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Doctor Spaceman
Jul 6, 2010

"Everyone's entitled to their point of view, but that's seriously a weird one."


In Playtest the idea that the game would show him his greatest fears is itself a product of his imagination, since the scenes where he is introduced to the game never actually happen in reality. He doesn't go into a game that creates his worst nightmare, he imagines a game that makes him imagine his worst nightmare.

I didn't like Playtest for the same reason I think Last Christmas is kinda poo poo; layers on layers of "is this real" can end up feeling very arbitrary and cheap, even (or especially) if the individual scenes are good. Stopping one layer earlier in Playtest would have been far stronger, rather than literally "what if phones but too much?"

I'd love to see Booker write an episode of Doctor Who, of course.

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NieR Occomata
Jan 18, 2009


Doctor Spaceman posted:

In Playtest the idea that the game would show him his greatest fears is itself a product of his imagination, since the scenes where he is introduced to the game never actually happen in reality. He doesn't go into a game that creates his worst nightmare, he imagines a game that makes him imagine his worst nightmare.


Oh man I forgot about that. Yeah, "Playtest" is way too loving convoluted for its own good.

I think my review still stands though.

2house2fly
Nov 14, 2012

You did a super job wrapping things up! And I'm not just saying that because I have to!

I liked that bit with the guy hitting on Bill as well, it was funny and friendly, all good.

Also this episode started off being about the difficulties of finding affordable housing when you're young, which I don't think is something a companion has ever been shown to be concerned about before, so props to it for starting somewhere new at least.

idonotlikepeas
May 29, 2010

This reasoning is possible for forums user idonotlikepeas!


Knock Knock

For me, this one was just kind of a ho-hum episode of the sort I'd seen on Doctor Who a zillion times. And the whole interdimensional woodworm thing was just a little too silly. So it goes, though! There's a lot to admire in it if it tickles your fancy a bit differently than it does mine.

A

bsam
cargohills
Red Metal
Stabbatical


B

Blasmeister
Llab
Senerio
thrawn527
WeirdSandwich
Wolfechu


C

adhuin
all-Rush mixtape
And More
AndwhatIseeisme
Big Mean Jerk
jng2058
Rochallor
The_Doctor


D

2house2fly


F

[empty set]

Overall Average Guess: 2.7 (B-)
Standard Deviation: 0.9

Current rankings:

all-Rush mixtape: 2
cargohills: 2
jng2058: 2
Llab: 2
Big Mean Jerk: 3
thrawn527: 3
Blasmeister: 4
Red Metal: 4
Senerio: 4
The_Doctor: 4
WeirdSandwich: 4
2house2fly: 5
adhuin: 5
And More: 5
AndwhatIseeisme: 5
Stabbatical: 5
Wolfechu: 5
Rochallor: 6
bsam: 9

And, of course, Toxx has picked a grade which would give us back a four-way tie. Oh, well! At least we're seeing a healthy competition up there; most of the list is within a couple of points of the lead, with only a handful lagging behind. And, of course, there's bsam. This one is a bit more contentious than the last couple; at 0.9, the standard deviation is almost the same as Doctor Mysterio; it remains to be seen if we'll hit another one that high this season. (Genuinely so, since some people haven't voted on later episodes yet!) We're now just over a third of the way into the season, so still plenty of time for anyone to leap forward and seize the lead. Except, again, bsam.

idonotlikepeas
May 29, 2010

This reasoning is possible for forums user idonotlikepeas!


Lick! The! Whisk! posted:

Essentially, to me, BM is what Doctor Who would be like if The Doctor never showed up.

Incidentally, we've also got Turn left for this. And the entirety of Torchwood, a good half of which might even be considered actual episodes of a television show! It's a concept that Doctor Who has played with from time to time, because when you've basically got one superhero defending the entirety of Earth across all of time and space, you do have to wonder what happens in the gaps he can't be there for.

Narsham
Jun 5, 2008


This one could have been so many things but because it never decides it never quite becomes anything. It rings up the horror tropes, and the premise of a horror movie messed up by the Doctor joining the young men and women trapped in the house could be sublime. But half of the Landlord's characterization seems built around totally surprising us with the twist ending, so much so that he's only just about half-characterized. The psychological drama doesn't strike me as chief interest for most of the story, which instead seems to hover somewhere between a parable about post-Imperial Britain and a potentionally stunning, if almost entirely unintentional, satire on a predatory man in real estate who sacrifices the lives of the young to feed his own need for parental approval. That relies entirely on an election which hadn't occurred before the episode was complete.

And the obvious joke ("Knock, Knock." "Who's there? Wait, this is a lame 'Doctor Who' joke, isn't it?") gets strangely deflected. Bill gets more character development than the Doctor and the potential parallels between the Doctor and the Landlord aren't played up enough to register. On the plus side, this one's frustrating because of its wasted potential, not because it's terrible.

I also wondered whether we'd get set-up here for Susan's potential reappearance or relevence later in the season, but no joy there.

Playing up a contrast between the tenants and Victorian-era England could have led somewhere interesting, especially if instead of a wooden mother the Landlord is sustaining a wooden Queen Victoria. At the end of the episode, agents could have dismantled the house and used it for Torchwood.

Jerusalem
May 20, 2004

Would you be my new best friends?



2house2fly posted:

I liked that bit with the guy hitting on Bill as well, it was funny and friendly, all good.
Also this episode started off being about the difficulties of finding affordable housing when you're young, which I don't think is something a companion has ever been shown to be concerned about before, so props to it for starting somewhere new at least.

I love that scene. He finds out she's gay and his reaction is relief, because it means there's no fault with his charm, he was just aiming it at an impossible target! It says a lot about him as a person in such a little comment - he's a laid back guy, he's non-judgmental, open and accepting AND not hostile at all: the other male flatmate telling him to take the lead because he's physically the largest is a great read on perceptions. But he is also, appropriately for his age and good looks (and height!), very slightly conceited. It probably would have bugged him internally if Bill had been straight but not interested, but gay? Well that's great because it in no way threatens his self-esteem.

I mean, maybe I'm reading too much into it, but I really dug it as a neat little character moment. Especially when we learn that Shireen DOES fancy him and is frustrated that Bill ended up getting the room next to his instead of her :)

Yvonmukluk
Oct 10, 2012

Everything is Sinister




I think Toxx makes a solid case for bringing Charlie Brooker onto the DW writing staff.

fractalairduct
Sep 26, 2015

I, Giorno Giovanna, have a dream!



This was definitely a pretty standard B-grade Doctor Who episode, but the audio thing at least made it slightly memorable.

Fil5000
Jun 23, 2003

HOLD ON GUYS I'M POSTING ABOUT INTERNET ROBOTS


Yvonmukluk posted:

I think Toxx makes a solid case for bringing Charlie Brooker onto the DW writing staff.

I don't know if Brooker can manage the optimism that Who really needs in order to keep it Who. He's good at what he does but what he does is relentlessly grim and miserable. I could see him rebooting Torchwood, maybe.

Jerusalem
May 20, 2004

Would you be my new best friends?



With the standard first three "introduce a new companion to how stuff works" episodes behind us, Knock Knock is exactly what the Doctor ordered, pun intended. Just a basic, standalone episode of the show with no great universe-shaking stakes or deeper meaning/analogies... that I could see, at least. It's just an episode of Doctor Who. A very good one, a very enjoyable one, but nothing more than that. It doesn't try to be anything more, it doesn't want to be anything more, I didn't want or need it to be anything more. It's just something I really enjoyed watching. Also it had David Suchet in it, so it was basically given a 10-second head start in the "Jerusalem will like this" stakes.

Bill and a group of other students are experiencing the joy and delight of trying to find affordable housing that isn't a moldy, cramped and actively hostile towards life deathtrap. That they're in London just exacerbates their problems, as their estate agent takes them from lovely overpriced place to lovely overpriced place. Like many students before them, the six (mostly strangers) are looking to live together to offset costs and find something larger and hopefully less "terrible squalor" than any of them could afford alone or even in a group of 2-3. Nothing they see is suitable, of course, and they ponder the long considered question that haunts many young adults - how the gently caress do other people manage to not just find places to live, but NICE places? AFFORDABLE places? Nice AND affordable places? They actually get an answer, and even if this wasn't an episode of Doctor Who it should be raising some alarm bells.



David Suchet, best known for his wonderful portrayal of Hercule Poirot, appears on the scene as "The Landlord". A slightly peculiar man, he overhears the students' complaints and mentions that he has a place available at the moment. Desperate for anything and presumably feeling safety in numbers, they are taken to his home, a large if somewhat old fashioned home on a fair sized section of land. As peculiar and eccentric as its owner, the house is old and creaks but it also feels warm and inviting and extremely lived in. It is by far the best place the students have seen all day and they are quick to take the Landlord up on his offer and sign the rather old fashioned contracts he gives them. One of them, Pavel, asks if he can move in that very night, alluding to issues with his family forcing him out of his home. If the Landlord is at all concerned that his latest tenant has been kicked out of home by his own parents he gives no sign, which again should probably be ringing some alarm bells.

Bill packs up (her foster mother is nowhere to be seen) and is given an extremely quick move thanks to the Doctor and his TARDIS, she even suggests he should hire it out for transport. Of course the Doctor takes one look at the place and immediately realizes that something is fucky, and I love that the first sign of trouble for him was that students were able to afford a place this nice. He notes the wind and the creaking of the house, and insists on helping Bill move her luggage inside against her protests. Bill isn't embarrassed of the Doctor... well not entirely, but she is concerned about maintaining a distinction between her home life and the peculiarity of her time with the Doctor. He looks for adventure and excitement and weirdness, and here she just wants a home - a place to feel comfortable in her own skin.

Bill posted:

Honestly, Doctor, there's nothing going on. Nothing weird, nothing alien. Just an old house and a dodgy landlord, which is pretty standard for students. I'll see you later for more exciting TARDIS action, but, basically, this is the bit of my life that you're not in. Do you know what I mean?

This quote is really quite important, not just for Bill's own characterization but as an extension of the theme of being able to move on, to let go of family, to have a point of distinction between the person you have to be with even amongst your loved ones and the person you just want to be for yourself. Bill is more than just an extension of the Doctor and his life, and it is important for her that he understand and respect that. She doesn't want to be "The Doctor's student, Bill", she just wants to be "Bill".

So of course, the Doctor ignores all that and rushes right into the house! Inside there is a wonderful bit as she attempts her best to normalize things by claiming the Doctor is her grandfather ("Father at least, please!" he insists with malicious glee), and eventually she convinces him to leave. That leaves her among her new flatmates at last, where they awkwardly try to get to know each other and their strange new house. An unbelievably tall Scottish boy called Paul attempts his best to hit on Bill, much to a far shorter boy called Harry's obvious dismay. He helps her take her things upstairs and she enjoys being in her own room, putting up a picture of her mother and talking to the fictional version that lives in her head, wandering how proud she would be to see Bill finally setting out on her own.

All regather in the living room later that evening, except for Pavel who has apparently locked himself in his room to listen to the same few notes of music over and over again, something Paul says he frequently does. They share impressions, discuss the eccentricities of the house and largely awkwardly try to figure each other out, as most of them are complete strangers. All have heard a similar odd noise, a sound like tapping or footsteps coming from the roof or the walls. They joke about it, the trappings of a haunted house are familiar to all of them from TV and movies, but there is an edge of nervousness to their joking. This is a strange situation, they're in a strange place surrounded by strangers and nobody quite knows the best way to act around the others. So in good Scooby-Doo tradition they decide to investigate the louder noises they are now hearing coming from the kitchen, and stumble right onto Bill's worst fear.



Of course the Doctor stuck around, too fascinated by the rather obvious peculiarities of the house. Everything is out of date, out of time, something he knows all too well. There is no central heating or washing machine, the hob is from the thirties and the power sockets are so old they won't take any of their smart devices. But as the Doctor senses and gleefully investigates the mystery (and, to be fair, notes with concern that Bill and her friends should find someplace else to live), Bill is more concerned that he's intruding on this part of her life. She insists he is reading too much into it all, that this is just regular life and regular dodgy landlords and subpar housing. Sure they have gripes with the building, but they'll make a list and call the landlord.... and a second weird old man shows up unannounced and uninvited!



The Landlord is present in the house, without warning or notice, a pleasant but somewhat creepy smile as he declares that he had the feeling he was needed. Rather than being irritated at him just showing up and letting himself in, the students take the opportunity to hit him with a flurry of requests - can they get new furniture? A landline phone? Change the power sockets? Does he have a cat!?! It's all very comedic, but even when the Landlord is being friendly or offering what seems like heartfelt advice to the Doctor about familial connections (and we learn the Landlord is a father whose daughter remains in his care/under his protection) there is still something unsettling and off about him. His smiles come just a little too late, draw out just a little too slowly etc. Suchet is a wonderful actor of course, and he absolutely nails the sense that the Landlord knows something everybody else doesn't, and that he's almost toying with his new tenants. Especially after the Doctor puts him momentarily on the backfoot with a probing bit of insight as he demands to know who the current Prime Minister is. My only complaint here is that the Landlord doesn't respond that he knows who Harriet Jones* is when the Doctor asks him about her. The Landlord's almost sinister assurance that HE will be keeping an eye on Bill and her friends feels like he is mocking him.

With the Landlord gone, Bill once again tries to convince the Doctor to just leave her alone and stop embarrassing her (maybe he IS her dad!) so of course he immediately grabs her phone and begins playing music from her playlist so he and the others can "chill". As they thrill to her humiliating playlist (she likes Little Mix :3: she takes him aside to say the quote from earlier on in the review, but is already resigned to the fact that for this night at least he is going to stick around and she's just going to have to live with it.

Upstairs, there's a wonderful moment where she figures out that Bill is into her and explains that she's into girls, and his reaction is perfect as he expresses heartfelt relief - she wasn't disinterested because he's not attractive/charming, but because she's into girls and therefore he NEVER stood a chance. He enjoys teasing Shireen for falling for all the typical haunted house schtick, and after going into his bedroom Bill figures out that Shireen has a crush on Paul. This is the ordinary part of her life she wants, the part away from the Doctor - friends with crushes on other friends and the awkwardness of trying to deal with that, the typical drama of standard student life. When Paul begins yelping they figure he is just loving about again, but then his screams start to get more visceral and they find they can't open his door. Their relief when they hear the titual two knocks is short-lived as those same knocks begin sounding everywhere around them (this episode was aired with binaural effects), and the episode begins its shift from slightly uncomfortable but largely comedic directly into really, really creepy.



Saturday teatime fare for the kiddies! In the immortal words of Robert Holmes - "If the show is doing its job properly, it should scare the little buggers to death."

Bill and Shireen find Pavel in his room, half absorbed into the wall and silently begging them with his eyes not to shut off the music looping on his vinyl player. The Landlord once again appears as if from nowhere and with horrifying calmness insists that the music (and Pavel's half-life) is a distraction from the inevitable - "Hope is its own form of cruelty." He shuts down the player and Pavel disappears into the wall, and he whispers that it is beautiful, a mercy, Pavel is now contained "forever" within the walls of the home. This, he explains, is how the tenants "pay their dues."

Terrifying.

Downstairs the Doctor, Harry and Felicity discover the shutters are closing of their own accord and locking everybody inside. Felicity, who obviously suffers from claustrophobia, freaks out and manages to force her way out before everything can lock into place. Before she has a chance to call the police however, she backs into the tree in the yard and is absorbed in the same way as Pavel and Paul. Inside, the Doctor considers what is happening and comes to the conclusion that there is something inside the house itself, and actively attempts to draw it out, thrilled to see the appearance of a tiny little insect that emerges out of the wood. Of course it is quickly followed by thousands more, and they flee into the lift that Harry mistook for a cupboard and hide down in the basement, where they discover the dark secret of the house. Every 20 years six tenants move in and sign an identical contract to Bill and her friends. They move in, and on their first day they discover the insects and then are absorbed into the home.

Just as a note, the production design on this particular episode is fantastic. For some reason it really stood out to me in this scene, as the Doctor looks through 20 year old photos and they really managed to capture the "period" of the late 90s in just a few photographs.

The Landlord appears, again as if from nowhere, and the Doctor uses words and reason to both get information, buy time and, most importantly, to understand. He is genuinely fascinated, he wants to know how this all works, what this situation is, how it came about. He is not at all pleased at the way the Landlord has dismissed/moved on from the taking of the previous tenants ("fine young men and women" he calls them, in an offhanded way), but he keeps him talking and in that process learns valuable information. It's an oft-stated and sometimes romanticized aspect of the Doctor that he does battle with words, but it's clear and apparent here. Rather than judging/condemning the Landlord, he speaks to him, learns from him, and as such finds potential common ground and a way out for all of them. The Landlord is acting in the interests of saving his daughter, and the Doctor is, well... a doctor! Perhaps he could find a way to save her which would prevent the needless loss of life? Harry, not in a mood to talk, tries to run and is absorbed the "dryads" (the Doctor gave them that name because "lice" would have felt insulting), and the Landlord warns him not to be concerned about Harry's fate but his own. But that isn't what bothers the Doctor, he wants to know that Bill is alright.



She's doing okay :)

Bill and Shireen have met Eliza, an apparently wooden woman who lives in the tower at the center of the home that the Landlord forbade them from entering. They're understandably perturbed by her appearance, but Bill - wonderful Bill - is willing to stand her ground and try to figure out what is going on. Shireen wants to get out, and when she spots a dryad she mistakes it for a cockroach and does what comes naturally, stomping on it. It flows easily between the atoms of her foot in the same way it does the wood in the floor, emerging out the top and then racing up her pants leg (and into her leg) followed by a swarm of more. Before Bill's horrified eyes, Shireen is absorbed, just as the Landlord arrives with the Doctor to give him the chance to do what no other doctor was capable of, save his daughter.

There has been a recurring theme through this season, early as it is, and it continues here: things aren't as they seem. The Pilot wasn't trying to kill them, the Vardy were just trying to fulfill their programming in an "alien" way, the giant creature was a victim etc. The Landlord, creepy old man who invites students into his infested house so his controlled insect swarm can eat them, is apparently a father doing everything in his power to keep his daughter alive. He tells the story of how he found the dryads in shells in his garden and showed them to his sick daughter to cheer her after another doctor had failed to cure what ailed her. How the next morning he found her with a wooden arm but also feeling hale and hearty for the first time in a long time. How he realized that the insects could keep her alive and well, but that it required a transfer of energy. Six young people absorbed into the house, their energy enough to keep her strong and healthy for 20 years when another sacrifice was required. Except... it doesn't make any sense, and finally, importantly it is at last Bill who makes the crucial connection instead of the Doctor. Because... why would a grown man go out and pick insects out of the garden to show his daughter? The Doctor doesn't get that, betraying his own wonderful oddness - everybody loves insects! But she also points out he isn't wooden, and if Eliza was kept alive all these decades by being turned to wood... how is her dad still alive but flesh?

The Doctor scans him, admitting that he sometimes forgets that humans don't live for centuries, and confirms the Landlord is 100% pure human. He quickly figures things out, but only because he had Bill to help him see things from that necessary different perspective. Eliza has been kept alive for decades, but her memories haven't been preserved so well - it wasn't her father that brought her the insects to marvel over, it was her son. The Landlord is her child, living only to keep his mother alive, trapped in a state of arrested development, performing monstrous acts he's never quite managed to grasp the monstrosity of, a relic from a bygone age who has let time pass him by in a childish desire to preserve the life he knew.

David Suchet is remarkable here, he manages to immediately convey the sense of a small boy trapped in an old man's body. Confused and scared by change, fearing the loss of his mother or the need be a distinct person in his own right (like Bill wants), he refuses to accept as Eliza grasps the truth of their situation and the need for their status quo to change. With a child's petulance he insists that he will command the dryads to absorb the Doctor and Bill, to feed Eliza the energy she needs whether she wants it or not. But Eliza takes long overdue charge, having seen the barest glimpse of the outside world after opening her shutters for the first time in decades and seeing a world that has passed her by. She takes control of the dryads, far more intimately connected to them than he could ever hope to be even with his finely tuned control. His final moment before she has the dryads absorb them both is utterly perfect, both in terms of acting and dialogue - barely containing his tears, he childishly whines that he doesn't want to, and as his mother she takes the authority to make the right decision for both of them.



It's kinda a cheat but as the Doctor and Bill escape the now disintegrating house, the dryads begin reforming the other students - absorbed at a cellular level into the insects so their energy could be transferred to Eliza, she has apparently returned that energy and the dryads have used it to reconstitute their most recent victims (presumably the energy of the previous tenants was all used up over the previous 20 year periods). There is a kind of sense that maybe the script felt a bit too dark if all of Bill's fellow students/friends were horribly eaten up and only the two of them survived, so they were quickly written in as popping back out. Even so, the basis for their return WAS laid out in the episode's events, as it was made clear that the dryads could shift and redistribute matter while keeping the energy contained within. It still kinda feels a little pat, but I can forgive it, this story needed an optimistic ending to really work to my mind - you couldn't have a standalone episode like this end with Bill seeing her flatmates (even relative strangers) die horribly and then expect her to just kind of move on with her life in the next episode. Also there is something kinda hilarious about all of them standing slackjawed looking at the remains of their house, and the Doctor cheerfully telling them they needed to go back to the estate agents. We've essentially just seen a haunted house story where the presence of the Doctor has completely upended everything, and instead of a bunch of nameless attractive students being knocked off and leaving a single brave survivor, everybody is left alive and well but homeless, while their savior cheerfully moves on to his next adventure.

So that's Knock Knock, a really solid episode which continues the recurring theme of things not being what they seem, but is otherwise just a basic, standalone episode of Who. A really good one, to be fair, but nothing more than that. That's not a bad thing, in fact I'd argue it's a very good thing, and this episode does horror and fear in a way that was more effective than something like Hide from season 7, which had a somewhat similar haunted house/ghost vibe to it. It's elevated by the performances, by Capaldi and Mackie and especially a wonderful guest turn by David Suchet. But even the minor actors a good, their characters are shallow but they didn't need to be much more than that - they're there to be picked off by the house in true spooky story fashion, and they fill the role of youngsters enjoying life out on their own for the first time well. Yeah there's a brief epilogue where the Doctor speaks to the inhabitant of the vault he is guarding, and another indicator of what type of thing might be kept inside (perhaps too strong an indication, some might argue) but I'm sure most people will forget that when they look back on this episode. It'll be the one that people really enjoyed but sometimes forget because it didn't further any particular angle or arc, it was just exactly what it needed to be - a drat good episode of Doctor Who.

* Former Prime Minister

Big Mean Jerk
Jan 27, 2009

Well, of course I know him.
He's me.


It's tempting to compare Brooker with Rod Serling given the similarity between BM and Twilight Zone, but Brooker is far more cynical than Serling ever was and that's primarily why I'd rather see him continue to do his own thing. Everyone assumes Serling was the world's greatest misanthrope, but he actually strongly believed in the overall good of humanity and could probably have turned in great optimistic morality plays for a show like Star Trek. Brooker's BM writing is far more acidic, with only San Junipero and Nosedive having even vaguely positive endings (and he didn't even write Nosedive, only the general outline). I can't see that writing style translating to a Saturday afternoon kid's show and I wouldn't even want him to try and adapt to it.

Barry the Sprout
Jan 12, 2001



Big Mean Jerk posted:

I can't see that writing style translating to a Saturday afternoon kid's show and I wouldn't even want him to try and adapt to it.

Yeah, we already had Eric Saward.

Matinee
Sep 15, 2007



Jerusalem posted:


* Former Prime Minister


Yes, we know who she is.



sorry, couldn't help myself. I'll get my coat, etc, etc.

ThaGhettoJew
Jul 4, 2003

The world is a ghetto


Big Mean Jerk posted:

It's tempting to compare Brooker with Rod Serling given the similarity between BM and Twilight Zone, but Brooker is far more cynical than Serling ever was and that's primarily why I'd rather see him continue to do his own thing. Everyone assumes Serling was the world's greatest misanthrope, but he actually strongly believed in the overall good of humanity and could probably have turned in great optimistic morality plays for a show like Star Trek. Brooker's BM writing is far more acidic, with only San Junipero and Nosedive having even vaguely positive endings (and he didn't even write Nosedive, only the general outline). I can't see that writing style translating to a Saturday afternoon kid's show and I wouldn't even want him to try and adapt to it.

In a more extreme way Joe Lidster's nihilistic misery porn writing for Big Finish (and one episode of Torchwood I guess) was decently tempered by the format change when he wrote for the significantly less-murdery Sarah Jane Adventures. SJA was a place where the darkness he thrives in had to link its way back to the lighter tone the characters and setting demanded or it would have come off as grossly disrespectful of the medium. And to his credit when they aired they weren't bad kid's show serials.

It could be that having a more optimistic tone to aim for will give Brooker an opportunity to use his ironic comedy and technological theory-crafting skills to bring back the recently besmirtched art of Who dystopias. I mean if it counts, Monk-world suuuucked. What other dystopias are there in NuWho, The Girl Who Waited and Gridlock? I personally can imagine better-written tech for a Sontaran Strategem/Poison Sky, a less ridiculous end-of-the-universe Utopia, or even dare I say a more media-savvy Bad Wolf. A Trump-branded Paradise Towers or Rupert Murdoch's Happiness Patrol Channel might be a bit too on the nose, but maybe...

NieR Occomata
Jan 18, 2009


https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oxygen_(Doctor_Who)

In which The Doctor becomes a socialist. Welcome!

Hemingway To Go!
Nov 10, 2008

im stupider then dog shit, i dont give a shit, and i dont give a fuck, and i will never shut the fuck up, and i'll always Respect my enemys.
- ernest hemingway


Oh that's cool. Forgot that oxygen was the next episode and thought it came later

2house2fly
Nov 14, 2012

You did a super job wrapping things up! And I'm not just saying that because I have to!

We're fighting the suits :smuggo:

NieR Occomata
Jan 18, 2009


If you don't want to read Toxx's Far Left Socialist Views maybe skip to the next review

Wheezle
Aug 13, 2007

420 stop boats erryday


Lick! The! Whisk! posted:

If you don't want to read Toxx's Far Left Socialist Views maybe skip to the next review

Did you write about the violence on both sides though?

Jerusalem
May 20, 2004

Would you be my new best friends?



Jerusalem posted:

In retrospect this was one of my favorite episodes of the season, and I'm really glad I watched it again.

Only one episode later and I've already changed my mind, I forgot how much I loved Oxygen :hellyeah:

Lick! The! Whisk! posted:

If you don't want to read Toxx's Far Left Socialist Views maybe skip to the next review

Ditto for mine too :)

2house2fly
Nov 14, 2012

You did a super job wrapping things up! And I'm not just saying that because I have to!

Outside of the politics of the episode, I felt smart when I realised well in advance of the script expecting me to that the Doctor wiring everyone up to the reactor was a way to make their deaths unacceptably expensive. I mean everyone probably did because "What if this is business as usual" is a very On The Nose line, but still.

ThaGhettoJew
Jul 4, 2003

The world is a ghetto


In which we learn that trusting the Doctor is a rough business. Also that this season still loves doing the old switcheroo on previous episode motifs. Deep Breath anyone? Moffattm spacesuits?

Although I gotta say, I HATE the "never see anything again" line. It's redundant and lamely melodramatic next to the actual "I'm still blind" stinger.

Jerusalem
May 20, 2004

Would you be my new best friends?



It's basically the only thing I don't like about the episode. It's just so clunky.

NieR Occomata
Jan 18, 2009


Doctor Who
"Oxygen"

Series Ten, Episode Five

With "Oxygen" Jamie Mathieson might, legit, be my favorite writer for Who.

Doctor Who has been political before, but it's usually either clumsy or avoidable commentary. And this makes sense, considering that DW is a television show created for mass consumption and specifically targeted to kids. So, on one hand, due to marketing forces it has imperative to be as inoffensive, and therefore as apolitical, as possible, and on the other due to its target audience most writers try and avoid making nuanced points out of fear that it'll be pointless and ineffective. Why bother trying to write interesting commentary if it won't land with most viewers?

So it's where we get the usual mode DW operates in. Its commentary is often super generic optimism laced with idealism; typical, sort of toothless "up with people, everyone deserves respect, kumbaya" statements. Which are accurate, but by definition feel so generic they lack any point or bite. And, to be clear, that's fine, it's not really what I come to DW for. I have my political beliefs, and they're very strongly held, but I don't need that reflected in every single piece of media I see. Speaking personally, I'm so far left of center nowadays that seeing media that speaks to me is sort of a pointless endeavor in the first place.

So when DW does "political stuff", it almost never does anything for me except when it's genuinely offensive. Either all the edges are sanded down, or it's RTD-brand "political commentary" where its so awkward and obvious that it's just loving embarrassing, and so poorly written that it often accidentally undercuts or betrays its own stated premise - "Voyage of the Damned" is a great example of this, where it ostensibly tries to be an argument in favor of sexual equality but is so loving badly written that it ends up being insanely homophobic.

Or, it's basically anything Peter Harness writes. That's the other version of political commentary DW presents; genuinely enraging, regressive bullshit that is so cloyingly written and covert that it ends up insidiously, maliciously offensive, where it's Harness attempting to poison people's thoughts with his awful opinions. Where he and writers like him use the nature of DW, and it being aimed at kids, and it being this huge tentpole of British media, and leverages that to subtly inject their beliefs. Essentially, coded dogwhistle bullshit. And, in Harness' case, it's just good enough to work - "Kill the Moon" and "Zygon Inversion" are just decent enough, just well acted enough, just well constructed enough that they might come across as entertaining. They only become terrible if one really thinks about what they just watched, and expecting everyone to critically analyze the media they consume is completely unreasonable. Speaking as someone who's done it for almost a decade at this point, TV shouldn't be viewed as homework to the vast majority of viewers.

In any case, "Oxygen" is such a breath of fresh air - sorry - in comparison to the typical "political" episode of Who. I mean, let's be clear - I'm very biased. I'm a far-left socialist who believes that capitalism is, essentially, the most evil human invention currently in existence. So "Oxygen", on some fundamental level, is exactly what I want out of political Who. But I think, even beyond that, "Oxygen" is an incredibly effective episode, and the blueprint for how commentary episodes of DW can and should work in the future.

There is an expectation that commentary, especially political commentary, in artistic media needs to be subtle and covert to work, because otherwise it's "pushing your ideology down other people's throats" or so blatant as to be ineffective. This is not true. Although there are great works of commentary that are themselves subtle, covert, nuanced, and quietly effective - Watchmen, for instance, is a great example of criticism of 80s Cold War ideologies and the Reagan administration in general - there are just as many if not more that are blatant in their statements. Animal Farm is literally just a history of post-Bolshevik Russia except all the principal actors are replaced by farm animals, and it's one of the most beloved political works of all time - and for good reason. Any of Ayn Rand's works, even though they're all loving terrible, have been effective and influential, despite the fact that if you read literally any of her books they're overwritten bullshit paeans to Objectivism and how awful socialist institutions are. And, more recently, indie game Night in the Woods is an overt commentary on the failures of coastal neoliberalism and how that poisoned, awful, ultimately selfish ideology destroys small midwest and Rust Belt towns, and how those same towns are essentially doomed to a cycle of financial insecurity.

So, "Oxygen" being so blatantly and so obviously an anti-capitalism polemic is not a point against it. In fact, its strong political leanings are a point in its favor, because unlike Harness' works on DW it doesn't pretend to be something it's not. If you think capitalism is super great and awesome and moral or whatever, well, firstly, you're wrong, but secondly "Oxygen" doesn't even loving pretend to appeal to you. "Zygon Inversion" is some xenophobic, racist bullshit wrapped with an exterior of Capaldi being awesome and smugly owning people, which makes it all the more offensive because it's literally conning you into internalizing its own awful ideologies. "Oxygen" is all about how awful capitalism is. You're either on board or you're not, but at least you're not being deceived.

Being so blatant in its statements also allows for people not to misinterpret its underlying points, whether intentionally or not. Neoliberals, who are among the worst people on this planet, are especially good at aggressively missing the point. They love to bring up works like The Hunger Games and Harry Potter in the context of combatting Donald Trump, white supremacists, and Nazis, but they also love to hector about "respectability politics", or both sides-ism, and they absolutely adore bring up some pithy, pointless quote about violence only begetting violence. It's because they like the stark, infantile black-and-white morality THG and HP paint their worlds, and they love feeling good instead of doing good. Trump is Voldemort, and we're "fighting" Trump with our worthless loving hashtags and thinkpieces and our super awesome replies to any of his terrible tweets, but when antifa or DSA goes and punches a loving Nazi in his fascist loving face we talk about "optics" or fall on some boilerpate centrist "freedom of speech" poo poo. And it's because they view what's currently happening in the context of the fiction they consume, without thinking at all about the deeper layers of that fiction because it's all under the surface. The Hunger Games is literally all about how austerity is violence, how a moneyed elite - a one percent, if you will - control and subjugate the proletariat by setting them against each other. And it's, ultimately, about how the only way for the proletariat to reclaim their humanity is via violent revolution against their oppressors. But neolibs just see mockingjays or Katniss Everdeen or The Resistance and think that that's all they have to do, while both criticizing actual protest as either pointless or ineffective and arguing against systemic overhauls that would combat inequality as either impossible or prone to abuse. What they ignore is that there's no material difference between the government denying someone lifesaving healthcare and the government choosing someone to fight in a Battle Royale-esque bloodsport for their life. The government kills both people in both cases, it's just in one instance it's way more blatant and cruel about it. Harry Potter has some real troubling political opinions both as a work and, especially, espoused by its author, but it's ultimately about how the only way to combat fascism is via necessary violence. But you don't hear that, you hear dumbasses call Clinton "McGonagall" and talk about how they take roles in "Dumbledore's Army" while whining about broken windows, without once thinking about what it loving means to be a part of an army. They think all speech should be protected while ignoring that hate speech is its own form of violence, they call white supremacists loving Death Eathers and poo poo but start lovely GoFundMes for GOP buildings while ignoring how HP makes a specific point of how the Ministry of Magic empowers and enables Voldemort and his crew to seize power.

And this is all because the lessons that HP and THG teaches, all the points they make are below the surface and whether from malicious ignorance or being just too loving stupid to see them you get worthless, worthless neoliberals who just view that media on that surface level. We are Good. They are Bad. End of story. By never once hiding its deeper message - I mean, hell, The Doctor literally brags about destroying Capitalism at the end of it - "Oxygen" avoids the pitfall of being twisted or its impact lessened to bolster worthless, status-quo centrism.

"Oxygen" is also wondrous because the political overtones both make coherent sense and are barely an exaggeration of real life. Selling people oxygen is not any different from the CEO of Nestle arguing for the privatization of water. If we look back on the history of industrialization, there has even been stuff like the employer selling back essential goods and services to their workers. I mean, there's no coincidence that "Oxygen" is set on a mining ship - mines literally had "company stores" where they sold food and other goods, at markup, to their workers, while paying them in a mine-specific currency only useful in that store. Financial exploitation of workers was as literal as it is here, instead of hid behind the concept of "wage theft" or "unpaid overtime" or "union busting".

The underlying conflict of "Oxygen" - mechanized suits that have been ordered to kill all living creatures so those living creatures' employers can fully automate the station with those suits - are not an exaggeration of real life. McDonald's, the single largest US employer, is attempting to fully automate their restarants right now. Once they do, and they will, hundreds of thousands of people will have literally no job opportunities as they lose their only source of income. They will lose their housing, they will lose their health care. They will be unable to afford rent, or groceries, or gas for their cars. People will, literally, die, and, again - there is no material difference between a company killing its workers and consigning those same workers to death via loss of financial security. One's just much slower. And it's why Universal Basic Income is so necessary - we are hitting a point where automation will replace all low-level, menial labor in this country, and corporations could not be more overjoyed it's about to happen due to robots almost never loving up, not needing to be paid, and being able to work forever. But, once that happens, millions and millions of people will not be able to work. More importantly, they won't need to work - jobs will shift further and further into either creative or highly specialized fields as automation replaces all hard and even most skilled labor. And when that happens, the only solution is a universal income guaranteed to everyone, because there literally will not be enough jobs to go around.

That's the utopian vision. The vision espoused by the right and neoliberals is the future that gives us "Oxygen", wherein we even more firmly establish a caste system that the one that already exists in America and other first-world countries and treat what little labor there is left as indentured servitude bordering on slavery, wherein corporations put a dollar amount on people's lives and create a byzantine system of rules that seek to maximize profits for literally no reason then to make numbers go up. And this is largely an expansion of people contending that capitalism is anything but an economic system. It's an amoral, evil necessity of when it was created, like feudalism before it, that incentivized people to do things that were a net good overall via the explotiation of labor. The railroads are a great example of this - they were necessary, and the amount of good things that happened in America after they were created (cheap public transportation and transportation of goods, allowed for the country's rapid expansion, strengthened farming, just to name a few) cannot be discounted - but they were only possible due to the robber barons, who were incentivized by base greed, created via capitalism. The railroads needed to be made but at the time the only way they were made was via exploitation of the poor and people of color via some truly hateful, evil poo poo that robber barons pulled.

We live in a world where labor is essentially valueless because it's nearly infinite - automation is almost there. The entire structure of capitalism is based off the fundamental premise that human labor has value and must be exploited to maximize value for the people at the top. Once robots can do our jobs, capitalism has no point in existing. It is outdated. The reaction humanity has to capitalism becoming obsolete will determine whether we live in a Star Trek utopia or whether we end up like the crew in "Oxygen".

"Oxygen" is so great because it never, not once, ever pretends that the villain is anything but the concept of capitalism. It's not the zombies, it's not the suits who make them, it's not even the corporation that ordered those suits to kill the humans. It's capitalism. The corporation is nameless for a reason. Its name doesn't matter, because it's not specifically amoral. Capitalism is amoral, it contends that people only have value if they provide value, and that valueless members of society are definitionally extraneous. Nothing the nameless evil corporation is bad, capitalistically speaking, because capitalism is a system that has no moral center. Its only purpose is to create more money. If it existed in the real world, that company would be lauded for its measures.

Correction - that company has been lauded. Uber pays its workers severely below minimum wage, forces them to pay out of pocket for maintenance and upkeep of their own vehicles, and literally loving reinvented the bus. They cut prices severely, operating at a loss, solely because all they want to do is force out a moderately skilled, well-paying unionized labor position that already exists (taxi drivers) and muscle out a socialized alternative that works well (public bussing) so they can, eventually, replace their already underpaid and uncompensated non-union workers with automation. That's literally their endgoal, they are attempting to kill taxis and replace them with self-driving cars, burning money like crazy in the meantime, just to reap the profits whenever it inevitably happens. And they're being lauded in Silicon Valley and by neoliberals across the country for their foresight. They are destroying an industry and people are cheering, because capitalism is such a fundamentally rotten worldview.

Capitalism had its time and place, but that time and that place are nearly over. We are seeing it in the reactions of baby boomers, the single largest source of neoliberalism, with their awful endless thinkpieces about why or how Millennials are killing X by not buying Y. They ignore that they openly embraced a version of completely unrestricted capitalism that made our generation extremely poor overall, on top of limiting our financial security and futures. Essentially, they both made us unable and unwilling to buy frivolous bullshit, to be able to or want to participate in the conspicuous consumption that defines them, and have the gall to hector us for it. Socialism, once a career-killing slur in American politics, is now the stated political leaning of its most popular politician. In Britain, the most beloved politician is deeply socialist who believes strongly in the power of public safety nets. Things are changing, and the people who have defined their entire livelihoods around the idea that a person with more zeroes in their personal net worth is a better person than one who doesn't have no idea what to do. So now we're seeing the pushback, the embracing of such worthless assholes as Mark Zuckerberg and Silicon Valley in general as the saviors of the Democratic Party, because these cunts cannot accept the idea that capitalism is dying.

So now we're at a crossroads, and it's that specific crossroads where "Oxygen" is so necessary and so good. You can either be The Doctor or Jamie Mathieson and recognize capitalism as the outdated, evil, amoral piece of poo poo that it is, and vow to do everything in your power to destroy it, or you can not. You can cheerlead the exact viewpoints that has caused so much death and pain in the past, that's causing so much death and pain now, and will continue to cause so much death and pain in the future - perhaps even as overtly as "Oxygen" contends. Those are your two options - help the public or help enrich the private.

Grade: A

Random Thoughts:

  • "Oxygen" is so good that it's exactly how I want future political episodes of DW to work. I'm tired of subtle or covert messaging that conveniently allows for lovely, worthless centrists to embrace its surface messaging while pretending, misunderstanding, or ignoring the deeper points of the work. I want to know who the enemies are, and forcing people to either stand for or against capitalism in such stark terms is a good way of illustrating how loving worthless ostensibly "allied" neoliberals actually are.
  • It should also be noted how great it is that The Doctor beats the corporation not by appealing to their better nature, or by having them come to some sort of moral apotheosis, but by simply threatening financial violence against them. It underlines how inherently amoral capitalism as an institution is - there's no reasoning with it, you become valuable within the system by either providing value or threatening someone else's. Moralist capitalism is definitionally impossible, and the climax of "Oxygen" stresses that point.
  • The Doctor: "I'm here, I'm guarding the vault. What do you want from me." Nardole: "The truth." The Doctor: "Don't be unreasonable."
    [^] Bill (angrily): "Do people ever hit you?" The Doctor: "Well, only when I'm talking."

idonotlikepeas
May 29, 2010

This reasoning is possible for forums user idonotlikepeas!


Oxygen

RISE UP, COMRADES! YOU HAVE NOTHING TO LOSE BUT YOUR SHACKLES!

A

2house2fly
adhuin
Big Mean Jerk
Blasmeister
bsam
cargohills
jng2058
Llab
The_Doctor
thrawn527
WeirdSandwich


B

all-Rush mixtape
And More
AndwhatIseeisme
Red Metal
Rochallor
Senerio


C

Stabbatical
Wolfechu


D

No gods!

F

No masters!


Overall Average Guess: 3.5 (B+)
Standard Deviation: 0.7

Current rankings:

cargohills: 2
jng2058: 2
Llab: 2
all-Rush mixtape: 3
Big Mean Jerk: 3
thrawn527: 3
Blasmeister: 4
The_Doctor: 4
WeirdSandwich: 4
2house2fly: 5
adhuin: 5
Red Metal: 5
Senerio: 5
And More: 6
AndwhatIseeisme: 6
Rochallor: 7
Stabbatical: 7
Wolfechu: 7
bsam: 9

Not much help here on the rankings, not that I expected much given the relatively uniformity of voting and the quality of the episode. That said, I see a lot more variation coming up, so hold onto your limited edition replica sonic screwdrivers!

idonotlikepeas fucked around with this message at 19:31 on Aug 16, 2017

Hemingway To Go!
Nov 10, 2008

im stupider then dog shit, i dont give a shit, and i dont give a fuck, and i will never shut the fuck up, and i'll always Respect my enemys.
- ernest hemingway


So five episodes in, there's kind of a leftism theme with this season
In most of these episodes humans are the real opponents, the aliens are just misunderstood or tools, the companion is both working class and has multiple maginalizations, some of the episodes are talking about explicit problems like Smile with Immigration or Thin Ice and racism. The Doctor's made more commentary than usual on religion as well, by now, mentioning Jesus - something they've usually avoided. Of course Jamie Mathieson's episode is the only one that dials it totally to eleven, possibly showing that he might be the only writer with real leftward convictions, but there's a kind of conscious effort going on right now with this season possibly as a reaction to season 9.

Aside, I did like Night in the Woods except for its lack of gameplay and slowness, and untrustworthy save system, to get everything out of it takes a lot of time just wandering to the same locations every day. But I did appreciate that it had this extremely timely message when I had been watching for it ever since the 2014 kickstarter.

Escobarbarian
Jun 18, 2004




Grimey Drawer

I'm only like halfway through Night in the Woods but I haven't seen that theme at all. The town is dilapidated but so far this hasn't been expressly given a reason besides usual "it's a small town death of middle America etc" stuff

2house2fly
Nov 14, 2012

You did a super job wrapping things up! And I'm not just saying that because I have to!

I can't look at anything...............EVER AGAIN

Facebook Aunt
Oct 4, 2008

i like cats



Hemingway To Go! posted:

Of course Jamie Mathieson's episode is the only one that dials it totally to twelve


FTFY :grin:

Narsham
Jun 5, 2008


Lick! The! Whisk! posted:

"Oxygen" is so great because it never, not once, ever pretends that the villain is anything but the concept of capitalism. It's not the zombies, it's not the suits who make them, it's not even the corporation that ordered those suits to kill the humans. It's capitalism. The corporation is nameless for a reason. Its name doesn't matter, because it's not specifically amoral. Capitalism is amoral, it contends that people only have value if they provide value, and that valueless members of society are definitionally extraneous. Nothing the nameless evil corporation is bad, capitalistically speaking, because capitalism is a system that has no moral center. Its only purpose is to create more money. If it existed in the real world, that company would be lauded for its measures.

I was delighted and flabbergasted by this episode, because if anything this description undersells how well the critique functions. It starts, after all, with the idea that this corporation sends people into space to work and then charges them for the oxygen they breathe, which comes to dominate the workers' thinking so heavily that their concepts of distance and time adjust to their circumstances. But while the criticism is overt, there's a covert series of suggestions being made about circumstances back on Earth. Because none of these workers see anything unusual about being charged to breathe.

Even more brilliantly, the "rescue ship" comes up full and leaves full: they first clean up the station, then drop off the new crew, who load up all the goods onto the ship which returns to Earth. All goods, no space needed for the old crew to take the return voyage. Margins and bottom lines, squeezing out every cent of profit available. And who is going to find out? Nobody's going to just randomly shop up at the station at precisely the wrong time in the cycle, right?

Jerusalem
May 20, 2004

Would you be my new best friends?



Hell yes and gently caress capitalism. Having the Doctor just poo poo all over it was fantastic.

Lick! The! Whisk! posted:

"Oxygen" is so great because it never, not once, ever pretends that the villain is anything but the concept of capitalism. It's not the zombies, it's not the suits who make them, it's not even the corporation that ordered those suits to kill the humans. It's capitalism. The corporation is nameless for a reason. Its name doesn't matter, because it's not specifically amoral. Capitalism is amoral, it contends that people only have value if they provide value, and that valueless members of society are definitionally extraneous. Nothing the nameless evil corporation is bad, capitalistically speaking, because capitalism is a system that has no moral center. Its only purpose is to create more money. If it existed in the real world, that company would be lauded for its measures.

And this is absolutely spot on. I was so thrilled they never named the company or gave some kind of "face" to it. Because the company wasn't the monster, the ideology itself is. gently caress capitalism.

I'll get my review up after I get a chance to rewrite it - I think I went a little too far in the recounting events area and need to trim it down a bit.

Edit: Welp I tried to trim it and made it even longer. Sorry for all the :words:

Jerusalem fucked around with this message at 13:17 on Aug 17, 2017

Jerusalem
May 20, 2004

Would you be my new best friends?



When watching an episode of Doctor Who, the viewer will often come up with interpretations that aren't directly supported by the text but implied (or at least, can be argued to be implied) by subtext. It's rare than an episode will just outright state what the underlying message or theme behind the basic plot might be, even rarer to do so and STILL have the episode actually be good. So with that, let's talk about Jamie Mathieson's really quite excellent Oxygen, and what the theme could possibly b-

The Doctor posted:

Capitalism in space

Welp :ms:

Jamie Mathieson is an excellent writer, who has provided us with 4 Who stories including this one. The first two were excellent, the third was.... ehhhhh.... and this one is up there with the first two in terms of quality. What this one has that the others didn't is the surprising (and extremely welcome) open embracing of what would be considered a strongly left-wing position. This is surprising for a number of reasons, not least of which is that Doctor Who usually wisely tries to steer clear of politics, or to sit on as uncommitted a position as possible, detaching the Doctor from our human concerns. Sometimes the show does take a stronger stance, but that often comes across poorly no matter the intention of the writer - Peter Harness comes to mind. Then you have the BBC itself, so scared of coming down too strongly on the liberal side and risking the Conservatives stripping their public funding that they try to be as toothless as possible.

So THIS episode, coming as it does after what has felt like a run of episodes that have always embraced leftist ideas, does feel like it is going out of its way to position the Doctor as very much a left-wing figure. Some would argue,"Well of course, he's ALWAYS been left-wing!" while others would claim he's always been more anti-authoritarian than anything else, and would openly dismiss or deride leftist ideals. Politics (and religion) runs the risk of both alienating and infuriating viewers, of course, especially when not handled with nuance or care. More importantly though, if they're just there for their own sake then it can come across as soapboxing from the writer - Classic Who could be rife with this type of thing, sometimes handled well (Buddhist ideas permeating Pertwee's run), sometimes with the subtlety of a sledge-hammer (I dig The Happiness Patrol but it's hardly subtle) and sometimes in a well-intentioned way that has become horribly dated by time: Ian's patronizing dismissal of pacifism from way back in The Daleks for instance.

But what this episode has going for it is.... it's really good! Take away the making GBS threads all over Capitalism (which absolutely deserves it), and the writing is still great. The "monsters" are great. The characters are great. The world-building is great. The conclusion is great. Yes the Doctor's solution was openly telegraphed but still incredibly satisfying etc. About the only bad thing about this episode is,"I can't see anything....................... I'M STILL BLIND!"

Let's start with the "zombies" - introduced after a cold open that immediately begins the world-building and informs us of so much so quickly. Two figures in space-suits tumble through space and come to a landing on their space station, their gravity boots keeping them tethered to the surface but drastically reducing their speed. Low on oxygen, they proceed towards the entrance to the station, one chattering on about her thoughts and feelings despite her low oxygen reserves. She's married or in some sort of relationship with the other crewman, and as he works to get the doors open she opens her heart up about their future, her desire for children etc, all safe in the knowledge that her radio isn't working and he can't hear a thing she's saying. It's an important humanizing element for a character we are completely unfamiliar with, because it sets the stage to inform us these two have an emotional connection, that she has hopes for the future, that there is a level of complexity to their relationship (why talk so openly only when he CAN'T hear?). It also makes us connect with her as a primary character, her husband/boyfriend largely a cipher, so that when she realizes that helmetless crewmen are stomping zombie-like across the hull of the ship towards her, we are concerned for her and maybe suspect she might survive. That she doesn't, and her partner first becomes aware of the threat towards them AFTER she has been killed, gives the opening an emotional impact it would have otherwise lacked.

Because, like every other "monster" this season, the zombies are not what the real monsters. The corpses inside are exactly that - corpses inside. The suits move independently of the people inside them, they are automated and their occupants have become excess to requirements. George Romero's zombie films were argued as metaphors for aspects of modernity, including most notably the rampant consumerism prevalent at the time he made Dawn of the Dead. These zombies couldn't be any clearer a metaphor for the automation that replaced labour, causing huge profits for companies but utterly destroying any number of communities/towns etc. Roger and Me, The Wire, and many, many other pieces of media have explored what happens to those left behind when the industries that sold their workforce on the notion that they were all in this together dumped them at the first opportunity. Here the automation doesn't come from assembly line machinery, but literal empty (or not!) space-suits that have the form of the workforce they replaced but are, well, empty inside. It's terrifying because there is no maliciousness, no need or desire or greed - it's just a thing doing what it was programmed to do. Even before we discover the truth behind their programming change, even the workers don't blame the mining-suits, they just assumed they were hacked. Because the truth is more horrifying than any of them could bear to actually think about.



On Earth, the Doctor enthusiastically gives a lecture about how space is loving dangerous and will kill the poo poo out of you without a care in the world. His students, including Bill, take this all in with great interest if confusion, one of them finally asking (as he cheerfully draws a giant skull on his blackboard) what this has to do with the supposed subject of today's lecture: crop rotation.

Now this could uncharitably be called an info-dump that serves no purpose outside of as setup for events later in the episode. And yes it DOES serve that purpose too, but it's also part of a characterization of the Doctor and the change in his status-quo (back to the status-quo WE are most familiar with). Because Nardole, who has been watching, knows why the Doctor is so enthusiastically talking about the dangers of space. The Doctor has gotten the travel bug again, after decades of supposedly steadfastly guarding the vault (Big Finish will probably have a thing or two to say about that) his mentoring of Bill has him longing to head out across time and space again. A wonderful scene follows inside the TARDIS, where Nardole and the Doctor bicker over his duty, with the Doctor cheerfully and casually undermining Nardole's supposed authority every step of the way. The Doctor wants to take Bill "camping", and his desire for adventure is made clear when she picks out one of a dozen proposed stops they could visit and he redirects her to what is quite obviously a dangerous one. The Doctor is excited again, the fresh eyes of a companion have him revitalized and wanting to get out and about. This is a distress call, and that's his "theme tune" - he wants danger again. Of course Nardole has guessed this is the case and quietly removed the fluid link, which the TARDIS cannot go anywhere without. This is a lovely callback to the second ever episode of Doctor Who (and first ever Dalek story), but of course in that story the 1st Doctor was using the link as an excuse to investigate danger (some things never change) and the 12th Doctor here reveals that actually, the TARDIS works just fine without the link, dematerializing them as he chides Nardole that he'll have to dock his pay for not anticipating this lie.

Nardole too is well written throughout this episode. He started this season as an enigma, bearing little resemblance to the Nardole from The Husbands of River Song, feeling largely like a different character who happened to be played by the same well-known comic actor. Now we start to get a few interesting little tidbits of his character from before we first met him. He's changed faces even before he lost his head, and he was on the run at the time he did it. He doesn't mind being involved in criminal acts, like he was with River when he first met him, and later in the episode he casually mentions he would have killed every member of the crew if he was planning to rob the place. For a character like that to be taking his "vow" as seriously as he is, there must be something on enormous importance in (or about) that vault. Or at least, he must believe in such, moreso than the Doctor perhaps.

Arriving on the mining station, Bill is initially let down: it's industrial and dirty and it doesn't even have oxygen in it - they're only breathing because the TARDIS is projecting an air-shell. The Doctor extends the shell so they can move around a bit more and investigate the station further, and Bill gets a chance to look outside and - for the first time - experience being out in space. Her reaction nails the very human idea that in spite of space being so inimical to life (again, making the Doctor's earlier lecture relevant), there is something beautiful that attracts us to want to explore it. It's been said many times before and will be many times again, but Pearl Mackie is a REALLY good actor.



They wander through the station, the Doctor delighted at how "classic" the design is - everything is gritty and functional, nothing flashy or smooth. Nardole is sulking, wanting this to be over with as quickly as possible, while Bill is the first to notice a man in a space suit standing with his back to them: a dead man, kept upright only the suit he wears. It's fascinating but morbid, Bill is mortified and asks repeatedly for them to lay him down, struggling to articulate why seeing him just standing in place is so unsettling for her. Why is it unsettling? Because it's undignified of course, and that furthers the notion of Capitalism's indifference for the worker - Bill's reaction to the corpse's indignity is very human, whereas for the company the body is nothing more than an "organic component". Like Nardole, now Bill wants to go, but the Doctor isn't listening - yeah he came here because he wanted the thrill of danger and space, but he's both thinking AND teaching: the station status claimed 40 occupants and 36 fatalities, so what does that mean?

The Doctor posted:

Four. Four, Bill. Four survivors, one distress call. The universe shows its true face when it asks for help. We show ours by how we respond.

Moving further into the station (where the Doctor has a laugh by popping the helmet off an empty suit carrying parcels about), they get a little more info on the situation and we get some world-building. Their reaction when they read in the status report that the station was "unprofitable" was semi-bemused, OF COURSE the place was unprofitable if 36 of the crew have been killed. But as they learn more, we see that profit is the guiding principle of the station, of the corporation that runs it, which in turn tells us a great deal about this future Earth society. Nobody has expelled air from the station, there was NEVER any air because oxygen is provided to the crew for personal use only.... at competitive prices. Not only that, but the air that is present from the TARDIS' air-shell is "illegal" and therefore must be expelled - you can't have a competing "product".

Air as a commodity that requires purchasing should be a ludicrous concept, even for a futuristic sci-fi setting. The sad truth is that even in the present day this type of lunacy isn't entirely outside of the realm of possibility - charging for water, the old "company store" that even today some companies are trying to argue to return.

Alarms start blaring and the TARDIS shuts it doors as the bulkhead door nearby opens to expell the air. They rush back past the corpse where the Doctor uses the sonic to close the door to prevent the rest of the air being sucked out, though it leaves them on the other side of the door where the TARDIS is now sitting inside a vacuum. Of course, that is the least of their problems.

Contacted by the four survivors of the crew, the Doctor insists they identify themselves as he doesn't know why they survived and the others died, perhaps they are responsible? Drill Chief Tasker identifies himself and the Doctor replies that he is answering their distress call so they should be expecting help. Tasker realizes that they're in the repair bay and warns them to get out, because suits are in there. Why is that a problem? Well because now we know what killed the crew:



If Bill thought it was an indignity for the dead man to be left standing, now his corpse is along for the ride as the suit strides menacingly towards them. Burning out the sonic along with itself (and thus removing that particular crutch from the episode), the suit finally falls to the ground, the corpse at least no longer standing in some horrible parody of life. The Doctor pulls out a chip from the suit and passes it to Nardole to search for information, and he finds a single line of code was sent to it instructing every suit to "deactivate" its organic components. It's a horrible, dehumanizing reference to the people wearing the suits, and betrays a vile, reprehensible attitude. What kind of monster could be ultimately responsible for the suits unthinking but murderous rampage? I'm sure almost everybody who watched immediately know who that monster would end up being. I think it's lovely that the Doctor didn't grasp it at first, because even with all his experience he would want to believe the best of humanity.

He has more immediate concerns though, the station will not accept "illegal" air, and if opening the airlock didn't work then it will just have to filter the air out through its ventilation systems. That means they have no choice but to jump into suits themselves, though since they were in here for repairs they probably weren't on the network, which means they have received the update instructing the deactivation of organic components.

Bill: What if you're wrong?
Doctor: Well, we'll be horribly murdered!

Spotting what looks like walking corpses on the hull outside the ship approaching, they put on the suits (those forcefields have the television friendly benefit of not hiding the actors' faces!) and follow Tasker's instructions, running down corridors in classic Doctor Who fashion, the onboard computer on Bill's suit offering to give her assistance with her running if she'd like. Reaching a sealed door, they demand to be let in as the zombies lumber towards them, every breath they take using up their precious and limited supply.
Once inside, things calm down slightly and some comedy defuses a bit of the tension, including an RTD-esque joke about racism when Bill encounters her first blue person and is surprised when they don't grasp the notion that the darker tone of her skin might see her the victim of the same type of thing herself. The Doctor shows his psychic paper to the survivors (including Ivan, the partner of the woman we saw at the start of the episode) which identifies him as a member of the mythical "Union", which again is a lovely bit of world-building that tells us so much about this future society. The worker has no more value than a machine, perhaps even less.

Bill's suit glitches out, her arms raising up of their own volition, and Ivan takes a look to try and get it fixed for her. The Doctor speaks with Tasker and the others - Abby and Dahh-ren - to get a better grasp of the situation. All of them were working on repairs, and had been taken off the network so it wouldn't interfere with what they were doing. As a result they didn't receive the "upgrade" that killed the others. So what is the reason? Even the humans who live in a mining station where even the air is a commodity don't initially consider it might be the company - because who really wants to believe they are perceived as so expendable? The Doctor considers the possibilities, his initial mindset thinking small-time greed, in terms of open criminals rather than lauded corporate vultures: perhaps this was prelude to a robbery? Except they mine copper here, so the robbers would need to steal a huge amount for it to be work anything. The radios were cut as well, their distress call was boosted through a comms disc via bit of rejigging, but it is pure luck that the Doctor was able to pick it up. As he ponders what crucial element he is missing, Abby points out what they're really missing is oxygen - they all only have roughly 3000 breaths left, they don't have time to stand around wasting them trying to figure this out.

As they move through the corridor towards the core, which is the most secure part of the facility, the zombies have figured out how to bypass the jammed doorlock. This isn't just an excuse for more tension/danger, but again a necessary bit of foreshadowing for the eventual resolution of the plot: these suits aren't "smart", but they're designed to get around obstacles to their objectives in some limited way. They flood through into the room, one touching Tasker's suit and transferring the line of code to "upgrade" it. Calmly the voice of the suit informs him to remain calm while his central nervous system is disabled, killing him, his corpse hauled along by his now "infected" suit as it joins the others in attempting to reach the off-network suits and "update" them. With no choice but to move through the airlock and go outside where the suits are capable of moving faster than they are, they put on their helmets as the forcefields aren't strong enough to handle the vacuum of space. But, of course, Bill's does not work, and now we have the callback to his opening lecture where he discussed the affects of a vacuum on the human body. Bill listened intently, of course, and knows she can't hold her breath. The airlock opening sequence can't be aborted, plus the zombies are coming after them, so they have no choice but to make the best of a bad situation.



Capaldi, Lucas and Mackie are all just excellent.

Bill awakens from distorted memories of her suit walking her through the vacuum, of the survivors blasting the following zombies and knocking one spinning off into space, of a helmetless Doctor reaching towards her as she blacked out. Looking around, she sees the disturbing sight of the zombies clustered at an open door but making no move to come through. Silently she tries to ask her suit what is happening, and it loudly and happily explains it is currently offline for diagnostic purposes, which is why she can't move her arms or legs. Ivan and Nardole arrive and fills her in on what happened - the Doctor hacked her suit to walk through space after them, and they've reached a part of the station that was recently upgraded, and the maps/records haven't yet been updated, so as far as the suits can tell it's just empty space they can't traverse. Bill remembers seeing the Doctor without a helmet, and they explain he took his off and gave her his... and it's affected him badly, Ivan has no clue how he survived (the 3rd Doctor explained waaaaay back in the day that Time Lords have a respitory bypass and can survive longer without air than humans, though the answer is also as simple as,"He's an alien"). But as they move to meet up with the Doctor and the others, Nardole comments that he's in "Section Twelve" and the zombies hear him, and demonstrate that limited problem-solving ability once again, beginning to hunt through the system for a map of that section.

The Doctor is not in a good way, he paid a price for his walk through the vacuum, his eyes have turned milky white and he can no longer see anything. He assures Bill that in the TARDIS he'll be able to fix his eyes, and jokes that he'll be insufferable once he saves the day yet again considering everything going against him. Bill tells him not to try and distract her with jokes and he comments that this is what jokes are for, which will be incredibly important very shortly. Good news arrives of a sort, an alarm sounding means a company ship is coming, their rescue is at hand. But that raises the question of who the Doctor is, because if he was the rescue ship responding to their distress call... then why is there ANOTHER rescue ship? Abby, understandably aggressive and looking for answers, threatens them with a gun, but as they argue nobody notices the zombies have filled in the blanks on their station map and have entered the room. One "updates" Dahh-ren and the rest of the survivors make a run for it, figuring out that the suits used voice recognition to track them down (again, extremely important). But as they run, Bill's suit malfunctions yet again and locks her into place, she can't run or walk or do anything but stand in place as the suits approach. The others try to lift her but the suit locks her into place with gravity boots, because health and safety regulations forbid the movement of an occupied suit that has locked down (this is just beautiful irony). They can't even get her out of the suit, it controls even the release mechanism (there is a reason this thing was in for repair), and the suit cheerfully warns them not to interfere further or suffer a fine. Bill jokes (i.e, distracts) that she's going to be fined to death, and the Doctor takes this all in and comes to a sudden realization.... they have to leave her there, she's going to have to trust him. She's not going to die, but she is going to go through hell... but he promises her she'll come out the other side. He refuses to answer when she asks if he'd tell her she wasn't going to die if she WAS going to die, and when she pleads with him to tell her a joke before he goes he still says nothing. She watches in horror as he and others abandon to her, her final thoughts on the mother she never knew, who only exists as a fictional entity in her mind... and then the suits reach her.



This episode has been great so far, claustrophobic and scary, with a great "monster" that is scary because of how indifferent it is - it functions without malice, it is simply performing the functions it is programmed to, and it does not/can not grasp the significance of the "organic component" is is "deactivating". The inexorable hunt, the picking off of the survivors, now the loss of Bill etc, all drive the story's tension. But like every episode prior to this one in this season, we're about to see the "twist", the shift in perspective that lets us see that things aren't exactly what they seem. Or, perhaps more frightening, that things are exactly as many of the viewers probably immediately guessed they were.

Inside the reactor core, the Doctor is busily at work rewiring the systems in spite of his blindness. Nardole thinks he is trying to split the water inside the core into water and oxygen to give them another 5 minutes worth of oxygen ("we could boil the hell out of an egg!" the Doctor concurs), and that his actions are just to distract himself from the horror and guilt of having lost Bill. He insists this wasn't the Doctor's fault, who retorts that people are always saying things weren't their fault, trying to shift the blame or responsibility. But as bad as things are now, there's always one last option available - dying well. To Abby and Ivan's horror, they realize he's tied the reactor's coolant system to their lifesigns. Now if the suits kill them, it'll overload the reactor and destroy the station and the suits with it. Nardole is disgusted, the best the Doctor can come up with is revenge?

See here, this moment here is when I'm sure 99% of viewers immediately figured out exactly what the Doctor's plan was. Because the alternative was that the writer just absolutely did not "get" the Doctor. A character who always looks for another way, who won't accept death/killing as a reasonable alternative even when it seems like the ONLY way. But even that 1% of viewers who didn't figure it out must have known something was up, because simply put Jamie Mathieson is too good a writer and everything up to this point has been too good for it to suddenly go completely off-character out of nowhere.

Abby reminds a seemingly gloating Doctor that a suicide pact isn't necessary, a rescue ship is on the way. At which point finally the true villain of the piece of revealed to an audience who probably guessed it a long time ago. The Doctor figured it out at some point too, but he quite importantly didn't voice it - not just for drama's sake or a writer wanting to spring a surprise on the viewer, but as the natural extension of story-beats and factors introduced throughout the course of the episode. There is no rescue ship and there never was. It left before their distress call was ever sent. There was no hack, no planned robbery or malicious prankster. They themselves admitted their productivity had fallen in recent times, and this was the corporation's response to that drop in productivity - deactivate the organic components.

The Doctor posted:

The end point of capitalism. A bottom line where human life has no value at all. We're fighting an algorithm, a spreadsheet. Like every worker, everywhere, we're fighting the suits.

Making the "monster" of the episode capitalism isn't unique to sci-fi or even to Doctor Who, but it's probably the most effective use of it I can recall seeing. Because we never see the "bad guys", no face or corporation name or sneering figure who openly declares their philosophy. Because capitalism is an ideology, it is faceless and formless, it dehumanizes and reduces people to numbers on paper. Which is why the Doctor's comment on workers everywhere fighting the suits is so welcoming, and puts the psychic paper identifying him as a member of "the Union" in a whole new light. This is Capitalism pushed to the extreme, to the point where oxygen being a commodity is just an accepted fact, where the power relationship between workers and "suits" is more unbalanced than ever. Which makes the fact that this doesn't feel TOO exaggerated even scarier - profit over people, workers as interchangeable "components", unions reduced to the point they're considered mythical, a memory from the distant past. That the Doctor stands opposed to such an ideology makes sense, that the show Doctor Who would be allowed to be so openly, brazenly left-wing is a real (and pleasant) surprise.

So the Doctor convinces them to die well, to hit them in the only place where it will actually hurt the corporation - their pocketbooks. Destroy the station along with them, prove that they're not just "components" that can be "deactivated" just to improve their bottom line. And it's a great speech, and a convincing one, as Abby opens the doors and lets the suits through fully prepared to die.... and of course the Doctor was lying, of course he wasn't telling them the full truth, because if there is one thing the Doctor has NEVER accepted, it's that death is the only solution.

The Doctor posted:

Hello, suits. Our deaths will be brave and brilliant and unafraid. But above all, suits, our deaths will be.... expensive!

The suits immediately pause. They have no thoughts or emotions, no vested interest. All they know is what their programming tells them, which is that above all else expenses must be kept to a minimum, the station MUST be profitable. With great glee, the Doctor explains he has turned the ideology against itself - before they were too expensive to live, now they are too expensive to die. He welcomes Ivan and Abby to the rest of their lives, and when they point out he told them they were as dead as Bill, he points out that - just as he promised her - she isn't dead either!



Once again: Capaldi, Lucas and Mackie really are all just excellent.

Everything in this episode is earned, everything was laid out and made sense. We knew Bill's suit was malfunctioning, that it's power was low, that the suits "deactivated the organic component" by zapping their central nervous system to kill them etc. The Doctor saw there wasn't enough power for a lethal charge, that Bill would "go through hell" but come out the other side. But he didn't tell anyone, because they'd already learned that the suits could use voice recognition to grasp their plans/locations and get them to that way. So he convinced Abby and Ivan to be willing to kill themselves, so the threat would appear real to the suits until he'd finally been able to get them in the room and explain the new situation.

Uncomfortably, Ivan and Abby are "embraced" by the suits which switch out their (useless to them) oxygen tanks to ensure Ivan and Abby are kept alive. For Ivan it's a bittersweet victory, as the suit giving him his new oxygen tank contains the corpse of his partner, but they are alive.

Returned to the TARDIS (presumably the suits went out into the vacuum and got the door open), the Doctor gets his eyes scanned by a device held by Nardole, clearing the milkiness out of them. His eyes dart about and he casually jokes about being unaware they were in the TARDIS. He offers Abby and Ivan the chance to go anywhere/when, but they want to go straight to head office to "make a complaint" - they want the Galactic Empire to know what low regard human life is held in.

Back in his school office in our present, the Doctor notes to Bill that from memory there was a rebellion a few months after the time they dropped the two off, which ended corporate domination in space and "that about wraps it up for capitalism". Of course he admits that the human race went on to make another stupid, far-reaching mistake directly afterwards (a pointed jab at communism perhaps?) but that's a story for another time.

So the episode ends, sans an incredibly clunky lead-in to the follow up episode as the Doctor blares for any audience member not quite smart enough to get the incredibly obvious - he's still blind. But I'll always forget that clunky final line, because it feels so separated from the rest of the excellent episode. This is another winner from Jamie Mathieson, a rare (as it should be) episode that just openly makes a political statement and plonks the Doctor very firmly down in opposition to a particular ideology. But take away the denouncement of capitalism and it's still a great episode. It's so well written, everything is so clearly laid out, every resolution earned, every character beat having meaning. It's a high watermark for the season up to this point, and up to this point I feel like the season has already been very good anyway. I can't recommend it highly enough, and I'll come back to this episode for rewatches many times in the future I'm sure, just like I have for Mummy on the Orient Express and Flatline. If Mathieson never writes for the show again (and who knows, he might not) then what a way to go out. Just marvelous.

2house2fly
Nov 14, 2012

You did a super job wrapping things up! And I'm not just saying that because I have to!

Mathieson originally had the Doctor recover his sight, but Moffat told him to keep him blind, so that last line might have been a last minute rewrite just shoved in. I kind of like that it's so overwrought, really, and having that reveal delivered as a lame pun is classic Mathieson ("we're fighting the suits!" / "you're relived, soldier" "he's not the only one")

Stabbatical
Sep 15, 2011



drat it, I thought this'd be a case of Toxx going "the idea is great but the execution is flawed" for some reason known only to them. Guess I'm basically out of the game. :(

Still, it is a really good episode and I hope Mathieson gets an episode or two next series.

I wonder if Moffat had decided to make The Doctor blind only after reading this script or if he'd planned on doing it at some point anyway and Mathieson's script happend to be serendipitous.

Stabbatical fucked around with this message at 17:55 on Aug 17, 2017

TinTower
Apr 21, 2010

You don't have to 8e a good person to 8e a hero.


Get Rachel Talalay to direct a Jamie Mathieson episode.

CityMidnightJunky
May 11, 2013

by Smythe


I'm going to have to watch Oxygen again.

One of the many reasons I like Flatline and Orient Express so much is because of how visually distinct they were from most other Doctor Who episodes. Just the aesthetic of the episodes: the locations, the costumes, the music and the monsters themselves, it all felt really fresh at the time. When Matheson then came up with a 'zombie on a space station' story I was a little disappointed because corridors, space stations and zombies is pretty much every other episode of Doctor Who. Matheson had made himself so exciting and unique that I kind of had unrealistic expectations for the next episode, and that's also probably why I didn't get an immediate sense of 'that was awesome' that I did with his previous two.

NieR Occomata
Jan 18, 2009


Quick update: my laptop refuses to display anything but the bios when it turns on, and nothing else. I think my computer is hosed.

This will significantly screw up my updating for at least the next episode, assuming my computer eventually fixes itself. If it doesn't ill have to figure out another solution (I'm writing this post on my tablet).

Senor Tron
May 25, 2006




Any updates on the review front?

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Edward Mass
Sep 14, 2011

*dubstep intensifies*


Yes, I want to hear thoughts on the adventures of the blind Doctor.

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