“Space. The final frontier. Final, because it wants to kill us.” That how this episode of Doctor Who starts. Put simply, The Doctor and Bill find out just how dangerous outer space can really be in this episode, meet me after the jump, for my thoughts on “Oxygen.”
I like when The Doctor does the narratives as in this one. This reminds me of the almost fourth wall breaking monologues he gives from time to time. Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t want The Doctor to start breaking the fourth wall, but I like the fact that this behavior seems to be one of the Peter Capaldi Doctor’s more pleasant quirks. While I like the guy a lot, and will be sad to see him go, he does not have all that many likable habits like that. He is far more William Hartnell mean old man than Tom Baker life of the party.
So, as long as we’re on the subject of Capaldi’s leaving, what do y’all think of the rumors about Kris Marshall up for the role. I think he’d be great, and The Doctor has always wanted to be ginger, so it’s a win-win. Of course I will forever be quoting his “I’ve got a big knob” line from Love, Actually when watching him. There are also rumors of The Doctor becoming female with Phoebe Waller-Bridge in the role. I’m not sure how I feel about that – not The Doctor being a woman, but that actress in particular. What do you folks think?
Besides the menacing words of The Doctor, we open on a couple of astronauts, who may or may not be together, going on a spacewalk and running out of oxygen. While the man is opening the airlock to salvation, helmetless blue astronauts attack her. Then she becomes one. Space zombies. Yeah. And where there are space zombies, there are distress calls, and that’s exactly what The Doctor is looking for when he wants to take Bill to space.
They end up right on the same space station as our space zombies. Weird signs saying “Air Costs, Save Your Breath” are everywhere, yeah, that can’t be a bad thing. But The Doctor wants to take a stroll and see what’s what, and where that distress call came from. Bill wants to see space, and Nardole wants to keep The Doctor on Earth near the vault – but we’re getting ahead of ourselves.
As we open on The Doctor, we find that his narrative about space is actually part of one of his mysterious lectures and he’s in front of a lecture hall full of students. The best part? When he asks for questions, and a student asks what it has to do with crop rotations. His answer? He doesn’t know, but isn’t space cool? When he returns to the vault, Nardole is worried about him, like a nagging wife. He thinks The Doctor wants to take another trip, go into space. And really, why not?
As fun a companion and lover that River Song was, one has to figure The Doctor was on that planet with her for quite some time, and Bill intimated that The Doctor has been at the university, presumably guarding the vault, for who knows how long. This is The Doctor, he can’t stay in any one place for too long, ever. That’s why he had to get away from Gallifrey. We need to see more of Nardole’s relationship with The Doctor – we know they have been together, but what else?
After coming upon an unmoving blue space zombie, that rightfully freaks Bill out a bit, because he’s standing up because of magnetic shoes, the trio also come upon a robot. Well, not so much a robot as a robot that looks like an empty spacesuit. It’s not as if they haven’t been freaked out enough already. The novelty of space has worn off and Bill wants to bugger off, but as usual, The Doctor has people to save, and if we’re counting on episode-to-episode continuity despite different writers, Bill kinda put him into this thinking mode.
They learn from the robot that there is no oxygen on the space station, and that it’s only for purchase and personal use. Furthermore, any unauthorized oxygen will be expelled. That’s when our heroes realize that the air they’re breathing is what they brought with them from the TARDIS, and the station is about to get rid of it. If you want to breathe, you have to pay.
Capitalism in Space
With three dozen space zombies, or spacesuits operating on their own with dead people inside them, on board, our heroes have to put on suits, and to pay. Later when The Doctor figures out what is really up, he says it out loud, “We’re fighting the suits.” And that’s what it is. The space station is all about making that green, and when the mining job is done, the humans have become expendable, and therefore inefficient. The suits are giving them the boot.
The Doctor’s idea is to die big, and make the survivors’ deaths so big that it’s “expensive,” a word that clearly rattles the suits, and they relent, giving them oxygen, and stopping the killing because now, it’s too costly to go with plan A. As if fighting the man, and thwarting the suits isn’t enough of a message, the showrunners throw some racist bits in as well to throw Bill off kilter and let Nardole make a ‘bluish’ joke.
Granted, this was a fun episode, and the character bits and great dialogue countered the political heaviness appropriately, and I enjoyed it, but it still felt uneven and heavy-handed in places. If Capaldi had had lines like he had here in his first season I would have warmed up to him a lot quicker. Personally I blame Clara first, then Moffat. Or maybe reverse that.
And then there’s the blindness thing. Can a Time Lord even go blind? Could he force a regeneration to fix it? And why did The Doctor tell Nardole but not Bill? And while we are asking questions, what is up with Bill’s mom? We keep seeing images of her. Nardole is still angry about leaving Earth and the vault unprotected. Perhaps we’ll find out next week when Missy makes her return, but will she come from the vault, or is John Saxon in there…?