Reviewed by John Hussey
Just when you think Doctor Who can’t get any better. Steven Moffat has clearly taken his head out of his arse and rekindled with his younger-self (the person I admired and looked up to as a writer), thus returning to form by producing outstanding content filled with riveting and awe-inspiring ideas. Without a doubt “Extremis” stands tall with Moffat’s best work, such as “The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances”, “Blink”, “A Good Man Goes to War”, “The Name of the Doctor”, “Listen”, and “Heaven Sent”.
Continuing on from the conclusion of “Oxygen” The Twelfth Doctor is now blind and powerless when suddenly he receives a mysterious message on his Sonic Sunglasses titled Extremis. Things move along as the Time Lord gets a surprise visit from The Pope, adding in a nice new flavour to the mix as The Twelfth Doctor is called into an age old mystery passed down from the Holy Churches, to which even The Pope himself fears and wishes to understand.
It is said that those who read the Veritas ultimately take their own lives in fear of the truth that has been revealed to them. Without hesitation (despite being blind) The Twelfth Doctor accepts this daring mission. We then lead into one of the funniest scenes ever devised on television. Bill attempts to have a normal evening (now living back with her aunt after the events of “Knock Knock”) with her date Penny. Honestly it’s a sweet moment seeing Bill happy and able to express her sexuality, though oddly the scene doesn’t go too far, thus keeping things rather civil which is odd since the BBC are trying to push the boundaries and be more divisive, so why be afraid in showing two girls kissing?
Anyway, this moment is ruined by the interrupted arrival of the TARDIS and The Pope. You’ve not seen a more confused and angered look before until you see both Bill’s and Penny’s expressions. Penny is like, “Why the fuck is The Pope in your bedroom?” And Bill is like, “I’m going to fucking kill The Doctor!” Unfortunately Penny is scared away, resulting in Bill telling the members of the Vatican that they’re “going to Hell”. Fucking brilliant! Had me laughing my arse off.
The episode then goes a little cold as The Twelfth Doctor refuses to tell Bill the truth about his blindness, to which Nardole (played by Matt Lucas) deciphers it’s because the Time Lord doesn’t want to accept the reality of his current predicament, thus telling Bill would further that truth. Another neat factor to “Extremis” (like with “Oxygen”) is that Nardole once again has a more frontal role within the narrative. Lucas really feels at home being The Twelfth Doctor’s assistant, as well as continuing his role of being the adult in the room in order to try and keep the Time Lord in check.
With The Twelfth Doctor blind it’s sort of up to Nardole to help him out with the basics, though the Time Lord is able to partially see via his Sonic Sunglasses. This results in some funny moments of Nardole having to read out things to The Twelfth Doctor (who obviously can’t see anything) whilst trying to allude the fact that he’s now blind from the likes of the Vatican and Bill (often leading to Nardole being rather sarcastic). What’s more, you do get the sense (like I’ve mentioned before) that Nardole feels quite equal to The Twelfth Doctor, adding in a different kind of dynamic between the Time Lord and his companion.
I suppose it also helps with differentiating Bill and Nardole’s characters, with Bill acting as the more traditional companion, whilst Nardole performs a more sophisticated assistant role (similar to K-9, only with less John Leeson charm and more Matt Lucas mischief). Once more we see Nardole and Bill interact and start to share a great bond onscreen, allowing Nardole to fit more nicely into the bigger picture as his presence feels more necessary and less just because.
I also really enjoyed the fact that Nardole took his glasses off and went all badass on Bill in order to put her in her place about the importance of him protecting her (under the Twelfth Doctor’s instructions) to which Bill actually respected him for. This was made all the better by Nardole admitting there’s no secret to him being genuine badass. Fucking genius!
Meanwhile, we have Peter Capaldi really giving some of his best work as The Twelfth Doctor (in his blind state) tries to remain in control of each situation he is in. He attempts to read the Veritas (after craftily sending Bill and Nardole away) by the means of Time Lord technology (which will apparently restore his eye-sight for a brief moment in time at the cost of maybe being blind for his remaining regenerations, or not having any left at all). Despite the risk The Twelfth Doctor uses the device without much care and prepares to read the ancient text only to come face-to-face with The Monks.
These decaying motherfuckers are certainly a scary sight and resemble Moffat’s earlier creation The Silence, particularly with their spooky features and infiltration abilities. They immediately register as a terrifying and intimidating foe as they creep in and out of existence and prepare some kind of threatening scheme that spells doom for the entire planet.
Things gradually become more concerning when Bill and Nardole stumble upon the strange light sources that The Monks appear to use to travel from place to place. They eventually stumble upon a portal to CERN (after another funny moment where they landed in the middle of the Pentagon, to the confusion of both themselves and the staff-members), in which things begin to get really chilling.
The scientists within the facility have been sent an emailed copy of the Veritas and are preparing to kill themselves via strapping bombs underneath their tables and waiting for the countdown to reach zero (almost like their waiting for the clock to strike midnight on New Year’s Eve). It’s really fucking sinister, and all too realistic and gritty, to which I’ve got to give Moffat credit for. He continues to be ballsy with his mad ideas (at least the good ones anyway), which you’d think couldn’t get much worse then stating the dead feel pain after death (“Don’t cremate me”).
This scene only gets worse when the lead scientist begins to explain the meaning behind the Veritas. He asks Bill and Nardole to pick a number upon him slamming the table and they both give the same answer (to their confusion). The scene continues to show the lead scientist slamming against the table as Bill and Nardole continually shout out the same numbers over and over again, to which becomes even more creepy when the rest of the scientists join in. What the fuck does this all mean? Before anything can be explained our heroes race off mere seconds before the scientists accept their fate (chillingly counting the seconds till their deaths).
Nardole then comes to the terrifying conclusion that the light beams are projections, and that each portal leads to a holographic simulation. But then this lays the question of how did they become part of these simulations, and when? It becomes even more disturbing upon Nardole testing his theory by exiting the light source, only to be deleted like a computer code. A frightened Bill then follows a blood trail that leads her to the Oval Office, finding the President having committed suicide by overdosing himself on pills.
She finds The Twelfth Doctor (who narrowly escaped The Monks after his eye-sight suddenly faded to darkness once more) listening to the Veritas. The horrifying truth is revealed: they aren’t real. This moment had me literally fucking confused upon first viewing the episode, making me question whether or not the entire history of the show was all a simulation. That couldn’t be right, could it? Would Moffat really pull such a stunt? In the moment it’s all rather scary as we learn that The Monk’s have generated these simulations in order to devise the perfect strategy to invade Earth, learning every possible weakness by simulating scenarios with Earth’s greatest specimens.
I have to also (once again) give credit to Pearl Mackie because she always gives it her all. Her character has really come such a long way in such a short amount of episodes. But that is down to tight scripts and carefully planned development, and of course perfect casting. Bill certainly goes through all the extremes in this story (riding on the back of “Oxygen” where she nearly died multiple times) from having a bad date, to meeting The Pope, to developing her relationship with Nardole, to discovering the true nature of the Veritas, and dealing with The Twelfth Doctor’s blindness. But Mackie took it all with stride, particularly in these final moments where she desperately tried to reason that she was in fact real, only to then be deleted (like Nardole) by The Monks.
Things have never seemed so bleak than this moment. The Monks have apparently won. They have The Twelfth Doctor right where they want him. But then we remember that The Doctor is a genius, performing at his most efficient when backed into a corner. He realised that he may not be able to do anything inside the simulation (because he’s not real) but he could do something outside the simulation as the real Doctor. As soon as the email idea was mentioned it all cleverly clicked. This entire episode has been us viewing the message that The Twelfth Doctor received at the very beginning of the episode. Moffat you fucking genius.
Although, you might think that this ending was a complete cope-out, particularly when you consider it meant that the entire episode didn’t matter because none of it actually happened, but you’d be wrong. It may have all been a simulation but the simulation was an important plot-device to introduce the threat of the enemy. It allowed The Twelfth Doctor to know what he would soon be facing via an early warning system, but this in question doesn’t mean he has an advantage.
Prior to this moment he was unaware of The Monks presence or activities, making their power on the same level as The Silence who could manipulate events from behind-the-scenes and you was completely unaware they were ever there. Plus, knowing this information only makes them more terrifying, making The Twelfth Doctor quite desperate for a means of stopping them, even to the point of calling Missy for help if things go completely sour.
I’ve alluded this part of the episode for long enough. “Extremis” finally reveals what is inside the Vault through a flashback segment that weaves in and out of the rest of the plot, slowly being told as the perfect juxtaposition. I will admit that I was genuinely disappointed by who was in the Vault (despite them being my second guess, but I was really hoping to be proven wrong). I was really counting on The Master to be the one behind those doors, which would’ve made perfect sense since the BBC announced John Simm‘s return (making you assume he had a big role to play within Series 10, or at least I hoped he did, otherwise I’m going to be once again pissed-off by the BBC wrongfully hyping things up only for us to be met with disappointed expectations).
Missy was in fact the one inside the Vault. Yay… I will confess that one of the major reasons for me turning against Moffat was his idiotic decision to make The Master a woman. What the fuck was going through his mind when he thought that was a good idea. The short answer is it wasn’t and he deserved to be shot for even considering the possibility in his head, let alone with words.
Honestly I was left in so much shock when it was revealed, to the point that my partner was worried by my silence (until of course the rage burst and then she wished I had remained silent after going off on one for the rest of the evening). I even blindly told myself that perhaps this was all a massive joke from Moffat and “Death in Heaven” would reveal that Missy was bullshitting, but alas I was condemned to watch my favourite villain be tarnished by a gimmick that wasn’t funny in the slightest.
I really don’t see the appeal in Missy (if I’m honest). She’s well and truly outstayed her welcome so thank fuck she’s leaving with Moffat. I guess I’m still secretly hoping that Missy isn’t really The Master, hence why Simm’s Master is making a comeback to reveal that he hadn’t regenerated all along and was using Missy as his puppet (revealed as a psychotic fan-girl who’s been posing as The Master) in order to fuck with The Twelfth Doctor whilst The Master prepared for his glorious return.
But chances are this won’t happen and I will forever be left a crippling wreck, seeped deep in sorrow and utter depression because shit ideas (like this) can be allowed to happen. I might as well shoot my childhood in the back of the head, putting it down like a sick wounded animal that has bled out and needs to be put out of its misery.
Enough with me shitting on this piss-poor decision (mostly) and onto actually talking about what the flashback had to offer (which despite my negatives I actually thought it was a great set-up for certain aspects of the series). I think my major issue with Missy is I don’t see her as The Master. Yes she’s crazy, which Simm’s Master clearly showed in abundance, but there is more to The Master than being psychotic and out to kill people. He’s sophisticated, deadly, and on occasions rather calm and gentlemen like.
Plus by discarding the title “Master” and changing it to “Mistress” you’re actually missing the point of his character. Like with The Doctor’s name it means something, it’s not about being a gender related title but rather a symbol of his personality and ambitions, which are completely lost to him in favour of gimmicking-up the show and adding to this depressing state of “political correctness”.
I also don’t understand this whole fascinated story-arc about The Master wanting to be The Doctor’s friend again. The Master both admires, but despises, The Doctor. Once upon a time his hatred towards him was the only thing that kept him alive in his state of decay at the end of his life. So, naturally, Missy’s character just seems completely against everything that happened before, thus contradicting years of story/character development for the sake of reworking the character to fit Moffat’s vision (which is fucking horrendous to put it bluntly, something I’d expect from a creepy fan writing a sexualised fan-fiction where The Master drags up and goes on a date with The Doctor).
The Twelfth Doctor is mysteriously called in to execute Missy (not much explanation given, especially concerning how Missy escaped the clutches of the Daleks at the end of “The Witch’s Familiar”, but we’ve come to expect this by now from Moffat so let’s move on) and of course she isn’t very keen to die, and actually begs her old friend to spare her life. Now I really like this scene because the two characters are well written, their connection is well established, and Capaldi and Michelle Gomez bounce off each other perfectly. But I’m supposed to be looking at them as The Master and The Doctor and quite frankly I just don’t see that unique chemistry onscreen (and never have).
Sure there are moments were I think, “Okay, she’s sort of acting like The Master,” but sort of isn’t “is like”. Every time I watch a scene with Missy I just wish she was a completely different character, both to rid myself of the heartache of watching The Master being continuously bent-over and fucked painfully up the arse, and to allow Missy to be an overall better character.
It’s one of those daft things were if Missy weren’t The Master I would completely love her character, and so I simply pretend she isn’t The Master to make my viewing (and life in general) that bit easier. And considering Moffat stated a while back that it was up to the fans to declare for themselves what is and isn’t canon (obviously to cover up his own fuck-ups) I will continue to deny what is in front of me to suit my own vision of the show.
The best part of this flashback sequence comes with how Nardole is brought in. He arrives dressed like a Monk and reads from River Song’s diary, an entry written in order to prevent The Doctor from doing anything stupid after her death, and also declares that she gave Nardole strict instructions to “kick his arse” in order to keep him inline. Of course a lot of The Twelfth Doctor’s trauma this past series has been down to him getting over River’s death and these specially written words help him to start his recovery process, thus resulting in him sparing Missy from death, getting around watching over her body for 1000 years by means of a loop-hole.