of Fenric" (in which Ace couldn't understand written or spoken Russian) and "A Good Man Goes to War" (in which River notes that the TARDIS' translation circuits need time to translate written text). However, in other episodes the TARDIS has translated written text instantly and works fine on Russian. It's possible that the Doctor (who's been shown to have some level of control over this) deliberately chose not to let them be able to read it in hopes they wouldn't realize where they are.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: At least three people die because the Doctor decided to try to rescue Benni.
  • No Biochemical Barriers: Hopper viruses are able to infect anything, organic or machine.
  • Noodle Incident: The episode begins with the Doctor and company mopping up the TARDIS console room, with a giant tentacle lying on the floor, as the Doctor apologises for not realising it was "their mating season".
  • No OSHA Compliance: There's nothing to stop people like Graham bumping headfirst into the Invisible Wall around Tranquility.
  • Nothing Is Scarier: We never see what exactly the Dregs did to Benni, but it was bad enough that he begged for someone to shoot him.
  • Oh, Crap!: The Doctor, when she learns that Kane's resort is built on an "orphan planet". Then again when she sees the old sign in the tunnel and realizes which planet Orphan 55 is.
  • Plot Parallel: The Doctor dealing with a post-apocalyptic Earth is this to the Series 12 Story Arc of the apparent final fate of Gallifrey, which the Master destroyed due to learning a terrible secret about the Time Lords' existence relating to a "Timeless Child". Bella and Kane's conflict is born of a desire to destroy the sins of the past as well. The ending notably has the Doctor bringing up that Orphan 55 does not have to be Earth's final fate — following that line of thinking, Gallifrey doesn't have to end up a wasteland either, if she (being a Time Lord) is the best Doctor she can be.
  • Pleasure Planet: Orphan 55's main feature is its spa. In a subversion, the rest of the planet is desolated and the tourists aren't told this.
  • Punny Name: Hyph3n-with-a-Three is a Cat Folk, and one of the ways her name could be written is "-3", the "catface" emoticon.
  • Redemption Equals Death: Bella and Kane, probably.
  • Reed Richards Is Useless: While the Doctor now has knowledge of the catastrophes that turned Earth into Orphan 55 and tells her companions that this timeline is a preventable one, her companions don't suggest to her (at least onscreen) that she go back in time and prevent them herself rather than leaving it in the hands of their generation and those that will follow, which her monologue notes would require a huge amount of people to be their best, most altruistic selves. Enforced in that there is no Doctor in the audience's world, so the onus really is on it to create a good future, and justified in that the Doctor handling the situation on her own would beg the question as to why she doesn't do this for similar catastrophes on Earth and elsewhere. If she did start doing that, previous Doctors' experiences have suggested, if not confirmed, that sooner or later she would become a case of Beware the Superman.
  • Revenge: Bella wants to destroy everything Kane built due to her neglectful parenting, to the point that Kane didn't even recognize Bella before she identified herself.
  • Running Gag: Nevi's ineptitude with all things technical, and him being constantly corrected by Sylas, his considerably-more-tech-savvy son.
  • Sequential Symptom Syndrome: When Ryan catches a biomechanical hopper virus from a Vengeful Vending Machine, the Doctor describes what's about to happen while rendering first aid.
    The Doctor: It's moving deeper inside you to mutate into your nervous system.
    Ryan: What?!!
    The Doctor: Important not to panic. Humans always have the same reaction to a hopper virus. First you get the wiggly fingers, which is a warning the legs are about to go. (catches Ryan as he falls.) Luckily, this is where my hopper first-aid training kicks in. Need to get rid of these... (empties a packet of snacks) ...then pinch your ear. (holds empty packet in front of Ryan's face) Then you're going to sneeze. (Ryan sneezes up the hopper into the packet.) Now suck your thumb until the hallucinations stop. And remember, they're not real bats. (Ryan starts flailing away at imaginary bats)
  • Ship Tease: Yaz is shown looking askance at Ryan while he's chatting to Bella, suggesting she's jealous. Alternatively, her reaction could be seen as an interested but watchful Shipper on Deck moment.
  • Shout-Out:
    • Hyph3n strongly resembles Barf from Spaceballs.
    • Ryan swatting away imaginary bats harkens to a scene from Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.
    • The Reveal that the Dregs breathe out oxygen and breathe in CO₂, combined with the previous reveal that Orphan 55 is a post-nuclear war Earth and Tranquillity Spa is an engineered haven from the toxic outer world, owes a lot to Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, in which the heroine learns that the creatures that inhabit the polluted outer world have adapted not only to survive and thrive in it, but are actually cleaning up the mess humans made. Sadly for the Doctor and co., the conflict here does not come to such a hopeful point.
    • The setup is also quite reminiscent of The Time Machine, in which the upper class barricade themselves away from radiation sweeping the planet while the lower class are left to mutate into the monstrous Morlocks, who then take their revenge by luring the humans outside and eating them.
  • Space Whale Aesop: Don't let Earth get polluted or humanity will mutate into cannibals.
  • Spotting the Thread: The Doctor points out that the "linen cupboard" obviously isn't because the locks on the door are far too complicated for that.
  • Take Our Word for It: We never see Benni while he's in Dreg hands, though he's close enough that his voice can be heard. We only hear of his death through Kane's account of it.
  • Terraform: Tranquillity Spa is attempting to raise enough capital to fund a terraforming (or it might be more accurate to call it re-terraforming) effort to make Orphan 55 into prime real estate.
  • The Last of These Is Not Like the Others: The Doctor does this twice in a row when demanding answers from Hyph3n.
    • "This is a weapon. I'd say someone is targeting you. Now, why would they do that? Also, why is that alarm going off? And why do you look so concerned? Also, where does the 3 come in Hyph3n? Never mind; that one can wait."
    • She then tries brandishing her psychic paper.
      "How about Pan-galactic Standards and Practices Officer? Health and Safety? Security and Hygiene? Resort Inspector."
  • This Is Not a Drill: The security breach is initially covered up as being a drill, and the Doctor later says the phrase word-for-word when ordering survivors of the attack to the "linen cupboard".
  • Timey-Wimey Ball:
    • The Doctor's speech at the end implies the Multiverse theory of time travel is true, with Orphan 55 being only one of many potential futures. Although, given all the various conflicting and incompatible futures of humanity the Doctor has encountered over the years, it's not unprecedented. Mind you, she could be saying that to hearten her companions...
    • A specific example of the fate of Earth changing happens in "Pyramids of Mars" when the Doctor shows a similar Hellscape Earth to Sarah Jane if they just left their current problem instead of being the ones to stop Sutekh.
  • Unexplained Recovery: After being last seen surrounded by Dregs with her only exit cut off, Kane reappears at the end just in time to save her daughter with no explanation as to how she survived.
  • Verbal Backspace: "I have at least 3/8 of a plan right here. *beat* 2/8. *beat* I'll be honest, all I've got is the letter P, but sometimes that's all I need."
  • War Is Hell: Nuclear war is among the list of reasons Earth became the barren, inhospitable wasteland known as Orphan 55.
  • Was Once a Man: The Dregs are stated to have evolved from the few humans who couldn't escape offworld and survived the desolation.
  • Wham Line:
    • Bella calls Kane out for not recognising her own daughter, revealing that Kane is her Missing Mom.
    • During an escape through an underground passage, Graham finds some writing carved into a wall and remarks that it looks like Russian. It quickly becomes apparent that Orphan 55 was Earth All Along.
  • Wham Shot: The Cyrillic writing on the sign in the maintenance tunnel.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: Everyone calls out Kane's decision to shoot Benni despite everyone wanting to save him from the Dregs.
  • Wrong Genre Savvy: An alarm goes off and Graham immediately assumes that the Doctor is the cause. In literally any other situation, he'd be right. Not so much this time.
  • You Talk Too Much!: Cited by Kane as the reason why the Doctor runs out of oxygen faster than everyone else.