Space... the final frontier. "Final" because space is out to kill you.
But this installment is a bit of a game changer for our Who crew.
More on that after the break. (Warning: Spoilers, sweetie,)
Things start on a deep space mining station called Chasm Forge where two people are working on the outside. Also on the outside are two more people who are not living. Yep, space zombies. One of the two living people makes an escape back into the station but the other becomes one of the not living.
Space can be a real bitch.
Which just happens to be the subject of the Doctor's lecture. Well, the topic is supposed to be crop rotation but long list of ways that outer space can kill you horribly makes for a more interesting subject.
In the TARDIS, the Doctor is antsy for an adventure. In SPACE! Answering a distress call, the Doctor heads off into the great cosmic out yonder with Bill AND Nardole in tow. Nardole is very cross; he and the Doctor need to be on Earth to guard the vault.
Give me a moment please.
WHAT'S IN THE DANG VAULT?!?!
OK, I feel better now. (A little bit.)
So the TARDIS materializes on Chasm Forge where the Doctor finds that of 40 people, 36 are living impaired. Or dead.
So that means 4 people need help.
But our three heroes find themselves caught in the merciless, unforgiving way of life on Chasm Forge: oxygen is an expensive resource, doled out in strict measurements by the crew's work suits. But those same suits that provide life giving air are glitching and killing their human occupants. The space zombies are NOT the living dead. No, the suits are walking around carrying dead bodies.
The survivors and our visitors are in suits that were taken off line; but at the touch of another suit, a survivor winds up not surviving. So it's very important to not let one of the zombie suits to catch you.
So our intrepid protagonists find themselves cornered with no way to escape except... go outside. Which is all well and good until Bill's suit glitches and won't let her keep her helmet on. Bill is about to be exposed to the vacuum of space and all that bad stuff the Doctor described in his "crop rotation" lecture.
But Bill survives thanks to the Doctor's sacrifice. But his space exposure has not left him unharmed.
The Doctor is blind.
OK, good news: there's a rescue ship on the way. Now all everyone has to do is not die before it gets to Chasm Forge. But that's not so easy as the zombie suits keep up their unending pursuit. Once again, our gang are in a desperate race to escape the suits as Bill's suit glitches again. This time it locks her in place, unable to move. The Doctor desperately assesses the situation and determines the best course of action... is to leave Bill. The Doctor tells Bill she is about to go through hell but he will see her on the other side.
As the Doctor and the others escape, the zombie suits zap Bill as she calls out to her mother.. and dies.
OK, bad news: there's a ship on the way but it's not a rescue ship. It's a replacement crew. Production on Chasm Forge had been on the decline. The suits killing their human occupants was not a glitch or a hack. It's business as usual. The suits were eliminating the inefficient humans using up the expensive oxygen until a new crew can replace them. So the Doctor hotwires their suits to Chasm Forge's main reactor. If the human occupants die, the suits will set off the reactor and blow up the station. Which would be a massive loss for the corporation.
Which makes the suits killing the remaining crew expensive, not a cost savings. So the threat ends.
Oh and Bill is not dead. The Doctor noted there wasn't enough power in her suit to kill her. He couldn't tell Bill as he couldn't risk the suits hearing him.
Back on the TARDIS, Nardole does some tech stuff to the Doctor's eyes to restore his sight. Back on Earth, Nardole lays into the Doctor for his recklessness, for abandoning their duty to guard the vault.
Give me another moment please.
WHAT'S IN THE DANG VAULT?!?!
Sorry about that.
Nardole is angry with the Doctor. "Look at me when I'm talking to you!"
The Doctor replies, "I can't look at you. Or anyone." Then he confesses: "I'm still blind!"
Jamie Mathieson who wrote the taunt Series 8 thriller Mummy on the Orient Express strikes again with Oxygen, a story that keeps turning the screws, ratcheting up the pressure. Murphy's Law is in full force here: the TARDIS air shell is eliminated, access to the TARDIS itself is cut off, the sonic screw driver is destroyed, the Doctor goes blind.
Then Bill (kind of/sort of) dies? Yikes!
On top of the ever increasing tension of the threat is the very real world dread that corporations hold people in a similar regard: the bottom line is the spreadsheet. Where does that leave human dignity and respect? Without value.
Until the Doctor makes living of greater value than dying to the corporate spreadsheet. Dying becomes more expensive than living and the threat ends.
Once more, Peter Capaldi and Pearl Mackie elevate a very strong story to even greater heights as the Doctor grapples with a growing threat with shrinking resources. The Doctor fast talks around it but you can tell he's rattled by being blind. And Bill has a very heartbreaking reaction when she "dies", calling out to her long dead "mum".
And we get more Matt Lucas as Nardole, an unusual balance of goof and scold. Nardole has some funny bits which suits Matt's comedic talents. But his more serious moments are very effective.
And that unexpected cliffhanger? In episodic television, a lot of stuff gets hand waved to bring things back to the status quo at the end of an episode. Like the episode of Star Trek when Spock is blinded; by the end, he can see again because it so happens Vulcans have a second eyelid or some nonsense.
But not this time as the Doctor faces an uncertain future shrouded in darkness. As we can see from next week's episode, the Doctor's blindness won't stop him from trying to help. But his blindness haunts him: how can he save people when he's lost in the dark?
More on that next week.
Until next time, remember to be good to one another.