So, I’ve mulled over Oxygen and decided it really is rather good indeed (as if my opinion carries any weight;-) My reviewer brain did find a few gripes, but at heart there are some strong elements to a mostly well-told story, great performances and a twist. You can’t really ask for more, but ware some serious spoilers if you haven’t watched yet…
Oxygen: The story
Trapped on a mining space station Chasm Forge, the TARDIS crew, including this time Nardole, have to deal with shortages of oxygen and a raft of zombies. In traditional style the crew are picked off one by one, and Bill almost dies due to her defective suit. As the story moves forward, we find it is tackling a traditional Doctor Who theme: capitalism is bad and will be defeated. It may be simplistic, and perhaps the treatment of this idea in The Sun Makers had more time to express itself, but it worked well enough.
There are big moments, and very dark they were. First off Bill’s suit failure meant she might not be able to survive a space-walk, and only the Doctor sacrificing his eyesight allowed her to make it. But wait! Bill’s suit is more of a problem and the Doctor leaves her to die (but trust me) at the hands of the inexorable zombie advance.
Still blind, the Doctor reprograms the Chasm Forge systems then gives up to inevitable death!!! It’s really well done, and a really good use of bluff. The bluff continues to Bill’s return from the dead then even into the Doctor’s continued (and denied) blindness.
Oxygen: The storytelling
I didn’t like the beginning, with the lecture making sure we all knew how dangerous vacuum was. I did really like the set design, and pre-production is a massive strength of modern Doctor Who, right back into the RTD era. I thought the spacesuits were clever in they had a force field for in base and a portable helmet for vacuum. A couple of times I wasn’t sure how sound waves were being carried between people, but fair enough.
The minor sub-plots around some of the crew were OK, the anti-blue racism might work for some people, for me I thought it a bit too blunt, and the Chasm Forge crew were rather forgettable. This is where the old four-part format worked differently, in that it could build a secondary character well. This is something Big Finish seems to often manage better.
Having Bill suffer from lack of air on the walk on the hull was inspired, as it meant no expensive effects or complex filming. A really good short-cut.
The whole ‘we’re anti-capitalist, against the suits’ bit was a bit over-done as well, fighting both the immediate and the anonymous suits, but that’s just me. It’s been pointed out to me the idea of antonymous (as opposed to anonymous!) suits is rather Five Nights at Freddy’s, and interesting idea if nothing else.
A blind Doctor, now that’s different, and perhaps the start of the journey to regeneration. Many strong scenes between Capaldi and Mackie, and I’m really into Lucas’s Nardole.
So, I come to the end of this, and once I brush aside my complaints, it really is rather good.