This week’s Doctor Who episode ‘Extremis’ tackles some lofty ideas – but falls someway short in the execution department.
Extremis is an interesting Doctor Who episode. One that creates new villains while weaving several story’s between the major strands, but one that also may serve to confuse a number of fans. For sure this was a very dark episode and had some incredibly interesting concepts – I just think they could have been better delivered.
Extremis picks up after the events of the previous episode – with The Doctor still very much blind. In this episode The Doctor is called upon by the Vatican, who needs assistance getting to the bottom of why the readers of Extremis keep taking their own lives. One Tardis intervention later and Bill is plucked from her date when the Pope intervenes. Running concurrent to this is a series of events involving Missy and an execution. Cue a dark adventure and one of the series more dark outings.
The episode is structured in a particular way, and I wouldn’t be surprised if some viewers found it all a bit complicated to begin with. The threads of the story are slowly built up as the different story’s all play out at different paces. From mysterious portals, hands in walls and the a priest who commits suicide – the episode is relentlessly dark throughout. We also get a fair amount of time jumping, which really doesn’t help. The Missy segments didn’t really serve into the main plot outside of a brief payoff at the end – making me wonder if they should have gone elsewhere. It took focus from a very complicated story arc in the A-plot; and I don’t think it helped the overall experience.
There’s also the conversation around the big twist in Extremis – if only because it rendered the whole episode as a precursor to next weeks outing. The reality of the episode was entirely simulated – and this in itself is both the best and worst part of the episode. It introduced some amazingly tense enemies with some impressive scope – but it also makes us question if what we’re seeing on the show is actually real. In terms of this episode, it works – I think they did just enough to justify its existence here. But the delivery certainly wasn’t flawless.
The main strength of the episode then comes from the performances of the central characters. Heck, even Matt Lucas comes across with some great moments in the episode too, as his role is expanded. We get to see him doing things and it works well – him and Bill have some great on-screen moments. Bill again lit up her scenes and when she was left alone in the strange alien space – felt genuinely out of her depth. The horror of her situation dawns on here – and Mackie portrays her confusion and shock with ease.
The Doctor’s blindness is excellently weaved into the story. Capaldi does a great job of showcasing the struggles that he faces, as he has to continue working as The Doctor. His inability to see limits what The Doctor can do; and it creates tension in scenes that normally would be light of it. When he’s strapped into the chair or when he’s facing down the aliens in the Oval Office. With the increased talk of future Doctors and regeneration – I have to expect we’re getting an early regeneration of some kind.
Ultimately I didn’t mind Extremis. It was dark and clever, well performed and certainly executed to a high standard. But the shifting plot focus and the inability to expand on some of the themes robbed the episode of potential. As this is part of a much larger arc – I’m willing to hold back major critique if the payoff is worth it. As a standalone outing this was fine, but the twist ultimately robs it of significance. Much like most Doctor Who episodes that hit the reset button at the end, it’s hard to enjoy the episode when its consequences are worth nought.
Episodes like Extremis are fine – but dropping too much into the pot can spoil the whole episodes flow. That’s ultimately what happens here. Could have done without the Missy stuff so disjointedly slapped into proceedings. It confused and really jarred against the ending reveal.
Well worth a watch, but certainly not the best of Series 10.