Posts Tagged With: oxygen

Doctor Who series 10: the executive summaries (part one)

When I’m not blogging here (which seems to be most of the time these days), and when I’m not writing for Metro, you’ll often find me over at the hallowed halls of The Doctor Who Companion, churning out think pieces and gently poking fun at fan theory. We are a small but dedicated and also very eclectic team, and the great thing about the DWC is the sheer variety of stuff that’s on offer – we don’t just do news and reviews, there’s an awful lot of other content, and if you’re not reading it, you really should be.

But reviews are where we’ve been at for the past twelve weeks, because that’s what you do when there’s a series on. To keep things interesting, the site’s editors had a different person review each episode, and then asked for two-hundred word summaries from the rest of us, which they pasted into single documents, serving as composites of alternative views and opinions to sit alongside the main review for that week. And it occurred to me, as we reached the end of the run, that these little vignettes were actually as good a summary of how I’ve felt about particular episodes as anything else.

So I’m reproducing them here. And if you’ve been reading my series 10 reviews, you’ll probably recognise much of the text, because it’s usually lifted word for word. But I daresay there were at least some of you who simply scrolled to the end to look at the interest chart, right? And now you’ll never have to worry about what I said. So here are episodes one through six, each linked to its DWC communal write-up so you can see how my opinions compared with the rest of the team (if you want to read the stuff I published here, it’s available from the Reviews tag). I didn’t do one for ‘The Pilot’, having actually written the main review for that week, but I’ve cobbled something together, and episodes seven through twelve will follow in a day or two.

 

The Pilot

‘The best way to describe The Pilot is ‘grounded’. Because this is an episode that is anxious to root itself (to use Peter Capaldi’s own words) before you’re allowed to go anywhere. This is not a Doctor who turns up and comically integrates himself (or rather fails to) into a community, as we saw in The Caretaker or The Lodger. This is a Doctor who’s already been on the scene a long time, who cannot possibly be as young as he looks, and who is visibly offended when people fail to point this out. But there’s more to it than that: this is not another Snowmen, in which the arriving companion breaks the Time Lord out of a funk overnight. It takes time. The Doctor’s tenure may be well-established but it still takes a good few months (read: minutes) for his new companion to discover what’s really going on.

The episode’s success lies largely in the fact that it doesn’t try to do too much. The cast are a big help – Capaldi is comfortable and self-assured as the Doctor, and his support make the most of what they have – but the strength of The Pilot lies in its concept of space, in a strictly terrestrial sense. It introduces new characters and gives them breathing room – hence the Doctor and Bill are flung together not by impossible forces, but by a sense of mutual loneliness and the driving need to explore. By the time the Doctor has temporarily abandoned his plans to guard whatever it is he’s guarding in that vault and whisk Bill away to the stars (tellingly with a line that echoes Christopher Lloyd’s reckless abandonment of responsibility at the end of Back to the Future), it feels like an inevitability – and we cheer with her.’

DWC write-up

Smile

‘The last time Frank Cottrell-Boyce wrote for Doctor Who, he produced something that – for better or worse – was unlike almost anything that had preceded it. In Smile, the references come thick and fast: The Happiness Patrol-esque drive for shallow optimism; the Vardy’s childlike misunderstanding, echoing the nanogenes in The Doctor Dances, only with the appetite of the Vashta Nerada; the Seeds of Doom bit… I could go on. Had Cottrell-Boyce delivered 45 minutes of tropes and no substance, I’d be glowering, but there’s plenty of meat on the bone (which is more than you can say for many of the colonists). With the help of some thoughtful dialogue, and a narrative sparsity that mirrors the vast, almost minimalist surroundings, the episode’s real joy is the chemistry between its two leads, an ostensibly chalk and cheese pairing that is showing real promise. There’s nothing wrong with homage when it works, and Smile does.’

DWC write-up

Thin Ice

‘Perhaps the best thing about Thin Ice is the wink it makes at the audience. It is not a story that pretends to be grand or significant. It is a story in which the Doctor rewrites Dickens and gets all fanboyish over a con artist. It is a story in which an unreconstructed Nicholas Burns does the splits as the ground cracks beneath him. It is a story in which you wonder whether the thing in the Vault is actually John Simm, and whether the final ‘boom’ that accompanies the words ‘NEXT TIME’ is a simple sting for the episode 4 trailer or that crucial fourth knock.

But at its heart, it’s a story about the necessity of exploration: to scratch and forage, to find both the joys and the darkness therein, the frozen river serving as metaphor for Bill’s discovery of her mentor’s darker side. The path to enlightenment, it is implied, lies not in the certainty of tradition but the willingness to think sideways, whatever the risk. “Only idiots know the answers,” the Doctor insists, in the episode’s latter third. “But if your future is built on the suffering of that creature, what’s your future worth?” Ultimately, Thin Ice speaks to us of the dangers of venturing deeper – the perils that lurk in the darkness and the fear of the unknown – but also of the unexpected clarity that results when you come back up to the surface.’

DWC write-up

Knock Knock

‘The central problem with Knock Knock is that it simply isn’t very frightening. There’s nothing wrong with the set-up: six people in an overly large house with dodgy electrics and a seemingly inaccessible tower, presided over by a sinister, seemingly omnipresent figure with the ability to suddenly pop into existence as if from nowhere, like a podgy Q from Star Trek. The contract is signed with nary a second glance at the small print – if anything, Bartlett has written a morality fable for the EULA generation that emphasises the importance of reading the terms and conditions. Only Bill remains wary – but even she is keen to avoid discussing the obvious problems lurking in the house, clearly seeing it as a means of escape. The students’ nonchalance is the sort of behaviour that usually has the audience screaming at the TV, but it’s very easy to do that when you’ve already heard the screams of the house’s first victim, and a seemingly blasé attitude is at least consistent with the jumping in feet first attitude that Doctor Who typically seems to espouse. If something seems too good to be true, it usually is – but how might we apply that logic to ‘the gateway to everything that ever was, or ever can be’?

What the episode needs is a little more of the scare factor that drips through in the much-improved second half, and a little less of the mundanity that punctuates the earlier scenes: conversations about Bill’s sexuality spring to mind, as does the rather tedious question of whether the Doctor is her father or grandfather. This was clearly an experiment, and while the list of gripes (the occasional fall-back on conventional horror tropes; the Doctor’s effective relegation to sidekick status; the Freudian thing) is plentiful: they don’t make for an experience that is unilaterally bad, just one that feels like a disappointment after the last three weeks. But perhaps it’s not a bad thing that the bubble has burst. If this is the first time in the series we’ve had call to say ‘Meh’, then that’s a sure-fire indication that on the whole, they’re getting it right.’

DWC write-up

Oxygen

‘Oxygen is one of those ‘worthy’ episodes. You know, the sort where everyone talks about the message. It happens a lot, and it’s a problem. It’s nice that people care about things, but the earnestness with which throwaway lines of dialogue and supposedly grand speeches are adopted as profile signatures and – just occasionally – life mantras is something that puzzles me immensely. It’s as if Doctor Who is no longer allowed to be important unless it means something. Robert Holmes showed you can be political, and thus this is something you ought to do at every conceivable opportunity, with episodes that say Important Things left on a pedestal, while the more superficial, disposable stories (sit down, Planet of the Dead, your chops and gravy are in the microwave) are critically lambasted for being disposable candy floss. There is bugger all social commentary in The Invasion; it’s Cybermen running around London. It is also tremendous fun. That really ought to be enough.

Thankfully, Oxygen has the fun factor in spades, whether it’s the Doctor effectively kidnapping Nardole in the opening scene, or the mesmerising, wordless spacewalk (when people say things like “You’re about to be exposed to the vacuum of space!” in Hollywood blockbusters it sounds corny as hell; Capaldi pulls it off); or the moment, just a short time later, when the Doctor abandons Bill in a corridor. It manages this despite a dearth of interesting supporting characters (indeed, the only one you notice is memorable precisely because he shouldn’t be) and a rather clumsy, overstated semi-cliffhanger. None of this matters when the rest of it is as good as it got this week. A triumph, from start to not-quite finish.’

DWC write-up

Extremis

‘I called this. I just want that noted for the record. I called it months ago and said that the idea of an unreliable Doctor – one who thought he was the Doctor, but wasn’t – was something the show hadn’t really done yet and that I wished it would. I know the overlap is all wrong, but I’m just going to leave that there. And yes, I know that you don’t have to be real to be the Doctor. But still.

Extremis is a story in which the dramatic climax is someone sending an email. On paper, it must have seemed ludicrous. In practice, it is stunningly effective: it is, like Let’s Kill Hitler, one of those stories where everything works because nothing works, full of crazy ideas and head-scratching nonsense. The action moves from the Vatican to the Pentagon to CERN for no reason other than it can, with a global conspiracy that is almost as needlessly elaborate as the Cyberman’s convoluted plot in The Wheel In Space. It is likely to be divisive. Some people will love it, others will hate it. On its own, it does not easily stand up: as part of a trilogy, history may judge it more kindly. Some will rail against its supposed cleverness; others (like me) will see this as an example of Moffat pushing things as far as he can, and perhaps not quite as far as he wanted (how more daring might it have been had we discovered that every previous episode, and not just this one, had been a simulation, and that it turned out that David Bradley was guarding the vault?). Some will cheer at the audacity of actually killing the Doctor; others will produce a Series 6 box set and cough gently. This is not one for the ‘generally good’ or ‘generally bad’ pile: it will tread the uneasy tightrope between the two, with fans and critics either side, anxious to give it a push one way or the other. In the grand scheme of things, it’s Marmite. But that’s OK. I happen to like Marmite.’

DWC write-up

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God is in the detail (10-05)

Space. It’ll kill you if you don’t tread carefully. Lucky you’ve got me on hand, eh? Come with me now, because we’re going to explore the murky and sinister world of ‘Oxygen’ – a tale of corporate greed and sentient workwear, but also replete with IMPORTANT CLUES AND SIGNS that indicate the delights (and the horrors) that still await us.

This week, you’ll find it’s mostly about the First Doctor. Let’s take a look at that skull.

Count the stars. It’s not just the number, it’s the way they’re grouped. Not only does each star refer to a different Doctor, they also refer specifically to regeneration and a number of other things. Don’t believe me? Just watch:

You will note:

– The line that tracks the Second Doctor’s transition to the Third

– The two ‘eyes’ that represent the show in the 1980s and in its post-Y2K revival, and the Eighth Doctor’s uncomfortable positioning between both (but on the left hand side, clearly tying him to the ‘old’ era)

– The placement of the Fourth Doctor at the top of the triangle, or pyramid, signifying ‘Pyramids of Mars’

– The identical placement of the Twelfth Doctor at the top of a similar pyramid, indicating ‘The Pyramid at the End of the World’, in which the Doctor is due to regenerate

– The two tangential lines that lead down below the Tenth Doctor, indicating the split path followed by his metacrisis duplicate

– The six lines across the bottom: this should be obvious

Screens figure big this week, as you’ll see here.

First: note the five figures shown on the monitoring display. This refers to five Doctors, but not the five you were expecting. The Second Doctor is first: We know this because the first figure is directly beneath the word ‘POWER’, which is thus a reference to ‘Power of the Daleks’.

Let’s assume that the subsequent words each correspond to the separate figures. The words ‘CORE’ and ‘COOLANT’ both refer to ‘Inferno’, the Third Doctor story that saw a group of scientists who were endeavouring to drill down to the Earth’s core, which is flooded by coolant in order to abate the disaster. ‘And ‘SYSTEM’ refers to System Wipe, an Eleventh Doctor novella.

If we group these numbers together, including the last one – to which I’ll come in a moment – we get this:

Look at that number. Study it hard. Memorise it if you can. We’ll return to it later.

Let’s get back to that fifth figure for a moment. He doesn’t have a word of his own, but this is the First Doctor. And it is the numbers you really need to examine, if you want to know why – so let’s zoom in. (All right Mr. DeMille, I’m ready for my close-up.)

Macomb, Illinois, I hear you ask? I have my reasons. You can rearrange them to form ‘Albinic loom sim’, a clear and unambiguous reference to the events of Lungbarrow. And this week’s episode was about breathing. I’m sure your minds are blown, so here’s a GIF of a dancing panda, just to bring you down to normality for a second.

Maps next. Specifically this one.

Note the presence of green brackets – denoting the Zombies’ intended location – around the section marked A6: specifically, the idea of death, represented here by green brackets, surrounding a number 6? Something to do with the words GREEN and DEATH? A SIX-PART STORY, PERCHANCE?

Hmmm. I’ll let you figure that one out.

We can take this further. Because each number refers to a separate story, as denoted by their different parts. Specifically

Section 11 – The Daleks’ Master Plan (twelve parts, minus the disallowed ‘Destruction of Time’
Section 07 – Marco Polo (seven parts)
Section 06 – The Web Planet (six parts)
Section 04 – The Gunslingers (four parts)
Section 03 – Planet of Giants (three parts)

And what do those all have in common, hmm? And what do they have in connection with ‘The Green Death’? I’ll let you figure that out. I’m not doing all your homework for you, you’re quite old enough.

But we should take particular notice of the fact that this is administered by Ganymede systems. Ganymede is the largest of the 67 known moons of Jupiter, taking its name from the Greek mythical hero Ganymede (why hello, transparent reference to ‘The Myth-Makers’, pull up a chair and put the panda on the TARDIS console). It completes a revolution around its mother planet every seven days and three hours, which CLEARLY REFERS to part three of the seventh story in the canon, ‘Hidden Danger’ – also known as episode three of ‘The Sensorites’- because of the Doctor’s blindness, thus hiding the danger from him, at least in a strictly literal sense.

However, the parallels run deeper. Episode 3 of series 7 is ‘Cold War’, an UNAMBIGUOUS nod both to the Ice Warriors and also ‘The Tenth Planet’, which was set in Antarctica – get it? A war? In a cold place? A COLD WAR? You see what I did there? But what, I hear you ask, perhaps in slightly worried tones while you try and unpick the ropes that are securing you to that office chair, if it isn’t episode 3 of series 7, but episode 7 of series 3?

Well – that turns out to be ’42’. THE THING IN THE VAULT IS MARTHA JONES’ MUM.

Finally, let’s get back to the beginning of the episode – and that first shot of the oxygen display on the suit gauntlet.

What’s going on here? Well, first consider the presence of nine – only NINE bars on the credit meter. This CLEARLY AND DEFINITIVELY refers to the IMMINENT RETURN of Christopher Eccleston. We know this if we examine the letters at the far right: ‘CF’ refers to ‘Christopher – Finish’, while ‘T2’ refers not to Terminator 2: Judgement Day, but rather Trainspotting 2 – a film centring on Mark Renton, as played by Ewan McGregor, WHO CO-STARRED WITH ECCLESTON IN SHALLOW GRAVE. And if you want to know how long this has been building, consider what the Doctor is doing here.

However, what’s most interesting here is ETO-2 at the bottom, and I’ll admit it took me a while to figure this out – and it wasn’t until I realised that the ‘2’ was a massive red herring that I was able to make progress. But a little creative Googling led me to the Express Tax Office in Queensland. Situated in Lake Street (as in ‘Under The Lake’) in the middle of Cairns City, the ETO processes tax returns for couples, students, sole traders and even non-residents, such as those trying to find a way into Australia – to do, say, a Chemical Engineering job.

Oh look. THERE it is.

Categories: God is in the Detail | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Have I got Whos for you (part 3000)

It’s all about the deleted scenes this week, as we reveal some abandoned concept art for ‘Oxygen’.

Elsewhere: that deleted scene from ‘Thin Ice’, cast into new light:

And the Doctor regrets not renewing the security option on his TARDIS console.

And yes, the TARDIS does have Windows. They’re just the wrong size.

 

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Review: Oxygen

“Oh look,” said Emily, as the credits ground to a halt. “Zombies again.”

We’d just finished ‘Knock Knock’, and were watching the trailer for episode 5, which appeared to show hordes of the undead in space, all mottled complexions and empty, soulless eyes. By and large it’s something the programme doesn’t touch. Transmogrification is fine. So is demonic possession. Even shuffling skeletons are OK, provided you don’t overdo it. Still, the last time Doctor Who did an outright zombie episode, it was ‘New Earth’, and it was a disaster. Before you start scrolling down to the comments box, I know they weren’t zombies. If anything they were the biological opposite. But they moved like zombies and they behaved like zombies, and that’s how I choose to remember them.

You have to watch out for the kids, and that’s what Jamie Mathieson was doing with ‘Oxygen’. The undead – murdered by company equipment in a cost-saving initiative, and then re-animated – are a big part of the story, but they are rather less gruesome than you suspect they were meant to be. That doesn’t mean the episode isn’t frightening enough without some of the cutting room floor stuff (and this isn’t speculation, Mathieson himself admits as much in Doctor Who Magazine). This is one of the outright creepiest episodes of Doctor Who in some time – I’d say since ‘Heaven Sent’, but that sort of yardstick doesn’t seem fair – and while not without its flaws it is, in terms of the atmosphere it creates, a massive improvement on its immediate predecessor.

Things start simply enough. There is a comical misunderstanding about a pregnancy revelation – Sienna Guillory trying and failing to impart the same news to Colin Firth in the Red Nose Day Love Actually sketch springs to mind – before the usual pre-credits death (Doctor Who is like The X-Files; appearing in the teaser is the equivalent to beaming down to a planet in a red shirt). Meanwhile, the Doctor has found his sea legs but Nardole is adamant that they should stay on Earth – hence a little subterfuge is in order, only the planned excursion backfires and before you know it the TARDIS has gone and its former occupants are stuck in a corridor with a horde of advancing zombies.

While this is going on the space station’s surviving astronauts are debating whether they should kill the Doctor, but I couldn’t tell you what’s said or who says it, because I can’t remember any of their names. There are always going to be problems when you have to establish a story and solution and pay lip service to the series arc within three quarters of an hour, but the price you pay is, once more, the notion of character development – or indeed any character at all beyond the three leads. It’s reminiscent of the Honest Trailer for Rogue One (a film I enjoyed, although we could have all done without the fanatically airbrushed Princess Leia), in which the voiceover mentions “K-2SO, a droid with more personality than any of the human characters”. Just about the only memorable character in ‘Oxygen’ is the one who is memorable precisely because he shouldn’t be: the blue-skinned Dahh-Ren, who exists solely to expose Bill’s own (and quite understandable) prejudice, thus appraising supposed 21st century enlightenment with an ironic, critical eye, shortly before he meets a grisly undeath.

Part of the problem these days is the general dearth of effective supporting characters: I’m having difficulty recalling the last base-under-siege narrative in which we met people I actually cared about. Gone are the likes of Clent and Penley in ‘The Ice Warriors’, or the upstairs / downstairs social commentary in ‘Fang Rock’. There are exceptions. ‘The God Complex’, for example, works because time is deliberately allocated in order to flesh out the characters in the hotel – essential for the narrative, as they are ultimately undone by who they are and the flaws and traits they possess. And ‘Voyage of the Damned’ features a band of misfits who manage to surprise just about everyone thanks to the order in which they die – or, in at least one case, the fact that they don’t.

But these simply prove the rule. For the most part, supporting characters in contemporary BUS stories are groups of miners, astronauts or soldiers with scarcely a distinguishing feature between them. There are usually two or three different accents and as many diversity boxes as the BBC can tick in a single sitting, but that’s about all you can say about them. With certain exceptions (Adelaide Brooke, step forward) they all melt into one generic, slightly grizzled man in his late thirties, usually with designer stubble and a complicated romantic history with the base’s leader. Names and titles are meaningless and we forget them within minutes of the closing credits. What’s the name of the gay chap in ’42’? It’s OK, I’ll wait. And you’re not allowed to use the internet.

When Wikipedia editors are summarising episodes like this the only way to actually write them up is to say “The TARDIS crew gather in the control room with the surviving astronauts”, and (eventually) that’s exactly what happens. There are chases and mishaps and the Doctor loses his eyesight, but when he begins waxing lyrical about ‘a good death’, in precisely the same manner that Miss Quill does in the opening episode of Class, you know something is about to happen: and sure enough, it’s a ruse in order to trick the omnipresent AI, which is always on standby and able to hear anything. Thus, at its conclusion, ‘Oxygen’ becomes less a critique of unchecked capitalism and corporate greed, and more a dig at the Xbox One.

We need to talk about this, actually. A couple of months ago Gareth Roberts tweeted, in response to someone’s earnest-but-dumb comment, “Yep. Historical analysis and a critique of social hierarchy. That’s what I took from The Time Meddler.” At least I think it was Gareth Roberts. It certainly ought to have been; it feels like the sort of thing he’d say. ‘Sort of’ is pretty apt here, because I’m paraphrasing; I can’t find the damn thing to quote verbatim. The point is that in 2017 it’s very easy to get caught up in worthiness. How much of the praise heaped on ‘The Zygon Inversion’ stems from its sense of intrigue and excitement, and how much from that wretched Black Archive monologue? The situation hasn’t improved: the other week the BBC aired ‘Thin Ice’, an episode I thoroughly enjoyed, but it damn well wasn’t because the Doctor punched a Nazi. It’s because it was two people walking around London and interacting in a way that I found genuinely interesting. And yes, my favourite scene was the one where the Doctor said he moved on because he had to, in a few lines of dialogue that are destined to make the Facebook groups for years to come. But I also liked the bit when Nicholas Burns did the splits and fell into the river and got eaten.

You see where we’re going. It’s nice that people care about things, but the earnestness with which these throwaway lines of dialogue are adopted as profile signatures and – just occasionally – life mantras is something that puzzles me immensely. It’s as if Doctor Who is no longer allowed to be important unless it means something. Robert Holmes showed you can be political, and thus this is something you ought to do at every conceivable opportunity, with episodes that say Important Things left on a pedestal, while the more superficial, disposable stories (sit down, ‘Planet of the Dead’, your chops and gravy are in the microwave) are critically lambasted for being disposable candy floss. ‘Planet of the Dead’ is crap, of course, but you get the idea. There is bugger all social commentary in ‘The Invasion’; it’s Cybermen running around London. It is also tremendous fun. That really ought to be enough.

Thankfully, ‘Oxygen’ has the fun factor in spades, whether it’s the Doctor effectively kidnapping Nardole in the opening scene, or the mesmerising, wordless spacewalk (when people say things like “You’re about to be exposed to the vacuum of space!” in Hollywood blockbusters it sounds corny as hell; Capaldi pulls it off); or the moment, just a short time later, when the Doctor abandons Bill in a corridor. We know he has something up his sleeve, but we don’t know what it is, or why he’s being so quiet about it – or, indeed, why Bill is so goddamned calm about the whole experience. This is obviously some sort of proving ground, some way of testing her mettle, but he did more or less the same thing with Clara (across a series and a half, but notably in another episode with spacesuits), and that ended with her dangling upside down out of the TARDIS, laughing like an idiot. I just hope you know what the hell you’re doing, Doctor. That’s all.

Things fall apart a little as the episode concludes. A quick glance at the synopsis for next week – along with the series trailer – should make it reasonably obvious where we’re going, and once more the BBC have revealed a little too much too early. The Doctor’s continuing blindness, while predictable, nonetheless makes for an effective cliffhanger: unfortunately it suffers in its implementation. The scene with Nardole borders on soap-style melodrama; it would have been better had Capaldi concluded his conversation and then risen from the desk and caught his leg on its corner, or perhaps stumbled at the rug. That would have got the message across in an understated manner, or at least got the fans talking.

But this is Doctor Who, and for the most part these days they don’t do subtle. You take what you can get, and that’s fine. “Space is the final frontier,” the Doctor muses in the episode’s opening, “because it’s trying to kill you.” Too often, space is the vast and beautiful starswept aura that’s the backdrop for the birth of planets, the delicate ballet of a dancing Time Lord and his almost-wife, and the reawakening of a middle-aged man sitting with a Thermos and a sandwich watching the world go by in the most literal sense. That makes this week anomalous, but in the best possible way – space, in Doctor Who, is usually not dangerous, and it’s a refreshing change when it is. Nature may abhor a vacuum, but it turns out to be one of the most effective and frightening monsters we’ve seen in the show for quite some time.

Categories: Reviews | Tags: , , , , | 5 Comments

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