TV It's Sunday night and I've just finished watching Doctoroo, sorry, Doctor Whoer. Another epoch busted, although I have a strange suspicion that due to other commitments I did delay an episode some time in the RTD era. But last night, with Eurovision following quickly on, I decided to save one of the treats from BBC One's viewing feast for this evening and so here you are reading some opinions (which you've probably seen articulated better elsewhere) on a time delay.  There's nothing worse than having a whole day to actual think about what's going to be written here, for me to put some actual thought into it.  That rarely goes well.  Incidentally, the Eurovision result was probably about right, although the performer's sister was the better singer and probably should have entered the song herself.  Oh and O'G3EN from #NED were robbed, as was the UK.  Again.

Through the gimlet prisms of a long term fan, the episodes title has something of a double meaning in that story wise,  Oxygen is as familiar to Doctor Who as human lungs are to breathing.  The set up is a classic base under siege (you can mark your four corners on the Who review bingo card) with the TARDIS inopportunely inaccessible, a small group of humans to save and an implacable enemy hell bent on their destruction.  Even if you've only seen The Sensorites, you pretty much know all the tropes to expect, and if Nicholas Briggs hasn't written one version for Big Finish, he's publicised  several on his Twitter feed.  Depending on your mood, the idea of sitting through all of this stuff again can feel achingly tedious or like a comfortable hug from a big, friendly script editor or show runner (depending on the era) and luckily for us, Oxygen is the latter.

Not that our patience isn't tested.  This series's tendency towards rather bland, single attributed  secondary characters continues.  Back in more recent history, even Chris Chibnall was capable of imbuing the denizens of the S.S. Pentallian with enough character for us to find their death's poignant within a 42 minute time span.  In Jamie Mathieson's Oxygen (his best script to date nonetheless) we meet the shouty one, the beardy one, the blue one and the one who dies early.  There's probably an argument that we're seeing them through the Twelfth Doctor's eyes, or rather lack of them now, in that he doesn't have much interest in them as individuals other than to save them, but it doesn't half lengthen the odds in how sympathetic they're going to be to the viewer which is something which used to be important.  Not sure why it isn't so much now.

Nardole continues to annoy especially due to the way the writers have had to find him something to do, often in scenes were the Doctor orders a piece of investigatory information which the Time Lord himself would more naturally discover and more potently having gone through the motions himself.  In one scene here, the Doctor literally stands around while Nardole goes off and finds a piece of eposition.  The Doctor's Daughter might not be a great story, but at least is justifies Donna's secretarial back story by having her develop a piece of admin which goes overlooked by the big picture Tenth Doctor.  We're once again forced to hope that there's some grand plan in place for Matt Lucas's character which'll cause us to retroactively reconsider his participation in these earlier episodes.  Third wheel companions are always tricky and the otherwise anonymous Nardole's amongst the wheeliest.

But having said all of that the rest of the episode just works.  Much of that has to do with the zombies being genuinely creepy with their cocked heads, grey skin and vacant eyes, organic material serving the suits, their autonomy defiled.  With a full zombie neck or limb mastication out of the question, a death touch, so close to a schoolyard tag or tick, is scary, especially when its inevitable.  Unlike the Borg, whose consciousness is assimilated into the hive mind and contributes towards its journey for perfection, the humans in Oxygen are simply necessary organic matter, existing to give the suits something to hang on to.  Yes, yes, who turned out the lights, but at least when the Vashta Narrada get you, with the exception of the echo, your living embodiment becomes nourishing to them as a chicken wing.  Here, your vacant likeness continues.

The political angle is also immensely impressive, especially for those of us who've been on the sharp end of late capitalism.  I've worked in a bank's call centre were every moment of my day to the nearest second is recorded and available for criticism if "too long" is spent on a toilet break or client queries aren't dealt with below a pre-designated average call time.  The failure to achieve any of this would have resulted in missing out on a bonus and a tetchy meeting with a team leader rather than asphyxiation, but the transformation of a human into the biological conduit for a business process is roughly similar.  Given that pretty much all other necessary human sustenance is now being charged for, the act of inhaling and exhaling N2 and O2 plus trace elements isn't completely unbelievable if some kind of mechanism could be devised.

Other elements of the production are a tour de force.  The exterior shots all seem to have been shot with the minimum of CGI giving them an old school pliability and the elements featuring astronauts on stanchions bring to mind scenes filmed at Elstree for the classic series, before videotape was adopted and made everything seem cheap now matter how well shot (or lit).  Murray Gold's music is really helping the Doctor and Bill's relationship to gel and it's impossible not to feel Tennant era vibes when she embraces here tutor and their collective themes swell.  Not to mention that it's great to see our characters in space suits other than those first seen in The Impossible Planet, especially these with their beautifully patterned gold fish bowls.  Were they created especially for this story or do we recognise them from somewhere else?

Taking the Doctor's sight is a dramatic twist and finally potentially give Nardole something new to do as a human guide dog.  That even without his eyes, the Time Lord will be capable of much will surely be of comfort to children who've also lost their eyesight, so let's hope the audio description does the episode justice.  Like his constant amnesia in his Eighth incarnation, this blindness surely won't be permanent, which isn't to say it wouldn't be brave to keep him in this condition right through to the regeneration.  But it has to be unlikely given that we finally have a version of this character who isn't a complete bastard and to leave him in this state would be a cruel cut.  If as is rumoured, the Christmas special will help explain the intervention of his attack eyebrows in the Day of the Doctor, he's going to need his cue balls intact.

When articles are written about the Twelfth Doctor era, Oxygen is sure to be included in its highlights.  While in some ways still quite simplistic in its characterisation and depth in comparison to earlier eras, partly due to the need to service the series's arc story at the top and bottom of the action, the decision not to soft focus its political message is welcome in the current political climate.  If the Daily Mail hates you, you're probably doing something right.  The trailer for next week's episode is majestic: is that River's diary?  Does it contain secrets about his future and if so, how did she know before her untimely?  Will we discover what's in the vault and does the fact that we know Missy is back mean that it can't be Missy since putting her in the trailer would rather invalidate the surprise?  Or is it a double bluff?  I won't be iPlayering next week, then.

No comments:

Post a Comment