Contains spoilers for Doctor Who S10E6 ‘Extremis’
YouTube: Doctor Who: Extremis – Series 10 Episode 6 Trailer – BBC One
Besides the weekly vault-based epilogues, series ten of Doctor Who has entirely focused on self-contained episodes. We are, of course, learning more about Bill as we go, and the Doctor’s blindness (as established in episode five, ‘Oxygen’) is obviously going to affect the series in the long-term. However, ‘Extremis’ sees the first foray into multi-episode stories this year.
Written by chief showrunner, Steven Moffat (whose only previous episode this series was the opener, ‘The Pilot’), the episode was a lottery. The first five episodes of this series have proven that individual storylines suit these writers; one of my (many) complaints regarding Moffat’s reign is his inability to achieve story arcs without confusing literally everyone bar himself. The days of ‘Blink’, ‘The Girl In The Fireplace’ and ‘Silence In The Library’/‘Forest Of The Dead’ seem so distant when considering the convoluted ‘crack’ storyline (which lasted Matt Smith’s entire tenure), and the majority of other story arcs since Moffat took over from Russell T. Davies.
Fortunately (although I daren’t be too complimentary, next week could ruin everything), ‘Extremis’ is excellent.
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Moffat had previously stated that we would discover the vault’s detainee sooner than the end of the series and, for perhaps the first time ever, he wasn’t lying. In a number of scenes that are scattered throughout the episode, Missy is revealed to be imprisoned in the vault, alive and well. These scenes also gave us an explanation as to how the Doctor and Nardole became reacquainted; the events that saw Missy imprisoned follow directly the events of the Christmas episode, ‘The Husbands Of River Song’. Diary in hand, Nardole followed the Doctor to stop him, in the knowledge that River would oppose the execution of Missy.
The ‘who’ of the vault reveal felt somewhat inevitable, but the ‘how’ and ‘why’ were less obvious. It seems, though, that the answer is as simple as the Doctor can no longer trust Missy to behave herself. Funny that, in the series that John Simm reprises his role as the Master, there are such similarities between the Doctor and the Master’s/Missy’s relationship. As I mentioned in my vault theories article, harking back to series three (Simm’s first appearance as the Master) reminded me of the Doctor’s solution for keeping the Master out of trouble: simply to “keep” him.
YouTube: Doctor Who – Last of the Time Lords – The Master dies
And as we saw in ‘Extremis’, the Doctor’s imprisonment of Missy might come in handy (or, as I fully expect, come back to haunt him). Confiding in Missy of his blindness, and of the trouble he’s facing, he whispers through the vault door:
Listen. If it comes down to it, if you’re all I’ve got left, then I need your help.
So what about the story itself? Interesting from start to finish, the Pope himself invites the Doctor to the Vatican in order to solve the mystery of numerous mass suicides, all of which are as a result of reading ‘The Veritas’, an old, nearly untranslatable text.
The monsters are scary, Bill and Nardole are very cool, and the Doctor’s blindness adds a vulnerability that we don’t expect from our favourite protagonist. Capaldi acts it very well, too. His blindness provides us with funny moments (Nardole having to explicitly describe each scene for him) as well as moments in which you genuinely fear for him.
I also thoroughly enjoyed Missy in this episode. She’s infrequent, only appearing in the flashbacks and not in the main story, but Michelle Gomez offers up something very new. I am torn when it comes to Missy: I think Gomez is fantastic and I love how absolutely bizarre Missy is, but sometimes the writing could be better, mostly dialogue-wise. But in ‘Extremis’, before her impending execution, Missy is vulnerable, offering an interesting symmetry with the Doctor’s own vulnerability in this episode. She begs the Doctor, she admits to being his friend. It’s an emotional scene, and you can see the torment that it is causing the Doctor to see his fiercest rival so desperate for his help. I hope we see more of this side of both Gomez and Capaldi before they both exit at the end of the series.
Twitter: My poster for Extremis, tonight’s #DoctorWho ep, starring @Pearlie_mack, @RealMattLucas and @MichelleGomez, directe… https://t.co/RkwuNYQNHE (@stuart_manning)
The only qualms I have are with the ending, really, and I’m hoping it’ll be cleared up next week. Given the lovely pace of the episode, as is so often the case, the explanation was rushed. As you’ll well know, the large majority of the episode took place in a simulated reality, created in order to test the Earth’s ability to cope with an invasion. That bit I get. In fact, logically, I get most of it. But it feels like one of those explanations that, were we to delve a bit deeper, we’d come unstuck. Who are the monks? Why are they monks? Is the Veritas a part of reality as well as the simulation? At what point did the simulation start? Do all the people who killed themselves (plus Bill and Nardole, who sort of disappeared) just wake up back in reality?
If it were a one-off episode, this might have ruined the episode for me. Instead, I’m relying on next week (and the week after that) to just clear up the minutiae. Then I’ll be happy.
But overall, a very strong episode. Possibly my favourite yet, we’ll have to wait and see how next week pans out.
YouTube: Doctor Who: The Pyramid at the End of the World – Series 10 Episode 7 Trailer – BBC One