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Doctor Who Extremis

Review by Paul Bowler

[Contains Spoilers]

The Doctor must investigate an ancient mystery in Extremis. Within a secret library of the Vatican, there is a book of dangerous power – The Veritas. History accounts how anybody foolhardy enough to read it has subsequently taken their own life. After a new translation appears online, The Vatican asks the Doctor for help. But will the Time Lord read The Veritas, and can even the Doctor endure the terrible truth it holds?

Extremis is a dark, brooding tale, written by Steven Moffat, and directed by Daniel Nettheim – who also helmed The Zygon Invasion / The Zygon Inversion (2015). This sixth episode of series ten also features the return of the 12th Doctor’s arch nemesis, Missy (the female incarnation of the Master), played by Michelle Gomez. Last time we saw Missy she was surrounded by Daleks in their crumbling city on Skaro in The Witch’s Familiar (2015), but now she’s back and this time it seems like her luck might be about to run out…

Following Oxygen’s shock cliff-hanger, where the Doctor secretly confided in Nardole that he was still blind, the Time Lord doesn’t want his enemies to learn of his sight loss, and he’s adamant that Bill shouldn’t know either. Extremis is also something of a major turning point in series ten as it forms the first episode in a linked trilogy of stories were the world comes under threat by an emaciated corpse-like order of sinister Monks.

When Bill’s date night with Penny gets embarrassingly gate crashed, she’s soon off on her next adventure in the TARDIS with the Doctor and Nardole, and this time it concerns the Pope and an ancient text called The Veritas held in a secret Vatican library: the Haereticum. The Veritas is older than even the church itself, with its language and translations seemingly lost after a sect’s bizarre mass suicide. Now the Veritas has been translated again, however, everyone that worked on the translation online has mysteriously killed themselves. At the behest of the Pope himself, the Doctor has been called upon to solve the dangerous mystery surrounding the Veritas, but in doing so he must also grapple with his own hidden agonies.

Essentially two stories in one, Extremis, with its secret libraries, mysterious portals, and international conspiracies, is one of Steven Moffat’s most ambitious episodes to date. Taking in Rome, CERN, Washington, and a visit to a distant planet, Moffat infuses Extremis with elements of The Ring, The Da Vinci Code, The Matrix, and The Name of the Rose, effortlessly splicing them with the core underlying themes of series 10, and the end result is an assured adventure that make for a remarkably compelling and thought provoking episode.

An ominous sense of impending dread gradually builds throughout Extremis. Peter Capaldi’s Doctor – sporting his trusty enhanced sonic specs – must draw on every ounce of his resolve to deal with the enigma of the Veritas. Once inside the Vatican’s secret library of blasphemy, the Haereticm, where strange portals are forming, they discover a priest has emailed a copy of the Verita’s translation to the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) before killing himself. After sending Bill and Nardole to investigate, the Doctor borrows from his own future to temporarily restore his sight to enable him to read the Veritas, and soon finds himself in deadly danger as undead-looking Monks close in to seize the Veritas for themselves!

Bill and Nardole discover another portal that leads to a collective hub of portals controlled by an unknown form of alien technology. Following a brief sojourn to CERN, where a chilling game of random numbers with scientists about to blow themselves up ensues, but after fleeing back to the hub Bill is horrified when Nardole realizes the portals are actually computer projections and watches him slowly fade away – a fate she also shares when she finally catches up with the Doctor inside another projection that simulates the Oval Office inside the White House. Pearl Mackie continues to impress as Bill, and she constantly brings a refreshing sense of vitality and compassion to the role of the Doctor’s companion. Matt Lucas gets to play a tougher side of Nardole as well in Extremis, his character really steps up, especially when he’s teamed with Bill, and his reasons for being with the Doctor also start to become more apparent as Extremis unfolds.

Along with Joseph Long as the Pope (Long previously appeared in the 2008 Doctor Who episode Turn Left as the Italian newsagent, Roco Colasanto), the guest cast in Extremis also includes Corrado Invernizzi as the Pope’s trusted aid Cardinal Angelo who turns up at the university looking for the Doctor, Ivanno Jeremiah as Rafando, Laurent Maurel as Nicholas Rorke Adekoluejo as Penny, and Jennifer Hennessy as Billd’s foster mum, Moria.

The main foes in Extremis are the Monks. These withered, burgundy robed creatures, with their clawed hands and menacing presence are hell bent on taking over the Earth, and it seems it’s something they’ve been planning for a long time. Seeking the Veritas for their own ends, they are a marvellously creepy and effective adversary in this episode. These super-intelligent beings have used their technology to craft this huge VR simulation, where even the Doctor and his friends are just simulations in something akin to a highly sophisticated video game which the Monks have been using to assess Earth’s capabilities and weaknesses before launching a perfectly calculated invasion. The Monk the Doctor faces in Extremis is played by Jamie Hill, he also appeared as the Foretold in 2014’s Mummy on the Orient Express (as well as one of the Silence creatures in series six), and the chilling voice of the Monks is provided by Tim Bentinck. Bizarrely, it’s interesting how the Monks are slightly reminiscent of the Silence, with their long fingers and ingenious invasion plans, yet they speak with their mouths agape in a way that’s also similar to the original Mondasian Cybermen.

After all the build up, hints, and speculation, Extremis is the episode of series ten where we finally discover who is inside the Vault that the Doctor and Nardole have been guarding at the university on Earth, and it turns out to be – Missy! Yes, even though we’d probably already half-guessed this big reveal, it doesn’t diminish it to finally have it conformed in Extremis. This all ties in with the numerous flashbacks that permeate every aspect of the episode, where Missy is a prisoner on Carnathon awaiting her execution which will be instigated by non other than the Doctor himself, and her body then subsequently placed inside a waiting Quantum Fold Chamber which the Doctor has solemnly vowed to watch over for a thousand years.

Michelle Gomez makes a welcome return as rogue Time Lady and self styled Queen of Evil, Missy in Extremis, with a surprisingly restrained and vulnerable performance, and her characters impromptu return to the series really heightens the drama in this episode. Extremis also presents Missy in a completely different light, she even begs the Doctor to help her change her ways at one point, and Gomez is excellent throughout as ever. However, the full extent of Missy’s role and her fate remains somewhat unclear, at least for now…

There are a number of references that pertain to River Song in Extremis, most notably when Missy mentions she’s heard rumours amongst the Daleks of the Doctor’s retirement and “Domestic bliss on Darillium” (a planet first mentioned in 2008’s Forest of the Dead), where the Doctor and River went to see the Singing Towers in the 2015 Christmas Special: The Husbands of River Song after defeating King Hydroflax. Missy also offers the Doctor her condolences on River’s passing. Nardole also turns up as a Cleric at Missy’s execution in Extremis to meet the Doctor, having been given special permission by the Doctor‘s late wife, and he also has River’s distinctive TARDIS styled diary (first seen in 2008’s Silence in the Library) which she used to keep track of her out-of-sequence adventures with the Doctor and their haphazard timelines. The Doctor also mentions as he is part of the Prydonian Chapter, first mentioned in the Deadly Assassin (1976).

Extremis concludes with some truly powerful scenes, when the Doctor is confronted by a Monk in the simulation of the Oval Office. The Time Lord reveals he is fully aware that he is also a simulation, but warns the creature that the Earth will be ready for them as he’s been secretly recording everything via his sonic sunglasses and has just emailed the file to his real-world self guarding the Vault. This all entwines with how the Doctor outwits Missy’s captors and death sentence to spare her life, explaining why he’s been overseeing her incarceration in the Vault. It all collectively builds towards the episodes thrilling cliff-hanger, where the real-world Doctor gets the email sent from his digital self and asks for Missy’s help through the doors to fend off the invasion.

Although in retrospect Extremis is actually just a set up for the “Monk Trilogy” of stories, there’s still a wealth of exciting developments in this episode, with terrific performances from Peter Capaldi, Pearl Mackie, and Matt Lucas as the new TARDIS team faces their greatest challenge so far. Steven Moffat’s scrip is audaciously epic in scope and scale, presenting just as many questions as it does answers, and director Daniel Nettheim offsets the striking visuals with a darkly atmospheric edge – especially during the library scenes. Extremis is a great episode; it places the world in dire peril, and sets everything up for the next stage in this intriguing saga!

Images Belong BBC