DOCTOR WHO Review: “Extremis”

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This week’s episode of is bizarre, and that’s saying a lot for this show. Sci-fi is strange enough on its own, but mix religion with sci-fi and we have a Matrix-y kind of weird here. I like The Matrix, but that had two hours to flesh out its world and concepts; Doctor Who only has fifty minutes, and I feel like Steven Moffat, as he has been wont to do in the past, bit off a little more than he can chew.

I’m not really sure what to do with it, plot-wise. Was it real? Was any of it real? The ending, to me, felt a little like one of those stories that does a cop-out ending with “…and then it was all a dream.” If it was a simulation, what was the point of it? Are these undead cardinals the big bads for this season? If they are, why don’t they feel more threatening? Why weren’t we given more information about them? It feels like a gigantic prologue for the rest of the season, but that also leaves us feeling like we were cheated out of an episode. Fifty minutes of set-up does not a good television episode make.

At least we got one of our questions answered, and at least we know that part was real (I hope so, anyway): Missy is the one in the vault.

BBC America

BBC America

The Doctor was called upon to be her executioner and to guard her grave/vault for a thousand years (cue the Christina Perri song…). Of course, the Doctor had a few tricks up his sleeve, and so Missy was never really killed – but we know she’s just waiting for the chance to get out. And now the Doctor wants her help. Because when has that ever gone wrong before (you’d think he’d remember what happened to his tenth incarnation in “The End of Time”…)

I’ll give it credit, the beginning of this episode is really interesting. I never thought we would see the pope emerging from the TARDIS, but there you go. We’re once again taken into a secret library (again, echoes of Season 4) where Veritas, the ancient text that causes its readers to kill themselves, is kept. And the pope wants the Doctor to stop the book from killing even more.

Through all of this, the Doctor is still blind. This is a perfect excuse to use the sonic sunglasses again, as they are psychically wired and therefore able to project certain images into the Doctor’s mind so he can (kind of) see. I’m wondering where this blindness story line is going – was it just an excuse to use the sonic shades again? Is he going to be blind for the rest of the season? Couldn’t he use regeneration energy to heal his eyes (Eleven did it to fix River’s wrist in “The Angels Take Manhattan”)? I’m assuming it’s leading up to some important plot point – or just trying to rip our hearts out even more when he can only see again once he regenerates.

BBC America

BBC America

That leaves the ironic point that the Doctor is called upon to read a text when he is, in fact, blind. He does end up reading it on the laptop, by listening to the audio recording, and that leaves me wondering: because he listened to it instead of reading it, is that some sort of loophole? Is that why he didn’t commit suicide right after like everyone else? Or is this going to be the reason he regenerates – that he fought the urge to kill himself for so long, and finally has to succumb?

Steven Moffat’s episodes are usually very good. I haven’t been a fan of him as showrunner for awhile, but give him credit, he is a great writer – from “The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances” to “The Girl in the Fireplace” to “The Eleventh Hour” to “Blink” to “Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead,” he’s written some of New Who’s best episodes. But even great writers sometimes miss, and I feel like this was a miss. The concept is sweeping, the atmosphere is great – but what it has in ambition it lacks in execution. I watch Doctor Who to feel emotionally connected to what’s going on – this episode I felt pretty much nothing. And then add on top of that that it’s actually all a simulation – how are we supposed to care?

BBC America

BBC America

I haven’t even mentioned the portals, the zombie cardinals, and all the rest that goes on in this episode. The Test of Shadows tried to tie it all together, but it felt like a tenuous link at best. I did like the fact that River Song’s journal showed up again. We have two texts – her journal and Veritas. Guess which one matters more?

So, I was a bit disappointed with this episode. It had an interesting premise, but it got lost in its own aspirations. I think if the focus had been more on the moral and emotional conflict within the Doctor rather than portals and zombies and shadows, oh my, it would have had more of an impact.

And what does this mean for the rest of the season? Are the aliens controlling the portals going to be in the background the entire time? Will the Doctor and Bill have to keep testing to make sure they’re not in a simulation? What happens when the Doctor lets Missy out of the vault? I guess we’ll find out next week, in “The Pyramid at the End of the World.”

TB-TV-Grade-B-Season 10, Episode 6 (S10E06)
Doctor Who airs Saturdays at 9PM on BBC America

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Cailin is a screenwriter and an aspiring TV writer. When not writing, she’s busy convincing random passersby that Firefly was the best show ever, converting her co-workers into Whovians, and waiting for the next season of Sherlock.
Follow Cailin on Twitter: @sherlocked1058
Keep up with all of Cailin’s reviews here.

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