Doctor Who: Extremis
Hello, Whovians! What an episode, and an unexpected two-parter no less!
“Extremis” was the first episode this season that was written by showrunner Steven Moffat, and you could definitely tell: it was a perfect example of all of the things I like about his writing, as well as the things that I do not like.
Let’s get into it, shall we? Spoilers after the break, sweeties!
“Extremis” opened on a flashback, and it jumped between the past and the present day adventure throughout the rest of the story. We join The Doctor as he is being shown a device that will most certainly kill a Timelord by a person named Rafando who describes himself as an “executioner to every species.” It is not immediately clear who is going to be executed, and I was very confused. I know that The Doctor carries around a lot of guilt, but I never once thought that he was suicidal. However, as Rafando explains that each execution must be carried out by another member of the same species, it is revealed that The Doctor is not there to be executed but to be the executioner to The Master, who is still in the regeneration known as Missy.
We then jump to the present day, where The Doctor is relying on Nardole to keep his blindness a secret from everyone (including Bill), along with basic information (what species/sex/age/etc. of lifeforms in front of him) available via his sonic sunglasses (which I am pleased to say are finally serving a plot-driven purpose). Keeping this secret proves difficult almost immediately. While brooding in the lecture hall, The Doctor is startled to find several old men entering the room as Nardole begs him to hear them out. It turns out that most of the higher-ups at the Vatican are standing in front of him, including the current Pope.
They had been recommended to The Doctor by a previous Pope from the 11th century, Benedict IX. Apparently, the Vatican has an ancient text called Veritas. Many years ago a sect translated it, and then all died by mass suicide. The text has now been translated again, and everyone who worked on the project has also died by mass suicide, save one. As The Doctor does a terrible job pretending he isn’t blind, the group explains that they would like him to read the Veritas because they need to know what to do to stop the tragedy that follows the text.
We then join Bill back at her foster mom’s flat (I greatly appreciated the reference they made to “Knock Knock“) along with her hopefully-a-date Penny. As the women make awkward small talk and dodge pretty homophobic comments from Bill’s foster mom, they are interrupted by the sound of the TARDIS materializing in Bill’s bedroom and the Pope stumbling into the kitchen. Penny, understandably, runs away screaming and Bill storms into the TARDIS to establish boundaries with The Doctor. Nardole catches her before she can really give The Doctor a piece of her mind and fills her in, as The Doctor sonics some sort of reading aide. In a quiet moment, Nardole asks why he is keeping his blindness a secret from Bill, and guesses that it is because once she knows, it becomes real.
The whole entourage heads off to a secret library minus all but one of their holy escort. It turns out the library is guarded by a portrait of Benedict IX, who is apparently a lady The Doctor was sexually, if not romantically, involved with. This annoyed me. First of all, there is a rumored female pope during the medieval ages who was named Joan so why change a random Pope into a woman? Secondly, I’ve noticed that the vast majority of the male-female relationships that Moffat writes are implied to be sexual in nature. Every single woman The Doctor has ever met seems to have had some sort of dalliance with him to the point where I’ve begun to wonder if Moffat has ever had a platonic female friend (here meaning a female friend that he did not on some level want to sleep with). I know it is all meant to be cheeky, but it rubs me completely the wrong way because it implies that all these women The Doctor has met are just sex objects.
Anyway, Doctor and company enter a very cool library that apparently contains works of blasphemy, such as Harry Potter (ha!). On their way to the blasphemous text in question, Veritas, a portal of light opens up on the wall and a figure that The Doctor’s glasses do not recognize stands in its glow. The priest leading the way stays to examine the wall while The Doctor, Bill, and Nardole continue on without him. Once they reach the mysterious Veritas, they are startled to find a man in the cage containing it. Things escalate quickly when the man reveals that he has a pistol, exclaims that he sent “it” and runs away. Meanwhile the camera cuts back to the priest they have left behind, a decaying inhuman hand reaches through the portal and grabs him.
In the cage, it turns out that the man has been there for days translating the text onto a laptop, and he has sent the translation via email to CERN. The Doctor asks aloud, “Partial physicists and priests; what could scare them both?” This also annoyed me because it painted the view of science and religion being polar opposites. I think this view is especially condescending because it implies that neither party is capable of believing in both a higher power and data-proven fact.
Back in the show, I was distracted from my grumblings by the sound of a gunshot offscreen. While everyone knew instinctively that the mysterious man had shot himself, The Doctor still sends Bill and Nardole off to make sure while promising that he would not read the text without them.
As a surprise to no one, he then immediately opens the book and pulls out his reading device, attaches the various stickies involved in using it to his head, and powers the gadget on before passing out.
As Nardole and Bill walk towards the source of the gunshot, Nardole is being annoyingly overprotective and macho to Bill, who is not having any of that crap, thank-you-very-much. They reach a friendly truce as they come upon the body and find another bright portal open behind it. The two agree that it would be incredibly stupid to go and look and then mutually agree to go and look anyway. I enjoyed this moment because while Nardole’s specific reason for accompanying The Doctor is unclear, the two companions clearly both share a sense of curiosity.
To their shock, it turns out that Bill and Nardole have followed the portal to the Pentagon, which they immediately leave upon being discovered on a secure floor. After further investigation, each portal is a door to a center circular room of many entrances leading to different important places around the Earth. They walk through another at random and find themselves in the CERN lab that the man sent the translation of the Veritas to. There they are met by a scientist who guides them to the cafeteria saying, “We’re all going together when we go”.
Meanwhile back in the Varitas cage, The Doctor’s eyesight is temporarily fixed because the device allowed him to “borrow from his future” for 20 minutes. While not perfect, he has enough sight to read the translation and as he monologues, but one of the strange figures appears. This is the first up-close look we’ve gotten at the creatures, and they are creepy, zombie-like, and wearing red robes. As the Doctor realizes he is not talking to Nardole, the figures surround him, but true to Doctor form, he figures out a way to escape while stealing the laptop with the translation.
Meanwhile in the CERN cafeteria, Bill and Nardole find every scientist at the facility drinking and chatting while a timer counts down from 5 minutes, and explosives wait underneath every table.
Back in a corner of the library, The Doctor’s eyesight goes away again and a zombie-thing appears just as he gets a chance to start reading. As he runs away in frustration, a portal opens in front of him and he jumps though.
At CERN the scientists explain that they are saving the world because this isn’t actually the world. As a test, Bill and Nardole are asked to say a random number at the same time. As the two list off the same numbers simultaneously, the entire room joins in. Just before the countdown ends, Nardole and Bill flee.
Once they’re back in the center room with many portals, it is evident that Nardole is not okay. He’s figured out that all of the worlds are projections and needs to know what exists behind the light of the projectors. He reaches his hand behind one and watches as it disappears. It turns out that Nardole is a projection too, and he disintegrates into pixels while Bill watches in horror. Once alone, she decides to follow a trail of blood on the floor into another portal, rightly assuming it belongs to The Doctor.
She ends up in the Oval Office of the White House where she finds The Doctor and the dead President of the United States. The Doctor explains that they’ve both read the Veritas, or listened to it, on the laptop. He explains that the text tells of an evil demon who created a shadow world to practice conquering the real world. The number test that the CERN scientists were using is a test in the book. Because computer programs are bad at coming up with random sequences, if you think of any “random” string of numbers and are an AI, you will find them written on the next page.
Bill has a hard time believing she’s not real, but according to The Doctor when the simulations realize what they are they rebel. The suicides aren’t suicides, they are the AI’s deleting themselves from the simulation so that the demon can no longer learn from them. Bill’s simulation is then deleted by one of the creepy figures, which we now know are demons. The Doctor confronts the creature and gives the “I am what is standing between you and that universe” speech, refusing to let the fact he is not real stop him from saving the world. He explains to the demon that they made a mistake by making their simulation too good, that a recording of the past few hours exists in his sonic sunglasses, and that he can just email them to his real self; which he immediately does.
In the real world, The Doctor is sitting on the floor in front of the vault when he receives and opens the email. He then calls Bill, who is definitely not on a date. He tells her something bad is coming, so call Penny and call her tonight. He then speaks to the vault: “If it comes down to it and you’re all I have left, I need your help.”
You may have noticed that I haven’t mentioned the flashbacks until now and that is because it was incredibly difficult to tie them into the plot of this episode except for here, at the very end, where it proves incredibly relevant. Jumping back to long ago, The Master begs The Doctor to spare her life. Right in the knick of time, Nardole shows up disguised as a priest to give The Doctor River Song’s journal and a message from his wife that he needs to save The Master. It appears as if The Doctor goes through with the execution but surprise! Because of the wibbly-wobbly, OF COURSE The Doctor has fiddled with the wiring of the death machine and The Master is still very much alive. Regardless, she is put into the vault all the same, which the Doctor vows to guard for a thousand years.
The Master and The Doctor’s conversation throughout the flashbacks was pretty over the top. It was the kind of dialog that looks wonderful on paper or in a novel but sounds unnatural when spoken aloud. However, that is Moffat’s style of writing and honestly what I expected. This episode reminded me of the past two seasons with Clara, and that’s not exactly a good thing.
Luckily there were still some lovely moments with Bill. I really think that her character, and Pearl Mackie’s performance playing that character, is the distinguishing feature between this season and the previous two.
And then the cliffhanger! Since we let off with The Doctor awaiting the attack of the demons, I guess that is happening next week.
Final Thoughts on “Extremis”
I am a little upset that Bill still does not know The Doctor is blind. In the simulation, The Doctor was making it pretty clear that he had lost his eyesight, and I was certain that Bill would put two and two together. However, as she has no memories of what her projection experienced, it seems like The Doctor will continue to keep it a secret for at least another episode. He’s also going to have to give Bill and Nardole quite the debriefing the next time he sees them.
Overall, this episode was the weakest one of the season for me. It was a very Moffat episode. There was insanely complex dialogue, implied flirtations with random women, references to all manner of past seasons, and unbelievable plot twists explained away by “oh, The Doctor fiddled with something.” This is not to say that I didn’t enjoy parts of it. The Doctor still kept the tone of his character that I’ve come to love this season, there were some very funny moments, and of course I love Bill.
We shall see what happens next episode. I am looking forward to what will happen when Missy inevitably gets let out of the vault.