Monday 22 May 2017

Reviews in Time & Space: Doctor Who 10x06 - Extremis

Doctor Who 10x06 - Extremis
Note: Extremis is an episode almost impossible to review without discussing spoilers, so this review will be particularly spoiler-laden. You have been warned!

Last week’s episode Oxygen raised the stakes pretty significantly when not only was the Doctor left blinded during his adventure aboard a deep-space mining system, but the TARDIS medical systems were also subsequently unable to cure him. Now not only is the Doctor left vulnerable, but he’s also determined to keep his condition a secret from Bill. Blindness won’t slow down though, and it’s business as usual in Steven Moffatt’s Extremis – the first episode in a loosely connected “Monks Trilogy”.

Missy's ExecutionMissy

Still blinded with only limited vision through his sonic sunglasses, the Doctor confides in the person inside the mysterious vault he has sworn to guard. Flashbacks reveal this to be Missy, spared from execution by the Doctor but instead sentenced to imprisonment within a quantum chamber for a thousand years.

Meanwhile the Vatican has also called upon the Doctor to investigate the Veritas, a newly-translated text which results in the readers taking their own lives. The Doctor travels with Bill and Nardole to a secret library within the Vatican, where they find that the translation has been emailed to CERN, as well as the presence of skeletal monks in red robes. While Bill and Nardole investigate the strange portals inside the library, the Doctor tries to overcome his blindness to discover the truth behind the Veritas.

The Doctor arrives at the VaticanThe unknown invaders

Ever since Steven Moffat took over as showrunner you’re guaranteed at least one real head-scratcher episode, with Extremis being the first of season ten’s offerings. Not that this is a particularly hard episode to follow, rather it’s simply a fairly high concept episode that while not entirely original tackles events in a fresh and exhilarating way. Even before the days of The Matrix the idea that the world is just a computer simulation has been a popular sci-fi trope, with Doctor Who even glossing over it as far back as The Deadly Assassin in 1976. But what sets Extremis apart from that classic fourth Doctor story is that this entire adventure is captured within this world (flashbacks notwithstanding) – making it an episode that curiously sits outside the cast’s own timeline of events. You could spend an eternity questioning the over-elaborate nature of the monsters’ plan, but the concept itself is solid and the outcome raising various interpretations. Are those who read the Veritas simply killing themselves to escape the nightmare of discovering they aren’t real, or are doing exactly what the CERN scientist says and helping to save the world? Even when reduced to piece of code is humanity’s defiance so strong that they’d rather take their own lives as a final act of rebellion? The Doctor’s love for the Earth has always come from his admiration of the indomitable spirit of the human race, and this episode encapsulates that distinct quality perfectly before the digital Doctor makes a final bid to save the day.

Working just as well despite being equally unoriginal is the episode’s Vatican backdrop, which also helps provide a bit of light relief from an otherwise rather dark storyline. The Pope and his entourage don’t really offer much outside of the initial set up, but having them drop in on Bill and her date was more than enough to justify their inclusion. The Haereticum (aka the Vatican’s library of sin)’s dark corridors are the perfect setting for an episode that gives for atmosphere and chills rather than loud scares, and also makes a nice contrast to the bright, wide-opened spaces we see of CERN.

The Doctor, still blindArmageddon day at CERN

Extremis marks the first time this series that the Doctor is met with a truly hostile alien, which for the time being may throw my theory about an overarching theme out the window. However other than the fact that their invasion planning is extremely meticulous very little has been revealed about these mysterious robed creatures so there still may be room for some surprises. Looking like some unholy union between a Haemovore and a member of the Sibylline Sisterhood, the zombie-like aliens fit right into a Vatican-themed episode and their twisted movements echo that of the more snappily-dressed Silents.

So far this series has done a particularly good job exploring its characters by grouping them off in different ways. The first three episodes largely dealt with the Doctor and Bill getting acquainted with a minimal extended cast, Knock Knock split them up among a wider cast and then Oxygen felt like the first proper Doctor/Bill/Nardole grouping (with a heavier emphasis on the Doctor and Nardole). Extremis is no exception, and with the Doctor attempting to cover up his blindness in the most obvious ways possible this story pairs up Bill and Nardole to do a lot of the legwork. Overlooking the fact that the usually sharp Bill is completely oblivious to the Doctor’s plight (though this could be a double bluff), Bill and Nardole make a pretty good team. Like the audience it Bill has mostly been privy to Nardole’s bumbling nature, which makes for a great scene when he reveals himself as “secretly a badass” (“Nothing secret about it, baby doll.”). One of the distinct advantages to having both a human and alien companion is also that together they’re able to largely draw their own conclusions as to what’s going on. As such as we get the pair running around CERN and the projection room unassisted, with the Doctor only swooping in at the very end to provide the necessary context to it all.

Nardole & BillNardole & Bill uncover the room

But beyond Extremis’ main storyline the big reveals come in the form of flashbacks, not only revealing that it’s Missy inside the vault but also some context behind Nardole’s sudden reappearance and role. The details themselves are still vague (Missy’s been captured and sentenced by some execution planet, Nardole followed the Doctor there from Darillium under orders from River Song) but six episodes in is a great place to start putting the puzzle pieces together. Here Michelle Gomez plays a far more subtle version of her Master incarnation but still puts in an excellent performance, with her pleas for mercy perfectly capturing the Master’s obsession with staying alive. It’s also nice to see the Doctor and Missy’s “friendship” explored beyond the over-theatrical flirtation, and with that stripped away it’s much easier to view the two Time Lords as the near-equals they are.

Narole appears before the DoctorThe Doctor visits Missy

Extremis is two things. Not only is the main story a gripping thrill-ride that ends on a wonderfully clever note, but it also provides some much needed context to the series’ overarching plot threads. The secret of what’s behind those vault doors may have been unveiled, but there’s still plenty of mystery surrounding what’s to come next. Not only does Extremis continue this current series’ track record for quality, but it marks a turning point as where it may also be beginning to build towards something big. Next week the Doctor will need to be prepared as the invasion begins for real in The Pyramid at the End of the World.


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