A three part story was back in Doctor Who for the first time in almost ten years, and this story brought us Missy, Monks and mayhem. The vault was open, the Doctor got his sight back and we saw the Earth in tatters. There can be no doubt that it was a busy three part story, lots of questions were answered, and lots of new questions were posed. The Monks were a chilling new enemy, but at the end of three parts of scheming and taking over the planet, you can’t help but feel they were ultimately too easily defeated.
Extremis was the slowest episode of the three, and rightly so. It’s purpose was to set the Monks up as an immensely powerful threat, a race that had all the tools at their disposal required to take over Earth. And if that was the episodes’s purpose, that’s what it did. The simulation twist was trademark Steven Moffat, and I liked it. It certainly made sense, there was nothing to pick holes in. What I didn’t quite understand was the Veritas. The Monks had complete control of their simulation, so why did they allow the Veritas to continue? Eventually it proved to be their downfall with the simulated version of the Doctor emailing his real self a file of his memory, so why didn’t they just stop the Veritas at its beginning to stop something like that happening? The Veritas itself was a very interesting concept. Building it up highly by making everyone who read it resorted to suicide was brave, and that could easily have backfired once we found out what the Veritas read, but it didn’t and the simulation kept the integrity of the suicides.
I mentioned that the episode was the slowest paced of the three, but that was picked up by the brief glimpses we got of Missy’s apparent execution. More time could’ve been given to that story I think. More explanation about who the death cult were would’ve been nice, and how they captured Missy. Their swift departure after researching the Doctor’s scrapes with death didn’t fit in with the aura Moffat tried to create around them. Why would they suddenly flee an unarmed man if they are so keen on death to those who deserve it? They were a group with potential, but they were so underused and inconsistent in the small amount of air time they were given.
In his time as show-runner, I’ve often criticised Moffat’s attempts at humour, so I should praise him when he produces a genuinely funny script. Bill telling the priests; “You’re all going to hell”, and Nardole’s answer to Bill’s question if the Doctor gave him the fear was: “If I worked here, I’d cross myself” as they walked through the Vatican, were hilarious quips, among several others throughout the episode.
The purpose of this first part was to set up the Monks, and it did that. Admittedly it did it a lot more slowly than it might have done and it wasn’t the most entertaining forty five minutes of the season so far. The Doctor’s battle with blindness was fascinating to watch and his conversation with Nardole about telling Bill was a strong point. It proved the trust the Doctor has in Nardole, who himself came on in leaps and bounds as a character over the entire three parts. Overall though, despite the Monks and the return of Missy, the episode wasn’t quite as thrilling as it perhaps could’ve been.
Episode Rating: 6/10
Before I start talking about The Pyramid at the End of the World, I want to make clear that I’m delighted at a three part story making up a quarter of an entire season. I’ve long since moaned about stories being rushed and not being given the chance to develop, and fillers irritably taking up space in seasons, where better stories could’ve been given the chance to flesh out and improve with an extra episode. What I didn’t expect with a three part story was three different writers. After writing the first part, Moffat then co-wrote the second part with Peter Harness before handing over the pen to Toby Whithouse to complete the story on his own. This meant all three parts were very different, and I don’t think that helped at all.
Peter Harness did not let himself down though. As he did in The Zygon Invasion/The Zygon Inversion, he set most of the story in a foreign country, this time in Turmezistan – after all, why would all alien invasions happen in the centre of London? A small detail I know, but I appreciate the thought he puts into every aspect of his scripts. This was my favourite part of the three. I thought the pace of the episode was perfect and I enjoyed following the Doctor dealing with the Monks side by side with Erica and her hungover co-worker’s plight with the deadly bacteria. Erica herself, along with Douglas were likable and relatable characters. Nothing fancy, nothing flashy and it made it easy to just believe the simple mistake they’d make. There were some genius moments included in the script too. The Doctor turning off the cameras in all of the labs, to see which ones the Monks would turn back on in order to locate the bacteria was particularly superb. Harness has always made his scripts simple, yet thought-provoking and clever, and this was yet another fine example of why I hope he remains a part of the show’s writing team for several seasons to come.
The episode was very visually pleasing too, and for that credit must go to director, Daniel Nettheim. The CGI shots of the Monks hijacking and landing the aeroplane outside the pyramid were terrific, as was the entire landscape of the war zone where the Doctor and co. found themselves.
The only thing that frustrated me about the episode was Bill, who had her first blip as the new companion. The Doctor had saved the planet from the bacteria, and although looked doomed himself, I found it annoying how Bill directly disobeyed the Doctor and made a deal with the Monks. Bill has been strong and intelligent so far this season, which has been wonderfully refreshing to watch. It was a rare moment of weakness, which may have stemmed from the guilt of the Doctor sacrificing his eyesight to save her in Oxygen. Despite this, I felt it was too soon in their relationship for her to be putting her own planet on the line for him. Don’t get me wrong, she had every right to be angry with him for lying, while being eternally grateful for the sacrifice he made for her, but her entire planet just to save him? I might be being a bit harsh, but I thought it was naive and frankly stupid on her part, and is hopefully the only blip, in what has so far been an excellent and convincing run as the Doctor’s companion.
This was by far the strongest script, most visually pleasing and entertaining episode of the three. Despite the character of Bill not being as strong as usual, Pearl Mackie was brilliant as she was left to face the Monks alone. The Doctor’s fleeting relationship with Erica was also great to watch and the blowing up of the laboratory was a valid way to exterminate the bacteria. It set up the final part excellently with the Monks holding the metaphorical keys to the planet, the Doctor’s sight restored and Nardole lying motionless in the TARDIS.
Episode Rating: 8/10
So it was down to Toby Whithouse to finish off the story and The Lie of the Land was like Russell T. Davies’ The Last of the Time Lords meeting George Orwell’s 1984. Before I get onto the issues this episode has, I would like to say how much I’m enjoying the political themes running through this season. Doctor Who has always tried to pass on a message to love each other, for peace and for freedom, but this season feels like it’s making an extra effort to do so. We’ve already seen capitalism, racism and equality tackled in season ten, and this week the theme was propaganda. The “Big Brother” style setting was fascinating and tested Bill as a companion and a human being, in a similar way to which Martha was tested in The Last of the Time Lords. She had to fight the propaganda and stick to her belief in the Doctor and her belief in free will. Bill’s journey in this story was the vital message from the show. Don’t give up, don’t submit to propaganda, and stick to your beliefs.
The undoubted highlight of this episode, for me, was the scene where Bill was reunited with the Doctor – well the first part of it was. Peter Capaldi’s performance was nothing short of incredible, the closer we get to his exit, the more blessed I feel that he is the Doctor. Pearl Mackie also performed at a new high level as she fought back against the Doctor, who was claiming to have joined the Monks. In the end, I liked how the Doctor had tested Bill, just to see if she really did want to overthrow the Monks. It seemed like exactly the sort of thing the twelfth Doctor would do, who was at his twelfth Doctor-ish best in this episode (see also the “You, appalling hair” line). Murray Gold is due praise for producing a beautiful piece of music for this scene, or as it’s otherwise known, doing what Murray Gold does best. But one thing I hated, and I mean detested was the fake regeneration. Regeneration is meant to be a special thing, but particularly in the Steven Moffat era, it has been fiddled with too much. Just leave it alone, until it’s actually needed. It shouldn’t be a tool, it shouldn’t be a weapon, and it certainly shouldn’t be something thrown into a clip halfway through a season just to include in a trailer. It’s all the more infuriating when the use of the fake regeneration was so utterly pointless, as Bill has never experienced, and has no knowledge of regeneration, so would’ve had no clue as to what was going on. And after that, it was even more infuriating when you consider the Doctor can use the regeneration energy apparently at will, to fake a regeneration, to heal River Song and to help Davros, but he couldn’t even use it to get his own sight back. After the trick, the Doctor turned to Nardole and asked, “Was the regeneration too much?” Yes, yes it was.
So that was the first big problem I had with the episode. The second was Bill’s survival. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t want her to die, but it was implied throughout by Missy, and then by the Doctor’s distressed reaction when he realised what Bill was up to that stopping the Monks would mean she would lose her mind, a mental death. Just because she used the imaginary version of her mum that she had created herself, to corrupt the Monks’ version of history, I don’t understand why her brain wasn’t affected in the same way? It went totally unexplained and it hindered what was otherwise a decent way to wrap up the three parter. Even if she had some sort of issues with memory that the Doctor helped her heal, or just an explanation, it would have helped what turned out to be a pretty gaping plot hole.
My last problem was Missy. Well, not Missy herself, but her presence. Missy herself with a piano was the perfect combination. An appearance from Missy should definitely never pass by without her playing an instrument again. But why was she there? She contributed next to nothing in terms of the plot. She said she’d defeated the Monks before, but she didn’t really tell the story. For such an iconic villain in the modern era to be used so wastefully is a shame and her character wasn’t done justice. The vault story arc seemed to fall a little flat, there was no massive twist and we didn’t get to find out how she was captured back in Extremis. Surely it’s fairly obvious that she is not “turning good” either. This is nothing against Michelle Gomez, who was, as usual, fantastic at what she was asked to do. I’m fairly confident Moffat will redeem her later on in the season, hopefully next to John Simm’s Master.
Episode Rating: 6/10
I was delighted that a three part story was back and I enjoyed all the parts for different reasons. The Monks were excellent new villains, their design was as creepy as anything we’ve seen this season and seeing them physically turn people to dust added to their threat. The entire cast were superb, a special shout out to Matt Lucas who’s really changed my mind about Nardole. He’s now an established member of the TARDIS team and I’m delighted he returned for season ten. It’s a shame the story petered out a little with a slightly dubious ending but all three episodes had their own outstanding moments. If you consider where the main characters are now compared to after Oxygen, I’d say the Doctor and Bill have grown a lot closer to each other. We’ve seen the lengths that each of them would go to protect and help the other and I’m really enjoying watching their relationship grow. Nardole is obviously the comic relief, and Lucas is delivering his lines hilariously, and not at all in an annoying fashion. It’s also clear how much trust the Doctor has in Nardole, as he put his faith in him when he was without his sight. Yes, there were lots of parts to the story I wasn’t a fan of, but I’m loving watching the trio on their adventures. It was refreshing to be introduced to a new enemy and I applaud the show for taking on yet another social issue.
Overall Story Rating: 7/10