When Russell T Davies was the showrunner of Doctor Who, there was one regular writer apart from Davies whose work really stood out. He gave us creepy gas mask monsters, clockwork robots, weeping angels, and killer shadows. He went on to become the showrunner himself and his name was Steven Moffat. Has there been anybody similar under his own tenure? Well, certainly not Chris Chibnall, unfortunately. But the one writer who has come close to being “the Steven Moffat” of this era, is Jamie Mathieson. Here’s what he has given us so far:
Mummy on the Orient Express
The Girl Who Died
… and now Oxygen. The first two of those are approaching perfection, and the third is competent. So how about Oxygen? Well, it is a return to the creepiness of his first two efforts, with walking corpses in spacesuits. But wait, haven’t we seen that before? I know Silence in the Library is a brilliant story, but does that excuse reusing its two big scary ideas in two of the first five episodes of this series? Maybe just about, but the nagging feeling that the ideas are running out is getting persistent.
But there is also one big new concept explored here: the idea of oxygen being a limited commodity, more important than disposable human labour. I don’t like it. And I don’t like it for two big reasons:
(1) It is a clumsy capitalism allegory. Clumsy because capitalism is simply the best bad option amongst various bad options, all of which are bad but this is the least bad we have. Limiting oxygen for financial gain is a silly parallel, because it is the worst and most stupidest option anyone could possibly think of, so that’s no parallel at all. At best I suppose we can say it is a little childish in the idealism of the lesson it’s trying to teach us.
(2) It makes no sense. If you have suits capable of doing what those things do, then you don’t need humans anyway, disposable or not. Because your technology is sufficiently advanced that what you would have is robotic labour. Besides which, nobody would put up with it. Being expected to believe that this is a system that people could be duped into accepting until the Doctor comes along to sort things out is asking too much.
So we have an illogical episode with a rehashed monster… but even so… I can’t help liking it, against my better judgement, and the reason for that is mainly in the execution of the idea. Sometimes style over substance really does work. It is brilliantly directed and again it is hard not to like an episode with the three leads we have this year. This is without a shadow of doubt Capaldi’s finest year, and showing us a Doctor who can still win the day when he is blind is a breathtaking idea, magnificently acted. It left me feeling like I really couldn’t wait for next week’s episode, and I haven’t had that reaction to a Doctor Who episode for quite a long time. This is my kind of Doctor Who, and it’s great to have it back. RP
The view from across the pond:
Knowing today would be the day to write about Oxygen, I thought about what I would say… and came up empty Frankly, Roger covered it all. I too liked it, but it’s not that i can tell why. The enemy is not well-thought out at all. Yes, it is a jab at capitalism but it forgets that there’s no need for it in the story when the station has the suits (also known as robots) to do the manual labor! (Although I did like the pun about fighting the suits!) Not to mention, if oxygen is such a commodity, why would the station be against free, “unauthorized” oxygen (provided by the TARDIS)? Why not just accept it? It’s the equivalent of free money!
What probably makes this episode so likable is simply the main cast. Capaldi is utterly brilliant, but Pearl carries this one for me. Her “death” in the vacuum was well done and eerie. Her fear is palpable. And the visuals as she is brought outside the station as she drifts in and out of consciousness is utterly brilliant. Matt Lucas finally gets some screen time worth talking about and he’s great. My biggest complaint with the episode however centers around him. I hate the concept of name dropping. The Doctor does it but he’s a time traveler. I don’t like its over-use, but he can get away with it. Not so for companions (remember Clara’s stupidity with Jane Austen???) I don’t buy that Nardole recognized an ex-girlfriend’s voice in the vastness of time and space. It’s silly, contrived and serves absolutely no point. His knowing her didn’t change a thing about the episode, so it just felt like an attempt at a cheap laugh. And it failed utterly. As did Clara’s at the beginning of last season! And in some ways, I both like and dislike the scenes surrounding the blue fellow. I like it because SF can remind us of things without saying them directly, but did we need it? It felt a little forced.
The Doctor’s blindness was an interesting idea. I liked the newness of that! But it serves mostly as a vehicle for making the Doctor blind, which in turn serves its own purpose later. There’s not a whole lot to say about this episode otherwise. Oxygen may not be a classic like a number of the modern episodes have become but it bears watching. And if nothing else, to hear the Doctor admit to being insane is a fun laugh.
My company started charging me credits for how many words I type, so I’d better stop before they… ML
Read next in the Junkyard… Extremis