After last week’s haunted house episode “Knock Knock” Doctor Who returns with another themed episode, “Oxygen”.
After a giving lecture about the dangers of space travel The Doctor (Peter Capaldi) longs to go back into space and convinces Bill (Pearl Mackie) and Nardole (Matt Lucas) to answer a distress call from a space station in the future. When they arrive they find the people are the victims of a hyper-capitalist society and people have died in their spacesuits. It’s up to the time-travellers to help the few survivors to safety.
Dead people trapped killer spacesuits is hardly the most original idea for a Doctor Who episode: it happened in the two-parter “Silence in the Library“/”Forest of the Dead“. But just because an idea might lack some originality (“Smile” also reused ideas from previous Doctor Who episodes) doesn’t mean it can’t be entertaining and “Oxygen” is essentially a zombie story in space.
The episode starts with The Doctor saying “space, the final frontier”, referencing to another long-running sci-fi series Star Trek and like a Star Trek episode The Doctor answers a distress call. The talks about the dangers of space, saying that space wants to kill people trying to explore and my thought was really? So travelling around oceans, deserts, jungles and any other terrain was just a walk in the park. It was a silly comment.
The Doctor is the one longing for adventure and he is the one that convinces Bill to go into space whilst Nardole reminds The Doctor he has meant to stay on Earth to protect the vault and the bald man’s role is to keep The Doctor to his word.
At the end of the episode Nardole tells The Doctor he can’t risk his life or injury himself because the Time Lord wouldn’t be able to stop whatever is in the vault. “Oxygen” also makes the first time Nardole joins The Doctor and Bill on an adventure and it gives Matt Lucas some more screentime, even if he doesn’t do much in the episode.
The space zombies were created because capitalism was taken to its extreme. People have to pay for the air their breath and if the price is jacked up the consequences are deadly. It is a critique of corporate and banking culture where nothing is more important than making a profit and the lives of their workers are only considered on a cost-profit analysis.
The evil corporation storyline also has shades of Weyland-Yutani from the Alien films. Weyland-Yutani treats human life as an expendable and screws over their employees who are unaware of some secret computer programming and that was the fate of the space travellers in “Oxygen”. It’s perfectly timed with the release of the new Alien film.
Bill continues to be a likeable presence even giving a girly squeal when the Doctor proposes going into space. Yet she is put in more danger than she has been before: Bill is in malfunctioning spacesuit that hinders her movements. The best moment in the episode and the season so far is when The Doctor, Bill, Nardole and the survivors prepare for a spacewalk and Bill was unable to put her helmet on.
There was also a moment of humour when Bill is accused of being a racist when she meets a blue skinned gentleman for the first time.
As a fan of zombie fiction “Oxygen” was in my wheelhouse and the episode is an enjoyable sci-fi horror hybrid. The episode plenty much plays like Doctor Who version of Alien due to its criticism of capitalism and corporate culture. “Oxygen” ends on an incredible hook that fans will want to see how The Doctor will overcome.