It’s time to talk about another episode of Doctor Who: “Oxygen.” Oh goodness guys, this episode was jammed-pack with action, emotionally heavy, and had some serious consequences for Doctor and the gang!
Spoilers beyond this point, sweeties!
The episode “Oxygen” opens with a lovely shot of a pair of floating bodies in space and a reminder that “The void is always waiting,” which is really never a good sign. We then watch as the dead bodies kill at least one living astronaut outside a space station, and are quickly whisked through the credits to the university. In the lecture hall, The Doctor is drawing a pretty cool looking skull while explaining to his students in great detail exactly how one dies in space, ending with a cheerful “Space is great, isn’t it?” The class clearly disagrees, and even Nardol looks bummed out about this not-so-fun-fact.
It turns out that Nardole is actually upset because he can sense that The Doctor is missing his travels and fears he will abandon his post guarding the vault. He even went so far as to attempt to disable the TARDIS. However, The Doctor sees right through his plan, and with Bill in tow, they zip away to check out a distress call the TARDIS has picked up.
As the trio opens the door to the TARDIS, they are immediately greeted with a warning that unlicensed oxygen is being detected, thanks to the air shield around the TARDIS.
As Bill marvels at the view outside, The Doctor and Nardole have a silly conversation about the doors, and “none of that shoock shoock nonsense.” This is a good point to bring up: I love the little quirky dialogue that The Doctor has with everyone. It’s just as quick witted as Matt Smith’s doctor, but it finally feels like Peter Capaldi has made The Doctor his own character.
Back on board the space station, our three heroes quickly come across a body that is standing up all on its own thank to the spacesuit it’s wearing. It’s really quite creepy and Bill is openly distressed. They soon discover that not only is this body’s air tank full of oxygen, the forcefield surrounding his face is up. There is no reason for him to be dead, and yet he is. After checking the computer logs, we find out that that 36 out of the 40 member crew have died. Bill and Nardole are ready to book it back to the TARDIS , but The Doctor reminds them that there are still 4 crew members alive: “The universe shows its true face when you ask for help; we show ours by how we respond.”
In the next room, the group finds what appears to be a helmeted astronaut stacking boxes. The Doctor pops off the helmet with his sonic screwdriver, revealing that it is actually just an empty suit, prompting Bill to ask “Do people ever hit you?”(Not often enough Bill, not often enough!) It turns out that in this time and place, oxygen is a commodity and only exists via the suits. Unlicensed oxygen is expelled to protect the oxygen’s market value, and the station is getting ready to purge all the oxygen they brought on board via the TARDIS. They run into more suits, and in the process of the sudden oxygen purge find themselves cut off from the TARDIS . A mysterious voice comes over the com, warning the group to stay away from the suits. We learn that the suits were given a command to “deactivate their organic component”. The Doctor breaks his sonic screwdriver, and the three are forced to put on suits and hope they are off network and haven’t received the murderous command.
We are then treated to a wide shot of the 36 corpses walking around outside the station. It is very creepy.
The trio finally meets up with the surviving 4 members of the crew. Bill’s suit is glitching and as she gets it repaired, the crew explains that they think someone hacked the network since whoever hacked the suits also cut the radio. Outside, the corpse-occupied suits figure out how to get past the locked door. Turns out that they can problem solve, and once inside they quickly kill one of the surviving crew members.
The remaining survivors flee to the outside of the space station, but in the decompression chamber Bill’s suit begins to act up again. This time, it removes her helmet. As the doors open, a truly awesome slow motion sequence takes place: we see the dead through the window; Bill’s breath escapes into the volume of space, ice crystal forming on her face; The Doctor frantically attempts to replace her helmet. As her head tilts to the side and her neck became limp… there was a freaking commercial break. COME ON, BBC America!
The next thing we know, Bill comes to. They’re all still outside the space station, but there is a now a helmet on her head. Shots are being exchanged around her and from her point of view, we see a helmet-less Doctor before she passes out again.
After coming to properly some time later, it is revealed that Bill is only alive because The Doctor gave her his helmet. He should have died, but instead, has been rendered blind. He insists that it is temporary and can be fixed once they’re back aboard the TARDIS . Their brief break from fleeing for their lives is quickly over, as the suits have once again found a way into their hiding place.
As they run away, Bill’s suit breaks down again. Unfortunately this time she needs a full reboot, which the group cannot accomplish without being overtaken by the corpse-carrying suits. The Doctor promises Bill that she will go through hell, but he will be waiting for her on the other side, and they abandon her in the hallway.
Throughout the episode, Bill had been teasing The Doctor how he always made jokes to distract her from anything that would scare or worry her. As she helplessly watches him run away, she tearfully remarks how he didn’t even tell her one last joke. As the terrifying suits surround her, she calls out for her mom, and the suits disabled her nervous system.
This moment was horrible. Bill is so completely lovable, and it was awful to watch her die.
Inside the last safe room on the ships, The Doctor decides that their only course of action is to die well. He rigs the station’s wiring so that if they die the cooling system vents and the ship will explode. At this point, I was trying to hold onto the hope that the suits were simply deactivating their organic components in order to wake them up later. I was wrong. It turns out that the suits are killing them all for business and profit margins. The orders came though from the mining company that operated the station to terminate the crew members once the station was no longer profitable.
As they are surrounded by the suits, and after making a terrible “fighting The Suits” pun, The Doctor explains that their deaths will be expensive. The suits check their readings and discover the system The Doctor has rigged, and their programming prompts them to hand over their oxygen tanks to the survivors keeping them, and the station, alive.
At this point, it is revealed that Bill is not actually dead. Because her suit was malfunctioning, the battery was too low to kill her. The Doctor claims he knew this when he left her in the hallway, which I don’t completely buy but I’m so happy Bill is alright that I’ll let it pass.
Back safe and sound in The Doctor’s office at the university, Bill inquires about the fate of the surviving two crew members. Apparently, there is a successful rebellion 6 months after their visit and she happily bounces away.
As soon as she is gone, Nardole begins to scold The Doctor for going off-world in the first place and it is revealed that The Doctor…
IS STILL BLIND!!
There is a lot that I loved about this episode. Perhaps the biggest thing is that there were actual consequences to an action. Throughout the series, The Doctor’s mistakes have been mysteriously fixed via wibbly-wobbly time travel to varying degrees of believablity. I was so happy to see that The Doctor’s explanation of “oh I can fix anything in The TARDIS” turned out not to be true. After Clara’s not-death last season, I was getting very weary of any consequences being whisked under the rug for the sake of a happy ending. That does not seem to be quite the case this season. The Doctor becoming blind is a very heavy price to pay for saving Bill, and I cannot wait to see how the show handles the weight of that change.
Another thing I liked this episode was the use of the character Dahh-Ren, a crew member who just happened to have bright blue skin. Bill is obviously shocked to see him and immediately accused of being racist because of it. While that moment made me chuckle, what made me cringe was Nardole’s condescending “Some of my best friends are blue-ish”.
This season is not shying away from discussing racism and other relevant social issues, and they are doing it in creative, story-driven ways.
The last thing I loved about this episode is that it really gave The Doctor and Nardole some great banter. My particular favorite was The Doctor to Nardole, obviously irritated at getting caught taking a trip with Bill: “I thought I sent you to Birmingham for a packet of crisps.”