Doctor Who is a series that thrives on being able to create tension. Throwing its characters into danger and pulling the rug at the right moment is part and parcel of the formula. With this weeks episode homing in on the tension and drama – could it stick the landing, or was Oxygen a load of hot air?
Oxygen see’s The Doctor returning to space, taking Bill and Nardole along to a seemingly abandoned space station. With oxygen a valuable commodity on this space station – and the former occupants wandering around – there was a lot of potential for the episode to deliver a tense outing. For the most part, I think it managed to deliver this; while changing up the status quo for the show moving forward. But there are moments where the episode threatens its own momentum.
First things first – this episode wasn’t afraid to go hard. Moments like Bill’s helmet malfunctioning and discovering The Doctor had gone blind were genuinely harrowing. The series is normally dark, but this episode seemed to relish in that aspect all the more delightfully. Seeing Bill thrown into genuinely horrifying situations makes for an interesting situation – all the more when the episode played up her wide-eyed wonder so prominently in the early stages. I was slightly annoyed that The Doctor effectively sacrificing her at the end of the episode was overlooked – giving his actions an awkward validation. In the past, The Doctor has worked hard to avoid putting his assistants in harm’s way – here he actively encouraged it.
As the episode marched forward – this wide-eyed wonder was quickly replaced by an increased sense of fear. The villains of the week were revealed to be oxygen dispensing suits that charged per breath for oxygen. With his Sonic Screwdriver busted and the Tardis of play, the threat from the capitalist suits was allowed to grow organically – which helped with the sense of horror.
The opening gambit of the episode was the most emotional, and arguably made the best use of the space setting. The deadly silence that surrounded the couples interaction was foreboding, as was the emergence of the zombie crew. It was a shocking way to open the episode, and I wish the rest of the episode had been to this high standard.
The episode also went heavy on the argument that humans are disposable again, a theme that Season 10 has addressed already. Compared to the Emoji episode, this was a more atmospheric but ultimately felt less enjoyable as a whole. Maybe it was the fact that this season has been overstuffed with spooky outings – fatigue may very well be setting in. Whatever the case, I found the ‘big’ moments in this episode more enjoyable than the downtime between them.
One thing I do applaud is the direction The Doctor’s character is hurtling down. The fact that The Doctor is blind permanently is a shocking turn of events, if only because it foreshadows his upcoming regeneration heavily. Given all the chatter about an early regeneration, this has my attention. With Missy seemingly making the first of many appearances in next weeks episode, things could be set to get even more entertaining as we march towards the end of the season.
I just hope that Bill’s character arc is allowed to continue – she’s proving to be an excellent addition to the show. Not overbearing, but doing just enough to justify her position. Nardole’s still not doing much for me – his nagging serves the series arc but doesn’t do much for the moment-to-moment parts of the episode. Frankly I’m hoping he gets destroyed sometime before the finale.
Overall it’s a fine episode. I think it had potential to do more with the parts it created – but ultimately had its eyes fixed on the future. Hopefully with so many big ideas to play with moving forward – Doctor Who Season 10 can continue to move from strength to strength.