Doctor Who – Extremis

So here’s the thing: I’ve been enjoying this season of Doctor Who very much, it’s fun and delightful and Bill is superb, HOWEVER, it has also been Wholly Unsurprising; other than the Doctor acquiring a professorship and more permanent Earth residence. Every story so far, I can more or less guess the plot beats if not the specifics of How Things Turn Out and What’s Happening. Which is fine, it’s lovely, I get this is a soft reboot. HOWEVER, as a fan, it was UTTERLY DELICIOUS to finally get an episode where I had NOT A CLUE what was going on or where we were going. Also, there was Michelle Gomez, who is amazingsauce. Anyway, onwards!

“A long time ago” Oh this was a BIT OF A GREAT START. I like the planet of executioners, also MISSY. MISSY SCENES. This both looks fab and is a bit chilling and also MISSY. Also, let us remember this is not the first time the Doctor has been required to deal with the Master’s remains. This is a big step up from the goo snake though.

  • “Apologies for our choice but your people are not easy to come by.” A few years ago this would have been a beat of MISERY and ANGST, but NO LONGER. Gallifrey lives! There are plenty of Time Lords! But they’ve never been easy to get a hold of, but it is NOT A BEAT OF ANGST THANK GOD.
  • I love how Gomez plays the domestic bliss lines, because she is both mocking and yet I also believe sincere in her condolences. ALSO RIVER REFERENCE. Damn, I really want fic about the Doctor and River’s years of domestic bliss. Shush. ALSO, it’s so Delgado!Master-y it is just ridic, I mean, you can completely believe they are the same character, I can hear how the Delgado!Master would deliver those lines (the COURTESY! The saying thank you to the guards who bring her forward to the block *flails*). And I LOVE that we are pressing hard on the “used to be friends” thread, like, it is MAGICAL. And so pandering – it is taking the most shiny thing of the Pertwee era and translating it beautifully into New Who and I just LOVE HOW THEY LOOK AT EACH OTHER, and understand each other and I feel SOMEWHAT BITTER there is a WHOLE OTHER STORY going on this ep that takes away time from the delicious Doctor/Master goodness.
  • Annoyingly that other story is SUPERB. But before we get there, we get confirmation that Missy is in the vault. Or the Doctor thinks Missy is in the vault. It is sort of disappointing (UNLESS THERE IS SOME MARVELOUS TWIST PLEASE DO THAT TY) but that is sort of made up for by the MISSY SCENES, and at least we’re not waiting the whole series for an answer.
  • “Please, I’ll do anything.” Now, this might be a reach, BUT this moment I am totally calling a Time Monster reference. I love The Time Monster – it is perfect and beautiful and a pox on any fan who says otherwise, ANYWAY, this perfection is marred by one teeny tiny bit of overacting from Delgado at the end. When he’s on his knees begging the Doctor to save him. SO, we get a New Who version of that moment, except it’s SMASHING. WHY? Because it makes me happy, and if there’s one thing Doctor Who has been doing for the past whatever years, it’s story choices to make me happy. WHY WOULD THAT STOP NOW.
  • OH. This is my second watch, and now it makes sense that the Doctor gets a new email titled Extremis. On first watch I was merely irritated at the pseudo-futuristic annoying green font. I thought it was trying to be COOL. But no. Actual plot point. It’s still an annoying font.
  • Also, second watch means I know that bit pre-title sequence is all the real Doctor we get till the end. QUITE looking forward to this aspect of the rewatch, PERSPECTIVE CHANGE. Exciting. Not as exciting as first watch and the NOT KNOWING, obv, but still.
  • A CARDINAL, IN DOCTOR WHO? Now, as you might know Bob, Doctor Who has, hmm, lack of engagement with religious issues, as a rule. It has plenty of the sci-fi religious tropes eg gods are really aliens, regressive civilisations explaining tech they no longer understand via religion, primitive aliens must be saved from oppressive religion. Engagement with real world religions happens little and lightly. Most explicitly during the Pertwee era where there was a heavy Buddhist influence, echoing the beliefs of producer Barry Letts. But cardinals, the POPE?! Nooooo. So points for this being novel, and for the respect shown to the Catholic church, without holding it in reverence (to paraphrase how Moffat put it in a RT interview.) I approve.
  • The presence of the pontiff and his dudes also sort of grounds it in the real world, making it feel that bit scarier, and that bit grander. Much as I disapprove of many aspects of the Catholic church, they’d also be the denomination of Christianity I’d most want on the job to stop any accidental apocalypses. I DO LIKE THIS CARDINAL. I mean he’s mostly expositing, but expositing WELL, and then we get that lovely moment where he extends the invitation for confession to the Doctor.
  • Course, what makes all this really work for me is that Pope Francis is someone I admire enormously. My feelings regarding the previous two Popes were extremely negative, while Pope Francis has been consistently impressive in his moral stances. (There is much I disagree with, obviously, he is the Pope; but a Pope who actually seems to care about the poor? Who frequently and voraciously advocates against poverty? Who is against capital punishment, and doesn’t spend an excessive amount of time condemning “sexual immorality”? Who seems to care more for mercy and compassion than doctrine? Smashing.)
  • Also, I can TOTALLY believe the Catholic Church would be like “yeah, this Pope 1000 years ago recced you to us, we need your help.”
  • DAMMIT, NARDOLE. His helpful and hilarious covering for the Doctor’s blindness is both lols and lovely.
  • MASS SUICIDE is also PRETTY DARK for Who. But that is such a great hook: “they translated this really old lost text and then all killed themselves”. WHAT DOES IT SAY? But, also, DO WE ACTUALLY WISH TO KNOW THAT? AND ALSO, remembering Moffat REALLY DIDN’T DISAPPOINT with the three word reveal in season eight’s finale, “don’t cremate me”, SO REALLY DO WE ACTUALLY WANT TO KNOW?
  • OH BILL. The look on her face as she hears the TARDIS materialise in her bedroom while she’s on a date.
  • OH NARDOLE. I was guessing, I admit, MORE EXCITING ANSWERS as to who the hooded figure at the execution was but then the recitation reached “my husband” and it is Nardole reading River’s diary and CAN OPEN FEELINGS EVERYWHERE. AND THEN THE DIARY. OH. I really didn’t expect so much acknowledgment of River’s passing. She had a SUPERB run, and while I don’t generally approve of excessive wallowing it is MUCH NICER when it is for a character I love.
  • “You’re an idiot.” “Everyone knows that.” STOP BEING LOVELY AND CHARMING, NARDOLE. STOP MAKING CAPALDI EVEN MORE BEAUTIFUL.
  • Mysterious light in the forbidden library! Because this ep isn’t intriguing ENOUGH, let’s have MORE MYSTERY. This was the point when I went from RAPT WATCHING to OMG WHAT IS HAPPENING EXCITING FLAIL.
  • SCARY ALIEN HAND LURCHING OUT OF WALL. PERSON IN SCARY BOOK CAGE. This is GREAT.
  • I am weirdly amused the translator priest sent the Veritas translation to CERN. Like, was he trying to get confirmation from SCIENCE? Was he really judgey at SCIENTISTS and wanted them to lose faith in the world as he had done? Did the writer just think, hey, CERN is COOL, also, won’t it be neat when we see it’s both the religious hierarchy and scientists of SCIENCE who are affected by this text in the same way? (Let us not forget, people, the majority of scientists across human history were also people of religion; a belief in the Divine does not negate one’s trust and support of science, and vice-versa.)
  • “When do a bunch of scientists ask for prayers?” SIDE-EYE. REALLY. COME ON. FALSE DICHOTOMY FOR THE LOSE. Though the “same time anyone does, when they’re very, very afraid. Particle physicists and priests, what could scare them both?” is rather nifty.
  • Oh, thank goodness, so not impressed with Nardole taking off his glasses and being “a badass”. Hurrah! All the good work done to make me not dislike him has come undone!
  • “I am your friend…I have said the truth without hope, without witness, without reward, I am your friend.” OMG, this is both properly moving, but also totally playing the Doctor while ALSO being the actual truth, probably. WHY CAN’T WE JUST HAVE MISSY AND THE DOCTOR FOR AN EPISODE? PLEASE. IT’S ALL I WANT. Apart from all the other things.
  • “Of the Prydonian chapter” Lols, old skool refs ftw. Cf The Deadly Assassin. “I will guard this body for a 1000 years” and it all makes sense now, hurrah! Now give us a lovely twist, come on, YOU KNOW YOU WANT TO.
  • The little side-trip to the Pentagon, also, win, just so out of left field, and adding more flail, even though this tiny aspect of the mysteryness is quickly cleared up.
  • CERN! This ep is SUPER for the bit parts that are effective with just a few minutes, or in case of the Pentagon lady, a few seconds of screentime, WELL DONE. The Cardinal is best, but this scientist is pretty nifty too. Also win for the INTERNATIONALESS, French and Italian and Argentinian and Americans! I’m sure all the accents are totally spot on.
  • AND WHO’S IN THE LIBRARY WITH THE DOCTOR??? Obv not the Cardinal, SO WHO??? And the TENSION as we only see them from the perspective of the Doctor’s NOT VERY KEEN RETURNING EYESIGHT. I love the idea of the Gallifreyan doodah allowing him to steal something from his future that means bonus abilities now but debuff later on. YES. A MOBY DICK DISS. God, I bloody hate Moby Dick.
  • OH THE REVEAL! Proper creepy aliens, MARVELLOUS. :D:D:D And then the SUPER chase, with the aliens closing in and the Doctor’s eyesight failing and CORRIDORS and SHADOWS and it is utterly lovely.
  • On first watch I was SUPER JUDGEY at the HILARIOUS RED DYNAMITE BOUGHT FROM ACME under the tables. I’m less so now I know it’s a simulation. BUT STILL. Where did CERN get Wile E. Coyote’s explosives?
  • “Because this isn’t the world.” I like how low-key the reveal is. How casually said. AND THEN THE CREEPY NUMBERS THING. Which I love HERE. Though I am somewhat more hohum about the EXPLANATION later, as it sounded a bit…dubious re all the people in this amazingly complicated simulation choose the same random number if the random numbers are chosen at the same time. I MEAN, maybe their programmers ran out of time? Maybe they didn’t have the resources to make everything work QUITE right so had to make shortcuts or not quite finish off bits and bobs cause that definitely happens all the time. I do like the simulation isn’t perfect and that someone within it worked out a long time ago what it was and that knowledge was preserved within the simulation for simulated centuries. It is a BIG sim, and I’ve play plenty of MMORPGs. Stuff gets forgotten, overlooked, and they will never ever sort out all the bugs. There simply isn’t the time, or the budget. Anyway, overall the effect is worth any misgivings I have about the technicalities.
  • Maybe I’ve just watched too much sci-fi, but I’m okay with the idea of being a simulation. That doesn’t negate my sentience, in as much as I understand the concept; I am still alive in a way that’s meaningful to me. That’s enough.
  • I was a bit IS THE WHOLE SEASON SO FAR A FAKE OUT? Which in the moment was a skin-tingling idea of OMG, but in the cold light of a second rewatch would probably have been a terrible plan. I STILL HOPE WE’RE ON MONDAS THOUGH. Nardole and Bill’s realistion of THE TRUTH is all marvellous, the tip from “we’re in a sim” to “we’re part of the sim” omg. And the idea of our universe being in effect a hologram is an actual current scientific theory (http://www.wired.co.uk/article/our-universe-is-a-hologram); I like it when Doctor Who does science.
  • “Like the holodeck on Star Trek.” I find it SO BIZARRE for Who to actually reference Trek so blatantly.
  • One thing I find fascinating is that this story frames suicide as a heroic choice (the Doctor says “those weren’t suicides, those were people escaping” but all suicide is an escape; gosh, this is DARK, but it’s on just the right side of dark for me). Perhaps some are killing themselves from despair, but the only one who gives us their motive is the scientist: and they’re saving the world. And the Doctor repeats that idea later: they are choosing not to participate in the aliens’ invasion plans, and they only way to do that is to destroy oneself. The idea of sacrificing one’s self for the greater good is a particularly unfashionable idea within our delightful neoliberal politics, but if there’s one thing this season of Doctor Who seems to want to do, it’s engage in radical political ideas, and while this may not be so pointed as Thin Ice or Oxygen, it is every bit as powerful.
  • The reveal of what the Veritas says is as dark and wonderful and terrifying as I could have wished. (Again with the numbers thing: it’s spooky, but the idea of this ancient document and the randoming then being the same as the randoming now, I find, oh I don’t know, it just seems off based on my iffy knowledge of programing (I was a professional one once! For six whole months, it didn’t agree), BUT why assume alien programming is anything like human? Maybe they have TROUBLE with random numbers in their weird crystal goo computer setup.
  • And TECHNICALLY this is the classic sci-fi trope: aliens are gods. They created this world, after all. But it’s twisted round so it doesn’t feel the least bit well-worn.
  • “Especially the ones smart enough to realise they are just simulants.” That’s a lovely detail – that the aliens PLANNED for some segment of the population to realise the truth and that that is actually helpful to them.
  • “If all the computer generated people are part of the same computer program, they’ll all generate the same string of numbers.” I’M SORRY, I know I’m harping on about this a bit, BUT IT’S THE ONE DECENT NIGGLE IN OTHERWISE SUPERNESS ALL ROUND. But, just saying, if this was true, we’d have a fuck of a lot more problems dividing up the loot on a guild raid in SW:TOR (we random number the good stuff, everyone rolls, highest wins, WEIRDLY these numbers are RARELY THE SAME.)
  • “Those pretend people you shoot at in computer games, now you know.” “Know what?” “They think they’re real; they feel it.” WHAT FUCKED UP GAMES ARE YOU PLAYING, DOCTOR? I was prepared this time, but on first watch that completely broke the mood of an awesome and wonderful scene, as I lolled because WHAT, that is a line written by someone who has some FUNNY IDEAS ABOUT COMPUTER GAMES.
  • “We have killed you many times.” THE CREEPINESS FACTOR IS HIGH WITH THIS ONE.
  • OH. And then the Doctor defeated and REMEMBERING THE WORDS OF HIS WIFE, SPOKEN BY HIS OLDEST FRIEND. BEAUTIFUL. SUCH ELEGANT BOW TYING BETWEEN THE TWO STORYLINES.
  • Also, Capaldi is AMAZING here, the way he’s internally warring between hope and despair, as he struggles with both being blind and the knowledge that he is not the ‘real’ Doctor.
  • JUST SEND THE SODDING MESSAGE DO NOT SAY “there’s always one thing you can do inside a computer even if you’re a jumped up little subroutine…you can always email”. Look, I’m not saying Moffat is tech illiterate, I’m just saying I found “MEGABYTE MODEM!” slightly more convincing.
  • And we watched the episode WITH THE DOCTOR WATCHING THE EPISODE. Lols.
  • “I’m a scary, handsome genius from space…” YES, YOU ARE.
  • The Doctor asking Missy for help is PERFECT. PLEASE LET THERE BE AN EPIC TEAM-UP THAT LASTS FOR MANY SCENES BEFORE SUDDEN BUT INEVITABLE BETRAYAL.
  • “I’ve just been executed, show a little respect.” MORE PERFECTNESS.
  • “The fatality index, look up ‘the Doctor’…under cause of death” TORN. On the one hand “look me up” is on my top five ways of plot resolution that I bloody hate. Still, at least it’s the subplot. On the other hand, the executioner dude did make a great showing and turn it from IRRITATION to lols. So, I shall not gripe TOO much.
  • In conclusion, THAT is my new fav episode of the season. TEN OUT OF TEN SIMULATED EARTHS.
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