In Veritas, Cavum

Review of Extremis
Warning: This review contains episode-specific spoilers and wild speculation about future episodes.

When Extremis came on my screen, I had no way to know what kind of a roller coaster ride I was in for—though probably not in the way you would assume upon reading that sentence.

Both on the micro and macro scales, my experience of the episode was full of shifting reactions. Outside of the content, I came in with a high level of excitement because for the first time ever, I was watching new Doctor Who fresh out of the box *with my daughters*.

It's only in the last couple of weeks that I've convinced them to give the show a try. They've seen it on the screen as I watched, alone or with the Ladies, in years past, but with the exception of a few minutes of (I believe) a Tom Baker serial, neither of them has ever sat down to watch with me. It had been summarily dismissed as "too scary."

Given that a number of years has passed since then, and that they have both read and watched plenty of scary content in the meantime, they finally agreed to give it a go with me. After The Pilot, they were champing at the proverbial bit for more. (We've also watched some of The Sarah Jane Adventures, and there are summer plans for further consumption of both pre- and post-Hiatus episodes.) So when they'd caught up and had the chance to watch the story unfold in "real time" with me, all three of us were excited.

By the time the episode ended, though, we all sat on the couch bemused.

I'm still trying to figure out what so colored my initial reaction, because that overall impression is the first, broadest reversal; on second viewing I liked it much better, despite its flaws. All I can think of is that a first viewing has become a fairly ritualized, solitary event for me. Until now, no one else in my household has been interested (my husband used to watch with me on occasion, but it's been years now, and even then it was rarely on my first time through). Having someone else to react with me—especially someone I (a) want very much to like it enough to keep watching and (b) may need to explain certain background details to as we watch—seems to have cramped my style enough to skew my reactions.

On a much smaller scale, there was the reversal that came from being successfully drawn into the bait-and-switch of the pre-credits sequence. I was delighted by Moffat's skill in making my own assumptions work against me, turning the condemned/executioner dynamic around at the last second. Almost immediately, though, I felt disappointed in the apparent confirmation that the inhabitant of the "quantum fold chamber" (aka, the Vault) was, in fact, Missy.

Mind you, I still don't entirely believe it, because that conclusion is being so strongly telegraphed. I find it completely implausible that Moffat would be so ham-fisted, especially when he'd just shown how simple it was to take what appeared a clear chain of events and line of conversation to mean something that turned out to be completely wrong. So I'm still waiting to find out exactly who or what is in the Vault, what led the Doctor to make his oath in the first place, and who this group is that wants to eliminate all life from the universe (plus when they'll crop up again).

As for the main conceit of the episode, I found that fascinating. The scene in the projector room is brilliant. Nardole really steps up to the plate here, proving himself to be neither mere comic relief nor a simple Jiminy Cricket stand-in. I love that he not only figures out what's going on but that he bravely tests his hypothesis, knowing the horror that awaits him should he be right.

What I can't get over, though, is the idea that these advanced aliens put the Veritas in the simulation. Why would they do that? "To assess the abilities of the resident population, especially the ones smart enough to realize that they are just simulants inside a great big computer game"? That doesn't make any sense. The kind of information the aliens would need for an invasion is not the kind they would get out of those individuals once they realized they were shadows. Sure, they'd learn how they react under stress, but not what they would do to thwart an invasion. That kind of ruins the entire point of the episode.

The other thing that freaked me out at first was the idea that the Doctor was somehow bringing some sort of early death upon himself by temporarily repairing his eyesight. (Let's not even get into the ridiculousness of how he can "see" an information display from his sonic sunglasses despite his actual eyes not sending any data to his brain.) It makes for a wonderfully tense few moments, and an ominous sense of impending doom.

Except that it was a shadow Doctor.

Moffat's always been really good at this kind of thing. He makes something seem super impressive or important or ominous, but then there's some detail that when you tug on it unravels the whole mess like the Fourth Doctor's scarf in the hands of the newly-regenerated Fifth.

And since this episode appears to be the unexpected first of a two-parter, there are sure to be more revelations next time. Whether the new plot threads darn the holes left in this episode, or make an ugly bodge of it instead remains to be seen.

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Comments

First, congratulations on getting your family to watch with you. Mine tolerates my Who watching but doesn't have any interest in watching the episodes whatsoever.

Second, I didn't get the idea that the death cult wanted to end all life in the universe. Why would The Doctor cooperate with such people? The idea I got was that those people were professional executioners and their business was killing certain individuals who had been marked for execution. This is a specialized skill because some species are very hard to kill, including Time Lords.

The dialogue in that scene reinforces the idea that The Doctor and Missy were romantically involved. I know you don't like that idea but Moffat seems to be pushing it hard.

And of course it's Missy in the box. Who else would it be? We know it is a living being who would live over 1000 years, and somebody who would want to eat dinner with The Doctor and listen to stories about teenagers being eaten by houses. It has to be a Time Lord and while I suppose it COULD be Susan there aren't really many other candidates.

Thirdly, The Doctor's eyes were damaged, not his optic nerve. If you could bypass the eye and feed the information directly to the nerve there is no reason an artificial eye couldn't allow The Doctor to see or read or do anything else that relies on sight. In Class (don't know if you've been watching it) The Doctor replaced the amputated leg of a student and after stumbling around for a few episodes he seems to be walking just fine.

During that episode, The Doctor claimed that he had a medical section in the TARDIS with all kinds of replacement body parts handy. He should be able to replace his damaged eyes with new ones. That he hasn't means that they want him blind for plot reasons.

By Kara S (not verified)
mrfranklin's picture

I can agree with you on some of your points, but I still disagree on others. :)

Your reading of the death cult makes sense. Although it wasn't my interpretation, I like yours better, so I'm going to go with that now. ;)

I've been assuming all along that it's Missy—or possibly the Simm Master—in the box, so I don't disagree with you there. I just find it a boring conclusion, because it's been so obvious. That's why part of me is still waiting for the other shoe to drop. After all, when's the last time Moffat was that blatant about anything?

And your point about the difference between the eyes themselves and the optic nerve is well taken. Clearly I hadn't thought that one all the way through. As for his replacement body parts, though, I interpreted what he told Bill in that moment to be distraction banter. I don't believe he's really got spare bits on board the TARDIS—though I agree keeping him blind is completely plot-driven.

I have one last point of major disagreement, though. I didn't see or hear anything in the execution scenes that pointed in any way to the Doctor and Missy being romantically involved. I'm going to have to go read a transcript to figure out what could possibly be interpreted that way. Maybe I'm just getting clueless in my old age, but it never even crossed my mind until I read your comment, and I've been scratching my head about it ever since.

To each their own. :)

By mrfranklin

There wasn't much in the episode's dialogue about a romantic attachment, other than The Doctor's flat refusal to kill Missy and her declaration of undying friendship for him. But we discussed dialogue in episodes from last season where I suggested that it indicated that Missy was the mother of The Doctor's child. You chose to dispute my interpretation which is fair. No specific dialogue has answered that question definitively. But it seems to me the hints are getting broader and broader.

The Doctor does keep artificial body parts in the TARDIS. He installed a robotic leg on a student who lost his when he was attacked by aliens on the spinoff Class and stated that he keeps a supply of assorted artificial body parts in his med bay for such occasions. He may not have eyes suitable for Time Lords on hand but you'd think he could get some if he was so motivated. He seems to prefer to rely on his sunglasses.

By Kara S (not verified)
mrfranklin's picture

I think I see now what you were getting at. Yes, I choose to take the dialog and such at face value. For decades, the Doctor and Missy/the Master have been suggested to have a close relationship; usually it's assumed they are either besties or siblings. It's only recently that any there has been any overt hint of romantic entanglement (though I'll admit I kinda ship the Third Doctor/the Delgado Master). I enjoy it more with the more platonic interpretation. ~shrug~

I'll admit I'd forgotten that Ram's leg came from the Doctor (which, in retrospect, is silly of me). However, I think of that as tech rather than "body parts," a term which implies a biological nature to me. So I still don't think the Doctor actually keeps body parts on the TARDIS. :)

Besides, we've now seen exactly the reason Moffat kept the Doctor blind...

By mrfranklin

I also prefer a platonic interpretation. I'd prefer my Doctor Who totally without romance in fact.

Well, I rather liked the Amy/Rory/Doctor thing but only because there was no chance the Doctor reciprocated Amy's desire for a physical relationship.

In the New Who, The Doctor's deep emotional need for his companions (not there in the classic series) is an interesting new component. But he's an alien. I may love my dog emotionally and feel like she's part of the family but I don't desire a physical romantic relationship with her. (yuck)

However, Missy is a fellow Time Lord. I'm willing to follow this plot point to completion. It wouldn't be my first choice. But I accept it. And it's where I see Moffat taking the story.

It's TMI. The Doctor should be more mysterious.

As for the blindness, yeah, this is where it was going and I'm disappointed. It lacks subtlety. How is The Doctor going to get us stupid Earthlings our of this one? *sigh*

By Kara S (not verified)
mrfranklin's picture

I guess I'd be more okay with Missy than anyone else for a romantic entanglement, yes. But I'm going to stick with my "gee, golly, I just don't see it!" stance. ;) (~sticks fingers in ears; chants "la la la!"~)

As for how the Doctor will get us out of this one, I predict a Mind Fuck Episode in the works!

By mrfranklin

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