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TV Review: Doctor Who: Oxygen

Doctor Who continues to hit on all cylinders this season. While this episode is ostensibly in the mold of episodes like Blink or Waters of Mars in terms of monsters with rules being the present threat, it’s also the first episode giving a full team up with the Doctor, Bill, and Nardole, and the combined dynamic makes things even better.

The Doctor and Bill take another unauthorized trip off of Earth with Nardole in tow, this time onboard a spaceship in the future. However, their trip goes off the rails when they discover that oxygen is a precious commodity in the future, and one that the company who controls it is willing to do anything to control. While Doctor Who has taken more than a few potshots at corporate overreach, this one takes the cake as far as corporate satire gone deadlier goes. It also takes the seasonal arc of the Doctor’s reasons for doing what he does becoming flimsy to its limit.

One of Nardole’s ongoing reasons for his resistance to the Doctor going on journeys now is that people die. Which given his recent track record with River or Clara isn’t entirely wrong, and it gets proven right this time around. Jamie Mathieson milks the capitalism-gone-wrong premise for all its worth in this scenario, especially when you consider just how plausible commodification of just about anything at this point is, let alone in space, or with human meat being expendable.

However, it also highlights the continuing danger with the Doctor’s lackadaisical attitude towards knowing where they’re going very nearly getting everyone killed, as well as getting himself blinded in the process. While it’s typical for a season of Doctor Who these days to pull off a story-changing twist midway through: having it happen to the Doctor himself, much less well before the switch we know is coming is pretty bold. While the Doctor is hardly helpless even blind, having to pretend he’s ok in a physical way as opposed to mental, especially for someone who doesn’t know him that well will be interesting going forward. Charlie Palmer’s direction for the episode is similarly tight and elevates what could be fairly well-trodden Doctor Who material into a pretty horrifying scenario, especially with no TARDIS for an easy escape.

And as usual: a lot of thanks need to be given to Pearl Mackie. Her role has become essential fairly quickly to the flow of the series, and her double act with Peter Capaldi, as well as Matt Lucas is something I wish we’d had more of at this point. If this level of work continues to be the standard bearer for this season of the show, Peter Capaldi’s exit is going to be a blast.

4 Credits out of 5

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