THIS REVIEW MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS
Ignoring his Earth-bound mission yet again and admitting to missing space travel, The Doctor takes Bill and Nardole on a random trip in the TARDIS. Drawn to a distress call, the TARDIS materialises aboard a mysterious mining station which they discover that it is completely devoid of oxygen and that most of the crew have been killed by an unknown force that has been attacking and slowly turning them into what can best be described as zombies…
They soon discover that the station is fully automated and that oxygen is only available through the use of powered space suits that must be purchased by the suit users in order to survive. That wouldn’t be a problem for the trio if it wasn’t for the fact that the station’s computer system has been hacked and has sent a signal to the suits to terminate all of the suits’ human inhabitants. Needing oxygen to survive, their only option was to use three damaged suits and try to team up with the station’s remaining survivors to get to safety and return to the TARDIS.
Realising the fastest route is by walking outside the station the group get to the nearest airlock but disaster strikes. Bill’s suit fails leaving her without a helmet to protect her from the vacuum of space. To save her from it, the Doctor gives her his but pays a price in doing so being left blinded. Still under attack on the station by the automated suits occupied by the dead crew, the survivors continue to run but not before Bill becomes their latest victim.
What transpires is that in reality it’s not a system hack has lead to the death of the crew but has been an intentional plan of the mining station’s owners all along. Realising that the station wasn’t running at a profit they simply decided to replace the crew and hope for a more efficient operation with a replacement team. On realising this, the Doctor decides that the best way to stop them was to make the entire operation lose as much money as possible… by destroying the station itself. Upon realising the nature of the threat, the system backs down and allows the remaining crew to live.
Once the situation has been resolved with the remaining crew reinstated, the Doctor, Bill and Nardole return to the TARDIS where Nardole restores the Doctor’s damaged vision before returning back to the University. After Bill leaves, Nardole confronts the Doctor over his conduct, putting the trio in danger when the Doctor reveals that the medical procedure failed and that he is still blind leaving him vulnerable to whatever lurks in the vault below…
Story wise this was quite a packed episode. For the bulk of it, it followed the expected path that you would expect from a typical sci-fi horror tale – a crew trapped about a ship or outpost, under attack, slowly being picked off one by one. It’s nothing original but it was done well and that added tension of the limited oxygen worked well and was a welcome change to the usual limited weaponry or other clichéd character restrictions in place with stories like this.
I was impressed with the dead crew that were the focus of the episode and they were suitably chilling as the main antagonists of the story. They were reminiscent of both the Borg and Cybermen in mannerisms, movement and their on-screen presence and I’m sure that was no coincidence but it really helped to make them feel more threatening. Looking at them logically, all they could actually do from a movement point of view was walk so as long as the remaining crew could move faster they’d survive but it didn’t prevent them from coming across as being a serious threat.
Characterisation, the script and performances overall were superb although I was saddened to see the issue of racism raise its head again. It’s already been covered before in the series just two episodes earlier and I was hoping that it was something that wouldn’t be brought into the series again. Yes, even today it’s still something that needs to be dealt with and addressed but Mackie deserves better than to have her character reduced to being a platform for equality campaigning.
Finally Nardole is given something substantial to do in the episode rather being used solely for comic relief and I was pleasantly surprised to see Matt Lucas rise to the challenge. Straight from the start Nardole he took on a more serious tone in the way we’d expect from a typical companion, mixed with some comedic elements to lighten the tension throughout the story. The real highlight for me was the final scene at the end of the episode where he confronted the Doctor about his arrogance and flippant disregard towards his mission on Earth was superb and that made up for all of the comedic elements of the season so far. Showing this duality to the character really add depth to Nardole and with it brought out a new level of performance from Lucas as well which I found refreshing and promising for the rest of the series.
Overall though I found it to be another great episode and approaching the half-way mark this is certainly showing the signs of being the best season since the departure of David Tennant.
All photos are © BBC and used with permission.