Doctor Who: Oxygen Review

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Doctor Who keeps getting better with each episode this series, and “Oxygen” will leaving you gasping, literally. This entire series has hearkened back to classic Doctor Who and I for one am absolutely loving it. “Oxygen” felt like a mix between classic Who and old Star Trek, following that tried & tested outline but with the energy and spark each new companion first brings. We’re back in familiar territory for The Doctor, a nearly abandoned space station with none other than space zombies and a capitalism death machine left for the remaining survivors. The episode, very cleverly starts with a Star Trek quote and ends with a terrifying realization about The Doctor.

Space, the final frontier. Final, because it wants to kill us.

Image Credit: BBC One

Finally, Nardole gets to come along for the adventure, even if he wasn’t quite expecting to (opening up the question of if The Doctor has left the vault unguarded on purpose). Nardole confronts The Doctor and Bill in the TARDIS, explaining that he’s removed a key component for travel and yet again reminding The Doctor of his vow to never leave the vault unguarded. The Doctor, being a bit cheeky, admits to lying to Nardole and they end up in space on a mostly abandoned station that has sent out a distress signal.  Our trio quickly find themselves without access to the TARDIS and without oxygen. Oxygen is only available for purchase here on capitalism station, and defective off-line suits are the only available option. The Doctor makes contact with the remaining crew and that’s where the real adventure begins.

If there is any flaw in this week’s episode, it is that the supporting cast never quite gets a moment to shine. The Doctor, Bill and Nardole however make some huge character strides so that somewhat evens it out. We learn that there has been an error in the coding sent to the “capitalism suits” everyone has to wear, telling the smart suit to kill the organic host. What more can you expect from a suit that charges you money for every breath you take? The few remaining crew, have been running out of breaths and hiding from the now zombified remains of their fellow crew waiting for help to hopefully arrive. One touch from a space zombie and you too become human fodder. Not only do we have to worry about the trio becoming space zombies, the more breaths they take the closer they get to dying, because nobody breathes quicker when they’re scared right?  That aspect throws in this great race-against-time aspect to the dilemma that they’re already in, can they find a solution while remaining untouched by the zombies and before the counter on their breaths runs out?

Image Credit: BBC One

Bill unfortunately gets fitted in the most defective suit of all, which causes her to be in real danger for the first time this season. Right as the group is headed outside to try and outrun the suit zombies, Bill’s own suit decides to remove her helmet, though she’s got a small invisible filter to keep her expensive oxygen in, that is not enough to withstand actual space and she quickly begins suffering what seems to be an inevitable demise. The Doctor switches helmets with Bill, but at an extreme cost to himself. Overexposure in the space vacuum has left The Doctor completely blind and now extremely vulnerable. He assures Bill that he’s got a solution to fix his eyes back in the TARDIS and continues to work at the problem on hand.

The Doctor doesn’t take too long to figure out that the corporation behind this mining job has decided that it would be more effective to kill all the workers and send in new replacements who have a fresh attitude, resulting in better production overall. The issue of capitalism is explored as the corporation in charge exploits it’s workers on the mine out of every penny. It’s most effective to charge the workers for the air they breathe and then kill them off when they aren’t being as profitable. This episode brings up the question of basic human necessities, in this case -oxygen – and how it’s become a business, a luxury not a right. Can’t afford this basic necessity of human life? Then too bad, you can’t have access to it. The only way out is to convince the corporation that it will indeed be more expensive overall if they kill off the remaining workers. “Oxygen” takes that dark twist which becomes even scarier than just regular old space zombies. Learning that the corporation cares so little for human life and seeing just how far they will go in order to save a buck is truly terrifying.

Image Credit: BBC One

The Doctor has to let Bill be taken, banking on the fact that her defective suit won’t be able to give out a lethal injection, just enough to make her look dead. This is Bill’s first real look at the dangers that can happen when traveling with The Doctor and he literally puts her through hell to get her out alive. I think that we will see some changes in Bill over the course of the next few episodes now that she has been in real danger. The Doctor announces he has wired all of the remaining crew’s suits to the station, if anyone still alive dies the whole station will explode, costing the corporation quite a bit of their precious money. And now that money is involved, the survivors are spared and our trio is finally able to travel back to Earth.

Unlike last week, the ending of “Oxygen” holds together a bit better, but the entire episode does feel a little rushed. I feel that there was enough going on in this episode, especially with the big cliff hanger at the end and Bill’s ordeal of becoming a space zombie, that it could have been a two part story-line. Back in his office in London, The Doctor is wearing those (ridiculous) Sonic Sunglasses (his Screwdriver got fried by a space zombie) having a chat with Bill. As she is leaving, Nardole comes by and gives The Doctor a good scolding about leaving the vault unattended and how things could have gone very wrong while all three were away. This is when The Doctor reveals that his eyes were not fixed, and he is still blind. We’re almost at the halfway point in this series and we know that regeneration is the end result for Capaldi’s Doctor. Could his blindness be the first step we are seeing towards that eventual end?

Let me know who you think is in the vault in the comments!

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Michelle Harvey