This is the first episode this series where the plot is sufficiently meaty in its own right, thanks to the ever reliable Jamie Mathieson, and it marks a tipping point whereby the whimsy that characterised the first few episodes makes way for an all together more serious tone, thanks to the harrowing events that take place here.
But it’s not all doom and gloom – Nardole gets to come along, yay! His grumpiness at being on an adventure in the first place adds a lot of comic relief, and Matt Lucas steals the show several times throughout, from his quip about some of his best friends being blueish, to his little utterance of “cuddle” when he barges in on Bill and the Doctor’s hug at the end.
The main action consists of a reasonably toothy satire on the excesses of capitalism. Big corporations are often the bad guys on Doctor Who and in sci-fi in general, but it has to be said that The Doctor’s left-wing tendencies have been out in force recently, and I for one obviously approve. Here he describes a post-revolutionary, non-corporate future for space exploration, and ends it with “and that’s about it for capitalism”. There’s no doubt as to the moral of this story.
But to get there, the Doctor first has to sacrifice his eyesight in order to save Bill from the vacuum of space, only for her to have her nervous system shut down by an evil spacesuit minutes later. Both events are harrowing for the characters and viewers alike, but superbly written and acted. It’s such a shocking sight to see the Doctor impaired in this way, him temporarily becoming one of TV’s very few disabled heroes. The later revelation that his blindness wasn’t cured after all ranks of one of the greatest cliffhangers of recent times, fundamentally altering the premise of the show, for a while at least.
But if I’m honest, the main thing I’ll always remember from this episode is that Ganymede Systems, the aforementioned evil corporation who sell oxygen and kill their employees when they become inefficient, have the exact same aesthetic as Ganymede & Titan, the Red Dwarf fansite I’ve run for over fifteen years. Given that the two shows share a graphic designer, Matthew Clarke, I’d like to think that this is not a coincidence, although I’m scared to ask him because I know deep down that it probably is.