; Date: Wed Jan 15 2020
Apparently Doctor Who Season 12's story, Orphan 55, is receiving backlash because of the preachy lecture at the end. Sure that lecture grated in how it was blatantly targeted at the audience. However, Doctor Who has frequently featured lectures about the environment and how human power structures are harming the planet. Since a core theme of Doctor Who is the fight against big power structures, and sometimes those big power structures are destroying ecosystems in the name of profit, therefore The Doctor will have seen his/her fair share of environmental catastrophes, and therefore have an opinion or two.
The episode, Orphan 55, was an excellent example of the Base Under Siege theme in Doctor Who stories. The "base" in this case was a holiday camp that we eventually learned was built on an abandoned planet.
Abandoned planets - called Orphan ## in the context of this episode, are ones where the society has used up the planet, destroying its ecosystem, and people are supposed to stay away. Therefore this holiday camp was kind of illegal, within the context of this episode.
But - think about it - is this what humanity will do once we achieve effective interplanetary travel? We'll go out and ravage planets all across the universe, then abandon them? After watching the movie Avatar I had the same realization, that humanity, in our current mindset, will be like a swarm of locusts eating up whole planets all across the universe.
Getting back to the show .....
Then there's this - the discovery that the access tunnel they're running through is actually the old Novosbirsk metro system. There's a number of quibbles, for instance if that's a sign in a metro tunnel then there should have been a station platform nearby. But - ignore that - and they have a realization that this ruined planet is Earth.
It's a nice touch that instead of the metro tunnel being part of the London Metro, that they're somewhere else far away. And, Doctor Who has been daft enough to be wandering through a tunnel and coming across a sign for a station in the London Metro.
But this just sets up The Companions for questions - that's our future? Which then sets up The Doctor's Lecture.
Normally when The Doctor lectures us through the show, the lecture is delivered indirectly. In Orphan 55 the producers could not have made the lecture more blatant. There are plenty of examples in the history of Doctor Who of large scale ecosystem destruction. As part of the story The Doctor would say something in the natural flow of conversation, or else the moral lesson would be strongly implied by the content of the episode. Here? It was a flat-out lecture delivered to the audience.
For an excellent analysis of that watch the video attached below. What I want to do is list some previous Doctor Who episodes that have environmental messages.
First Doctor - Season 1 - The Daleks Way back at the very beginning of Doctor Who we were introduced to The Daleks. This was a race of beings who, after a 1000+ year long war between the Khaleds and the Dals, that involved lots of nuclear weapons, shut themselves up inside a metal case because their world had become too radioactive.
Isn't that a subtle hint to the viewer about the dangers of nuclear weapons?
First Doctor - Season 2 - The Planet of the Giants In this episode the TARDIS crew found themselves in a place with oddly huge versions of everyday objects. A household cat is a seriously life threatening danger when the cat is 10x your size. The crew was the relative size of insects. In the episode they uncovered a plot by scientists to develop an incredible poison that would increase crop yields and produce more food for humans, but the plan was shut down because it was way too poisonous.
Yes the story was an interesting study on the physics of size and relative dimensions. But isn't the core message about the dangers of modern agriculture?
Third Doctor - Season 7 - Inferno The Doctor has been helping with problems at a plant that's drilling a deep hole to tap into geothermal power or some such. But while fiddling with his broken TARDIS the Doctor is transported to an alternate version of the same base, where the same scenario is playing out. He's able to see the horrible world-ending negative result of the drilling project, then return to his regular timeline and avert disaster there as well.
A big warning about the dangers of technology and unintended side effects.
Third Doctor - Season 8 - The Claws of Axos A race of beings land in a spaceship shaped somewhat like a Horn of Plenty. They're promising technology that will encourage an agricultural revolution. However it's a ruse, that they'll instead use to stage an invasion of Earth.
Threaded all through the story is the issue of providing food for the ever-growing human population.
Third Doctor - Season 10 - The Green Death A factory complex in Wales is digging underground for something or other, and doing something with chemicals that then cause mutated creatures to emerge from underground and threaten all life everywhere. The people running the factory are controlled by a megalomaniac computer/machine called BOSS. Also in the story is a group of crazy hippie environmentalists nearby where a scientist is experimenting with growing mushrooms. The mushrooms are able to be used as a poison to kill the mutated creatures.
Clearly bluntly this story is again about the dangers of technology.
Fourth Doctor - Season 11 - The Invasion of the Dinosaurs An "invasion" of dinosaurs in central London has all of London locked down under evacuation orders. The Doctor and UNIT are called in to solve the problem. They find that a mad/insane politician and some mad scientists have staged this. They're using a primitive time machine to bring dinosaurs out to terrorize London, and they've also got a bunch of people locked in a basement telling them that the end of the world has happened and that they're in some kind of ark heading to a new world to settle.
The theme here is an End of The World scenario.
Fourth Doctor - Season 14 - The Robots of Death The Doctor arrives in a giant machine that is crawling across a planet seeking mineral wealth to send back to some other planet. The machine is slowly destroying the planet. The primary thrust of the story is these Robot assistants who are being turned to stand up for their rights and are killing humans.
World destroying technology.
Fourth Doctor - Season 16 - The Pirate Planet This is part of the Keys to Time series. In this episode, The Doctor and Romana arrive on a planet expecting to find some other planet. Suddenly there is a rainfall-like shower of gemstones. The Doctor identifies them as being related to the planet they thought they were arriving on, but the place they're at is not the planet they expected. Eventually they learn that the whole thing is a gigantic spaceship that is sucking up whole planets for some kind of geo-engineering-energy-machine of massive scale.
World destroying technology.
Fourth Doctor - Season 16 - The Power of the Kroll Another of the Keys to Time episodes. In this story, The Doctor and Romana land in a base on a planet in an area of swamps. The workers at the base are doing something to extract something from the marshes, but they're under attack by a gigantic monster.
This is clearly about Nature fighting back against incursions by Humans.
Sixth Doctor - Season 22 - The Mark of the Rani The Doctor and Peri land in late 1800's England when the technology to effectively mine coal is just being developed. They come across a cockamamie plan by two renegade Time Lords, The Rani and The Master, to interfere with the development of this technology. The Rani's machinations are inciting anger by miners against the machines being developed that will replace their jobs -- a version of the Luddite movement.
This is about the balance between human progress and the effects from humans having having progressed technologically.
Sixth Doctor - Season 23 - The Terror of the Vervoids This is part of The Trial of a Time Lord, and in this episode The Doctor is presenting evidence in his defense in being accused of genocide. Namely - he had landed on a space ship where there were some plants, beings of a race called the Vervoids. They were the last of their race, and had plotted to kill all the animal creatures (humans) on the space ship. But The Doctor instead killed the Vervoids, and therefore committing genocide by wiping out a species.
Isn't this about the struggle between plants and animals to cohabitate?
Tenth Doctor - Season 2005-3 - Gridlock The Doctor and Martha Jones land on a planet where most of the people are stuck in a generations-long gridlock because of a horrible driving system. Turns out that there are creatures in the pits beneath the flying cars, and those creatures are feeding off the exhaust from all those cars. It's not said in the episode, but the creatures are obviously The Macra from a Third Doctor episode called The Macra Terror.
Tenth Doctor - Season 2005-4 - The Sontaran Strategem / The Poison Sky In this episode The Doctor and Donna have come across a school for extremely gifted youngsters. The school is being used by Sontarans as a ruse for a plan that results in Sontaran's invading The Earth and turning it into a colony planet where they'll hatch new Sontarans.
Ignoring the Sontarans, the story revolves around a machine being attached to cars that will help with air pollution. Except that's a Sontaran device that is instead geared to increase air pollution and kill people.
Clearly a warning to us not only about the effects of our cars - but other elements in the show are a warning about technology in general.
Eleventh Doctor - Season 2005-5 - The Beast Below The Doctor and Amy land on a Generation Ship that is one of a fleet of ships that had abandoned Earth due to some cataclysms. There's some adventure around how the humans are mistreating the space whale that is powering the ship.
The core plot point is that humanity destroyed Earth, and is escaping the destruction.
Eleventh Doctor - Season 2005-5 - Hungry Earth / Cold Blood The Doctor, Amy and Rory, come across a factory complex in Wales where they're digging a really deep mine in order to tap geothermal energy. Again? Anyway, just as they're reaching depths nobody has reached before, the plant comes under attack by Silurians.
As in all the Silurian stories - the theme here is the danger of technology.