Please feel free to comment on my review.
Space Zombies with the Doctor, Bill and Nardole
Jamie also co-wrote ‘The Girl Who Died’ with Steven Moffat for Series 9 of ‘Doctor Who’. I was expecting ‘Oxygen’ to be of the same quality of storytelling by Jamie Mathieson from Series 8 here.
Sadly the episode fell apart by the time we got to the conclusion. Don’t get me wrong! I’ve enjoyed watching it again on a second viewing as it works quite well as a zombie story set on a space station.
But the explanation for how the threat was resolved by the end felt rather weak for me. Even after watching the tale on a second watch, I don’t feel I’ve grasped enough on how everything is resolved.
It pains me to write this review as I like Jamie Mathieson as a ‘Doctor Who’ writer and he wrote some fine stories for Series 8. If more time was given to the episode’s ending, it would’ve been good.
Anyway, let’s talk about the episode itself. It begins in outer space! And just so you know how well into the TV show Peter Capaldi is, his Doctor begins by saying a pretty well-known sci-fi show tagline.
THE DOCTOR: “Space: The Final Frontier!”
No, Peter! Wrong show! You’re doing ‘Doctor Who’! Not ‘Star Trek’! 😀 I don’t know whether to consider that a tongue-in-cheek joke or something stupid. (thinks) I’ll take both. It makes me smile. 🙂
The episode has the Doctor, Bill and Nardole answering a distress call to a space station which is under threat by some spacesuit zombies! As the tale progresses, it all comes down to buying oxygen.
And yes! Shock of all shocks! Matt Lucas as Nardole gets to travel with Peter Capaldi as the Doctor and Pearl Mackie as Bill in the TARDIS for a change. I was waiting for something like this to happen. 🙂
I was hoping to see Nardole’s potential as a ‘Doctor Who’ companion in this tale. Maybe he might change my mind about him. Maybe he might not end up being the useless tool within the TV series.
To be fair, and on a second watch, Nardole has become interesting as a travelling companion in the TARDIS. He did have his moments where he became interesting in terms of what went on this story.
However, I did find Nardole tended to be annoying and grumpy with the Doctor. This is especially when he wanted the Doctor to go back to the TARDIS so that he can keep his oath to guard the vault.
Also I did find that Nardole tended to be there for comic relief a lot of the time during the episode. He also doesn’t do very much in terms of being active as a companion, apart from making one-liners.
Some of those one-liners aren’t necessarily funny. Okay, the bits where Nardole recalls having a girlfriend called Velma and her voice sounding like the computer’s aboard the space station could be funny.
But in terms of his role, Nardole did sort of fall flat for me despite his interaction with the Doctor and Bill. However, there is one scene with Nardole that did stand out for me. I’ll get to that scene later on.
Actually I liked how the episode focused on the Doctor, Bill and Nardole for the first third when they came aboard the space station in the TARDIS. It was intriguing how they explored about the station.
Peter Capaldi and Pearl Mackie steal the show for me with their performances as the Doctor and Bill in the episode. The Doctor truly cares for Bill. He makes a noble self-sacrifice in order to rescue her.
Poor Bill gets unlucky in this episode, since her spacesuit seems to be operating by itself when it malfunctions. This happens when the spacesuit takes the helmet off Bill, much against her free will.
It was quite scary and tense when Bill struggled to keep her breath and she was about to die of oxygen starvation. Thankfully, the Doctor heroically saves Bill once putting his space helmet on her.
This comes at a cost however, since the Doctor’s exposure to space without his space helmet on causes him to go blind. It was very disturbing when seeing the Doctor becoming blind in the episode.
Despite that setback however, the Doctor manages to work out what’s going on and how to stop the spacesuit zombies when they come for him and the others. He also does this to save Bill’s life again.
Yeah! Poor Bill suffers spacesuit problems not once but twice in this episode. When Bill, the Doctor, Nardole and some space station survivors walk down a corridor, her suit stops! She cannot move!
The Doctor eventually works it out but has to leave Bill at the mercy of the space zombies before he can solve things. It causes Bill to become zombified once a space zombie touches her in the corridor.
I was shocked to see that happen, especially on a second watch for the episode. I did wonder if Bill was going to die at the end of the episode and wondered how she was going to get out alive from it.
As I stated, the Doctor, Bill and Nardole meet survivors aboard the space station. There’s Kieran Bew as Ivan; Justin Salinger as Tasker; Peter Caulfield as Dahh-Ren and Mimi Ndiweni as Abby in the tale.
I wish I could say something stand-out about these supporting characters, but honestly I didn’t find anything interesting about them. Oh, that’s not to do with Jamie Mathieson’s writing for them mind.
It’s just with so much going on in the story; we’re not given enough time to know about the characters, especially as panic ensues. Had this been a two-parter, we could know more about them.
I would’ve liked to have learnt more about the relationship between Ivan and former worker Katie Brayben as Ellie who seemed to have a romantic link with him. This is all before she became zombified.
Actually now I come to think of it, the opening shots for this episode do have a feel of the 2013 film ‘Gravity’ about them. I wonder if Jamie Mathieson had been inspired by that film when writing this.
The one survivor of the space station that stood out for me is Dahh-Ren, since of course he’s a blue alien humanoid. I wouldn’t say he was a Bolian from ‘Star Trek’ since that’s a totally different universe. 😀
I found it a little bit off-putting when Bill was startled by Dahh-Ren’s appearance and he accused her for being a racist. It seems to me that Dahh-Ren’s species are a pretty abrupt and strict lot in this universe.
The space zombies in this episode are pretty creepy to watch. One touch from them and you become a zombie like them. Their walk also sounded mechanical like Cybermen aboard the station.
Like I said, ‘Oxygen’ left me unsatisfied with its weak ending with the first viewing on TV and with a second on DVD. I’ve reflected on my thoughts about this episode and wonder if I’ve been too harsh.
But I honestly do feel that the ending was rather rushed and not enough time was given to explain the outcome of the story. I know it’s a common thing for ‘Doctor Who’ tales to be rushed these days.
However I wish it could’ve been explained what went on with the spacesuits being the cause for what was happening in the story. I know it has something to do with a ‘purchasing oxygen’ business.
That in itself is a neat idea by Jamie Mathieson. But I’m concerned not all are going to understand business procedures and how the Doctor compares a spreadsheet to being involved with the threat.
I didn’t get it at the time and I think more should have been spent on explaining what happened at the episode’s end. This is especially when Bill somehow manages to survive in getting de-zombified.
Thank you Doctor for saving Bill! But I was confused as to what became of the other zombies. I wondered why they weren’t recovered like Bill was. It wasn’t clear if they had all died in the process.
Timelord007 suggested to me that the zombies died since they gave up the remains of their oxygen to the other spacesuit survivors. After re-watching the episode, it seems to be a lot clearer in the story.
But still, I do find the explanation rather unsatisfying. If Bill could survive after being zombified, why couldn’t the other unfortunates who were zombies? Why weren’t they resurrected back to life here?
ROWAN ATKINSON’S DOCTOR: “I’ll explain later!”
Oh, okay. (groans) Anyway, all is well and the Doctor returns Abby and Ivan back to their home. Yeah, Tasker and Dahh-Ren didn’t survive in this. Neither did Ellie. It’s rather sad. I wish they’d lived.
‘Oxygen’ fell flat for me when I saw it on TV back in 2017. I did enjoy watching the episode again on a second viewing as it does have a gripping zombie plot and I enjoyed some of the horrific moments.
But this episode is below par and it didn’t match to Jamie Mathieson’s previous ‘Doctor Who’ efforts with ‘Mummy on the Orient Express’ and ‘Flatline’. Still, I found this better than ‘The Girl Who Died’.
Like I said, there is one scene with Nardole that stood out for me in this episode. After Bill leaves the Doctor in his university office when they go back to Earth, Nardole enters and starts berating him.
This is at the end of the episode and I found it compelling to see Nardole get angry with the Doctor for leaving the Earth behind and not keeping to his oath. I believe this is fine acting on Matt Lucas’ part!
Yes! You saw it in the YouTube video! The episode ends on a shocking cliff-hanger! The Doctor is still blind! Gosh! Nardole didn’t do a good job on restoring his eyesight, did he? What will happen next?!
The DVD special features on this episode are as follows. On Disc 2 of ‘Series 10 – Part 1’ of ‘Doctor Who’, there’s the ‘Oxygen’ – Inside Look’ featurette.
On Disc 3 of ‘The Complete Series 10’ of ‘Doctor Who’, the ‘Oxygen’ – Inside Look’ featurette can also be found on there. There’s also a commentary with Pearl Mackie, Matt Lucas and writer Jamie Mathieson. On Disc 6, there’s the ‘Doctor Who: The Fan Show – The Aftershow’ edition for this episode.
‘Oxygen’ rating – 7/10
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