Opening with those infamous words “Space, the final frontier…” borrowed from the other quinquagenarian Sci-Fi show, Dr Who S10E05 “Oxygen” felt like a breath of fresh air…
While cautionary tales set in fairy tale forests and briar patches have existed for a thousand years, science fiction has been the new home of metaphor since Mary Shelley invented it two-hundred years ago.
SCIENCE FICTION IS (USUALLY) ALL ABOUT CHANGE…
Yet what if things stayed the same and continued on their current course? That is the key question at the core of Jamie Mathieson’s Dr Who S10E05 “Oxygen”
Just like last week’s review of “Knock, Knock” this will not be a review in the traditional sense… so let’s breathe a little deeper as we enter The Spoiler Zone.
After the coldest of cold opens took us to the vacuum of space, The Doctor, Bill and Nardole take a jaunt to a deserted copper mining station where air is scarce. All but four crew are dead and they’re holed up, barricaded in against their dead colleagues, who are now zombies in the spacesuits.
What begins as your average Doctor Who does Space Zombies episode soon reveals a beautiful metaphor running through it like a vein through stilton.
DR WHO S10E05 ISN’T SCIENCE FICTION… IT’S SCIENCE FACT
The Ganymede Corporation – named after Jupiter’s largest moon (and Zeus’ wine-pourer in Greek mythology) has turned breathing air into a money-making business, which of course riffs on the idea that everything is for sale. If you taxing oxygen is an unrealistic idea, just stop paying your water rates and wait for the court summons.
Collecting multi-million dollar bonuses while children starve and mentally ill veterans sleep rough, chairmen and CEO’s are the kings and moguls of our world. Coal, oil and real-estate are the new kingdoms, castles and treasures they fight over. Who’s to say in a few years that might not extend to the air we breathe.
In 2013, the chairman of Nestlé stated that water is not a human right.
While pay-per-breath is a nice idea, it’s standard Dr Who fare. Where this episode’s real genius lies is within those sentient, killer spacesuits.
I’ll shout in case you’re sitting in the cheap seats…
THE SPACESUITS REPRESENTS “SUITS”
The men in shirts, ties and blazers who run society.
Due to the space station’s computer expelling any surplus oxygen, the air from the TARDIS is ejected into space. This means that The Doctor, Bill and Nardole (who’s becoming far more likeable now he has more of a purpose than shoed-in-comedian) had to climb into the suits.
THEY WERE EXPENDABLE…
Relying on the suits they know will kill them is the perfect analogy for fitting in with society. Our heroes have no other option just as we are given no other option. The suit that was designed to help becomes the very thing that traps you. Further metaphor sees the suits make Bill do things against her will, the suits control you, but their (simian-like) limited artificial intelligence means all they are good for is simple manual labor.
Dumb down, be stupid, fit in with the suits’ society, pay your bills or you are doomed to the vacuum of space, Jamie tells us.
But the vacuum of space is an entirely necessary leap of faith – the unknown won’t obliterate you, it will save you. Bill had to die and be reborn to free herself of the society she is an unwilling part of. You think that tying that noose around your neck and playing their game makes you one of them.
No matter what car you drive or the fact that you vote Republican or Tory, you’re not one of them and you never will be. You’re an ant. Waiting to be stepped on. If only you realised you were also an unwilling participant in society, brainwashed into lusting after more and more shiny things you can’t take with you… while watching films and TV shows that TELL YOU EXACTLY WHAT IS GOING ON.
Doctor Who S10E05 ends with The Doctor, as he always does, finding a loophole in the devil’s small print, exposing the corporation’s true colors and saving the day… but his exposure to space came at even greater cost than Bill’s; a sacrifice which begins his long road to becoming so broken that his only option is to regenerate.
GET THESE MUTHAFUCKIN’ SPACESUITS OFF
THIS MUTHAFUCKIN’ SPACESTATION…
After a brilliantly conceptualised, well-written and competently directed Dr Who S10E05, it’s quite apparent that writer Jamie Mathieson approached his story from the correct end – he worked out what he wanted to say about society (and where it’s headed if we stay on this course) and shaped his narrative around his cautionary tale, disguising it beautifully so only a handful of people like you and me understood.
This is what story is for. This is real science fiction writing. This is how we beat them. Through subtle manipulation in storytelling. Every viewer over eight would have understood the analogy about the corporations taxing air and, whether they like it or not, they would also have digested the “suits controlling you” message in on a subconscious level.
Picking a random name for a film or book or episode labelling it “High Concept” and then constructing a story around said title is not how to write. That’s not real writing. It’s what amateurs do.
The Doctor, Bill and Nardole will return to BBC1 next Saturday, 20th May in the spooky-as-hell-looking “Extremis”