The Doctor is blind! After last week’s shock ending, we couldn’t wait to see how the Doctor got on in this week’s episode, Extremis. What did our team think? Did they see eye to eye? Or were they blinded by Moffat’s overwhelming script? Let’s ditch the puns and find out…
Ben (Assistant Editor)
As the series goes on, it seems to be delivering a new gem every week, barely faltering under the pressure of it being Moffat’s final series. As such, Extremis features a lot of Moffat’s trademark complexities, switching between the Vatican, the vault and the simulated worlds throughout the episode until they all come together for the resolution. Although this may be hard to follow (I missed the the few minutes the first time I watched it and subsequently had no idea what was going on with Missy throughout) it’s rewarding for those who have followed series 10, tidying up a few loose ends in the process.
When broken down, this episode is essentially a standard Doctor Who episode – we have seen many ‘dream’ worlds in the show – but the idea of this being a practice run for an invasion is a clever twist and the extra elements of the Doctor being blind and Missy’s backstory for being in the vault raises it above the norm and presents an interesting story with lots going on. From the drama of the Doctor giving up part of his life for a brief moment of vision, to the pope popping in during Bill’s date (which had me laughing out loud) this episode had it all.
While the stories this series may be varying incredibly, one thing that is definitely consistent is Matt Lucas’s performance as Nardole. While I wasn’t sure about the ‘comic relief’ character at the start of the series, I can’t help but enjoy him more and more, as he goes from witty sidekick to total badass in under 45 minutes. Likewise, Capaldi is really impressing as he nears his final episodes. Despite being the Doctor for over two series, he is still proving he has more to give, with a very believable blind Doctor facing new problems in this episode. Bill was also good and Missy showed a new side to her character in her (albeit brief) appearance) but for me Capaldi and Lucas dominated proceedings.
Though there were a few issues – like why security at the Pentagon is so lax – and the ‘it’s not real’ world felt a bit of a cheat, the episode was a strong offering from Moffat that showcases the talent of both his writing and the actors in it. I’m excited to see what happens next with the monks and how (or if) the Doctor gets his sight back.
Extremis, coming as it does at the halfway point of series 10, manages to accomplish several things at once. Not only does the episode tie up several loose threads from the first half of the series whilst laying the foundations for what is to come, but it also throws the so-far comfortable run of self-contained, textbook Doctor Who stories completely off-kilter with its determination to stretch the very fabric of the show to its limits.
That Extremis pulls all of this off so successfully is due in no small part to its writer. In Extremis Steven Moffat gives us not one but two finely crafted stories, deftly interweaving two seemingly unconnected strands into one glorious whole and in the process showing us, once again, just what he is capable of when unconstrained by the story demands of a series opener or finale.
For the brilliance of Extremis lies not only in the stunning simplicity of its core concept – the ‘practice run’ before the aliens launch their big invasion – but in the way that it chooses to present this concept to the audience. Glitching effects pre- and post-titles are our only clues that all is not as it seems; otherwise, we are left to unravel the gripping Dan Brown-esque mystery of the Veritas at the same time as its characters, ensuring that the episode’s shocking twist has just as big an impact on the audience as it does on its characters.
As Extremis is keen to stress, however, the Doctor is always the Doctor, even when he’s a simulation. Peter Capaldi plays an absolute blinder (sorry) as a Doctor desperate to battle on with a disability which could not be any more ill-timed, adding yet another layer to the top of some already very intricate storytelling. In his absence Nardole and Bill form an engaging double act, equally skilled at portraying humour through their banter or horror as they’re faced with the prospect of mass suicide and the chilling ‘shadow test’ at CERN.
Extremis also sees the always welcome return of Michelle Gomez as Missy, more toned down than in previous appearances but no less compelling in her brief time on screen. With the clues that have been dropped along the way the revelation of what – or who – the Vault contains may not come as a complete surprise, but is nevertheless told in an intriguing way and dovetails neatly with the conclusion of the Veritas storyline to put all the necessary pieces in place for the next couple of episodes.
Importantly, Extremis manages to neatly dodge the ‘it was all a dream’ copout. It may have been a simulation, but the consequences for the Doctor and Earth are very real, and with a set-up as complex and inventive as Extremis, it only remains for us to wait and see if the rest of the story matches up to its strong beginning.