DOCTOR WHO – SEASON 10 EPISODE 05
OXYGEN
WRITTEN BY JAMIE MATHIESON
DIRECTED BY CHARLES PALMER

The trailer for this one had by blood pumping as base under siege episodes are bread and butter Who stories that have a pretty good success rate. Add in the fact that I watched Alien pretty recently and that this season has been pretty much killing it each week, I was beyond ready for this week’s episode. So let’s do it.

Recap

We open in space and a familiar voice saying familiar words: “Space. The final frontier…” says the Doctor in voice over as two helmetless astronauts weightlessly roll towards us. “Final, because it wants to kill us.”

The dead astronauts fly past and we see a huge space station with a pair of astronauts doing a spacewalk outside. One of the astronauts is trying to tell the other one something as her suit warns her that her oxygen levels are critical. She tells the other astronaut that she wants to have a baby with him. She gets no reaction and an error message appears telling her that her radio isn’t working. The two astronauts, using mag boots, attach themselves to the station. They head to the airlock, both on critical oxygen, and have to bypass the lock to get inside. As the male astronaut is working on the airlock the female astronaut sees shadows and the two two rolling astronauts from the opening shots land on the station and attack her.

The male astronaut opens the airlock and sees, floating through space, the helmet of a spacesuit. He turns and sees three astronaut zombies approaching him. He screams and we cut to the opening credits.

The Doctor is giving a lecture about how space kills you (I assume that’s what the opening voiceover was from). He describes all the ways space kills you: lack of pressure, no oxygen in a vacuum, etc. Also after 15 seconds of exposure to space, you pass out and after 90 seconds you’re dead. I’m going to cautiously say foreshadowing and see what happens.

A student raises her hand and asks him what all this has to do with crop rotation.

Nardole and the Doctor walk through the university and Nardole asks him if he’s missing space. Nardole tells him he’s worried the Doctor wants to take another trip away from the Vault. The Doctor asks Nardole what more he wants from him later he looks longingly into the night sky.

The Doctor and Bill are in the TARDIS and he asks her to choose a spot in space to visit. She chooses one but he tells her it’s too safe and chooses another, one that is emitting a distress call. Nardole appears and reveals he has stolen a piece from the TARDIS, one that prevents it travelling. He reminds the Doctor that he took an oath and the Doctor reminds him that it was the Doctor himself who told him that the piece he stole stopped the TARDIS from travelling. The Doctor snaps his fingers, pulls a lever, and they’re off.

They arrive at the space station where everything is in darkness and the only oxygen is the bubble around the TARDIS. The Doctor opens the TARDIS doors and the oxygen bubble expands to let them walk around the station. The explore – Nardole sulking, Bill buzzing that she’s in space, the Doctor happy with the classic design of the station – until they come to a dead man with frozen blue skin standing in a corridor in a spacesuit without a helmet. The Doctor explains that the man is long dead but that the suit is keeping him standing him. They check him out and find his oxygen tank is full and the forcefield around his head is still up meaning that he couldn’t have suffocated. Bill is horrified at the image of the dead man standing and wants them to lie him down or something. The Doctor checks the computer and it shows that 36 of the 40 crew are dead.

There is a noise from the dark recesses of the station and Nardole and Bill agree that it’s time to return to the TARDIS. The Doctor reminds them that there are still four survivors and that the universe shows us its true face when it asks for help and we show ours by the way we respond (season ten keeping it Doctor Woke).

They move into another chamber where an astronaut in a spacesuit is moving boxes around. They try and get the astronauts attention but it ignores them. The Doctor sonic the astronaut and the helmet pops off revealing nothing/nobody inside the suit. The Doctor tinkers around with the suit and shows that it is capable of simple tasks and also of speech. The suit speaks with a lovely, helping robot voice and tells them that she is unaware of any recent deaths. She reveals to them that the only source of oxygen is the suits and that oxygen is available for very competitive prices. Any other, unlicensed oxygen will be expelled. Bill points out that they filled the place with air when they arrived. Alarms begin to ring and the station begins to decompress. The TARDIS trio are nearly sucked out until the Doctor sonic the doors and they close.

However, the doors that have are closed, while blocking them from the vacuum of space, are also blocking them from the room containing the TARDIS.

The radio turns on and the surviving astronauts ask the Doctor to identify himself. He asks them if they killed the rest of the crew, which they deny, and the Doctor introduces himself. As they’re talking the standing up dead man turns and begins to walk towards them. The voice on the radio tells them they need to get away from the suits. They turn around as the zombie approaches. The Doctor points his sonic at it but the sonic is pulled out of his and to the zombie who crushes it as it zaps him. He falls to the ground, the destroyed sonic in his hand. The Doctor opens the suit and pulls out a chip which he asks Nardole to get some history on.

Bill tells them she’s feeling light-headed and the Doctor warns her not to breathe so fast.

Nardole finds that the suits all broadcast one line before they went haywire: “Deactivate our organic component.”

The Doctor finds three empty suits and explains that the station is still expelling the oxygen and if they want to survive they need to “buy the merchandise.” Bill asks how they know that the suits won’t kill them and the Doctor says that it’s possible they’re not on the network and wouldn’t have got the murder message. It’s also possible they’ll be horribly murdered. Nardole points out that if the suits have killed 36 people that there might be 36 be-suited zombies wandering around. He points out of the window and says he thinks he sees something moving outside. They switch on the outside lights and see a swarm of astro-zombies walking across the outside of the station like something from The Night of the Living Dead. But in space. And with haunted spacesuits.

They get their suits on and Tasker, the voice on the radio, directs them to where he is. They run through the corridors, pursued by zombies, locking doors behind them.

They hit a sealed door and call Tasker for help. They bang on the door as the zombies approach them. Bill tries to control her breathing but is panicking and using up precious breaths. The door opens and they dive through.

Inside they find Tasker and the three other survivors (one of whom is a blue alien). Bill’s suit glitches making her arms stand out in front of her like Frankenstein. The Doctor explains to them where the TARDIS is and asks for a map and a rundown on what happened.

Bill gets her suit checked out and is told it’s a mess and needs a complete overhaul, but she does get to lower her arms.

The crew tell the Doctor they think someone hacked the network to give the suits the murder command. They were lucky as their suits were offline. They tell the Doctor their plan is to get to the core as going outside is suicide as the suits have the advantage. Nardole asks if the whole thing could be someone trying to rob whatever they’re mining but they tell him that they’ve been unproductive for weeks and what they’re mining isn’t valuable enough.

The Doctor asks about the suit’s AI and if they can learn. As he says this we see a camera activate on one of the suits and see the mangled lock keeping it in the corridor outside of the safe room. It identifies the fault and begins to repair the lock.

Inside the room, an alarm sounds the crew see on the security cameras that the suits are fixing the lock. They head out of a different door towards the core. A door opens and the suits enter, grabbing Tasker and turning him in a suit zombie.

The crew run for the airlock. They put their helmets on and prepare to go outside against Bill’s protests.

They climb into the airlock and it begins to countdown to decompression. A warning voice comes from Bill’s suit that her helmet is malfunctioning and the suit controls her arms and removes her helmet.

The Doctor tells her she’s about to be exposed to the vacuum and to not hold her breath. The timer hits zero and silence falls over the crew. Ice crystals form on Bill’s cheeks as the Doctor tries to wrench the space helmet from her suit’s grip. Bill’s head falls on her shoulders, the screen begins to go red, and the piercing trill of a flatline is the only sound.

We cut to a slow fade in, fade out montage of a suit walking with a listless Bill inside (wearing a helmet). The crew fire lasers and Bill keeps walking. As she gets to the end of her spacewalk she sees the Doctor reaching out to her. And he’s not wearing a helmet.

Bill wakes up inside the station. She can’t move as her suit is offline and down the corridor from her, she can see suits containing corpses moving around. Nardole and Ivan (the crewmember from the opening) show up and switch her suit back on. They tell her that the zombies down the corridor are harmless as the area of the station the crew are in is not on their mapping system so they can’t see it.

Nardole explains that the Doctor gave her his helmet but managed to survive the vacuum. He tells her that the Doctor was exposed for a while and is mostly okay and in section 12. We see the zombie suit’s computer has heard him and begins to search for section 12.

Bill goes to see the Doctor. He’s walking around but when he turns around we see he’s blind. Now, I’ve got to assume this isn’t something that will stick but how interesting would it be for the Doctor to be blind from now until his regeneration? It would be very different and a bit weird. Yeah, probably won’t happen.

Especially as literally the next line was the Doctor saying the blindness was temporary as he can cure it with stuff in the TARDIS.

An alarm sounds and the crew see that it’s a transponder from a ship. A rescue ship is on the way, which confuses the crew as they assumed the Doctor, Bill, and Nardole were from the rescue ship. They ask the Doctor who he is and he tells them he’s the person who will save them and they’ll spend the rest of the lives wondering who he was.

We see the suits have found section 12 as one of the crew berates the Doctor for not saving Tasker. The suits move forward and turn the blue alien (Dahh-ren) into a zombie as the others escape.

Bill’s suit flips out again and stops her in the corridor. They try and pick her up but the mag boots lock her to the ground. They try and remove her suit and the suit tells them she will be fined for it. Bill says, “Fined for dying!” and something occurs to the Doctor.

He tells Bill to trust him and that they’re going to have to leave her there. She tells him she’ll die and he tells her she won’t, but it won’t be good either.

They make a run for it and the suits touch Bill as she screams out for her mum. The suit takes over and it looks as though Bill Potts, everyone’s new favourite character is now a suit zombie.

The crew is in the power core and zombie suit Bill is using a blowtorch on the suit to cut her way in.

Inside the core, the Doctor is blindly trying to cause electrolysis using the water that is cooling the nuclear core, something that Nardole points out would give them only a few minutes of oxygen.

The Doctor tells Nardole that that is actually not what he’s doing and he needs to be directed to a keyboard. He hacks the system and links their life signs to the core meaning that when the zombie suits kill them it will destroy the whole station.

He tells the crew to open the doors and that they have no further option but a good death.

One of the crew tells him there are rescue ships on the way and he tells her there isn’t. The company gave the suits the command to kill the crew. After all, they had become unproductive and inefficient. The rescue ship had set off before the crew called for help. It’s carrying their replacements to take over once the organic components are all removed.

They open the doors and let the suits in. As the suits surround them the Doctor tells them that their deaths will be magnificent but also expensive. The suits stop moving.

The Doctor explains that Bill’s suit battery was too low for a lethal dose and flicks a switch which brings her back to life (yeah, I didn’t really get this) and the other suits give their oxygen tanks to the crew as it’s “good business.” Bill and Nardole hug the Doctor and the music rises.

We cut to the TARDIS and Nardole is scanning the Doctor’s eyes with something and, as if by magic, his eyesight is restored.

He drops the last surviving crew members off at the company head office to make a complaint and we finish in the Doctor’s office.

He tells Bill that he vaguely remembers the company’s control over space ends with the fallout from the above complaint and everyone lives happily ever after. After Bill leaves Nardole emerges from the TARDIS and tells the Doctor they can’t be going off having adventures, especially when they nearly didn’t make it back from this one.

The Doctor tells him to stop talking but Nardole continues telling him off until the Doctor tells him that he’s still blind.

Ooooohhhhhhhhh.

Review

The scene tonight in the airlock as the countdown comes to an end and Bill prepares to be subjected to the vacuum of space was masterful. It didn’t try and cheat and give you more time with the characters. You got thirty seconds of utter panic and also complete pragmatism from the Doctor and Nardole, and the wonderful bravery under fire that has come to characterise Bill Potts. There was even a little bit of humour in there. I watched that scene a fidgeting mess as the clock hit zero and the airlock opened.

Another good episode tonight as Doctor Who delved into that old reliable trope of the base under siege story. This time mixing together good zombie movie tropes with a heavy homage to Alien (makes sense considering Covenant has just come out). The ending was a little tidy and rushed and, even though they explained Bill’s low battery saving her life thing again, it didn’t make a tonne of sense. The episode had been a claustrophobic slow burn and then in the last five minutes everything wrapped up no problem. It was only once the action returned to Earth that we got that killer final line and the promise of something very weird and very interesting for the future if the Doctor is blind for a few episodes as least.

One thing Doctor Who does incredibly well is monsters. The make-up and costuming are always top-notch and each design has something chilling and unique to make you flinch when they appear. The appearance of the suit zombies was a mix of the classic imagery of a zombie and also the frozen visage of someone cast adrift in space. If I had one criticism it would be that when they walked they came across as too similar to the cyberman, all high knees and marching in formation, which is something we’ve seen countless times before.

The sound design was great tonight too as every precious breath the characters took was loud and frantic, a constant reminder that each breath was one they couldn’t afford to waste.

In the end, this is 95 percent a great episode with that rushed finale making it a bit weaker than previous episodes of the season so far, but mostly that’s because this season has been producing some of the best Who ever so the bar is incredibly high.

Body Count: 3 (that we saw anyway)

Best Line: “Some of my best friends are blue-ish” – Nardole

What’s in the Vault: Wildcard pick. Bill’s mother. All we know of her is that in the first episode there was a picture of her taken by the Doctor so maybe they were friends/enemies/lovers. And the only character that sort of fits into that description would be the Master/Mistress. So let’s blue sky it and say that the Mistress regenerates into another form and that form is Bill’s mum. Or Bill’s mum is the master’s form between John Simm and Michelle Gomez. No. No, this is nonsense. It’s Missy in the vault and that’s that.

Predictions for Next Week: The Pope, the TARDIS journal, Missy. Holy shit.

Featured Image: BBC