Doctor Who: Totally Average Run Deserves Indifferent Shrug
This review is later than usual, and it’s not just because it was Eurovision last night and I’m consequently a bit hungover. No, it’s because, once more, this week’s episode left me as cold as the vacuum of space and as bland as every one of the supporting cast.
I quite liked the premise for Oxygen when I saw the Next Week On last Saturday. Set in space, the story follows a space station that’s been afflicted with suits that suck the life out of the people unlucky enough to get stuck in them after they’ve run out their usefulness to a mysterious and all-seeing company. With virulently anti-capitalist overtones and a script written by Jamie Mathieson (of Mummy on the Orient Express excellence), I was up for it. While last week’s Knock Knock was alright, I wanted some hard sci-fi with solid spooky elements to finally deliver on the promise that this season has tantalised, and Oxygen seemed to promise that.
But, once more, this episode was just fine. Barely even that, at points. I would go into the specifics of what was wrong with it, but so much of it was made up of stuff that I’ve already covered before. The plot was too rushed and at the same time felt flabby. The side characters were barely even made up one dimension, flapping in the empty space of this script like what remains of John Barrowman’s contract. None of the plot points felt like they carried a lot of weight, with the Doctor going blind and breaking his sonic screwdriver only to tap a few keys near the end and solve everything without the adversity he faced earlier in the episode more or less forgotten. Pearl Mackie was underused, while Matt Lucas as Nardole continues to, uh, be on screen, I guess. The aforementioned anti-capitalist sentiment wasn’t unwelcome from my perspective, but it was handled with all the subtlety of a sharp prod in the eye and could have used some more nuance, even if it did give me a chance to shout “FULLY AUTOMATED LUXURY GAY SPACE COMMUNISM!” at the screen in tipsy excitement. Also, they’ve gone and made the Doctor fucking blind, in what I assume was meant to be a twist ending that was almost comically silly in it’s overwroughtness.
It had a few decent moments – some great line deliveries from Peter Capaldi who’s really proving himself this season without the dead weight of Clara to navigate, the creepy space-zombies were cool enough, and I liked the slightly run-down look of the future. But, honestly, I have no real strong opinions on this episode, and that’s a problem.
Season eight was patchy, but at least there were some stand-out episodes – Mummy on the Orient Express, Listen, Time Heist, despite it’s ridiculousness. And hell, even the lows were notably, bizarrely awful, with the abortion moon metaphor space spiders nonsense. Season nine, for all that it was just by far the worst season of the show, went pedal to the metal on it’s badness. I have opinions on these episodes, just in case you couldn’t tell from my thousand-word reviews. There is something of substance to them, even if I don’t like that substance. But this season? I can’t think of one that I have a passionate opinion on either way. I have pretty much rated all of this season between a four and a seven out of ten; basically, not especially good or not especially bad. Despite what seemed like a solid start promising an entertaining new premise with the Doctor at the university and teamed up with the still-excellent Bill, this season has never reached cruising altitude. It’s passable at best, and at worst…
Is average the worst thing a show can be? Is forgettable? I mean, I’m a huge fan of trashy, comically awful television, so maybe I’m biased, but for me, it is. Yes, quality-wise, this season has been an improvement on the all-over-the-place last few seasons, but at least I could remember them, could name episodes and debate opinions and actually recall plot points and moments even if it was for the wrong reasons. Even now, with the season barely a month old, there’s not much I could tell you about, say, Smile or Thin Ice. The best I can muster up is a big ol’ shrug, and that’s perhaps the worst thing I could say about Doctor Who: that honestly, I don’t really care either way.
That said, Missy is back next week, and if anything can spice this show up, it’s her. But bringing back the sunglasses after I specifically ordered them to be left in the last season for good? I’ll have you yet, Moffat.
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