Interesting concept, botched execution; Moffat's second episode this series showcases his ability for double the plotline with half the heart.
As we reach Doctor Who‘s halfway mark, it seems that Series 10 has started to drift away from its self-contained episodes and back into Moffat’s comfort zone of convoluted plot lines. ‘Extremis’ just can’t stick to just one – with two storylines, neither happening in the present, the episode twists and turns so rapidly it’s easy to get lost in the dark.
The central plot revolves around a text called the ‘Veritas’, a.k.a. The Truth, a text whose readers commit suicide after finishing. It’s a bit grim for a children’s show, but when has Doctor Who ever cared about that? Spoiler alert – in the end, it turns out that the version of the Doctor and Bill that we had been watching are in fact part of a worldwide simulation run by ‘evil demons’ in order to test world domination. Honestly, Moffat; you’ve outdone yourself with this one.
Alongside this rather mindbending and slow-paced story, ‘Extremis’ flicks to tell the reader how Missy (Michelle Gomez) ended up in the Vault. Yes, that’s right – our no.1 Vault prediction came true (if you hadn’t already worked it out by Episode 4). Turns out she had been sentenced to death for reasons as yet undisclosed, and that the execution had to be carried out by another Time Lord. This conveniently allows the Doctor (Peter Capaldi) to swear an oath to guard her body for a thousand years, only to hack the execution to keep her alive in the basement of a University. That’s that sorted, then.
After the events of last week, the Doctor is still blind, using the sonic sunglasses – and Nardole (Matt Lucas) – to hide his disability from both his enemies and Bill (Pearl Mackie). A helpfully placed yet completely unexplained device that ‘borrows’ from the Doctor’s future to give him sight for a few moments, allowing us to briefly see our new foe, the mysterious ‘Monks’. There’s some rambly explanation of him taking something from his future in order to have sight for a limited amount of time in the present… somehow.
In order to explain the idea of ‘holographic simulation’, Moffat appeals to the demographic, referencing VR Headsets and Grand Theft Auto, with Star Trek for the oldies. He even explains suicide by comparing it to Super Mario, in an attempt to make it more light hearted. But with a dead President in the corner of the room, I’m not sure if it’s quite effective.
Another slight concern is his treatment of Bill’s sexuality. We see her on a date, interrupted first by her oblivious foster-mother Moira (Jennifer Hennessey); Bill is not out to her, but rather than being a showcase of the difficulties faced by LGBT+ youth, she makes a joke about her ‘strict rules’ on men. Which is fine, except when Bill is comforting Penny, her date, and saying that being gay is ‘nothing to be ashamed of’, in walks the Pope, to what I presume Moffat hopes is tumultuous laughter. For those of us who are neither gay nor religious, this may be a light-hearted joke, but to those that are both, probably not so much. Although its great to see sexuality as just another facet of someone’s personality, it would nice to see Bill dating in a situation where the girl isn’t dead or scared away by the appearance of an important religious figure.
All in all, the episode serves as a decent introduction to a three parter – full of unanswered questions, plenty of room to develop, tying up one mystery to start exploring another. Admittedly, it keeps you on your toes, only beginning to make sense towards the end, and its refreshing to see the companions (Bill and Nardole) as the ones that solve the mystery. Mackie still shines as Bill Potts, and Matt Lucas’ Nardole seems to be growing on us all like a bald, arrogant fungus.
It’s unpredictable, original, and exhilarating, but the emotional intensity of each of the plotlines seems diffused by the constant flicking between them, all of which would have probably flourished if given more breathing room. Hopefully, the next two weeks will serve to ‘shed some light’ on the path that this episode had a tendency to stray from.
Doctor Who continues next Saturday on BBC1. Check out our Series Guide for what’s coming next.