Doctor Who Recap: Space, Where Algorithms And Oxygen Don’t Mix
It’s becoming more and more obvious that we’re about to lose Twelve—the Doctor who makes quips about the mindlessness of Facebook and quotes Corinthians in the same breath—and yet we’re just halfway through the season. Has a Doctor’s path towards regeneration ever been so painfully drawn out? To quote Peter Capaldi himself, “It’s sad. And it’s only going to get sadder.”
“Death, where is thy sting?” asks the Doctor, observing a tech-zombified space miner kept mobile by his suit—the same one that killed him for cost-efficiency’s sake. The Doctor has taken the TARDIS off Earth, breaking (again) his oath to make sure whoever he’s keeping in that vault stays there. Unable to resist his homesickness for space, he brings both Bill and Nardole to a mining station near Ganymede, Jupiter’s largest moon. There, they find a crew of 40 miners, 36 of them nothing but blue-faced automatons, corpses in space suits. Space can kill you in 90 seconds, lectures the Doctor. The suits designed to protect you from it can do that even faster.
Future historians might put capitalism’s peak at the 1950s, note the first signs of its decline in the 1980s, and chart its long death spiral through the 21st century. In the latest episode of Doctor Who, we witness the beginning of its end: a point where algorithms make decisions about the value of human life, calculating the cost of keeping individuals alive and deeming them expendable when that price tag outweighs their productivity. It’s the Doctor who works out that the only way to save himself, his companions, and the remaining miners is to make it more expensive to kill them.
His gamble pays off, but there’s a price to that, too. When Bill’s suit malfunctioned earlier in the episode, the Doctor gave her his helmet. The unmitigated exposure to space was too much for even a Time Lord to endure. It costs him his eyesight. The reveal was like seeing Superman robbed of his ability to fly. The Doctor’s unmatched powers of observation are his super strength and while he swears that it’s nothing a trip back to the TARDIS can’t remedy, the joke he makes about the fit of an auxiliary pair of lizard eyes exposes his own fear.
Back in his office, from behind a pair of sonic Wayfarers, the Doctor assures Bill that everything is fine. It’s only after she’s left and Nardole has launched into a speech about the dangers of space travel and the risk he’s taking with the occupant of the vault that we find out that the Doctor is still blind.
5 Questions About This Week’s Episode
1. The body count in ‘Oxygen’ was 38 and the references to death in the script may have been even higher. What are you trying to tell us, Stephen Moffat?
2. How well can you pilot a TARDIS without your eyesight?
3. Is the Doctor’s willingness to take bigger and bigger risks (leaving the vault unguarded, abandoning Bill in her malfunctioning suit, venturing into space without a helmet) a Time Lord’s version of a death wish (i.e. a regeneration wish)?
4. Five episodes into the season, the show has managed to address racism, sexism, economic inequality, and environmentalism in clever ways. Is the trend something that new showrunner Chris Chibnall will keep up when he takes over next season? We really hope so.
5. On a scale of ‘mass casualties’ to ‘absolute certainty re: end of world’, how dangerous is the thing in the vault?