First episode, misguided sentient puddle.
Second episode, misguided robots.
Third episode, misguided human with access to huge river serpent.
Fourth episode, misguided human with wooden mother.
Fifth episode? Misguided humans.
Can you see a pattern? I think I should call spoilers on what I am about to say: no alien Big Bad in Oxygen. No monsters except for those of the human kind.
“Space. The final frontier. Final because it wants tae kill us. Frontier because it is full o’ cowboys an’ injuns. Dinnae worry.”
So what is the engine that drives this story?
“Fear keeps ye fast. Fast is good.”
So says the Doctor in Oxygen. But this story isn’t just about fear. It is also about capitalist greed. This is the pump that primes the story. It is also about oxygen but given that this is also the title of the episode, you’ll won’t have needed me to have told you that. Also, fear causes you to breath faster so…
The episode starts off at St Luke’s University with the Doctor telling his students how you can die in space. Which is all very well but he is meant to be lecturing about crop rotation and the role of EmojiBots in colony farming.
He explains all about how one can die when exposed to the vacuum of space and how the boiling point of water is much lower so you’ll go blind and your bladder will pop off like a rabbit that has suddenly remembered that it left the gas on at home.
The only thing you can hope for is a quick death or that a passing Vogon constructor fleet will pick you up as you drift in space.
This is one of the ways that Jamie Mathieson touches on Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series. On purpose? Accidentally?
Anyhoo, the Doctor and Bill, in the next scene, are in the TARDIS. The Doctor has itchy feet. This isn’t a verucca though. He wants to go off-Earth. So he does. But Nardole is also on board, having not been fooled into travelling to Birmingham for a packet of crisps. He had got all the way to Perivale before he realised that crisps can be purchased anywhere in England in a variety of flavours (I like marsh minnow crisps, yum) and that his satnav was seriously malfunctioning. Perivale indeed! Tut-tut…
Bill want to go to Butlins InterGalactic but the Doctor mutters something about Macra and decides to take them somewhere interesting instead. This somewhere being a place that is giving out a distress call.
Distress calls are the Doctor’s theme tune or so he says. But this can’t be true because the alarm isn’t going “dum-diddly-dum-diddly-dum”.
“Ye only see tha true face o’ tha universe when it’s asking for y’help, Nardole mon,” being his explanation for answering The Klaxons of Awooga (which is also the name of an unmade Pertwee-era serial). Nardole is not fooling for this.
“You cannot leave because I has the mercury link and stuff, innit,” says Nardole.
“Yeah, that willnae stop me,” says the Doctor with his trademark wolfish grin.
The TARDIS vworp vworps into the not-at-all-similar-to-Deep–Space–Nine space station called Chasm Forge. This is a place where ore miners (Yes, DS9 was originally an ore processing plant but that isn’t exactly the same… [[Um, if you say so]) process the things they mine [soooooo exactly like DS9 then?(shut up, shuttitty shut the shut up!)].
There doesn’t seem to be any invisible breathing gas so the Doctor allows his TARDIS to empty out some of its, as our scientist friends call it, oxygen into Chasm Forge. The TARDIS troika can breathe. Ah, air just like momma used to make. Lovely.
Chasm Forge is a bit of a dump. Nardole and the Doctor argue about whether space doors should have proper airlocks with hinges and wheels or whether they should go ‘swish’ like on that Star Trek show. The Doctor hates swishy doors. By the by, the doors on DS9 go ‘sh-shunk’ so make of that what you will.
Our heroes enter a room and find somebody in a spacesuit. A dead somebody. Standing up. Series ten is full of spookiness. Love it!
Flashback to the teaser at the beginning of Oxygen…
Man and a woman, not much air left in their spacesuits, woman wanting to have baby with man, walking on the outside of the station. I cannot stress how cool this scene is. Not the plot bits but the beautiful way the production team has managed to shoot/make the scene. Did I mention how much I loved it?
The two are being chased, slowly, by people in unhelmeted spacesuits. Surely not? Wouldn’t they die? Wouldn’t their eyes and saliva boil away? Yes. These chasers are not alive. Is it the Vashta Nerada? No. Remember there are no alien Big Bads in this epIsode. These are just the spacewalking dead.
One of them grabs hold of the woman and quicker than you can say “Hey, who turned out all the lights”, the zombinauts do a thing to her and she, against her will, takes her space helmet off to suck in the heady vacuum of the interstellar void. She dies, her skin frosting over, her eyes going white, twin pops as her bladder explodes. The man is horrified but finds that all this reminds him of that Wallace and Gromit film The Wrong Trousers.
Aaaaannnnnnd back in the room with the Doctor, Bill, Nardole and a corpse in a spacesuit.
This astrocorpse doesn’t seem to be all grabby or animate. It gives Bill the willies which is justifiable. I’d like to see anyone remain calm with a dead body mooching about.
The Doctor quite likes the spacesuit. It has all the bells and whistles like magnetic boots, Bebo and MySpace access, go faster stripes, a force field to keep in the air and oxygen tanks. Apparently the suit, and the other suits seen earlier, were given a command to deactivate organic components and to log out of MySpace.
The suits are pay-as-you-go. You need to stick money in so you can breath. In the future, they use spacegroats. One coin will buy you five puffs of oxygen. There is a standing fee of six spacegroats per hour just for using the spacesuit. By the end of this episode I reckon the Doctor will be blinded by bankruptcy.
There are also other spacesuits hanging off the wall. Not very snazzy. I much prefer the orange ones from past episodes.These ones are faulty but not faulty in the sense that the corpse-filled ones are.
Chasm Forge’s computers has detected all the free oxygen flowing out of the TARDIS. This must not be alllowed. It empties all the air out of the wheel in space, alongside the body of Zoe Heriot and presumably the TARDIS too, into the inky dark.
Our heroes have no other choice but to get into the spacesuits and update their Bebo accounts. In space, nobody can hear you post funny cat photos on social media.
The survivors of the undead contact the Doctor via Bebo and ask to become his friend. He consents and they tell him to get the hell out of where he is. So they do and a short while later, and I am conflating the plot here to avoid boring bits and that scene involving the ferret down Nardole’s trousers, and meet up with the no-point-mentioning-their-names-because-they-will-probably-all-die-horribly crew members of Chasm Forge.
Ooh, special note to Dahh-ren (played by Peter Caulfield who tweeted his name as Dahh’ren but other sources say his name has the hyphen so who knows?) who is blue. In skin colour and in mood. And underwear.
Bill is shocked by the blueness. Dahh-ren takes it badly and accuses her of racism. Which is, I think, not quite the right term. On Earth (hello, earthlings) racism is when one group of humans hates/hurts another group of humans because they are under the assumption that the second group of humans is in some way inferior to the first group of humans despite the second group beating the first group in quite a number of sports. So is it right to call someone racist if they are alien? Well, yes, technically. But I prefer the term ‘xenophobic’ which seems more apt to me.
Having just said all that, is Dahh-ren an alien? In Gridlock we saw red and white humans. Maybe the blue is a form of body bepple (hello, New Adventures fans) or the human race now comes in rainbow colours.
Oh, and Dahh-ren isn’t the alien Big Bad either. He is just the Big Sarcasm.
Our heroes and survivors don physical helmets because the forcefields, while nifty, cannot handle vacuum. I was quite peeved that we did not get to see Bill try to fit her helmet over her afro. We woz robbed!
Bill is concerned about vomiting into her helmet. She needn’t be. In space, nobody can hear you chunder the technicolour snake. But this reminds me of another Douglas Adams thing…
There is a short story called Young Zaphod Plays It Safe. I won’t go over the plot but in the story there are spacesuits which can walk by themselves and even take, I think, the unconcious Zaphod walking. Beeblebrox even vomits inside his spacesuit at one point. Is the writer riffing off this short story or is it just coincidence?
They flee the zombienauts, some fall to the electrifying touch of the undead. They make it to an airlock but Bill’s suit is malfunctioning. “Oh cripes!” as Nardole doesn’t say. Don’t you think that Nardole is Penfold to the Doctor’s Dangermouse? In fact, try singing the words ‘Doctor Who’ to the theme tune of Dangermouse, it so works!
The Doctor saves Bill by giving her his helmet. As a Time Lord, he can survive vacuum longer than mere humans. There is an exciting scene from the point of view of Bill, great to watch, slightly difficult to figure out exactly what is happening. The long and short of it is that when back indoors, the Doctor has gone blind. I didn’t see that coming.
There is hope for the Doctor though. He can get his peepers fixed in the TARDIS or, failing that, replace them with reptile eyes. I am hoping that he uses K9 as his guide dog.
The suits find them again. Worst game of Hide and Seek ever! Bill’s suit goes haywire and won’t move. The Doctor tells her that she is perfectly safe but unless his dictionary definition is severely wrong, he is lying. The suits grab her, electrify her, and Bill is no more. She is an ex-Bill, pushing up the daisies etc etc…
Oh, and blue boy is also killed. Boo hoo.
The Doctor tells the survivors that their company, Ganymede Systems, told the suits to disengage their fleshy passengers to save oxygen. Oxygen equals money. And if the miners aren’t mining much minerals, then the company is losing money via the oxygen. Killing Chasm Forge’s crew is just Sil-like logic. As some famous short actor said, “greed is good.”
No doubt the directors of the board (Sil, Tobias Vaughn, Josiah W. Dogbolter and the disembodied head of Donald Trump) of Ganymede Systems are laughing all the way to the spacebank and eating their marsh minnows crisps.
The Doctor has a plan! A plan you say? Yes, a plan! He starts hacking into the computer system.
Nardole thinks that his plan is to produce more oxygen for five minutes before they expire. Well, they “could boil the hell out of an egg” in the five minutes they would gain via electrolysis (splitting water into hydrogen and oxygen). But no, his plan is to blow the hell out of Chasm Forge and rob Ganymede Systems of all their lovely oxygen riches.
The two survivors don’t think this is a great plan but is it any better than being turned into a corpse by the bodies of your friends and loved ones? They agree with the Doctor. Nardole puts his head between his legs and prepares to kiss his robotic butt goodbye.
Hold on! Isn’t Nardole a robot now? Or is he a cyborg? If he requires air, then he must be a cyborg unless he is just trying to fit in with everyone else? No matter.
This threat of profit loss is enough to make all the suits freeze where they are shambling. They have AI which is, roughly, as intelligent as a stunned kitten but even the suits realise that the explosion would shred Ganymede’s profits into tatters.
The only options of the zombinauts is to keep the living living. They hand them their own oxygen, hey it isn’t as if corpses need air, right?
Bill and the baby-wanting lady are there amongst the suited cadavers. Poor Bill. Poor Doctor. Poor bit part actors…
But things are looking up, Bill isn’t really dead! The Doctor revives her. “Ach, ’tis simples. Dinnae fash y’sel’, Nardole. Her suit dinnae ha’ enough zappiness tae kill her deid.” Being knocked out, she used less oxygen just in case you were wondering.
Back in the TARDIS, skipping the scene where the Doctor faffs about trying to retrieve it, Nardole seemingly repairs the Doctor’s eyes. No lizard eyes? Meh!
The survivors are dropped off to the Ganymede Systems’ Head Office with their placards – “Down with this sort of thing”, “Gany-greed More Like” – which they immediately put to good use by knocking the
LONDON, NEW YORK, PECKHAM, GANYMEDE
sign down. Boo! Capitalism sucks!
In the Doctor’s office, he mentions to Bill that there was a successful rebellion six months later, which is good. But a month after that, there was a successful Dalek invasion lasting squillions of years, which was bad. But the Doctor got rid of the Daleks, which is good. But then the Vardans invaded, which was neither good or bad really because nobody noticed.
After Bill leaves to go the disco and shake her groove thang, as the cool kids say, Nardole threatens the Doctor with the naughty step if he leaves the Earth again.
Oh, and the Doctor is still blind! Dur-dur-DUR! Cue credits, cue teaser! That’s your lot! Now scat. scat!
Peter Capaldi plays a blinder here (ba-boom-tish). His acting chops are in plain sight here. And if I make any more eye-related puns, I think he’ll track me down and beat me up. Anyway…he is still at the top of his game. I would say that he makes acting choices that the other Doctors, not including Tom Baker, wouldn’t make. His Doctor is very much unique, a mixture of the First and the Fourth with an sprinkling of the Third’s sartorial flair. Love it. Can’t wait to see how the Doctor copes with blindness. Such a pity that his Doctor will soon be respawning.
Dear Whovian rookies. If you wish to annoy the Greybeards, refer to regeneration as respawning. Works every time.
Dear Greybeard Whovians. If you wish to annoy the Rookies, tell them when “all this used to be cardboard and the Daleks squeaked when they moved”. Works every time.
Pearl Mackie, what can I say about her? She continues to be great. I continue to be impressed. Nuff said.
Matt Lucas? A lot of people thought he was going to be another Adric but, yeah, I really do like him. Nardole is growing on me and once I connected him with Penfold in my mind, I really started to like him. So far he is bordering between being great and being Alzarian
Kieran Bew, Justin Salinger, Peter Caulfield, Mimi Ndiweni and Katie Brayben play the survivors until they are killed, then they play the corpses of the survivors or unsurvivors as I like to call them. Erm. Not that they all die. They all perform wonderfully but kudos go to Caulfield, Bew, Ndiweni and Brayben in order of how much I bought into their performance. Any actors who didn’t make the cut, you were good too but no kudos for you. Caulfield only made it to first place because who doesn’t like a blue meanie? Besides the Beatles that is…
So, the six million mazuma question. Should you watch Oxygen? Of course. It has slight flavours of the film Gravity with a bit of Alien and Das Boot thrown in for good measure but the story works. I loved it. You might love it too.
I can’t wait for next week’s episode. As the monks might say, “Veritas odit moras“.