Thursday, May 18, 2017

Doctor Who Season 10, Episode 5: Oxygen

This week on Doctor Who, the gang travels to a outer space, in yet another episode that echoes those of the Classic Series.

These "Base Under Siege" adventures were a staple of the old series, as they were easy to pad out into four episodes, and relatively cheap to make, as they only required one main set.

We also get quite a bit of Nardole in this episode, which is a good thing, but very little advancement (or even mention) of the Vault Mystery, which is a less good thing.

Oxygen isn't the best episode this season, but it's not bad, and miles ahead of the last time the Doctor wore a spacesuit in the execrable Kill The Moon, aka The Episode We Do Not Speak Of.

Since this season began, I've been saying the stories feel less like those of showrunner Steven Moffat and more like Russell T. Davies' (the man who revived the series in 2005) work. That's a good thing, by the way, as I enjoyed the Davies era quite a bit.

Davies was a master of creating "Armies Of Monsters" threats such as the Gelth, the Clockwork Men and the Scarecrows. This episode seems to definitely be inspired by his work, as it features a horde of Zombie Astronauts (or more correctly, autonomous spacesuits with dead astronauts inside them).

Unfortunately the Zombie Astronauts never quite gel as a threat, plus they're very, VERY similar to the Vashta Nerada, an army of spacesuit-clad skeletons seen in 2008's Silence In The Library/Forest Of The Dead. And guess who wrote those two episodes? That's right, it was our old friend Steven Moffat. Yes, I know Moffat didn't write this episode, but he's the showrunner, which means he approved it and no doubt gave it a polish before it was aired.

Doctor Who took a page from classic Star Trek this week, giving us a not-so-subtle "message episode" which could be seen as a metaphor for the current health care crisis in America. The Doctor discovers a ruthless, futuristic mining company who cares so little for human life that it literally kills its workers to increase profits and boost its bottom line!


The big news this week is that the Doctor is now blind! He goes blind about halfway through the episode, is still blind at the end and according to the previews, will be blind next week as well.

I don't for a minute think this is a permanent condition), but I could definitely see it lasting until the end of the season or until he regenerates, whichever comes first.

Some fans think this is how Capaldi's Doctor will go out— his actions will cause him to become more and more damaged over the course of the season, until he has no choice but to regenerate.

Sounds reasonable I suppose, but a blind Doctor's gonna have his work cut out for him if that truly is the Master inside that vault!


The Plot:
We begin with the Doctor lecturing his class on what happens to the human body in the vacuum of space. A student raises her hand and asks what any of this has to do with crop rotation (!).

Cut to the space station Chasm Forge, sometime in the future. A man and woman in spacesuits are walking along the outer surface of the station, trying to make it to the airlock before their oxygen runs out. The woman carries on a lengthy conversation with the man, saying she wants to have a baby with him. Unfortunately his comm unit's out, and he doesn't hear a word she's saying, He makes it to the airlock and as he opens it, he sees her helmet float by. He turns to look and sees a herd of space suited zombie astronauts have killed the woman and turned her into one of them. They then come for him.

Back on Earth in the present, the Doctor and Bill are in the TARDIS, which is parked in his office. Nardole enters and scolds the Doctor again, worried he's thinking of breaking his vow to guard the Vault and go off on another adventure. Just then the TARDIS receives a distress call, and the Doctor sets a course for it, taking Bill and the still-protesting Nardole along for the ride.

The TARDIS arrives on the Chasm Forge. As they start to exit, the Doctor stops them, noting that there's no air inside the station. He floods a section of the station with air from the TARDIS so they can move around. As they explore, they find a dead astronaut standing in the middle of a room. When Bill asks how he can still be standing, the Doctor explains that the man's magnetic boots are keeping him upright. Suddenly the corpse grabs the Doctor's sonic, destroying it.

The Doctor checks a computer and sees the station has a crew of forty, but all but four are dead. They find another astronaut moving boxes from one pile to another. The Doctor uses his sonic screwdriver to open the astronaut's helmet visor, and sees the suit is completely empty. He notes that it's an automated "smartsuit," capable of independent operation. The Doctor asks the suit what happened to the oxygen on the station. The suit's AI replies that there's never been any air there, as inhabitants carry their oxygen supply with them at all times. It also adds that air is available for personal use at "competitive prices," and "any unlicensed oxygen will be expelled to protect market value."

Just then warning sirens sound, as the station begins purging the oxygen the Doctor added. The airlock doors close, shutting the group off from the TARDIS. They have no choice but to quickly don three extra smart suits in a repair bay in order to survive. They get a call from Drill Chief Tasker, one the station's survivors, demanding to know who they are. The Doctor says they're responding to their distress call, and asks what happened to the station. Tasker says a few days ago the smartsuits received a line of code that ordered them to deactivate their organic components— meaning their human occupants.

The two groups meet in the main control room, as Bill's spacesuit begins malfunctioning. Tasker repairs her suit while the Doctor tries to figure out who hacked the station's suits. Suddenly the herd of zombie astronauts— really just mobile spacesuits with dead humans inside them— break into the control room and attack. One of them touches Tasker, which causes his suit to deactivate his oxygen field as well as electrocute him.

There's lots of typical running up and down corridors, and the group is finally forced to hide in an airlock. They realize the only way to survive is to exit the airlock, walk across the outside of the station and come back in where it's safe (just like the people at the beginning of the episode tried to do). The Doctor notes that the air forcefields won't work in a vacuum, and they'll need to wear proper helmets in space. 

As the airlock starts to open, Bill's suit begins glitching again, and removes her helmet. The Doctor tries to halt the airlock cycle, but it's impossible to stop once it starts. The airlock opens, as Bill gasps for breath and eventually passes out.

When she wakes, she discovers the Doctor gave her his own helmet to save her as they exited the station. Unfortunately, prolonged exposure to the vacuum of space caused the Doctor to go blind. He assures Bill it's temporary, and that he's got some "spare eyes" somewhere inside the TARDIS. Meanwhile, he tries to figure out what he's missing, and why anyone would want to hack the suits and kill everyone on the station, especially when there's nothing there to steal.

The station receives a message that a rescue ship is on its way, and the Doctor finally figures it out. The station wasn't hacked after all. The mining company decided the crew had become inefficient, so it was no longer cost-effective to keep them alive. The human crew was just a line in a spreadsheet, and were eliminated to maximize profits. The "rescue" ship isn't there to save them, but to bring in more efficient smartsuits.

Just then the zombie astronauts break in again, as the survivors run for it. Bill's suit malfunctions again, activating its magnetic boots and rooting her to the spot. The Doctor and Nardole try to move her or remove her from the suit, but it won't let them. Finally the Doctor tells Bill there's no choice but to leave her. He tells her to trust him though, and that she'll go through hell, but will eventually survive (?).

The Doctor and the others make a run for it, leaving Bill behind. The zombie astronauts pour in, and one touches her shoulder, seemingly killing her. She, or rather her suit, begins shuffling along with the rest of them.

The Doctor, Nardole and the last two station survivors barricade themselves into a room and make a last stand as the zombies try to break in. The Doctor says he has one last, desperate plan. He fiddles with the computer and links their life signs with the station's coolant system. The Doctor says that if they die, the station will be destroyed, taking every last penny the company will ever make off it. He gives a rousing speech about dying well and making a statement, working up everyone until they're with him.

The zombies break in, with Bill leading the parade. The Doctor tells the mining company (who are presumably listening through the smartsuits) that the station inhabitants' deaths will be "brave and brilliant and unafraid." But they'll also be expensive, as the station will blow if the suits kill any of them. The Doctor says a minute ago they were too expensive to live, now they're too expensive to die.

The suits falter for a second, then stop. Bill coughs and sputters back to life. The Doctor reveals that earlier he saw that her suit battery was low, and wouldn't be strong enough to electrocute her, so she was simply unconscious the whole time. That doesn't make a whit of sense, but let's just move on or we'll be here all day. Suddenly the station is flooded with oxygen, as the company provides it free of charge to keep everyone alive and prevent a costly disaster.

Back in the TARDIS, Nardole uses a device to fix the Doctor's eyes. Abby and the other astronaut are in the TARDIS as well. They ask the Doctor to take them to the company's home office, so they can "register a complaint."

Back in his University office, the Doctor tells Bill that if he remembers right, Abby's complaint worked, as six months after the incident (in the future!) there was a successful rebellion that took down the company. Bill leaves, and Nardole gripes at the Doctor again for leaving the Vault unguarded. He angrily tells the Doctor to look at him when he's talking. The Doctor says he can't, as he's still blind.

• I don't really have a lot to say about this week's episode, which I guess is a good thing.

• This week the Doctor wears his horrible spotted shirt from a season or two ago. The one with the tiny holes in it, that looks like a car battery exploded all over it.

I've ranted about this shirt several times over the past couple seasons, and I freely admit I have no idea why it enrages me so much. It just does.

• On Earth, the Doctor wants to take the TARDIS out to investigate a distress call from space. Nardole says he can't, as the Doctor gave him a "fluid link" for safe keeping, which will prevent the TARDIS from dematerializing. The Doctor then tells Nardole he was lying about the link and takes off.

Way back in the 1963 episode The Daleks, we find out that the TARDIS actually can't fly without a fluid link! In that episode, the First Doctor has to invade a Dalek city to recover the TARDIS' fluid link.

Eh, this doesn't really bother me. I don't expect writers to remember a line from over fifty years ago. Plus the Doctor could have upgraded the TARDIS over the decades, eliminating the need for a fluid link.

• When the Doctor discovers the space station doesn't contain any oxygen, he floods it with air from inside the TARDIS.

This actually makes a bit of sense. The interior of the TARDIS is infinite after all, so it should have oxygen to spare!

For some reasonthe smartsuits generate an invisible (mostly) forcefield around the wearer's head, so they don't have to wear a helmet while inside the station. So why a forcefield instead of an infinitely more reliable and practical space helmet? 

I have a feeling it's because the producers didn't want the actors' beautifully emotive faces obscured by helmets for the bulk of the episode. That or the actors balked, not wanting to have to cram their heads inside poorly ventilated, stuffy helmets every day for a week.

• Speaking of the smartsuit helmet forcefield— it forms a bubble that glows briefly any time something touches it, like a hand or even breath. Doesn't it seem like Bill's ample hair ought to be sticking past the boundaries of the bubble, making it constantly glow?

• The futuristic mining company has space suits that can move around and function with no one inside them. They're essentially robots. The company realizes they no longer need a human crew, and orders the suits to eliminate them.

But why was there EVER a human crew in the first place? Why'd it take the company so long to realize they didn't need people?

By the way, how the hell can a spacesuit contain all the mechanisms necessary to move by itself, but still have room for a human inside it? That's one of the many, many problems I had with Iron Man 3.

• Bill meets her first proper extraterrestrial in this episode (the human-looking Doctor and Nardole not counting), a blue gentleman named Dahh-Ren, aka "Darren."

This isn't the first time the show's featured blue-skinned aliens. In fact blue seems to be quite a popular color in the Whoniverse. The revived series has featured the Moxx of Balloon and the Crespallions, both seen in The End Of The World, along with Dorium Maldovar, first seen in A Good Man Goes To War and the insectoid Fleming from The Husbands Of River Song.

• This isn't the Doctor's first visit to a space station, as they've been a staple of the series for decades. He first encountered one way back in 1968's The Wheel In Space. There was also the Nerva Beacon in 1975's The Ark In Space, as well as Platform one in 2005's The End Of The World and Satellite Five from The Long Game. I'm sure I'm missing a few others.

• The Sonic Sunglasses are back, after the Doctor's blinded. Oy. I'd hoped we'd seen the last of those things in Season 9. I have a feeling they're gonna be around for a while, at least until the Doctor regains his sight (if he ever does).

This Week's Best Lines:
The Doctor: "So, how does space kill you? I’m glad you asked. The main problem is pressure. There isn’t any. So, don’t hold your breath or your lungs will explode. Blood vessels rupture. Exposed areas swell. Fun fact! The boiling temperature of water is much lower in a vacuum. Which means that your sweat and your saliva will boil as will the fluid around your eyes. You won’t notice any of this because 15 seconds in, you’ve passed out as oxygen bubbles formed in your blood. And 90 seconds in... you’re dead. Any questions Yes?"
Girl In Class: "What’s this got to do with crop rotation?"
The Doctor: "Er, I dunno. But space is great, isn’t it?"

Bill: "You like distress calls?"
The Doctor: "You only really see the true face of the universe when it’s asking for your help."

Tasker: "Occupants of repair station, please identify."
The Doctor: "Hello there! You first."
Tasker: "I’m sorry?"
The Doctor: "Well, all your crewmates are dead. So, either you’re extremely lucky or you killed them. Which is it?"

Bill: "The measurements, are these in metres?"
Tasker: "Average breaths. The only unit worth a damn out here."

The Doctor: "Bill, I’ve got no TARDIS, no sonic, about ten minutes of oxygen left and now I’m blind. Can you imagine how unbearable I’m going to be when I pull this off?"

Abby: "Is that really the best you’ve got? Revenge?"
The Doctor: "Not just revenge. It’s revenge as bright as the sun. It’s revenge you can see across galaxies! Not bad for a blind man."

Abby: "Are you of your mind?"
The Doctor: "Uh, yes, completely, but that’s not a recent thing."
The Doctor: "I try never to tell the enemy my secret plan."

1 comment:

  1. It's been a while since I've watched The Daleks, but if I remember correctly, the Doctor was stubbornly wanting to explore while new companions Ian and Barbara wanted to get the hell out of there. So maybe it's also possible the first doctor was lying to get what he wanted (I wouldn't put it past him in his first season)?


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