Ah, now here’s that episode of Doctor Who series 10 with scary monsters that you were waiting for.
Cooked up in the brain of Jamie Mathieson – back after Mummy On The Orient Express, Flatline and The Girl Who Died – it’s also the first story in the run that brings Matt Lucas’ Nardole properly along for the ride, and lets us spend a bit of quality time with him. Scary monsters? Nardole? That’s two things many fans were asking for in one 45 minute episode.
An episode that just happens to be terrific.
The set up on the surface seems your standard Doctor Who base under siege, but there’s a good deal more to it. This time, the Doctor, Bill and Nardole find themselves on a space station, with oxygen running down, and, well, foes who aren’t keen on them surviving. With more than one nod to Star Trek (heck, you won’t get a more blatant one than the first minute), what unfolds is a compelling story, and a really creepy, quite scary one.
Without giving the game away, the monsters that our trio encounter on said space station are hugely effective, and there’s a sense of menace running right the way through this one. There are other matters too, but the boundaries of a spoiler-free review mean it’s best I put the story chat on hold there.
Instead, it’s worth noting how, stylistically, Oxygen follows the pattern that the series has been setting thus far. In fact, I’m reading more and more comments from people suggesting that the current run has brought them back to Doctor Who, that the interaction between Peter Capaldi and Pearl Mackie is excellent, and the stories are good. Oxygen will increase the number of comments of that ilk.
Personally, I’d throw in too that this series, the structure and pacing of stories has undergone welcome modifications. With this one again, there’s no zapping around and rushing about at the start, and there’s no mad gallop to the finish line. It’s slow build up, detective work, character moments, chills.
Furthermore, there’s an internal logic that holds, and there’s Peter Capaldi’s best performance of the series to date as well. Intriguingly too, underpinning the many funny quips of Matt Lucas’ Nardole is the portrayal of a man genuinely scared and in fear of something. Lucas deserves real credit for that.
Whether we settle on declaring all of this a return to the classic Who feel of old, or simply a refinement of the stories Steven Moffat wanted to tell, and the manner in which they’re told, remains up for debate. I do think what’s clear is it’s been to the real benefit of the series.
Oxygen? It’s on the same level as Knock Knock for me. A strong standalone piece of work, a creepy, unnerving Doctor Who that for the second week running has a final act that matches the build up. And then there are other things, and one or two moments – don’t look into the subtext of this for clues, because there aren’t any – that’ll make you wish episode six was here already…