(The Very Belated) Doctor Who 10×5 “Oxygen” Review

In the fifth episode of this season of Doctor Who, The Doctor, Bill, and Nardole find themselves caught up in new dangers as they answer a distress call coming from deep space, the sort of thing that’s never just an easy rescue. Especially when big corporate who only cares about the bottom line is involved. And so we have “Oxygen”, which feels like a space take on zombies-but-not-zombies. This review is very belated because much like the Doctor’s capers, shit happens that puts a wrench in things, like moving apartments and not having a desk or knowing where  you packed your laptop for a few days. I digress.

The walking dead in this episode are indeed quite dead; it’s more their automated smartsuits that is a the worry as thanks to instructions given to the suits to deactivate their organic components, those wearing the suits (which are the only source of oxygen on the space station) are being killed off. In place of the zombie “bite” is the fact that this signal carrying these instructions can be passed by touch. It’s really quite a neat allegory for the zombie story given some hard sci-fi updating.

On the space station, oxygen usage is measured in breaths by the company the deep space miners work for, and ultimately it’s said company behind the spacesuits killing people as a means to protect the bottom line aka profit. If sci-fi has taught us anything it’s this: never work for big companies mining in space. Or hauling cargo. Because you are signing up to be a red shirt, my friends, and it’s all cryosleep and games until an alien bursts from your chest or your space suit decides to murder your ass because reasons.

What this episode does do is further show the thing Bill is coming to learn quite awfully in each episode; traveling with the Doctor is not all fun and games, it can have scary and real consequences. Like seeing children die. Like having your own spacesuit turn on you and electrocute you. Like begging to just be told a joke because you’re bloody terrified and the Doctor is leaving you behind with what sounds only half-convincingly that it will be okay and he will save the day. This was something that underscored Clara’s last season and was what ultimately was the cause of her (temporary) demise. The mindset that no matter the dangers that the Doctor will always work it out, he’ll always come out unscathed and it’s so easy to think this luck extends to the companion…but it doesn’t. And it was a lesson Clara learned too late in “Face the Raven” and one Bill is learning more profoundly with each episode. And she’s new enough still to TARDIS travel and sensible enough to be frightened, to not think it’ll be okay. To want her mom when her suit starts turning on her. But, in the end, the Doctor DOES save her and saves the day and seems to overcome the impossible like temporary blindness after sacrificing his helmet outside the station to save Bill the first time.

But, this time it’s not that easy, and the consequences actually stick. And when Nardole, who is so very over and not about the TARDIS capers life and the Doctor risking himself when he made the constantly mentioned promise to guard the vault, lectures the Doctor it’s only then at the end of the episode we realize that the Doctor hasn’t totally won the day scot-free: he’s still blind.

Ok show, you have my attention more! It’s always frustrated me how little huge consequences have carried across Moffat’s Who tenure: Amy and Rory losing their baby to the Silence but it’s okay because she grows up to be River so cool story bro! Clara doesn’t stay dead and has her own TARDIS times with Me, and because of mindy-wipy, the Doctor can’t remember her. He knows he lost her, but he can’t feel the loss full force. So for him to actually be experiencing longer consequence for the first time palpably in a LONG time is refreshing. Some fan speculation wonders if his blindness will carry through until he regenerates, and that would certainly be interesting.

As for Bill, she continues to be amazing and I hope if this is her only year she gets a clean break like Martha where she goes about living her life and maybe goes to work for A Charitable Earth with Ace because they would get on so brilliantly. Nardole still bothers me a bit, something about the character just doesn’t get on with me. His function seems solely to just nag the Doctor. He is capable out in “the field” but I just don’t really feel endeared to him.

Episode Rating: B+


Assorted Musings

  • WHO IS IN THE VAULT? If it’s just Missy that’s a little predictable.
  • In the first scene with the pair of space miners outside, I dubbed that scene “Love Actually In Space” because the poor girl reminded me of Sarah trying to stay alive to have babies with her Space Karl. Alas.


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