I’ve got to hand it to them: this has got to be, hands-down, the most agonizing 8 minutes of television I’ve ever seen. Ok that had to be said, but seriously, if humans need a reminder of just how dangerous space could be, this tiny episode is the training video everyone should watch. And the entire thing is carried by one character: Alex, a Scot who is effectively a space mechanic. She goes out to work on a satellite and a rogue screw hits her from behind. Its hits her in the oxygen tank and she drifts off unable to get back to her one-person shuttle. With a rescue crew an hour away but only with 15 minutes of oxygen, Alex doesn’t have much hope… but she’s not quite ready to give up yet!
Another captivating episode. Within the first minute, you’re hooked and you’re not going to blink. The animation is not quite to the level of Shape-Shifters but it’s not far off. In fairness, there’s not much in need of animation. The couple long shot vistas we get of the Earth in the background are all lovely, but there’s not a lot to illustrate what they could do with animation, it’s just that it doesn’t matter for this little episode.
There is also one special call-out that I’d like to make. There’s a scene where Alex is attempting to grab onto the station that’s left to the imagination. It’s a brilliantly executed moment because it leaves us with doubt for just a few seconds before all is revealed. It’s another great brushstroke that makes up a masterpiece.
I have seldom seen things that make me cringe so much. I found myself running my fingers through my hair as I took deep breaths to watch what Alex was going to do to survive. This is not easy viewing.
Also, the screw that hits Alex is a little odd. It’s clearly floating from something it broke off of, but we’re never clear on what. Perhaps it was part of what she was fixing and had made a full rotation around the Earth but it’s not really a necessary part of enjoying the story, I just wish I knew where it came from.
And while there’s the ever-present language that pops up, I only put it here as a caution. It works for the episode, not against it. It’s not gratuitous and I challenge anyone to even imagine being in the situation Alex finds herself in and guarantee they wouldn’t let the odd f-bomb fly!
The Doctor made it pretty clear in Oxygen that space is dangerous, but science fiction often plays with that making us believe it’s not quite as lethal as it actually is. Think of Arthur Dent and Ford Prefect as they have 30 seconds to float in space, or Ka D’Argo in Farscape who is able to float lovingly for a season finale. That doesn’t show you just how bad it can be. I’m all for seeing us go to the stars to branch out into the universe, but this is off-putting in the extreme.
Having said that, humans are survivors and we will fight for our lives when push comes to shove, which is, ironically, exactly what it comes to for Alex. But I can’t help but wonder to what extent I’d feel it’s worth it to stay alive. Alex sacrifices her hand in order to make it home. One might think that wouldn’t be a tall order, and maybe when it comes right down to it, we would agree, but I don’t know. This episode really drives home the point about our desire to stay alive and it’s both scary and amazing.
Or maybe the message is just a reminder of something we already know: Scottish people are tough. I mean, really tough. It’s why Dwarves in Middle Earth are always Scottish. They can withstand the extremes like no other. I had to laugh as I wondered how it would have gone if this had been an Italian guy. Perhaps we could have had a comedy: “Vinny, grab Vito and rip his arm off. We can throw it to get momentum.” I’m just kidding; I’m Italian I would never do that to Vito. (Or would I?).
Our little in-episode game doesn’t hold up for me today. In fact, that might be the one thing this episode doesn’t do well! We are shown a heart (based on the series title: love), a skull (also based on the series title: death) and a car air freshener, which is based on what is floating in Alex’s shuttle. I imagine the love icon could be the love for life that’s so strong that we fight to the death to stay alive – that’s an on-the-spot interpretation but it’s all I’ve got. Does it work? Maybe… but only if we squint a little. Although, in the grand scheme, that’s hardly a criticism. Death of course makes sense: space is deadly in every possible way. And the air freshener is just an image we see at the end of the episode. A good series of images? Maybe not, but with an episode this intense, did it really bother me?
Another superb entry into the series. There’s even a great line at the end when the voice from Earth, finding out that Alex has survived, asks, “You still need a hand?” It’s clever little touches like that that really make an already great episode even better. This is one episode not to be missed… but don’t plan on eating while watching. (Especially important to avoid anything crunchy…) ML
I just realized now that space is not as accurately dangerous in some areas of science-fiction as it is in the real universe. And as for Scottish people being tough, as I was reminded by the character of James Brice in an episode of The Ark saying “I’m Scottish so I don’t pass out on booze.”, I can really admire how human characters of foreign countries can often be most profoundly portrayed in SF, when in the best light of course thanks to what James Doohan achieved as Scotty. Thanks, ML, for your review.
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