❉ This is proving to be a vintage year for Doctor Who.
“Space is great, isn’t it?”
This is proving to be a vintage year for Doctor Who. If the stories have been lacking in some areas, there’s always been more than enough to compensate, either in the story, direction or the visuals. I said last week in my review of Knock Knock that there had been a gradual upward curve in quality as the stories progressed. While Mike Bartlett’s script excelled in an old fashioned, creepy atmosphere, Oxygen raised the bar still further with a new twist on old idea.
Jamie Mathieson has already proven himself one of the series’ most innovative writers with his previous two scripts, Mummy on the Orient Express and Flatline. In ‘Oxygen’ he took the Doctor Who trope of a base under siege – in the case a copper-mining space station – and, terrifyingly, made what would have been part of the sci-fi furniture the threat: namely, the spacesuits the characters need to survive in a vacuum.
It can’t get more threatening than knowing that the air will run out because you can’t afford more; equally it can’t get more frightening when your space suit starts thinking for itself. It was particularly fascinating to watch Bill’s attitude change from the prospect of a joyride into space to her mounting unease at the macabre image of a corpse standing upright in its suit, the space station decompressing, and – one of the most frightening images ever to appear in the series – her suit automatically removing her helmet as a hatch opened onto the vacuum of space. Once again, Pearl Mackie excelled in the authenticity of her performance.
Oxygen was a good episode for the regular cast in general. It shows how well this season has been paced as, nearly halfway through the series, Nardole’s character came into focus. Intriguingly, his relationship with the Doctor seems to be one of necessity, partnered with the wayward Time Lord to remind him of his responsibilities, as the last scene made clear; it also made clear that Matt Lucas has the serious acting chops when needed. Elsewhere, he added to what’s turning out to be a fascinating character with humorous comments that made the most of his comic gifts.
What really made this episode edgy and disturbing was seeing the Doctor blind. This has never been done before, and Peter Capaldi’s clouded eyes, fumbling movements and almost suicidal zeal to win made for uneasy viewing. You really did believe anything could happen to the TARDIS crew, and it’s one of his finest performances. The shock ending was – if you’ll forgive me – a blinder too.
Doctor Who 2017: the best the series has been for years.
❉ ‘Doctor Who’ airs on BBC One every Saturday at 7.20pm. Click here for episodes and extra content.
❉ Series 10: Part 1 will be available on DVD & Blu-Ray 2 May 2017, with Series 10: Part 2 available on 17 July 2017. Complete Series 10 available on DVD & BD later this year
❉ Robert Fairclough is a film and TV journalist and blogger and a regular contributor to ‘Doctor Who Magazine’ and ‘SFX’. He is the author of books on the iconic TV series ‘The Prisoner’, and co-author (with Mike Kenwood) of definitive guides to the classic TV dramas ‘The Sweeney’ and ‘Callan’. His biography of the actor Ian Carmichael was one of ‘The Independent’s Top 10 Film Books of the Year for 2011.