A bit messy, but ultimately 'Oxygen' ups the stakes and keeps the standard high.
And… breathe. After the fun romps we’ve seen so far this series, ‘Oxygen’ is far darker and ups the stakes, featuring a genuine threat and series-wide repercussions for our heroes. But does a darker turn suit the refreshed image of Series 10?
The Doctor (Peter Capaldi) and Bill (Pearl Mackie) are just as enigmatic as ever in their genuinely touching relationship, which might be the best Doctor-companion dynamic. And that’s from a hardcore Whovian and lover of David Tennant and Catherine Tate. Something about their pseudo-grandparent-grandchild relationship is very endearing, and (unlike bland Clara before her) Bill needs the Doctor as much as he needs her.
Introduced to the mix properly this week is Matt Lucas as Nardole. Now, I’m not saying he’s perfect – the know-it-all routine is getting old fast – but some of his more impassioned speeches almost warrant his existence. Almost. The Doctor and Bill drag the reluctant cyborg/alien butler along with them, answering a distress call from a floundering space station under attack from zombified spacesuits. It’s an abstract premise; the villain isn’t really threatening, which makes for quite an anti-climatic episode resolution, but the real nemesis of ‘Oxygen’ is space itself. More dramatic speeches from Capaldi introduce another classic Moffat “don’t follow your instinct at peril of death” trope, with Bill forced not to hold her breath when exposed to the vacuum of space.
It’s an episode with several notable pitfalls, largely in the plot department. The Doctor, Bill and Nardole spend way too much time establishing the complex premise, and the moral message against consumerism falls a bit flat due to the lack of any proper villain. The supporting characters are even more forgettable than last week, sacrificed in favour of establishing Nardole seven episodes too late. Bill ‘dies’ twice, in pretty much exactly the same way, only to be miraculously saved by the Doctor. A word of advice, Steven Moffat, don’t pretend to kill your companion five episodes in; your audience know they’ll be back five minutes later. Don’t do a Rory.
That’s not to say that ‘Oxygen’ is all bad. The dialogue is well-written by returning writer Jamie Mathieson (‘The Woman Who Lived’, ‘Mummy on the Orient Express’), and the three hero dynamic between the Doctor, Bill and Nardole works well, reminiscent of the days of Amy and Rory. And can we talk about that plot twist? Despite the ridiculously overdramatic cliffhanger-y way they revealed it, the Doctor being permanently blind will surely have big repercussions for the rest of the series. That’s unless they ‘quick-fix’ it next week.
Ultimately ‘Oxygen’ keeps the standard high, with Series 10 now demonstrating a run of FIVE good episodes in a row. Such a standard was unheard of last series (and the one before that, and the one before that). Will it hold for the upcoming three-parter? With the Doctor blind, Missy’s return imminent, and the Vault about to open, I’m hopeful…