Doctor Who: Three things we’re thinking about after ‘Oxygen’


The new season of Doctor Who is here, and Twelve and Bill are off on new adventures. Here are three things we’re thinking about after “Oxygen”.

The latest episode of Doctor Who was pretty terrifying. And not just because space is scary (it is), or there were pseudo-zombies wandering around (there were), or that humanity is capable of dark things in pursuit of financial gain (it is). There are definitely solid scares throughout this episode, not to mention a rather intense feeling of claustrophobia. But the most frightening thing is probably the realization that it’s possible to hurt the Doctor, in a way that he might not be able to recover from.

Since the Doctor regenerates, you might be forgiven for thinking that’s the same thing as immortal. Which, given enough incarnations, is probably pretty true. But just because the Doctor repeatedly cheats death by becoming a new version of himself, that’s not nearly the same thing as being indestructible. And this episode reminds us, for those who might have forgotten, that Doctor Who can take real risks and have real consequences. (I really loved this episode, if that wasn’t clear.)

But it certainly left us with several big cliffhangers. So here are three things we’re thinking about, after “Oxygen”, as we look forward to next Saturday:

The State of the Doctor’s Vision

The big cliffhanger coming out of “Oxygen” is obviously that the Doctor is blind. And not only is he blind, he is purposefully keeping it from Bill. On the fact of it, this is a fantastic twist. It’s bold, risky and no one has any idea what could possibly happen next. We’ve never seen a version of the Doctor that’s seriously disabled or incapacitated like this before. Basically: Whenever we’ve seen a Time Lord sustain a particularly bad injury, regeneration wasn’t far off. And though there are plenty of rumors going around insisting that Twelve may become Thirteen prior to the 2017 Christmas special, there’s no way that Peter Capaldi is regenerating in episode 6. So, what is a seriously injured Doctor like? How vulnerable is he? And does Twelve really think that just wandering around in those stupid sunglasses will keep Bill from learning the truth?

There are probably two ways this storyline can go. One, is that Twelve gets his sight back, but probably not for a couple of episodes. Next week’s installment, titled “Extremis”, supposedly kicks off a three-part season 10 story, which includes new monsters The Monks. (Yes, we’re doing three parters on Who again, apparently.) If Moffat and company plan to heal the Doctor, then the third episode of this Monks trilogy seems like the most logical place to do so. But…what if they’re not planning on healing him at all? The knowledge that Peter Capaldi is leaving the show at the end of the season makes a lot of wild ideas suddenly feel possible. And one of the most popular fan theories of the moment is that season 10 is basically an extremely drawn-out death sequence for Twelve.

The basic idea is that a series of injuries will somehow leave this incarnation of the Doctor so damaged or vulnerable that he’ll have to regenerate at some point (probably in order to save the day). That seems plausible, particularly now that Twelve is blind. But it also seems like a massive red herring meant to fake fans out. After all, Ten got shot by a Dalek and managed to not immediately regenerate thanks to elaborate handwaving. It seems extremely likely that this is a situation the writers would have no qualms just writing themselves out of with a trick like that. After all, they’ve done it before.

Nardole is Kinda Weird, Right?

Is it just me or is Nardole extremely strange this season? Perhaps it’s that we haven’t really gotten to spend much time with him, despite being five episodes into season 10. Maybe it’s that he’s just extra cranky after having to bear the brunt of babysitting whatever is in that mysterious vault. But something certainly seems off.

“Oxygen” is the first episode in which he actually got to travel with Bill and Twelve. Granted, he didn’t do much other than serve as general comic relief, making a series of jokes about an ex that fell increasingly flat. But his character just seems so different than the last time we saw him, back in “The Return of Doctor Mysterio”. There, he was generally charming and caring. And it seemed quite obvious that he and the Doctor had a fairly solid relationship. (The Doctor reassembled Nardole so he’d have someone to talk to!)

Now, perhaps that is on purpose. Maybe they want us to wonder what happened between “Mysterio” and whenever Nardole and Twelve acquired this vault. Or perhaps it’s just a sign of what a drain this vault guarding business is on everyone involved. But things between the two of them feel so different that it’s hard not to wonder why.

“Oxygen” also raises some questions about Nardole’s personal timeline. That he is now a robot seems obvious. He has actual screws and other robotic bits falling off him now. (Plus, we saw him get beheaded and absorbed by King Hydroflax back in “The Husbands of River Song”.) But was some kind of robot before that too? This episode sure seems to imply it.

"Nardole: Haven’t seen my true face for years. Swapped it for this one on the run."

So…what does this mean, exactly? Apparently the Matt Lucas look isn’t Nardole’s original form? Then what is he? Was he always a cyborg, and that explains how he survived the Hydroflax situation? Is he a shapeshifter? Or some other form of alien that regenerates like a Time Lord?

Whose Diary is That in the Trailer for Next Week?

For a season of Doctor Who that isn’t supposed to have Alex Kingston in it, we’ve sure seen a lot of River Song in Season 10. Not specifically, of course, but her presence is pretty much all around. River’s photo is on the Doctor’s desk in “The Pilot”. Twelve and Bill go back to the very same nineteenth-century Frost Fair that Eleven and River famously had a date at. Even new companion Nardole serves as a reminder. He worked for River, after all.

And now, there’s something that looks suspiciously like River’s diary in the trailer for next week’s episode, “Extremis”:

There’s a very clear shot of a TARDIS journal there. But what we don’t know, is if it’s River’s famous SPOILERS! journal, or the one the Doctor kept himself. It could be either. After all, they both had one.

We probably have to assume that, after the events of “The Husbands of River Song”, we’ve seen the last of River’s character. That story pretty much brought her character and her timeline full circle. But we also know that when River became part of the Library in Season 4’s The Silence in the Library, she left her journal behind. So, it could be her book. But what benefit it might provide the Doctor – particularly if River isn’t exactly around in a physical form anymore – is unclear. At any rather, it seems very unlikely that the trailer would show such a clear shot of that object unless it meant something. Clearly the Doctor Who powers-that-be want us to think about River here. The real question is why?

Next: Doctor Who season 10, episode 5 recap and review: “Oxygen”

Doctor Who season 10 continues Saturday, May 20 on BBC One and BBC America.