Doctor Who | Episode 6 Extremis
Written by Steven Moffat | Directed by Daniel Nettheim
The Doctor, still blind from the last episode gets a visit from the Pope, who explains that there is a document called the ‘Veritas’ and anyone who reads it is for some reason compelled to kill themselves and it’s up to the Doctor, Nardole and Bill to find out why.
At the top of the episode, we are finally given the answer to the question “What’s in the box!” or the vault in this case and the answer is Missy.
The flashbacks to the ‘execution’ of Missy were interesting as they informed the relationship and dialogue between Nardole and the Doctor though at times they felt a little out of place with the main story line. Some of the ‘twists’ also fell a bit flat, mainly because they were based on information we already knew. For instance, since it was clear from the outset that the scene was a flashback rather than a flash-forward, we already knew it wasn’t going to be the Doctor up for execution, therefore it was no surprise when it turned out Missy was the victim. Also, we’ve had up to five episodes of the Doctor talking to whoever/whatever is in the vault, so we also know that that person is still alive, thus the Doctor didn’t kill Missy. Despite all of this I am glad that we know who should be in the box (whether that is the case) and can get to the more meaty and exciting parts of the series without having lots of one-offs or set up episodes.
In true Moffat fashion, I was utterly confused throughout this episode but that’s not to say I didn’t enjoy it. This episode is essentially Doctor Who meets the Matrix and Inception. Having just come off the back of watching the ‘Black Mirror’ episode ‘Playback’, the idea of messing with reality and time was really appealing to me going into this episode. Though some people think that the ‘it was all a dream’ explanation is a boring, dated deus ex machina, done correctly it can be really impactful as shown in ‘Playback’. At the end of this episode, it’s revealed that all the events we have been watching have been nothing but a simulation and the people killing themselves after reading the Veritas have, in effect, been trying to ‘wake up’ and return to reality. The series so far has been full of creepy moments and this episode is no exception. When the scientists at CERN reveal the truth to Bill and Nardole through the shadow test, the episode really begins to pick up the pace as real stakes are introduced and you start to question what exactly it is that you are watching.
A really interesting concept that the episode touched on is the idea that there is more to being ‘The Doctor’ than just being real as long as you can ‘trick the bad guys into falling into their own traps’. This statement could help but remind me of, what is often regarded as, the best episode of New Who to date ‘Blink’, where the Doctor is hardly present at all, you can even argue he’s not technically real because his presence is limited to a recording on a DVD, yet he still manages to trick the bad guys. The idea serves to re-affirm your belief in the Doctor because even when the bad guys are testing out their evil plan on a simulation where they control the variables, the Doctor still manages to outsmart them.
This episode, though not my favourite, at least is an interesting set up for the episodes to come in this three part arc. The Monks could prove to be some of the Doctor’s toughest enemies yet as they clearly have a strategy which helps them predict how people will act in certain situations. Like so many before them, they seem unlikely to under-estimate the Doctors potential as even his simulation defeated them.