Discussing Doctor Who: Oxygen

Doctor Who Oxygen

“In space no one can hear you scream” … unless you are trapped on a space station without oxygen and full of zombie suits. Kevin and I break down “Oxygen.”

Kevin Harvey is the author of All You Want to Know About The Bible in Pop Culture and a fellow Whovian who enjoys watching and breaking down the latest adventures of the Doctor. You can follow him on Twitter at @PopCultureKevin.

This week we are breathing in “Oxygen.” Previously, we opened the door of “Prozac reviews,” stepped out on “Zoloft 25 mg,” emoted about “Premarin coupon” and navigated “The Pilot” If you need a refresher on last season, here is our recap of season 9.

The Doctor finally got to explore space again. What did you think about “Oxygen”?

Aaron: This was my second favorite episode of the season (behind “Thin Ice”). Channeling classic space sci-fi like Star Trek and Aliens as well as drawing from what has worked previously on Doctor Who, “Oxygen” gave us an edge of your seat episode with plenty of twists and turns.

Starting off with the woman confessing her love and desire to start a family to a man unable to hear her, before turning her into a spacesuit zombie was a perfect way to draw you in emotionally and make things creepy from the start.

For me, the score and sound effects were one of the highlights of the episode. At several points, all the music dropped away to allow the ominous nature of the moment to settle on your nerves or grant the viewer the perspective of a character in danger.

Plus, we were able to see the Doctor still be the Doctor without the TARDIS, his sonic screwdriver or even his sight—even if the first two absences seemed a little contrived. It’s always good to remind viewers that the Doctor’s real strength is his mind.

Kevin: We still have to agree to disagree about “Thin Ice.” But we’re definitely in agreement on how great an episode “Oxygen” was.

It had just about all the makings of a classic Doctor Who: true danger in a closed-in environment, suspense and mystery from beginning to end, witty dialogue all around, more Nardole than we’ve had all season, an emphasis on the value of life and never leaving someone behind.

The only thing missing was an inspiring, goosebump-raising monologue from the Doctor, but honestly, if we had those every week they’d become mundane and unauthentic. So I’m okay with missing out on one this week.

The Doctor’s excitement at the beginning about space and his being anxious to get back to it was illustrative about how the rest of us feel too. Haunted houses, creepy puddles, and emoji robots can be fun, but for Doctor Who, nothing beats a good space episode.

Even seeing a preview for this week’s Alien: Covenant during one of the commercial breaks reminded me how great a good space horror story can be when done well. “Oxygen” fit the bill.

Were space suits programmed to kill “organic matter” the monster you have been wanting?

Kevin: No doubt you asked this question so that it could be brought up that once again the monsters in this latest season of Doctor Who aren’t really the monsters, but the humans behind them are.

This certainly seems to be the theme being drilled into us this season, much like how last season’s theme seemed to be Clara becoming more and more like the Doctor, to the point of getting her own TARDIS and companion in the finale.

How is the theme of the real monsters being man going to play into the Doctor’s regeneration coming this Christmas? I joked earlier in the season about the Doctor being taken down by a Bond villain, but now I’m wondering if we should be looking out for a showdown with Spectre.

But we can’t do this all season, can we? Give us some good old-fashioned monsters of the week to really freak out newcomer Bill. Maybe a Cyberman or two at least. Her reactions to all things new, such as the blue Dahh-Ren, have been great all year. I’d love to see her trying not to blink at a weeping angel.

Aaron: I really enjoyed the space suit zombies. They were genuinely frightening in only the way a relentless horde of undead bodies in space can be. Once again, I wasn’t the biggest fan of the reveal, but if you’re right and this is all leading somewhere it can still be worth it.

I do know the Cybermen are showing up this season, so it will be interesting for Bill to interact with a classic Who villain that is intent on deleting all who get in their way. I too would love to see her encounter a Weeping Angel and even have another chance to learn just why the Doctor is so afraid of the Daleks.

Not only did the Doctor head back into space, Nardole tagged along. What did he add to the episode and any last guesses on who’s inside the vault?

Aaron: Their relationship is so antagonistic now that it really has me intrigued about the vow the Doctor made. The first scene in the TARDIS about the Doctor sending Nardole out for food was fantastic. I loved the fact that Nardole didn’t trust the Doctor, but he didn’t not trust him enough. (And the Doctor said he was going to dock his pay for it!)

They have made it clear that Missy is coming back this episode and Steven Moffat has hinted that we would find out who’s in the vault this episode, so that seems a little too obvious.

I go back and forth, but I think we will be led to believe Missy is the big reveal, have an episode featuring her, and the cut to a final scene of the Master walking out of the vault.

Kevin: As this was my favorite episode of the season so far, and it was filled with Nardole from beginning to end, I can only wish that we get more of him the rest of the way. If for no other reason, the Doctor can’t always be the one explaining everything to the companion.

That would take up half his dialogue. So simply having Nardole to explain things to Bill in ways that only Nardole can is an added benefit to the show.

As far as the vault, I think half the audience is going to be excited to finally see Missy in there, and the other half is going to be like you, and will be surprised to find Missy in there, being it’s just been too obvious thus far that it’s her.

So either way, I think at this point it has to be Missy. But obviously I reserve the right to deny I ever said that next week when the Doctor opens the vault and Ashildr or River or Nick Frost as Santa Claus steps out.

Let’s be honest. Doctor Who can get preachy at times. This week was one of those times. We appreciate it when it matches our sensibilities, but may roll our eyes at other times. How do you handle episodes whose message contradicts your viewpoint?

Kevin: I assume you’re thinking of the anti-capitalism sentiment of “Oxygen.” For me, lines read by rich actors, written by rich writers and directors, given to us on networks that would be out of business if they could no longer get fast-food restaurants and pharmaceutical companies to pay them millions of dollars for ads has gone the way of the boy who cried wolf.

It all just falls on my deaf ears at this point. England, of all countries, should not have a sympathetic ear toward socialism anymore. It’s all just silly nonsense to me now.

But being that the theme of the season seems to be the total depravity of man, and also knowing all the warnings we have in the Bible concerning love of money, I can deal with all the capitalism cracks and chalk them up as agreeing with the dangers we know can come when sinful man deals with money.

Aaron: Yes, “Oxygen” turned a little ham-fisted at the end with its skewering of “space capitalism.” But, as the saying goes, a spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down. If you wrap your groan-inducing lesson with a fun adventure, I’ll limit the eye rolls and enjoy the story.

This is one area where conservatives and Christians have ample experience. There aren’t many TV shows or movies that blatantly affirm our values. We are used to eating a fish and spitting out the bones.

I’m thankful we don’t have to do it as frequently with Doctor Who as most other shows that touch on similar topics. I can handle an anti-capitalism episode because the show is so well done and, as you said, no human philosophy is above criticism because of the sinfulness of its originators and perpetrators.

Favorite quotes or one-liners?

Aaron: Having Nardole in this episode added so many great moments, one of which was great for our house.

As they were putting on their spacesuits and helmets, my oldest asked, “What happens if they throw up in the helmet?” Immediately after that we got this exchange:

“What happens if I throw up in my helmet?” — Bill
“Color and smells.” — Nardole
“Don’t throw up in helmet, check.” — Bill

“The TARDIS is on the other side of that door.” — Bill
“Yes, I was really hoping someone would state the obvious.” — the Doctor

Kevin: Totally agree. Having Nardole in so much of the episode gave us twice as many great lines than normal. And thanks for spelling out the above helmet dialogue for me. My Bose speaker just doesn’t like Bill’s accent. I have so much trouble understanding her sometimes, including that line.

“Do people ever hit you? —Bill
“Well, only when I’m talking.” —The Doctor

“The universe shows its true face when it asks for help. We show ours by how we respond.” —The Doctor

What some spiritual takeaways from this episode?

Kevin: I really liked the Doctor’s rant at the end as he was getting ready for the final act about no one ever accepting blame for the problems of this universe. “Everyone says it’s not their fault. But yes it is.” More specifically, the problems around us every day are because of what I mentioned above—the total depravity of man.

It’s so easy to blame circumstances, or government, or laws, or guns, or just simply others. But Adam was placed in paradise with a beautiful woman. No annoying neighbors. No banks. No guns. No financial problems. No in-laws. And yet he still found a way to screw things up.

How could we possibly think we could do any better if we could just catch a few breaks? It is all our fault. But not even the Doctor can save us, only Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross to pay the debt for all our sins.

Aaron: I was struck by the Doctor quoting 1 Corinthians 15:55 to the lifeless body still standing because of the suit: “Death, where is your sting?” It must’ve been irony because clearly death had stung the person despite their physical position.

It reminded me of the boy in “Knock Knock” who tried to hold off death by sacrificing college students so that his mother could continue living, but not as she was before. She had not been granted actual life. She was a prisoner in the home and had long since ceased being herself.

As humans we continue to fight against death, but all of our efforts are in vain. Death’s sting is still all too real and all too permanent.

The end of “Oxygen” showed the paradoxical way to have life: We have to lose it. The Doctor connected their lives to the ship and invited the suits to kill them. They willingly offered up their lives. This sacrifice led to their being saved.

As Christians, we know Christ has made a way to remove the sting of death. We have victory over death—not because of wood lice or a rogue spacesuit, but because the One who conquered death lives in us.

Next week: “Extremis” … is that River Song’s diary? That is Missy?


  1. The folks in the TV industry in the UK aren’t anywhere near as rich as the US. Probably why so many British actors cross the Pond to get some of those capitalist dollars. Remember how the BBC suffered under conservative Margret Thatcher? Any economic system requires strong morals or it becomes subject to its inherit weaknesses.

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Aaron Earls

Christian. Husband. Daddy. Writer. Online editor for Facts & Trends Magazine. Fan of quick wits, magical wardrobes, brave hobbits, time traveling police boxes & Blue Devils.