The Good: Decent performances, Interesting plot reveals, The moments of character, Good special effects
The Bad: Somewhat limited character development
The Basics: "Extremis" marks the return of Missy and the revelation of what is in the vault in a surprisingly well-executed twist-based episode of Doctor Who!
When it comes to Doctor Who recurring characters, there are few whose returns are as eagerly anticipated as The Master. Last seen, The Master was Missy and she was on the Dalek homeworld in "The Witch's Familiar" (reviewed here!). So, when the first previews for "Extremis" featured Missy in them, fans were naturally excited. Fortunately for Doctor Who, the return of Missy in "Extremis" is not simply a vague tease; "Extremis" is a clever episode that manages to be one of the very best of Peter Capaldi's run as The Doctor!
"Extremis" follows on the heels of "Oxygen" (reviewed here!) and it is impossible to discuss the new episode without some references as to where the prior episode ended. After all, "Oxygen" ended with The Doctor returning to the present, blinded. While Nardole is aware of his condition, Bill is not and Nardole was deeply concerned that whatever is in the vault in the basement could exploit The Doctor's blindness. "Extremis" is easily one of Steven Moffat's best-written Doctor Who scripts in years as it does not simply hinge upon the final reveal; it cleverly builds its own story and arc that maintains a tone of intrigue through the reveal and the episode's resolution.
The Doctor and Nardole are recovering from their adventure in space when The Doctor returns to his classroom. There, he is met by emissaries of The Pope and The Pope himself. The Pope has a mission for The Doctor; he wants The Doctor to come and read a heretical text called Veritas, which has led to the suicide of all who have read it. Still blind and, obviously, unable to read it, The Doctor and Nardole commit to a trip to the Vatican to examine the text. En route, the TARDIS arrives at Bill's home, interrupting her first date with Penny.
The trio arrive at the Vatican where they are brought into the secret catacomb of forbidden works. There, The Doctor and his Companions find the book that leads to suicides and a missing translator. Their guide disappears abruptly and the translator almost immediately kills himself. While Nardole and Bill track down the corpse of the translator, The Doctor uses a device that might temporarily restore his sight to read the Veritas. But Nardole and Bill find a portal in the Vatican basement instead of the translator and they take it to somewhere truly fantastic and The Doctor's attempt to read the forbidden book puts him at the mercy of strange, new aliens.
Blended throughout the main narrative of "Extremis" are scenes that feature The Doctor and Missy. Set in the distant past, Missy is given a death sentence that The Doctor is expected to carry out. Not wanting to die, Missy appeals to The Doctor's better nature and The Doctor is visited by Nardole - who has River's journal and a message from The Doctor's late wife. The scenes with Missy play into the end of the episode with a fairly well-executed reveal of what is in the vault The Doctor and Nardole have been guarding.
"Extremis" is a set-up episode that does not feel like much of a set-up; it holds up well on its own. Unlike the surreal "Heaven Sent" (reviewed here!), "Extremis" tells a pretty solid story on its own that makes a lot of sense and has a clear structure, as opposed to being a mood piece that largely depends upon the final revelation at its end. Moreover, the flashback scenes in "Extremis" play a chord within The Doctor's presence, like nagging little triggers that help him piece together the truth of what is going on with the forbidden work. One suspects "Extremis" is an episode that can be returned to many times for viewers to find more and more clues within it.
Most of the thematic and character elements of "Extremis" are actually presented in the flashback scenes. The "present tense" story is plot-heavy and allows Nardole, more than any other main character, to show off his talents and intelligence. Indeed, for a change Nardole reaches the correct conclusions well in advance of The Doctor and Bill, even at great peril to himself. The Doctor's relationship with Missy serves to reinforce his long-standing ethics, but the reveal in the flashback plot is actually more satisfying than frustrating. Indeed, had it been written less well, "Extremis" would have been a big let-down to viewers.
Instead, "Extremis" allows Peter Capaldi to actually play The Doctor blind and he rises to the occasion in the few scenes where his eyes are visible. Matt Lucas lends force to his performance of Nardole acting with more authority during The Doctor's wounded period. Pearl Mackie is even granted an opportunity to show off more range as she portrays Bill with a lack of self-confidence and an elevating sense of fear throughout the episode.
The performances, plot development and the episode's few moments of character and theme are accented with cool special effects to make a pretty incredible Doctor Who episode.
For other works with Joseph Long, please check out my reviews of:
"Turn Left" - Doctor Who
For other Doctor Who episode and movie reviews, please visit my Doctor Who Review Index Page!
© 2017 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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