BBC One – 7:15pm – Saturday 13th May 2017
Written by: Jamie Mathieson
Directed by: Charles Palmer
SAVE YOUR BREATH
“Can you imagine how unbearable I’ll be when I get us out of this?”
Infuriated that his employer is reneging on his vow to stay at the university and guard the vault, an admonishing Nardole (Matt Lucas) piggybacks on the Doctor (Peter Capaldi) and Bill’s (Pearl Mackie) answering of a distress call on a space station which mines copper ore in the final frontier. On board, the trio come face-to-face with a contingent of zombie-nauts – 36 dead members of the 40-strong crew whose walking corpses are automated by their SmartSuits.
“Deactivate your organic component!”
It transpires that the SmartSuits are following a capitalistic corporate mandate to dispose of the expensive workers who are wasting the company’s most valued commodity: o2. Such a dark, politicised revelation gives the Doctor the kernel of a shrewd solution to save their souls, even when death seems imminent (“Revenge as bright as the sun!”). But will he pay a costly price for his selfless saving of his new companion?
I have seen a glut of fans, bloggers and journalists proclaim that “Oxygen” makes it five-for-five so far for Doctor Who series ten. While I concur that this is another strong episode in a fairly consistent and robust run – for example, there is a palpable sense of tension as Bill’s offline suit leaves her vulnerable to the walking dead, rooted to the spot as the corpses converge on the fleeing group – I also feel like the doomed space station scenario is a tired and over-done one in this prime time sci-fi series.
For that reason, “Oxygen”’s manufactured sense of isolation felt far from fresh, with the set-up played predictably straight. Whereas last week’s “Knock, Knock,” for comparison’s sake, played up to and contorted its genre clichés cunningly. That’s not to say there isn’t good work here: the distorted sound effects and slow-motion dizziness portraying the character’s panic in a vacuum, for example, was imaginatively achieved, while Capaldi brings a grave sense of loss to his usually exuberant joke-flinging Time Lord, one which will impact greatly on his future characterisation in a very humbling and grounded way.
CR@B’s Claw Score: