***WARNING: MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD!***
“Extremis” is one of those episodes where the more I think about it, the more it collapses under the weight of its own logic holes. There’s plenty love in “Extremis”: the hilarious scene where the Pope interrupts Bill’s date, the secret Vatican library of heretical books, an ancient text called Veritas that causes anyone who translates it to commit suicide, and of course the mind-blowing revelation as to why they commit suicide: the text reveals to them that this world isn’t the real world. But it’s in that last, very cool bit where things fall apart.
If the world of the episode is actually a simulation run by aliens planning an invasion of Earth, I find myself with a lot of questions: If you’re planning an invasion, wouldn’t you focus your energies on simulating Earth’s defenses? Why waste your time replicating every single person on Earth as well as their complete, lifelong memories? How would the aliens, who know nothing of Earth, which is why they’re running the simulation, know what memories to program the replicants with? And how would they be able to accurately replicate a being as complicated as the Doctor, who shows up in different time periods with different faces, and somehow also include memories of his off-world adventures, which presumably they wouldn’t know anything about? If the Veritas text stands to destroy the integrity of their simulation, why allow it to exist in the simulation at all? Why not remove it after the very first translator kills himself? It’s clear the aliens are able to remove people from the simulation, so why not objects? Are they just not paying attention? And if the Doctor is a computer simulation along with the rest of this world, then surely his sonic shades* would be a simulation too and incapable of emailing the real Doctor in the real world. None this makes sense. As enjoyable as the story is, it’s rife with episode author and showrunner Steven Moffat’s classic style over substance approach. (The cartoonish sticks of dynamite hidden under the tables in the CERN cafeteria was particularly laughable.)
There’s a nod to Pope Benedict IX being a woman in disguise, which is cool, but of course the Doctor has to mention that he had a romantic relationship with her. It’s not enough anymore for the Doctor to simply know famous women from history, he has to sleep with them, too. (I’m so ready for someone new to take this show in a new direction!)
We also learn that it’s Missy in the vault. Unfortunately, this comes as no surprise, although the manner in which she gets there does. We haven’t seen her since she was trapped on Skaro with the Daleks in last season’s “The Witch’s Familiar,” and it’s intriguing to wonder what happened between then and now. She mentions the Daleks were abuzz with news of the Doctor’s retirement — which makes me wonder why they didn’t try to take over the universe again while the Doctor was out of commission — so it sounds like she and the Daleks came to an understanding. But now she’s being executed either for a new crime or her many crimes, and her body is supposed to go in the vault. The Doctor fast-talks his way around the execution part but he does have to keep her in the vault and guard it for 1,000 years. So far so good. But then the vault rises up out of the water on the executioners’ planet for the Doctor to put her in, and I start having questions again: Why does the Doctor bring the vault to Earth afterward? Why bring it to a university where he’s forced to take on the role of teacher in order to explain his presence there? Why doesn’t he go somewhere remote in case Missy breaks out so she won’t endanger an entire university of young students, let alone an entire planet of human beings? I’m hoping for an explanation down the road, but I’m not holding my breath. Moffat tends to leave plot threads dangling. (Whatever happened to Madame Kovarian in season 6? Why was the Doctor going around erasing himself from memory banks in season 7? Etc., etc., forever.) Of course, all of this could have been explained away if the executioner had simply asked if the Doctor had a place for her body and he said yes, he knows of a place and it’s all prepared. It’s the moving of the vault to Earth, as opposed to the vault already being on Earth, that raises all these questions for me.
Continuing the Doctor’s blindness is a bold move. I don’t know where they’re going with it, but I respect it. His sonic screwdriver is back, although that may have only been in the simulation. Nardole is great in this episode because he isn’t being a nag; he has a chance to be funny and do important things. Logic holes and my obviously mounting frustration with Moffat aside, “Extremis” is an enjoyable episode and I’m eager to see how things develop over the second half of the season.
And now for some Doctor Who neepery! If Missy and the Daleks did come to some kind of understanding, it wouldn’t be the first time they’ve worked together. In the 1973 Third Doctor serial “Frontier in Space,” the Master and the Daleks become allies in order to start a war between the universe’s two most powerful empires, Earth and Draconia, hoping they will destroy each other and allow the Daleks to become the rulers of the universe with the Master getting part of it for himself. The plan fails, of course, and that spells the end of the alliance. In fact, at the start of the 1996 TV movie, the Master is executed by the Daleks on Skaro! (Of course, he’s not really dead, but there’s no indication that the Daleks were in on the ruse.) Also in this episode the Doctor mentions that he is a Time Lord of the Prydonian Chapter. We first learn that there are several different Times Lord chapters, including Prydonian, Arcalian, and Patrexes, in the 1976 Fourth Doctor serial “The Deadly Assassin,” which is the first story to take place entirely on Gallifrey. And of course I have fond memories of the infamous Prydonians of Princeton, the Doctor Who fan club from the ivy league university that were always answering phones in the background during the Doctor Who pledge drives on WNJN, the public TV station out of New Jersey!
* Yes, the sonic shades are back. But at least they serve a purpose now that the Doctor is blind and relying, Daredevil-like, on their electronic input in order to “see,” unlike last season when the Doctor just thought they were cool. Ugh.