YES. Jamie Mathieson episode time. I love this guy writing for Who. What a true find he was. Both Flatline and Mummy on the Orient Express are great episodes in my book and The Girl Who Lived wasn’t half bad either. My money is on him having what it takes to be a show runner one fine day.
Anyway, Oxygen is about The Doctor and Bill doing space adventure. For the first time this series, Nardole comes along for the ride and gets some story beats in his own right. Oxygen is a commodity and suits are the three’s only hope of breathing for sustained periods. Then the suits turn on their human residents…
What I loved about this episode (which was yet another example of Doctor Who in confined space with guest stars getting murdered one by one), was the way it took the time to breathe, the way it let us fear for Bill and then The Doctor and then rage with all three main characters about the way capitalism has screwed us all over.
I am still loving Bill. She is fast sky rocketing to one of the better companions in the show’s entire run. I loved her comment that inside the space station she couldn’t tell she was in space, but then she turned to a window and looked out, and the audience, like her, felt the wonder and emptiness of space. “That’s more like it.”
Of course, it’s Bill’s suit which malfunctions and we get to see Mackie’s acting chops on show as she does genuine shit your pants terror. I love that The Doctor gives his helmet to Bill and risks his own life. Even though Twelve is grouchy and sometimes coldly scientific (as his voice over at the start of the episode reminds us), when his companion is in trouble,he risks everything for their safety. Bill and The Doctor have a lovely relationship and I can’t wait to see where it all goes next.
This week as well, Nardole moves beyond mere valet and starts helping The Doctor on an adventure in his own right. I was never a huge fan of Matt Lucas, but this episode he grew on me with his combination of light comedy turn, cowardice and gentle put downs of The Doctor when needed. We also see that he values individual life. It is obvious that he cares for Bill’s safety because she is The Doctor’s friend. What else should the audience expect from an ex colleague of River Song?
Aside from protecting his companions and raging against capitalism (and with good reason in this story), there is another drop the mic Doctor Who moment which I for one did not see coming. The Doctor walks into a vacuum defenseless and seems fine. But this is not the case. His sunglasses shield the truth. That he has been blinded by his choice to spare Bill. I really hope that this story consequence isn’t hand waved away next episode. One of the great things about Capaldi’s Doctor (and I say this as someone who sees Eleven as her Doctor)is that he is a more back to basics kind of guy: less reliance on the sonic and on timey wimey stuff. More reliance on science, rationality and intellect. Series 10 has been a vehicle for great stories which underplay both of the former. Having a blind Doctor only adds to the difficulty of penning a story, but it makes for very interesting Doctor territory.
Guest stars this week were a mixed bag. The opening woman who is killed in the first five minutes gave a surprising memorable bit part performance. I was genuinely moved by her every time she was on screen. I loved the blue guy and his exchange with Bill on racism. I love that we can now depict racism and discuss racism on Doctor Who and it’s great that stories haven’t ignored Bill’s identity as a black woman. The female leader who distrusts The Doctor? I liked her for the most part (it doesn’t do to have everyone worship the ground The Doctor walks on all of the time) but I didn’t buy her sudden acceptance of The Doctor’s explanations for the oxygen, the suits, and the incoming new human cargo. A small niggle in an otherwise five star episode.
The Doctor: They’re not your rescuers. They’re your replacements. The endpoint of capitalism. Bottom line. Where human life has no value at all. We’re fighting an algorithm. A spreadsheet. Like every worker everywhere, we’re fighting the suits!
The Doctor: The universe shows its true face when it asks for help, we show ours by how we respond.
Oxygen: 9/10 inky stars with another quality Mathieson entry