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‘Doctor Who’ tackles unchecked climate change in “Orphan 55.” (Photo provided via @bbcdoctorwho on Twitter)

TV Review: ‘Doctor Who’ tells an eerily plausible story about the catastrophic results of unchecked climate change

Especially since the most recent regeneration, Doctor Who has been more eager to directly tackle political issues, some with more substance than others. That has led to the powerful dialogues on race and religion seen in “Rosa” and “Demons of the Punjab” but also eye-rolling references to social media and President Trump when they remain irrelevant to the story’s plot or message. “Orphan 55” tackles climate change in a way that is far from original, but nevertheless, genuine and insistent.

“Orphan 55” starts with the Doctor (Jodie Whittaker) and company taking some much-needed rest on a futuristic resort, where everything inevitably goes wrong, and an alien hunts down its patrons one by one. So far, a typical Doctor Who story.

Much like writer Ed Hime’s excellent episode in season 10, “It Takes You Away,” however, that’s just the beginning.

Just a quarter into the episode, the aliens capture one patron instead of killing him, compelling the Doctor, Graham (Bradley Walsh), and Yaz (Mandip Gill) to leave the resort and form a search party, while Ryan (Tosin Cole) and Bella (Gia Re), his new romance interest, stay at the resort. Both parties end up discovering more about the supposed resort, leading to a number of “but wait, there’s more!” moments in which new twists are spun around the old ones, transforming the episode’s beginning into something entirely different by the end.

The guest cast in particular act much like characters from The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy might, responding to peril in overly dramatic ways that occur too often to be unintentional. “Orphan 55” is far from a comedic episode, but these moments of humor help balance the seriousness and help break up the pace.

That is especially good for this episode, as its main threat hits close to home, especially with recent events such as diminishing U.S. relations with Iran and the catastrophic Australian wildfires. Rather than console viewers who may watch Doctor Who to escape real-world worries, Hime portrays a dark, eerily plausible reality in which a planet is orphaned by those trusted with the power to care for it.

As it turns out, the Doctor doesn’t have much of a planet left to save, but as she explicitly states to her companions, viewers at home do. The message is not to watch the world burn without hope, but to care for the planet us humans have in whatever ways we can, and to advocate for those in power to do the same. It’s not a new message, nor is it a new way of telling it — although it remains entertaining throughout — but it’s one audiences clearly need to hear a few more times.

Doctor Who airs Sundays at 8 p.m. on BBC America. 


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