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Doctor Who: Oxygen (Review)

Like every worker everywhere, we’re fighting the suits.

– the Doctor about sums it up

In space, EVERYONE can hear you scream…

Oxygen plays very much like a companion piece to Thin Ice earlier in the season. Both are essentially stories about monstrous capitalism, from nineteenth century London through to the depths of outer space.

Indeed, Oxygen pitches itself as something akin to a late seventies or early eighties science-fiction film, in terms of aesthetic and politics. The episode’s production design recalls the “used future” of films like Star Wars, while the heavy criticism of capitalism invites comparison to films like Alien or Outland. Indeed, Oxygen even borrows from a similar strain of horror movies, tapping into the fear of zombies as the monstrous face of capitalism that can be traced back to Dawn of the Dead.

Station keeping.

Jamie Mathiesen has been one of the most consistently impressive writers of the Twelfth Doctor’s tenure, turning in impressive scripts for both Mummy on the Orient Express and The Girl Who Died, along with a genuine masterpiece in Flatline. Indeed, Oxygen is the most impressive episode in the stretch of the season, a bold and ambitious piece of allegorical science-fiction, wedded to a genuinely scary concept, top-notch production design, and any number of clever ideas.

Oxygen is a brilliant piece of work, and a reminder of just how effectively Doctor Who can blend its disparate elements into a satisfying whole.

Give him space to work.

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Doctor Who: The Girl Who Died (Review)

“He’s not really Odin, is he?”

“He hasn’t even got a yoyo.”

The Girl Who Died is very much in keeping with Jamie Mathieson’s previous scripts for Mummy on the Orient Express and Flatline. It is a script that expresses an affection and fondness for Doctor Who, but with just a hint of playful innovation. The Girl Who Died is recognisably part of the show, but in a way that feels like more than simple imitation or emulation. Mathieson does not just understand the mechanics of the show, he understands how and why they work in relation to one another.

After all, the set-up of The Girl Who Died is almost aggressively traditional. The Doctor wanders into a dangerous situation where he finds himself tasked with protecting a small community from a band of aggressive outsiders. Using his wits and no small amount of technobabble, the Doctor manages to stop the hyper-advanced aggressors in their tracks. He does this in a way that relies on trickery and subterfuge more than blunt force. The day is saved when the Doctor offers a quick-witted and chatty speech that sends his opponents reeling.

Not a patch on Odin.

Not a patch on Odin.

In terms of plot, there is not a lot happening here. The Mire are a fairly generic band of alien baddies, a stock science-fiction warrior race in the style of the Sontarans or the Klingons. (Indeed, Ronald D. Moore’s suggestion that the Klingons are “space Vikings” pays off here as the Mire find themselves squaring off against literal Vikings.) With the exception of Ashildr, most of the guest cast are reasonably bland; it seems highly unlikely that most of the audience will remember any of their actual names, instead remembering the Doctor’s “affectionate” nicknames.

However, The Girl Who Died takes the opportunity to flesh out its character dynamics, affording time and energy to long conversational (and philosophical) scenes in which the Doctor and Clara meditate upon responsibility and salvation. The Girl Who Died is very much an episode that feels like set-up, building towards that cliffhanger and into The Woman Who Lived, but its use of build-up is very canny and astute. Mathieson takes advantage of the two-part format adopted by the ninth season, expertly exploiting the space afforded by a two-parter.

Viking Direct, eh?

Viking Direct, eh?

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