Doctor Who episode 848: Oxygen (13/5/2017)

‘We’re fighting the suits.’ Jamie Mathieson’s final Doctor Who script returns to some of the ideas explored in Mummy on the Orient Express, with a faceless and unseen enemy picking off the passengers of a deep space vessel, one by one, for financial gain. If anything, Oyxgen takes this theme a step further by refusing to give the villainous company a face or a voice: this is ‘the end point of capitalism’, where human beings are just meat to fill robot suits, and the air is taxed.

So far, so The Sunmakers. Of course, the above begs the question why use humans at all if the suits can just do the job – it seems the company’s investment doesn’t stretch to decent AI – but it’s pretty effective. The overall impression leans heavily into classic base under siege horror, with the Doctor’s lecture at the top of the episode re-emphasising the danger of space, and the setting creating an effective sense of isolation and doom.

At points, it’s almost too effective: scenes of Bill being exposed to the vacuum, and then later being attacked by her own suit as she begs for her mother are almost distressingly nasty. It’s scary in a way Sleep No More, where the Doctor and Clara never seemed to be in real peril, was not. I enjoy how, without using Mummy’s gimmick of the onscreen timer, Mathieson recreates some of its sense of inexorable countdown as we’re reminded of how many breaths the characters have left – and how far through the industrial architecture of the space station those will take them.

It isn’t perfect – the Doctor being disabled makes sense in the context of the episode, which has already established the effects of vacuum on the eyeballs, but I remain uncomfortable with permanent blindness being a surprise cliffhanger. There’s a slight sense, too, that we’ve seen this all before, not just in Mathieson’s previous scrips but even in things like Last Christmas. But the straightforward punchiness of the script makes up for it, as does the opportunity to see Nardole properly integrated into the TARDIS crew even as he tries to anchor the Doctor on Earth, guarding the vault.

Next Time: Extremis


One comment

  1. Pingback: Doctor Who episode 847: Knock Knock (6/5/2017) | Next Time...

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