Space, the final frontier. This funny little nod to Star Trek is how we open this week’s episode of Doctor Who, “Oxygen”. Spacesuits with dead bodies are the name of this week’s horror. A typically clever concept from the series, rather than having zombies or something like that, the dead bodies are really just set dressing. Having been killed by their own suits, the bodies have zero to do with the attacks or the horror. The enemy is simply the automated spacesuits, having blue veiny dead people in those suits with their heads hanging and eyes blankly staring makes it a horror episode where it would just have been a normal sci-fi romp.
We see leading up to this that The Doctor is getting antsy. In his lecture hall, his discussions are bending towards space travel with no good reason, Nardole well aware of his itching to get out. Then finding a distress call? That’s practically catnip for The Doctor. I loved the scene of Nardole feeling so smug after removing a necessary part from the Tardis, blocking The Doctor from leaving, only for The Doctor to remind him that it was him that told him that part was vital, and he lied. The fact that The Doctor even chose to lie to the person he charged with keeping him at the vault shows just how much of a control freak he is.
When it came right down to it this week, two big things happen that affect The Doctor moving forward but otherwise this was the weakest episode of season. The first of these things may or may not be quickly fixed and that is the broken Sonic Screwdriver. One of the zombie spacesuits snags The Doctor’s favorite tool and smashes it. Now what this meant in the short term is we lost our cheat card for the episode. Otherwise The Doctor would have likely been shutting down suits left and right with no worries. This basically sidestepped a ton of plot questions fans would have had.
The second big change that occurred happened after a sacrifice by The Doctor. Bill’s suit decided to take off her helmet, exposing her to the vacuum of space. After a tense scene in which she passes out, and when she awakens is told The Doctor gave her his and suffered injuries as a result. The Doctor is blind! Aside from a couple of awkward moments, his blindness barely affects him though. Again a bit of a cheat that even blind he can hack computers, the whole time saying all he needs is to get back to the Tardis to fix his eyes. Which they do, and he does. Gone are the milky white eyes, everything’s all good right? Except that the big last second reveal that he is still blind … wait what?
So the physical structure of his eyes are repaired and should work but don’t? Or is something else at play? I don’t know and I hope there is a valid reason that makes sense. My first thought, the very first thing that crossed my mind? That he is lying. That The Doctor’s sight is fine and that we’ll spend the next few episodes watching him try to “cover” his blindness to Bill, with Nardole assisting, only to find out during the inevitable conflict with Missy that he’s been faking, playing a long con. That’s the kind of silly nonsense cheating we’ve seen from this series before, the kind that will feel brilliant or idiotic based purely on the delivery.
So back to the main story. Bill dies you guys. Like totally, kinda, sorta, wait … nope she dies but only mostly? Are we following Princess Bride rules of death now? She gets shocked like everyone else but The Doctor claims he knew the suit didn’t have enough charge for a fatal dose, and revives her, even though she looks all glassy eyed and veiny like the rest of the dead. I rewatched this scene three times and I still get a headache trying to understand this nonsense. They wisely try to quickly move on but it just does not make sense.
The way around the killer suits is standard preachy Who, finding that the suits are killing them merely because they are cheaper for the company dead than alive now. But they have to pay for their own oxygen so I’m not sure how this is even true. Anyway, The Doctor wires the remaining crew’s vitals to the space station core making their lives worth the whole installation, turning corporate greed in their favor. Corporations are greedy, that’s bad, people’s lives are worth more than profit. We’ve seen every one of these ideas many other times on the series but with much better writing and far fewer plot holes.
While not without its fun moments, like Bill being racist towards a blue alien and him not understanding how she has dealt with racism, this episode was a dud. It made no sense, the messages were heavy-handed and the writing was weak. In what has been till now a great season this was a boring, forgettable entry that sucked all the fun — and oxygen — from the series.