Doctor Who 10.5/10.6 – Oxygen/Extremis

oxygenWell, a week away and a faulty internet connexion when I got home means that this – Oxygen – review is a bit late. So, apologies for that… I know you hang on my every word… heh…

The quality of this season continues apace with what looks like a fairly standard ‘base under siege’ episode. It’s a lot more barbed than that though being something of a smart jab at capitalism and bigging up the ordinary person. The Doctor comments about fighting ‘The Suits’ while proving the value of the individual worker.

This is an overtly political episode – not the first, I mean look at The Sunmakers or the pro-union Peladon stories – but remarkably well timed given the current turmoil in the country. Strange that the BBC – apparently Tory puppets – should let such an anti-tory piece of propaganda out on primetime TV. Someone, somewhere has lost their chance at a knighthood.

It cheers me up a great deal that if the Doctor voted, he’d undoubtedly vote labour.

But, the things that interest me most here are the subtle – and not so subtle – references to the Cybermen and previous cyber-stories. For example:

  1. The Suits stomp like the Cybermen when walking in unison
  2. The unconnected suits live in three pods that have a resonance to the teleport pods in The Ark In Space.
  3. The Space Station bears more than a passing resemblance to Nerva Beacon, also from The Ark In Space/Revenge of the Cybermen.
  4. The black vein marks look startlingly like the symptoms of the disease passed on by the cybermats.
  5. The ‘touching the shoulder to kill’ schtick is very Lumic Cybermen
  6. The suits with an organic component?
  7. Added after the rest of this was written – this one is very geeky, but in Revenge of the Cybermen, because of the quarantine status of Nerva Beacon, ships were diverted to Ganymede Beacon. And what was emblazoned on  the station in Oxygen?  Uh-huh… Ganymede…

The script from that section is thus:

“Your drop-over is cancelled, repeat, cancelled. This beacon is now a quarantined zone, due to an outbreak of space-plague. Your drop-over is transferred to Ganymede Beacon, one-niner-six-zero-seven-zero-two. Shall I repeat?”

Do you think they are trying to tell us something? I mean, I know we’re seeing the cybermen later in the series, but this is pointing at it quite strongly, right?

There were other resonances, such as the Vashta Nerada in Silence in The Library taking control of the suits – which oddly enough is picked up again in Extremis but the cybermen are very present, despite their absence.

Bill continues to be a joy, Nardole is less annoying and has some purpose for a change. pointyThis is actually a very good thing as he always seemed a little superfluous before this episode. Capaldi’s pre-credit turn, drawing skulls and spaceships, talking about the effects of open space on the human body basically lets you know pretty much what is about to happen, but not how. And not the consequences.

And what consequences.

The Doctor is changed, possibly forever. Well . . . at least until the next regeneration, but it will have a marked effect on how the Doctor operates and with Missy on the horizon, he needs to have his full faculties! Actually, the revelation of his blindness was a little crass and melodramatic. It could easily have ended with seeing the milky eyes rather than the AC-TOR stylings of “I’ll never see again!”.

We would have got it.

Really.

Extremis was a completely different kettle of meat.

An enigma of sorts. A weird mash-up of The Dan Brown’s “Angels and Demons”, Dark City and, as mentions before, Silence in the Library. Now, I can’t work out if this was a sophisticated piece or writing or a bit rough. Oddly this adds to the general feeling of unreality.

Moffatt’s writing here is a bit stilted and doesn’t really flow as well as it has done in the past. I mean the two things Moffatt is good at are character and dialogue, so it baffles me as to why it didn’t quite seem… real. Some of the dialogue had me wincing, but then most of the episode wasn’t the real people at all but a simulation; an approximation, so you see where the sophisticated/roughness dichotomy hits, yes?

Confusing.

What really weirded me out though was the Doctor walking around with a portfolio saying “Veritas” on it. Flashbacks to Robert Kilroy Silk are really not appreciated!

The big problem with Extremis is that it is clearly a ‘pivot’ episode like ‘Utopia’ in Tennant’s run. It was there specifically to introduce ideas and point the way to the next episode but mostly ran around not doing much in and of itself.  I can’t deny that it was hilarious seeing the Pope turn up and disrupt Bill’s date, but why when the Tardis can translate almost everything, was a translator even necessary? Was that part of the simulation? Did the aliens – who may be related to The Silence – not know about the Tardis translation circuits?  Or does the Tardis really not know modern Italian? We know it knows old Italian from Vampires of Venice… so what was that about?

In the simulation, you never see the vault and the only reason they would have revealed the contents of the vault in this episode would be if Missy was significant to the story. Perhaps the aliens weren’t able to simulate the vault or its contents for the same reasons they didn’t understand the translation circuits of the Tardis. Do they have a problem or blindspot – ho ho – to Timelord Technology.

And why do the aliens do that weird ‘mouth open’ talking? Reminds me of the very first cybermen from The Tenth Planet. Maybe it was The Silence again doing that electric sucky death thing.

But the most baffling thing was all those bits with Missy. Yes, they explained what was in the vault and why, but we sort of knew that anyway. So what, exactly, was the point?

The Doctor’s blindness is played mostly for laughs which doesn’t really seem to match the gravity of the revelation at the end of last week and the whole thing seems unformed and unclear.

That said, I was utterly riveted by the episode. The section in the Forbidden Library was tense and scary and the possibly dead things were deeply disturbing. Not as disturbing as the Shadow Test and the results of it on the crew at CERN though – another Angels and Demons reference. This section also reminded me a bit of both “In the Mouth of Madness” and – god help me – the movie of “Howard The Duck”. Scary on so many fronts!

So despite the weirdness and the misgivings, two weeks of killer episodes!

 

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