Doctor Who had a heck of a cliffhanger last time, with The Doctor going blind, but now with the Vatican in need of his help to stop a killer book, the Veritas, how will he save the day? And was that Missy in the preview for this episode? Meet me after the TARDIS jump for my thoughts on “Extremis.”
We open in flashback, “A Long Time Ago…”, with one of those narrative voiceovers by The Doctor I talked about last time. Rather than space, the topic today is death. When we drop down to medieval Earth, a gaggle of folks have gathered and are explaining an execution device to The Doctor, one specifically designed to kill a Time Lord.
The two hearts will be stopped, as will the three brain stems (is this a new fact?), and the ability to regenerate negated, and it can only be activated by another Time Lord. As if on cue, Missy is brought out. Once dead, the Time Lord (or Lady) will be sealed in a Quantum Fold, and then guarded for a thousand years, in case of ‘relapse.’ Well, I guess we know who’s in the vault now… but seriously, was it really ever in doubt?
We’re left to ponder whether The Doctor lets her live or if Missy has had a ‘relapse’ when he gets an email through his techno-magic sunglasses labeled “Extremis.” Papal email? After the opening credits, as The Doctor is alone in his lecture room with his sunglasses, The Pope arrives. Luckily Nardole is there to help along the proceedings, and the illusion that The Doctor is not blind. Anyone paying attention can figure that out pretty quickly however.
There’s a document written in a dead language in the vaults of the Vatican, called the Veritas, or ‘truth.’ It’s finally been translated, but everyone who reads it, takes their own life, so the Vatican has called upon The Doctor. This is one of those plot ideas that was probably thrown around the writers room late at night obviously after some alcohol – The Doctor meets the Pope – and showrunner/writer Steven Moffat just ran with it. Fun, true, but it’s only a start.
Pope in the Bedroom
Now I like Bill quite a bit, sad to know she’ll be leaving at the end of this series, but the way this episode had been going ten minutes in, I just kinda figured she was off making fries and thinking about her mom, and that this would be a solo Nardole adventure with The Doctor. A nice change of pace, but not to be, which is okay – as I said, I like Bill a lot.
Bill brings home a hookup named Penny but is quickly confronted by her foster mom who has very strict rules about men. When she sees it’s a woman with Bill, she’s cool and leaves them alone. Bill has a long talk in her future I would think. The hookup, already startled by mom’s remarks, is really rattled by the sound of the TARDIS’ brakes from Bill’s bedroom, but when the Pope comes out talking Italian – date night is over. And still, The Doctor keeps his blindness from Bill.
The Doctor is at the Vatican for a very specific mission, blind or not, to read the Veritas and find out why it’s making people off themselves. In the center of the Vatican’s forbidden library our heroes find a laptop where a translation of the Veritas has been emailed to lots of important folks like CERN – but why aren’t they killing themselves? We’re left to wonder, unless I missed something.
Right around this point, with The Doctor hopelessly walking around blind, and his usual erratic behavior the perfect cover, we start to get a fix on what’s going on and who the baddies are. Demons in robes, or the Monks as they’re called in the credits, want to take over the world, and built a virtual reality videogame to test the limits and measure the threat level of mankind. Practice invasion is what it is.
The Monks and Their Master
The monsters of the week, while more than suitable hide-behind-the-sofa baddies, felt only adequate as Doctor Who villains. Red robes, mucked up faces, dubbed gravelly voices, and a lot of hissing just don’t seem to be enough. I would have rather seen an old favorite than a lame new monster. Unfortunately, based on the teaser for next week’s episode, we haven’t seen the last of the Monks. And for quite a bit during this episode it felt as if Moffat wasn’t sure himself what was going on.
I really used to like Steven Moffat. He created the Weeping Angels after all, and has given us some of the coolest and wildest of Whovian concepts. He’s getting stale. Granted, Moffat is no Russell T. Davies, but maybe it is time he moved on. He can come back after a rest during the upcoming Chris Chibnall run and dazzle us with new monsters and concepts as a writer.
Nardole’s role has been cleared up. He’s an executor of River Song‘s wishes as opposed to a valet, and also not secretly a bad ass. Here Nardole is funny, cool, and smart, and he won me back after an annoying five episodes with his Christmas crackers remark. And the fun back and forth dialogue between him and Bill made me both happy, and angry we had to wait so long to see this chemistry.
Why did we have to wait so long for this? Not just the camaraderie between Nardole and Bill, or his real relationship to The Doctor, but in hindsight it really seems as if possibly Moffat didn’t know what the character’s role was going to be. And poor Matt Lucas, he’s so talented, and funny, it feels to us, and probably him as well, he’s been wasted in the background for five episodes. At times, he out-Doctors The Doctor. Now that we know, more Nardole please.
Hits and Nits
There were a few things here to like. I loved the Harry Potter reference, and it’s always nice to see River’s diary. I was tickled to hear the word Prydonian in the new series, and I thought it was cool that the Vatican had not just knowledge of, but experience with The Doctor, possibly even a fling with one of the legendary female Popes, who bore more than a passing resemblance to Angelina Jolie. This seems more like Moffat thumbing his nose and trying to tick folks off more than anything else.
On the bad side, I had a few nits to pick. What happened to the TARDIS’ translation field? And is the Pope immune to it? Everything should have been spoken English, right? The plot also feels a bit too similar to the Darkhold and The Framework over on Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. this season, and last thing I want is for Doctor Who to go Secret Empire. Other parts of the plot felt a bit incestuous, like a repeat of “Heaven Sent,” which I really disliked.
Still despite all that I’ve said to the negative, this was a great episode – a mediocre story and enemy, but with great character bits that made it irresistible. I also loved the resolution, a time traveling email from The Doctor himself – Extremis – and not a virus infecting the Iron Man armor. This is the sort of timey-wimey nonsense that we do love, so pay attention, Mr. Moffat.
Of course, through it all, the real star here was Michelle Gomez as Missy. She’ll also be going at the end of this series along with Peter Capaldi, Steven Moffat, and Pearl Mackie, and it’s a damn shame. John Simm was frightening as The Master, but Gomez gives the role personality. Only appearing sporadically in this one, she still stole the episode. Could she be The Doctor’s salvation?
Next: “The Pyramid at the End of the World!”