“Oxygen” is a breath of fresh air coming on the heels of last week’s “Knock, Knock”. A suspenseful space adventure, the only letdown is the fact that the mystery of “The Vault” has yet to be fully explored.
After weeks of waiting for a truly enjoyable episode of Doctor Who, Oxygen finally delivers. The Doctor must face an imposing threat which will have lasting consequences.
*** SPOILERS ***
The episode opens with a prologue narrated by The Doctor. “Space, the final frontier”, he begins. The Doctor tells us that it is only final because space constantly wants to kill us. As The Doctor narrates to the viewer exactly what happens when a human is exposed to the vacuum of space, we see two individuals navigating the void. Everyone is expecting what happens next: as the two are about to enter the space station mysterious figures also wearing space suits attack them. Only one survives, and the victim continues to walk under the power of her animated spacesuit.
After the opening credits we see The Doctor giving a lecture to his class. Nardole confronts The Doctor within the TARDIS, reminding him of his oath to guard The Vault. The Doctor decides that it’s time for an adventure in space, and answers a distress call on a mining facility. Against Nardole’s objections the three begin to explore the space station.
The station is devoid of oxygen, but The Doctor expands the TARDIS’ oxygen shell, filling the station with enough breathable air for a stroll. This is when we discover a corpse being controlled by a spacesuit. The suit is still active, suspending the dead man in a standing position. Although the viewer knows that the space suits themselves are the main threat of this episode, The Doctor doesn’t realize it until much later.
We learn that Oxygen is a commodity on this space station, and that the company that owns it charges its workers per breath. The station begins to vent the air that the TARDIS released and the three are forced to put on one a suit, with a limited number of breaths in it. It is then that we learn, from one of the station’s remaining living inhabitants, that the suits have killed their inhabitants due to a order from an unknown source stating that the suits should disable their biological components.
It is at this time that the corpse suit begins to activate, chasing The Doctor and his companions through the station until they find safety with the other survivors.
There are a few good scenes here, not the least of which is when Bill makes a racially insensitive comment about another character’s skin. It’s blue. She’s never met someone with blue skin before, as she explains to him in a form of an apology.
We also learn that the company has declared the station as “non-profitable” and essentially left the survivors on their own.
After setting up the rest of the premise the survivors find themselves under attack. About 30 spacesuits (compete with walking cadavers) break through their defenses. This scene was Dr Who’s take on The Walking Dead, and it worked. The show march if the spacesuits, intent on “eliminating the biological components) snowly chase after The Doctor and the survivors, yet their numbers make them a dangerous foe. How do you kill a spacesuit?
Eventually the survivors are left with no choice but to walk outside the station. But there’s a problem as Bill’s suit malfunctions and she cannot put on her helmet.
As the air rushes out we watch Bill’s face as the airlock is opened and the vacuum invades. The screen flashes brief glimpses, that of her walking outside the station, that of a helmet being placed on her head, and a brief glimpse of Tbe Doctor. When Bill wakes we find that The Doctor walked the entire way without a helmet; in a vacuum. Bill survived after being exposed to space for a few seconds (The Doctor had previously explained that you don’t die instantly but you do pass out rather quickly).
We learn, however, that The Doctor’s heroic sacrifice came at a cost: he is blind. Not to worry, he assures Bill, he’ll be able to heal his eyes with the equipment on the TARDIS.
Dr Who is constantly having to come up with ways to handicap Tbe Doctor. The us necessary because The Doctor, as most Timelords, is rather overpowered and has to be handicapped in order to hills suspense. Most of the time The Doctor is sepersted from his TARDIS. He often loses his sonic screwdriver. But this is the first time I’ve seen the show make The Doctor blind.
Not that this slows him down much. After a brief rest the suits find the survivors and they must escape to the core. However, Bill’s suit malfunctions again and cannot move. After a few feeble attempts at a rescue The Doctor leaves Bill. We know that if the suits touch her they will reporogram hers to “remove the biological components” (i.e. kill her), but The Doctor is forced to abandon her. He promises that he’ll save her, but she’ll have to suffer before then.
The group leaves Bill to her fate. The suits reach her and she is shocked with a bolt of electricity, falling limp. Her suit begins to move on its own.
Inside the core The Doctor rigs up their suits’ life support system to the core. If they die, there will be a massive explosion and the entire station will be lost. As he explains to the suits when they arrive, if they die the station dies and it will be a huge financial loss for the company.
The suits stop, and give the survivors a fresh supply of oxygen. Zombie Bill arrives, but The Doctor revives her, stating that he knew her suits faulty batter didn’t have enough juice to kill her. The suits, we learn, were sent by the company to kill the less efficient humans. But when given the choice of inneficient staff or no station at all, the company decided to let the humans live.
The Doctor rescues everyone, and returns the survivors to the company where they plan to lake a very loud complaint. The Doctor mentions that six months later there will be a revolution, toppling the status quo and establishing a new society.
Nardole finally gets to chastise The Doctor for his carelessness. He can’t keep going on adventures. He has to guard The Vault. Because if The Doctor doesn’t come back, or comes back weakened, their prisoner will sense it.
It is then that we see the final reveal: The Doctor is still blind. He want a Le to heal his eyes and will be blind forever.
This was a chilling episode, one that held my attention even though I was clamoring at any hint of an explanation for The Vault. The finality of The Doctor’s carelessness was a brilliant stroke, one that has me excited for next week’s episode.