WhovianNet.co.uk Advanced Preview: Oxygen

May 12th, 2017
Warning! This article and its comments may contain spoilers...
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Series 10 is rip-roaring along at rocket speed and if you’ve been twiddling your thumbs waiting for the Doctor and Bill to escape the (far from) conventional confines of that planet we call Earth, you really are in for a treat this weekend. They may have been to the edge of the galaxy and survived London’s Great Last Frost Fair of 1814 (as you do!), but this time the tension is notched up to a whole new level when they find themselves fighting to the death in the middle of deep space. It’s just another day in the office then, really.

Apart from the fact that it’s not. While Doctor Who is no stranger to setting a story aboard a doomed space station or five, Oxygen is something very new…  and very exciting. The latest exhilarating episode kicks off with Peter Capaldi’s ever booming voice declaring that space is only referred to as “the final frontier” because it wants to kill us, which pretty much sets the tone for what’s to come, in the show’s traditionally morbid sort of way. The void is always waiting…

After all, space really is a dangerous place to be (or so we’re led to believe, anyway…), so it’s nice to have that sense of ominous, impending threat interjected back into the show’s mythos. Let’s face it, we were kind of getting used to the universe in all its weird and wonderful glory, what with Doctor Who being a sci-fi show and all, but all of a sudden what we thought we knew about the great unknown is flipped upside down as we’re shown just how out of our depth us human beings really are when it comes to extra terrestrial excursions. If you take anything away from Oxygen, it’s that space is bloody scary, man, though rest assured that you’ll take far more away from it than that. Far, far more…

But let’s start at the beginning, shall we? The pre-titles sequence alone is an epic escapade and we’re sure you’ll agree that the stunning scenery wouldn’t look out of place on an IMAX screen in a five and half hour Christopher Nolan movie. The scale of it just goes to show how far Doctor Who’s special effects have progressed over the years and the immersive introduction makes it feel like the series is taking you into space for the first time. It really is the first time for Bill, of course, and her initial reaction is as genuine and infectious as you’d expect. But more on what she gets up to later…

For now, let’s go back to the opening scene which introduces us to two ill-fated characters whose relationship is expertly established in the space (see what we did there?) of three very short – but very eventful – minutes. We don’t learn much about them before it all goes pretty pear-shaped (to put it lightly), but what we do learn is enough to make them instantly believable, likeable and, most importantly, human.

Humanity plays a big part in this episode, just as it has in the four adventures that have proceeded it. Doctor Who has always been rooted in it, of course, but there’s definitely a persistent pattern emerging here. Steven Moffat is seemingly on a mission to shine a light on the morals of mankind in his final year as showrunner, and there’s no finer platform on which to do it than against the breathtaking backdrop of space.

‘Breathtaking’ is another running theme in Oxygen, and we mean that in the literal sense. Time isn’t the only thing that’s running out for the Doctor, Bill and Nardole and what they encounter aboard Chasm Forge is a genuinely terrifying sight to behold. Notice we included Nardole there, as this episode finally marks his first full-length outing of the year. And Matt Lucas continues to smash it. Nobody really knew what to expect when it was announced that he’d be returning as a full time companion, but if your mind hasn’t been put to rest by his brief appearances thus far, this one oughta do the trick. He isn’t just there for the comic relief element either (although Matt provides that perfectly), as his character adopts a much firmer approach to the Doctor’s casual compulsion of breaking the conditions of his Vault-guarding oath. We don’t come any closer to finding out who – or what – lies inside the Vault this week, however we are left with the feeling that the Doctor’s apparent negligence will come back to bite him in a big way later in the series…

By the end of the episode, though, that’s the least of his worries. Amidst the ensuing chaos, something happens to our beloved Time Lord that really gives Peter the chance to shine in a way that he has never been given the opportunity to before. He will probably come close to breaking your heart and the formidable force of this particular performance is more than matched by the one delivered by Pearl Mackie. Her portrayal of Bill is getting stronger and stronger as the weeks go by and it is no exaggeration when we say that she really goes through the mill – and then some – in this one. If you thought Amy Pond had a rough ride, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.

Basically, we loved it. As expected, writer Jamie Mathieson has returned to the Whoniverse on top form and director Charles Palmer – who last helmed 2007’s Human Nature/The Family of Blood – has added a stellar and stylish space saga to his already reputable résumé of Doctor Who episodes. It only took him 10 years!

As the opening part of what already looks set to be a monumental three-part story, Series 10 is about to take a very dark turn as it reaches its halfway point in Extremis, which is set up as one of the maddest stories yet by its tantalising next time trailer. After this week’s almighty cliffhanger, something tells us that the Doctor is going to need his friends more than ever, but he’ll be sure to keep his enemies even closer. Next time, the bitch is back.

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