Oxygen opens with The Doctor lecturing his class about what happens when you get stuck in the vacuum of space without any supply of oxygen. As well as providing some foreshadowing for what is to come it clearly illustrates The Doctor’s restlessness at being trapped on Earth is growing and he has a desire to get back into Space.
This leads us into The Doctor, Bill, and a reluctant Nardole investigating a distress call on a Space Station. Once there they discover that almost the entire crew of 40 has been killed, and their bodies are now being controlled by their robotic Smartsuits. Once they meet up with the four remaining station workers the episode quickly takes on the feel of a zombie film.
And like all great zombie fiction Oxygen is about more than just a hoard of monsters. In this case writer Jamie Mathieson made Oxygen a very anti corporation and anti capitalist episode. The central premise of the episode is that on the station the unnamed company is able to commercialise oxygen. The logical ending to this thinking is that the humans would be eradicating the human component so that they could save money on oxygen completely. It’s a highly political episode, which may alienate some of the audience, but the episode coveys its message effectively.
Some of the directorial work from Charles Palmer around Bill and her struggle to keep her oxygen usage down is excellent. It creates an incredibly claustrophobic atmosphere to mirror Bill’s own situation. Her non-death, due to the suit not having enough power was a bit of a convenient way out of that situation, but the episode around it was strong enough to roll with it.
We weren’t actually given much else about The Vault this week; instead the big development going forward is The Doctor’s blindness. It was assumed that this had been cured once he got back to The TARDIS, but right at the end of the episode he informs Nardole that he “can’t see anything ever again”. It was a very cheesily written scene, and perfectly illustrates the line Doctor Who always walks between being a kids show, but also talking about serious issues, in this case commercialisation of things that maybe shouldn’t be commercialised.
After a bit of a misstep last time out Doctor Who came roaring back this week. Whilst there was some slightly too convenient moments Oxygen worked really well as zombie episode in space with big political undertones.