Of all the monster categories, we find zombies the most yawnful. Shamble shamble, grr grr. Gripping. So it says quite a bit that despite clichés, hokey tropes and yep, zombies, we thought the first chunk of Oxygen was pretty ace.
So how do they do that? It's very pretty, for a start. The space looks delightfully spacey and they make a great fist of the spacewalk visuals. Bill's trippy exposure to the vacuum is just gorgeous. As for the zombies, the self-moving suits carting their deceased passengers along for the ride are a terrific twist on the zombie thing that's splendidly gruesome. And although the space station couldn't be a more bog-standard base under siege, they manage to inject genuine suspense.
There's also the TARDIS team. For once Nardole gets to do more than make the tea: he's still criminally underused, but we'll take what we can get, and he's hilarious when bickering with the Doctor. Bill does her usual excellent stuff. And the Doctor is in fabulous form here: he's more restrained than he can be, less grandstandy, and deliciously cutting. We could watch this Doctor to the end of spacetime and back again (with special reference to time dilation, the Lorentz transformations and jellybabies).
Unfortunately, the rest isn't all sweetness and light years. A lot of that is to do with concepts that are, to say the least, cobwebbed. Ms I Want To Have Your Baby could only have been more obviously marked for an early death if she'd also got out pictures of her family and banged on about how she couldn't wait to go home.
Worse, the rest of the plot turns out to be even more ploddingly predictable. In case we're unable to grasp the delicate nuances of this on our own, they point us down the correct track with oxygen for sale. Yep, if there's anything you can count on in NuWho, it's endless regurgitation of the Capitalism Is Evil theme, and none too subtly, either. "We’re fighting the suits"? Oh, please. And that being the case, the dramatic revelation that the company is offing its unprofitable workers is a little lacking in the startle factor. What really did surprise us is the pat little resolution (another in a series of pat little resolutions this season) that following a bit of protesting corporate dominance of space was decisively put to bed in a few months. O rly? If only it were that easy. We'd contend that corporate carelessness with worker health is frequently tantamount to a death sentence right now (Bhopal, anybody?) and we haven't seen many corporations closed down because of it.
What's more, we think the University gig has gone to the Doctor's head, because he never seems to get down off his soapbox. One of us said, "Was it just me, or was that speech about how he'll rescue you and you'll spend the rest of your life wondering who he was wanky as hell?". It wasn't just her. It doesn't do a lot for your coolness factor when you have to lecture all around you on just how nifty you are. And there's more lecturing about what responding to the calls of nature (or something) says about you which, as far as we were concerned, was comfortably deducible by the viewer without the Doctor getting out his highlighter. As for the dying well set piece, no matter how beautifully delivered it is, it loses its punch because it's blindingly (sorry) obviously a ruse. The Doctor would never throw in the towel while he still had breath in his body and switches to twiddle.
So, some nice things, some not so nice things. Is that all? Uh huh, looks like it. We don't feel we're saying a lot about the episodes this season, and that's because there isn't very much to say. From episodes bursting with enough plot for an old-style six-episode story and pregnant with Meaning and Significance, we've switched to wispy little things that are wrapped up in a trice. We can't say it's an improvement.
As for the blindness plot, we want to see where they're taking it before we talk much about it, but we do wonder how the Doctor gets from the TARDIS to his office desk without the others noticing he can't see. Maybe it's some mysterious Time Lord power, because otherwise, it just ain't that easy.
KLINGONS ON THE STARBOARD BOW
"Doors should go shuk shuk"? Couple that with the final frontier thing and it looks like we have a Trekker on board.
If an empty suit can work by itself, as the one is that's stacking boxes is doing, why do they need humans at all?