315 – Doctor Who – Oxygen

A space station, a distress call and an empty space suit all walk into a bar…

It must be Jamie Mathieson’s Oxygen – the latest episode of Doctor Who.

Ben and Eugene size up this story’s anti-capitalism street cred.

4 thoughts on “315 – Doctor Who – Oxygen”

  1. I’m in agreement this is 5 for 5 though I think I rate this episode more highly than you do! However I really only considered the episode on its own merits; as the consequences for the season arc could be handled well or badly (as, at the time of commenting, we’ve already seen… though that’s another conversation…)

    I don’t think there were even any oxygen bars around when Ben Elton wrote his prescient privatisation satire Gasping in 1990.

    The point that venting the oxygen is wasteful or a missed opportunity isn’t a failure of writing – it is the actual point being made about the economics of private ownership. In this situation the commodity is – as near as dammit – perfectly inelastic. Overheads such as capture, QA, conditioning and distribution could only diminish the margin.

    The varying attitudes to health & safety between different countries is very interesting (and not something I’d thought much about). I’m not sure I understand what you’re criticising in the episode, though – however I must apologise I’m posting half way through listening; maybe this will become clearer to me once I get a chance to listen to the last 20 minutes.

    1. Can we agree the episode is a satire?

      Does satire, in itself, give us the freedom to dispense with sense/reality to make the greater point?

      If Doctor Who went to Johnathan Swift’s Brobdingnag, would we be talking about the biology and physics that makes such creatures impossible? I think yes because Doctor Who still seems to try to hold on to a veneer of feasibility. So, the statement that Doctor Who can tell any kind of story whatsoever is… not strictly true.

      (Thought exercise: Are Lilliputians more scientifically plausible than Brobdingnagians?)

      Does satire rely on unreality to such a degree that it cannot work within plausible science? (or even economics?) For example, that war broke out because of which end of a boiled egg one should crack first is satire, but scientifically plausible.

      Anyway, the question is, must we always give them a “pass” because they’re trying to make a satirical point? Do you have to earn that pass or is that the default position? I don’t have answers to those questions.

      Let’s turn to economics.

      I take your point, a commentary on the wastefulness of Capitalism and private ownership of resources are fair. Does it apply here, though? If the demand for Oxygen is truly inelastic, my understanding of the term means that people will buy it no matter what the cost to the consumer. Doesn’t that mean that margin is irrelevant since the company with the commodity can simply raise the price without any fear of diminished demand?

      They could literally say, “Someone dumped a bunch of oxygen in our station, and we have to raise your price on oxygen accordingly because of increase costs for us handling it.”

      It would more convincing if the company hadn’t changed their strategy mid-way through – first venting the oxygen, then later collecting the oxygen they couldn’t vent. Also, still trying to figure out what was in the station all along that made it “not hard vaccuum. Are they filling the station with an inert gas to keep the pressure up?

      Is the value of selling oxygen really worth more than the inefficiency resulting from everyone wearing a spacesuit all of the time?

      Writer’s points made about the more seedy aspects of Capitalism, but could they have been made better if the scenarios were more realistic?

      1. We can agree it’s satirical… though I’m not fan of the notion works of fiction need a ‘pass’ in order to include things that are made up. I kinda think that’s part of the remit already.

        I don’t know about the pressure/vacuum thing. Your point seems like a good one – I just don’t know enough about it. On the economics point, what you say is correct, but when you ask about whether one thing is worth the trade off for another (oxygen sales vs efficiency) you’re looking at it from societal perspective – but again, the satirical point here is it’s not a question of objective value, it’s a question of who can make a buck here. No one’s going to make more money selling the oxygen than they would venting it.

  2. I picked up the fluid link reference, but I didn’t think through the implications for what that meant about what the Doctor did that first time on Skaro. It’s a fascinating point: did the Doctor just like (like usual) or did he reach a point of self-delusion where he felt it more honest to genuinely risk everyone lives! Either way, I want to have a rewatch of The Daleks now.

    Second viewing of the scenes in the TARDIS, I picked up the same things (touching the console; he’s on home ground) and concluded that he was faking it. I don’t think he was looking directly at whoever was speaking, just in the general direction.

    “I don’t want have to watch a second time to understand it, because that’s WRONG.”

    So speaks someone who’s never watched Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy? šŸ˜‰

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