He’s tackled racism, equality and puddles so far this season and this week the Doctor wasn’t resting as he took on capitalism. There were no manufactured spooks like last week, everything in this episode was naturally creepy. Writer, Jamie Mathieson, served us up another super episode to add to his already impressive repertoire (see Mummy on the Orient Express and Flatline).
The problem with last week’s episode was, as I mentioned, it tried too hard to be scary and in the end just fell flat. What Mathieson did so well – and always does so well to be fair to him – was allow the plot to do all the work. You want to scare the audience? Write a scary story. Don’t rely on inexplicable gusts of wind or creaking floorboards. Write about something that’s actually fearsome, and it doesn’t get much scarier than spacesuits trying to kill their inhabitants. There were some superbly chilling moments. The helmet flying off the spacesuit to reveal it was moving itself without anybody inside was excellent, as was the moment when Bill’s spacesuit removed her helmet against her will, just as she was about to enter the vacuum. The episode was littered with moments like these to keep you on the edge of your seat, but they were all natural, all explained and all had a purpose as part of the plot.
42, The Crimson Horror and Sleep No More have all flirted with capitalism, but they didn’t meet the topic head on like Oxygen. This wasn’t a subtle message that capitalism is a bad thing, this was Doctor Who using its platform as a highly respected and popular BBC One prime time drama to preach how capitalism is a tumour in society. One of the reasons I love Doctor Who is its ability to educate. We’ve seen that already this season with the Doctor’s violent objections to racism. Season nine’s “war speech” is another recent example of how the show can pass on important messages. This week, the Doctor was very keen for the survivors of the ship to make a complaint to head office and make it a loud one. The way the business was using oxygen as something to trade was sickening, but in all honesty, are we really that far off from that ourselves? We already bottle water and companies make billions from the sale of something as basic and essential as that. Oxygen is the next step when you think about it. The episode should act as a warning. Many businesses that make billions of pounds don’t care about people, people are expendable. They only care about how much money they make. The Doctor telling the survivors to complain loudly was like a message to us all, not to just submit to capitalism.
For the first time since the season opener, Nardole was travelling with the Doctor and Bill. I was one of the doubters before the season began about Nardole’s presence, and although I’m still not fully convinced, I’m certainly beginning to see what he adds. There were a few humorous lines and he didn’t take anything away from the chemistry that the Doctor and Bill have created over the last four weeks. There was just one moment where he irked me. This may sound harsh, but when Bill’s helmet was removed by her suit, and we got a close up of Nardole’s “concerned” face, it was hard to take it seriously. Nardole’s appearance makes it difficult to watch his sincere moments without smirking at him. There really isn’t much anyone can do about that apart from edit him out in such tense scenes because unfortunately he just doesn’t add anything to them. That aside though, this was Nardole’s strongest episode yet and I wouldn’t be sad to see him more regularly this season. Credit has to go to Matt Lucas, Jamie Mathieson and Steven Moffat for the improvement.
Now to the big shock of the episode, and what a shock it was too. In fifty four years of Doctor Who, I can’t recall the Doctor ever dealing with a disability for more than a single story (please correct me if I’m wrong). The first time we saw the Doctor’s grayed eyes was totally stunning, but I’m sure I wasn’t the only one that thought this would be resolved by the end of the episode. Even the Doctor himself seemed sure that he’d get his sight back. That’s what made the ending all the more surprising. It’s posed so many new questions and will take the show in a direction it’s never been before. Whether it was Mathieson’s or Moffat’s idea to make the blindness permanent, whoever it was deserves huge praise for landing the show’s protagonist with such a problem. Will he get his sight back in this body at all? Will the blindness cause the twelfth Doctor to force his own regeneration just to get his sight back – a suicide of sorts? Exciting is probably the wrong word to use for such a tragic blow to our beloved Time Lord, but it’s hard not to be intrigued and desperate to see how the Doctor will deal with this.
So where do the Doctor, Bill and Nardole go from here? Will the Doctor get his sight back? What or who is in the vault? What’s Missy up to? There are so many questions to answer next week. I suspect most of them won’t be though, at least not next week. This week though, Jamie Mathieson scripted arguably the strongest episode of the season to date. Spacesuits controlling dead bodies are exactly the sort of thing that Doctor Who should be using to freak out its audience.
Episode Rating: 9/10