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‘Doctor Who’ Regeneration Review: The New Companion Shines Despite The Complete Lack Of ‘Oxygen’


The Doctor Who Regeneration Review is a weekly column cataloging all the times Peter Capaldi’s 12th Doctor nearly regenerates, or dies, in the latest episode of BBC America’s popular science fiction show. Since this is the Scottish “cross” character’s final season — a fact the showrunners have enjoyed teasing in the promos — we decided to tease back. Most items are serious, some silly, and all measured with the Doctor’s ?.

In “The Impossible Planet” and “The Satan Pit,” one of many two-part stories in Doctor Who‘s second season, the 10th Doctor (David Tennant) and Rose Tyler (Billie Piper) found themselves marooned on a space station orbiting a black hole. The improbable situation involved the momentary loss of the TARDIS, demonically possessed workers and spacesuit escapes in an increasingly claustrophobic nightmare. Over 10 year later, the 12th Doctor (Peter Capaldi) and Bill Potts (Pearl Mackie) stumble upon a similar set of circumstances in “Oxygen” — albeit one with far more frightening consequences for all parties involved.

To writer Jamie Mathieson’s credit, the sins “Thin Ice” and “Knock Knock” committed against Bill’s character are more than made up for here. She is, after all, the newest addition to the Doctor Who family, and therefore deserves an appropriate introduction to the series’ vast universe. So when automated spacesuits hellbent on eradicating “organic components” try to kill them and the station’s survivors, Bill (and Mackie) won’t respond with the same gusto as Rose did a decade prior. Rather, she’s going to be scared out of her mind — especially when the very real prospect of death, and the Doctor’s inability to save her from it, presents itself.

Mackie steals the show as a result, presenting a side of Bill (and, for that matter, Doctor Who companions in general) audiences haven’t seen yet: fear. Genuine, gut-wrenching, honest-to-goodness fear. There are scenes, one after the other, when Mathieson and director Charles Palmer’s entry refuses to clue viewers in to what’s really going on. Yes, this is still a Steven Moffat-run show, so the final minutes offer a satisfactory reversal ensuring Bill’s safety while proverbially saving the day. The potential consequences of her experiences are so severe, however, that future episodes may have to address them accordingly.

“How can he be dead? He’s standing up” (??)

Following the Doctor’s playful twist on the famous Star Trek narration (“Space, the final frontier… final because it wants to kill us.”), “Oxygen” opens with the strange death of an astronaut by her lifeless, zombie-like companions. As a result, viewers are primed to know that whenever these spacewalking dead appear, bad things will soon follow. Hence the Doctor, Bill and Nardole’s (Matt Lucas) initial encounter with one after entering a seemingly abandoned station. “Hello?” the Doctor asks before realizing “He’s dead.” A visibly perturbed Bill isn’t satisfied, even when the Doctor explains the suit itself is keep the corpse standing, but nothing happens… yet.

“It said ‘expelled'” (???)

After encountering another suit, albeit an empty one, the trio is nearly jettisoned out into space when the station’s computer system detects their excess oxygen and tries to expel it. All three survive, but not before being separated from the TARDIS and the now oxygen-less section containing it. The commotion catches the attention of the last human survivors in the floating facility, as well as the suited corpse they first encountered after boarding. While the former warn them against having any contact with the suits, including wearing them, the corpse steals the Doctor’s sonic screwdriver and breaks it in half before collapsing.

“Not strong enough for a vacuum” (?????)

The Doctor has come very close to death before. In fact, the titular Doctor Who character has died several times in the show’s 50+ years on television. Whenever this has happened, however, he’s always been able to regenerate a new form (and a new actor) in order to keep the series going. Though serious injury seems alien to the Time Lord. Tennant’s 10th Doctor lost a hand toward the end of his debut in “The Christmas Invasion,” but his still-active regenerative powers quickly gave him a new on. Yet Capaldi’s 12th Doctor has been going at it for several seasons now, so if he loses an eye or two, he won’t be growing new ones anytime soon. Which is precisely what happens when the Doctor gives Bill his helmet while the group flees attacking suits via a spacewalk.

“It’s Bill” (??????)

Bill obviously doesn’t die when her suit finally claims her while a blinded, helpless Doctor looks on. As he later reveals to the survivors, he knew her malfunctioning suit didn’t have enough of a charge to actually kill her, but couldn’t tell his distraught companion in the moment for fear of the other suits hearing. Though the audience finds none of this out until after the fact, so when a zombie-like Bill and her murderous suit approaches the Doctor in what seems like his final moments, there’s every indication that he, Nardole and the others are about to die.

“Nardole I can’t, I really can’t” (???)

“Oxygen” ends with the ultimate cliffhanger. The Doctor, who previously brushed off his blindness by suggesting he had cures for everything (and an extra pair of lizard’s eyes) in the TARDIS Nardole even “fixes” the cloudiness in the Gallifreyan’s eyes, thereby convincing Bill and everyone else that he can see again. But when his angry assistant berates him for leaving the vault during the episode’s final seconds, a distraught Doctor reveals he’s still blind. “I can’t look at anything,” he exclaims while staring just past the camera. “Ever again!” So yeah… the Doctor is blind.

New episodes of Doctor Who air Saturdays at 9 p.m. ET/PT on BBC America.

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