This week’s Doctor Who may have elicited a giant gasp at the end, but thanks to the deft skills of episode writer Jamie Mathieson (“Mummy on the Orient Express,” among others) I was a little short on “Oxygen” myself the whole way through.
The hour kicks off with a scene reminiscent of Gravity, before taking a left turn into The Walking Dead, as Ellie, one of the residents on the Chasm Forge mining station, builds up the courage to tell her partner, Ivan, she wants a baby — only to turn into a zombie minutes later.
Sadly, this is not one of the many ways of dying in space the Doctor is outlining for his class. As we quickly learn, the main problem is the lack of pressure, so do not hold your breath or your lungs will explode. Also, all your bodily fluids will start to boil thanks to the vacuum. (It almost makes me miss the infestation of nightmare bugs from last week. Almost.) It also makes the Doctor wistful for space, as Nardole cannily notes. But he’s powerless to prevent the Time Lord and Bill from blasting into space when they decide to answer a distress call (a.k.a. the Doctor’s “theme tune”), so he just comes along for the adventure.
Upon touching down on the Chasm Forge — like they’d go anywhere else — the trio quickly realize that not only is most of the crew dead save for four survivors, but that there is no oxygen beyond what the TARDIS has provided, and the company’s suits are supplying (for a price). Of course, it doesn’t take them long to discover that zombies are huge part of the problem. So they get into three for repair suits in an effort to get to safety, slowly learning that they only have a certain number of breaths they’re allowed to take before they run out.
Bill starts to panic, but the Doctor advises her to try to relax, and not hyperventilate. To quote Nardole, “Relax or die.” Not that this advice helps much, the new companion is the most scared we’ve ever seen her, and her malfunctioning, talking suit is only making things worse. Like when it decides to take off her helmet as she, the three survivors they find (Tasker, Abby, and Ivan), the Doctor, and Nardole, decide to escape the zombies by going outside the station, into space.
What follows is a sequence as horrifying as that Magic School Bus episode where Arnold took off his helmet in space (you know the the one), as Bill, only protected by a flimsy air bubble, slowly begins to pass out and frost over — all while a range of scary-sounding things are happening around her.
In any case, she wakes up safe and sound (for the most part) back inside the station. The only catch? The Doctor gave her his helmet so she’d survive, rendering him blind. It’s also his third “big” loss of the episode considering that he’s blocked from returning to the TARDIS, and the first zombie crushed his sonic screwdriver. Nonetheless, the Time Lord taps into his stores of bravado to ask Bill that “Can you imagine how unbearable I’m going to be when I pull this off?”
When the zombies, or rather the suits controlling them, figure out how to get into Section 12, where they’re hiding, the group attempts to make its way to the reactor core. Only Bill’s suit straight up magnetizes its boots, preventing her from walking —
and anyone from lifting her.
With the zombies hot on their trail, and no real option to bring her along, the Doctor makes the split second decision to leave Bill behind. And while he doesn’t tell her a joke like she asks, he does advise her, “You will go through hell. And you will come through it. And I will be on the other side.” As the zombies get her suit (causing it to deactivate its “organic component”) Bill calls out for mum, breaking both the Doctor and my heart.