Once again for this series of Doctor Who, Blogtor Who is looking at all the nods and references to adventures which have gone before. This time its the turn of Orphan 55. So even if you are not already a Mastermind expert on all things in the Whoniverse you can appreciate the little detail as well. Perhaps you are a very knowledgeable Whovian already but did you spot them all?
Holiday Camps from Hell
There’s just something about holidays and Doctor Who, long before the visit to Orphan 55. Perhaps its the forced joviality of the theme park and package holiday experience. That’s certainly a natural target of a show founded on individualism. Beginning with 1967’s The Macra Terror, in which the hypnotized colonists’ holiday camp existence hides the brutal labour camp beneath, there always winds up being terrible secrets just below the surface. And then in the very next story plane after plane of young holidaymakers with the sinister Chameleon Tours find themselves flying directly into the alien clutches of the Faceless Ones.
Even taking a staycation isn’t necessarily safe. When the Seventh Doctor and Mel arrive in the 1950s holiday camp Shangri-la in Delta and the Bannermen (1987), it’s immediately attacked by genocidal Bannermen! The planet Midnight, like Orphan 55, hosts a spa resort under its protective dome, the rest of the planet uninhabitable. And, you guessed it, there’s something nasty outside the walls. But perhaps the vacation destination Orphan 55 most resembles is…
The Tranquility Hive, or The Leisure Spa?
The Leisure Hive. As featured in the 1980 story of the same name, it has a lot in common with the Tranquility Spa of forty years later. It too is an encased environment on the hostile, uninhabitable surface of a dead world. And, like Orphan 55, the planet of Argolis feel victim to the thoughtlessness and aggression of its people. War having laid waste to their environment due to their hubris. But while Kane keeps the true location of Tranquility Spa a closely guarded secret, the surviving Argolins have turned their planet into a teachable moment. Humans visiting the Leisure Hive from Earth not only get to enjoy the five star comforts and game on offer. They also get educated on the example of Argolis. Sent home, hopefully, with a message to stop the same happening to Earth before it’s too late.
The Destroyed Future Planet
Orphan 55 is ultimately revealed [spoiler alert] to be the Planet of the Apes. By which we mean Earth. But it’s far from the only time we’ve seen our own world meet such fates. Both The Ark (1966) and The End of the World (2005) show the Earth as being in pretty decent shape right up until it falls into the Sun. But in The Trial of a Time Lord (1986) the Doctor (Colin Baker) finds himself on a mysterious planet called Ravalox.
Ravalox’s surface has been devastated centuries before in a ‘fireball’ and only those who sought refuge in underground tunnels survived. But it’s only when the Doctor sees an Underground sign for Marble Arch that he realizes the terrible truth… Ravalox is the dead Earth given a new name. It’s a moment that Orphan 55 plays direct homage to, when a sign reading “Novosibirsk” reveals they’re in a Russian subway tunnel, and Orphan 55 is the Earth’s new name.
In that case it was the Time Lords to blame, rather than humanity itself. And other stories that tell of similarly apocalyptic futures, like The Sontaran Experiment (1975) or The Beast Below (2010) also tend to leave the human race off the hook, with solar flares the usual suspect.
A Planet Screaming Out Its Rage
If the Pertwee era never depicted a dead Earth, it told similarly cautionary tales about the future as Orphan 55. Colony in Space, Frontier in Space and The Mutants all painted a picture of an Earth reduced to a “slag heap,” overpopulated with tens of billions squeezed into tiny apartments under a poisoned sky. A world mined clean of its resources and largely incapable of supporting plant or animal life. While Inferno and The Green Death brought the issues into the present day.
In the former, a combination of greed and dwindling fossil fuels leads not to an embrace of renewable energy, but to find ever more ingenious ways to exploit what fossil fuels remain. And the resulting disaster at Project Inferno (think of it Doctor Who doing the fracking issue before it was cool) nearly wipes out all life on Earth. And the story’s monsters, the Primords, strike a clear parallel with the Dregs of Orphan 55. Both provide terrifying visions of what humanity might be forced to become to survive the hellscape we’re turning our own planet into.
Meanwhile The Green Death again places human greed and fossil fuels as the twin enemies. Global Chemicals has another scheme to more efficiently exploit the Earth’s resources. This time it’s a new oil refinery process that increases the amount of petrol produced. But it also creates a deadly toxic waste which is instant death to those who touch it, and mutates local insect life into horrible, gigantic forms.
The Best of Humanity
The Doctor’s always liked a bit of speechifying. And appealing to the human race’s better angels is often a big part of that. One particular turn of phrase in Orphan 55 sticks out though. When the Doctor tells her companions, “People can save planets, or wreck them. That’s the choice. Be the best of humanity,” it can’t help but call to mind 2010’s The Hungry Earth by current showrunner Chris Chibnall. There, beseeching Rory and the locals to help prevent a war with the Silurians, he says ” In this church, in this corner of planet Earth, you have to be the best of humanity.”
When I Say Run…
The Doctor quotes herself again in the tunnels, as she and the others try to keep ahead of the pursuing Dregs. “When I say run, run… Run!” It’s a phrase that’s popped up so often down the years she should probably just print it on a t-shirt to save time. The Second Doctor was particularly fond of it, using it (or close variations of it) in Power of the Daleks, The Faceless Ones, The Evil of the Daleks, Tomb of the Cybermen, and The Abominable Snowmen. It’s popped up a few times since too, including The Three Doctors (where, ironically, the Third Doctor used it), Castrovalva (when the post-regeneration Fifth Doctor is channeling his younger selves), Warriors of the Deep (the Fifth Doctor again), and in Kill the Moon (by the Twelfth Doctor).
Doctor Who continues at 7.10pm this Sunday on with Nikola Tesla’s Night of Terror
The time: the earliest years of the 20th century. The place: New York City. Inventor Nikola Tesla is at war with his rival Thomas Edison. However, there’s an even greater threat in their midst… Doctor Who continues next Sunday 19th January with ‘Nikola Tesla’s Night of Terror’ on BBC One and BBC America. Written by Nina Metivier. Directed by Nida Manzoor. Guest starring Anjli Mohindra, Goran Visnijc, Robert Glenister, and Haley McGee.