“The layout is designed to confuse the uninitiated.” The same could almost be said for DOCTOR WHO up until this season. A show that regularly celebrates its own past is a wonderful thing, yet this season has been partly built around singular episodes that (re)introduce the Doctor to viewers. Which is why the ambitious “Extremis” represents a massively quiet shift, kicking off a new arc and literally giving us a test run of things to come. [Look out! Very minor spoilers ahead].
Opening with the preparation for the execution of a Time Lord, there’s a delicious bit of cheeky foreboding where the audience isn’t sure if it’s the Doctor (Peter Capaldi) or the returning Missy (Michelle Gomez) who is walking the green mile. Immediately answering one of the lingering questions about the contents of the Vault that’s been teased for the last 5 episodes, it sets up the audience to doubt everything they see.
Seeing, of course, is a luxury that the Doctor does not have at the moment. Following the revelation of the previous episode, the Doctor remains blind, something that he not only hides from the Pope (Joseph Long) – who turns up to recruit the Time Lord for the primary mission this week – but from his companion Bill (Pearl Mackie) as well. The Vatican has recruited the Doctor to investigate the mysterious text known as Veritas, causing anyone who reads it to commit suicide.
A blind Doctor looking into an ancient deathly text is the stuff that makes up the foundation that sits under writer/showrunner Stephen Moffat’s wheelhouse. Now that we’re at the halfway point in the season, the other Moffat trademark of overarching deadly threats comes to the fore as well. Dipping into something a wee bit derivative, sitting in the vicinity of The Da Vinci Code and The Matrix, Moffat falls back on deadly enigmatic monks as the villains. Deadly enigmatic monks: why does it always have to be deadly enigmatic monks?
There’s lots of Big Ideas in this week’s episode, almost as if Moffat is only now just getting to the story he wanted to tell. Moffat doesn’t hasten the pace, however, keeping a deliberately slow pace that is more about what’s coming next.We also couldn’t help but notice that the Doctor’s throwaway line about having “borrowed from his future,” for example. As a result, “Extremis” itself is a little bit all over the place, even if the abundance of set-up ultimately designed to pay off in the next episode. Indeed, the deus ex Doctor this week is literally the Doctor himself. The season has been a mostly strong one so far, so let’s hope that whatever Moffat has in store, he sticks the landing.