Jamie Mathieson’s latest Doctor Who script, ‘Oxygen’ is easily his best offering thus far – and the best episode of series 10. It’s quite a smart concept. Oxygen is sold by the breath in a tale that exploits capitalism and greed, delivering excellent material for all three stars. Yes… Nardole actually gets something to do this week. And… he’s pretty darn brilliant!
Gorgeously realised on a TV budget, ‘Oxygen’ makes great use of visuals. The Chasm Forge spaceship looks utterly stunning, and every single scene set outside of the craft is entirely believable. Take that moment midway through in which a paralysed, and half-dead, Bill is robotically walked across the vista of space. This choppy sequence, which sees Bill come in and out of consciousness whilst showing snippets of a battle between the survivors and the space zombies, is smart and effective in equal measures. It’s a quick visual that allows the viewer to see exactly what Bill is experiencing, and it’s particularly striking. As is an earlier scene in which the cameraman runs after the Doctor, Bill and Nardole up a corridor, producing a very shaky camera angle. Most of the time this effect jars; here is works to amp up the claustrophobic sense of Chasm Forge.
Whilst most of the supporting cast are, as always, fodder, two manage to shine. Katie Brayben’s Ellie, who appears for less than two minutes, instantly strikes a chord by showing her wishes and future aspirations. She wants to marry and have a child. Which makes her quick death all the more effective. And Pater Caulfield’s Dahh-ren allows series 10 to once more explore racism, to great effect, as Bill is visibly shocked to see a blue-skinned alien. His arguments are very just. Whilst Bill has experienced racism herself, this doesn’t mean that she herself cannot be deemed racist here. It’s a very short exchange, but like much of this episode, it’s particularly effective.
As is this weeks threat. Whilst zombies have been done to the death (excuse the pun), it’s nice to see Doctor Who put a little spin on it by actually… not having zombies at all. These aren’t reanimated corpses. They’re simply corpses, animated by the smart suits they’re wearing. ‘Oxygen’ shows malfunctioning robotics. It’s particularly interesting to note that this comes mere weeks after a similar threat in ‘Smile’, and midway through a run that’ll culminate in the return of the cybernetic Cybermen. So here’s my theory: one of the main trio is a cyborg, and Nardole is increasingly growing tired of the Doctor, so surely it’s only a matter of time before we see him become faulty?
Speaking of the Doctor, rendering him blind (even if the specifics of how he goes blind are left up in the air) shows a new side to Capaldi’s incarnation. We’ve never seen him truly vulnerable before, and it’s very heartbreaking to see him leave Bill for dead, even if he knows that she’s not going to die. These sort of moments are robbed somewhat by the fact that we know she appears in later episodes, but how brave would it have been of Doctor Who to introduce a new companion only to kill them off five episodes later. I mean, we’re probably never going to see a companion die properly, but I’d love it to happen.
Bill continues to excel. Pearl Mackie makes for a believable companion. It’s refreshing to see the companion truly scared – something that has been lacking since… well, forever. The companions are usually scared for an episode or two but here Bill is still fearful, which makes her all the more believable. And even Nardole is great – go on, admit it! We get some hints about his past. Matt Lucas’ face isn’t his original appearance, so surely it’s only a matter of time until we find out more.
It’s great to see him do something more than lecture the Doctor about that darn vault, even if it does raise its head at the crux of the episode. What’s inside? The next time trailer shows a brief snippet of Missy, but that would be a copout, right? Surely every single fan has guessed that one. I’m still voting for my theory from last week – the First Doctor, or a future version of the Twelfth Doctor. Or… maybe… the Thirteenth Doctor. Maybe he (or she) has ACTUALLY already been cast…