“Extremis” was written by Steven Moffat and directed by Daniel Nettheim -- Saturday, May 20.
Spoilers ahead for “Extremis” because hey ... it's a TV Recap.
The Short Version: “A long time ago” on a planet far, far away, the Doctor is tasked with executing Missy, who's been sentenced to death for an unknown crime. Meanwhile, in the present day the Doctor is dealing with his new blindness when the Pope and his priests track him down to ask a favor. A very secret ancient book called The Veritas (meaning the truth) has driven everyone who's tried to translate it to suicide, and the Pope wants to know why. He asks the Doctor to read the book. Even though he's blind, the Doctor agrees, and he, Nardole and Bill are taken to the Haereticum, the Vatican's secret library of blasphemy, where the book is kept. However, something or someone is down there with the trio. Can they survive the ultimate truth?
The Good: Nardole's excellent adventure, Missy's execution, and those cool new Monk monsters
"Extremis" is the first of a three-part adventure that includes "The Pyramid at the End of the World" and "The Lie of the Land."
This was my favorite episode of the season so far, with a good mystery at its core, great monster Monks, and the Doctor getting a chance to save the day by being clever. Beyond that, Nardole finally gets a full-blown adventure that's worthy of the character.
The episode kicks off with Missy (aka the Master) being led out as a prisoner about to face a death sentence. Since Missy is a Time Lord, her Executioners had determined that according to the Fatality Index, she must be put down by another Time Lord (aka the Doctor). He's been tasked with pulling the lever that will end her life in a chamber designed to kill a Time Lord. As if that's not enough, he also must watch over her body, which will be locked in a vault for 1,000 years to make sure she doesn't revive. Those Executioners are a demanding group!
Nardole and River Song's diary show up too, and we learn it was because of River Song that Nardole got involved with the Doctor's vault protecting mission.
Missy begs and pleads and tries to remind the Doctor that she's his friend. The uppity Executioners, who are all about death, urge the Doctor to pull the lever, and he does. And Missy doesn't die. The Doctor has messed with their Time Lord-killing equipment as he reminds the Executioners that he only promised to watch over her body for1,000 years. He never took an oath to actually kill her.
Missy's execution is woven into the modern day tale which has the blind Doctor, Bill and Nardole facing a terrifying new threat to humanity. The Doctor is dealing with his blindness, which presents some issues when the Pope arrives with his priests asking for the Doctor's help. The Pope wants the Doctor to read a book called The Veritas, which has driven everyone who's been tasked with translating it to take their own life. Everyone but one missing priest, that is. What could be in the book that would lead the readers to commit the mortal sin of suicide, one of the priests asks.
So, of course, the Doctor needs to run by and pick up Bill, who's in the middle of a date. It's never a good thing when you're getting close to a new romantic prospect, a pretty girl named Penny, and the Pope pops out of your bedroom. It was a laugh-out-loud funny scene which makes me like Bill and the Doctor's relationship all the more.
Then they're off to the Vatican as the Doctor tries to hide his blindness with the help of his sonic sunglasses and some awkward assistance from Nardole. In past episodes Nardole has seemed to have little to do other than nag the Doctor about his duty regarding the vault. But in this episode he seamlessly fits in as a good investigative partner for Bill and as the Doctor's eyes. He's a worthy companion, just like Bill.
While wondering around the maze-like corridors of the Haereticum, the Vatican's secret library of blasphemy, the Doctor and gang quickly run across the missing priest who was translating The Veritas. He has a gun and admits that, "I sent it.” The crazed priest runs off and Bill and Nardole are sent off to find him, while the Doctor tries to figure out how he's going to read The Veritas considering he's blind. But then he's faced with The Monks, skeletal creatures in red robes. The Doctor loses the book, but grabs a computer with The Veritas translation and makes a run for it.
Meanwhile, Bill and Nardole find the priest's body after he's shot himself, and discover a portal to a white room which has a lot of “doors” and equipment in the center. One of the doors leads to the Pentagon, and another to CERN. Bill and Nardole run into one of the scientists at CERN and he invites them to join him. The CERN scientists have read The Veritas. The scientist asks Bill and Nardole to take a simple test and tell him a number, any random number at the same time. Bill and Nardole call out the same random number time after time. Then they see that the place is rigged to explode. “We're saving the world,” one of them says. Bill and Nardole escape just as a timer goes off and explodes.
The duo end up back in the white room, which Nardole and Bill think might be filled with projection equipment. Nardole believes that CERN was a simulation and that he himself might be a simulation. As he puts his hand outside the projected area, he disintegrates. Bill is shocked and finds the Doctor through one of the doors that leads to the Oval Office. The President has read The Veritas and killed himself. The Doctor sits behind the President's desk and admits to Bill that he too has read The Vertias, or actually listened to it with the help of the computer.
He's discovered that a holographic shadow world has been created by the red robed monster Monks as a practice Earth so they can figure out the best way to invade the Earth. The Veritas and its Test Of Shadows offers proof that the world is not real. Since computers aren't very good at producing random numbers, when the shadow people are asked to state a random number they all come up with the same sequence of numbers. Anyone who gives themselves the Shadow Test quickly discovers that they are not real and that their best course is to kill themselves. “Those deaths they weren't suicides. Those were people escaping,” says the Doctor. Bill is horrified to discover that both she and the Doctor are Shadow people.
One of the Monks appears kills Shadow Bill. When the Monk reminds the Doctor that he is nothing more than a simulation and that there's nothing he can do to save the Earth, the Shadow Doctor does something clever. He tells the Monk that the simulation they created was too good. The Doctor grabs his sonic sunglasses and holds them up. “You see these? They're set to record. I'm blind, you see. So I'm psychically wired into these so my memory print of the last few hours will still be intact on here. Information about you,” the Shadow Doctor says as he puts the glasses on and sends an email to the real Doctor.
Back at the real Earth, the Doctor gets an email through his sonic sunglasses. He calls Bill and tells her she needs to go on a date with a girl named Penny because, "Something's coming, Bill. Something very big and something possibly very, very bad. I have the feeling that we're going to be very busy. Call her."
Outside the vault the Doctor questions how he can protect Earth against this new threat now that he's blind? Is Missy still his friend? Will she help him if he can't do it alone?
The Bad: So Missy's in the vault
So, yeah, Missy was the one in the vault all along. Executive producer Steven Moffat, who wrote the episode, could still pull a switch up somehow or perhaps the extended stay in the vault led to the Master's regeneration and we'll meet someone new when the door opens. However, it's more than a little disappointing. If this had been a mystery over two or three episodes it would have been fine. But dragging this obvious answer to the mystery out over a good chunk of the season seems excessive.
Again, it's entirely possible Moffat has more tricks up his sleeve than Missy did something bad, the Doctor was pressed into to service to execute her and watch over her body for 1,000 years, and then he convinces himself he needs her help to save the day and releases her. The last part appears to be where we're going with this over the next couple episodes, but we'll see. And that, of course, would cause problems involving whatever cost would come due to him not keeping his oath, which apparently has something to do with the Earth.
Beyond the Missy-in-a-vault of it all one cool bit involved the Doctor borrowing sight from his future self which will have some kind of future cost. But his sight didn't last long enough to have any impact on the episode, other than being able to see the Monks, so I'm not sure why they bothered. And since this Doctor was a simulation, it shouldn't affect the real Doctor. So what really was the point?
While we finally discover who's in the vault, there are a host of questions that haven't been answered. What did Missy do to get a death sentence? How did the Executioners force the Doctor to agree to kill Missy AND watch over her body for 1,000 years? How would they know if Missy got out? Do they live forever like the Doctor? What will they do if the Doctor breaks his oath as he certainly will.
As for non-vault related lingering questions, who are The Monks? What do they really get out of invading Earth? How good does it feel to see Doctor Who mention that something is like “the halodeck in Star Trek”? And will Bill ever get a real date with Penny?
Lines of the Night:
“Doctor, here's a tip. When I'm on a date, when that rare and special thing happens in my real life, do not ... do not under any circumstances put the Pope in my bedroom.” - Bill
“Particle physicists and priests ... What could scare them both?” - The Doctor
“I'm part of it. I'm part of the simulation, Bill. I'm not real ... Bill!” - Nardole
“Something's coming Missy and I'm blind. How can I save them when I'm lost in the dark?” - The Doctor
Best Line of the Night:
“I'm doing what everybody does when the world's in danger. I'm calling the Doctor.” - Shadow Doctor as he sends an email to the real Doctor
Here's the trailer for next week's episode, "The Pyramid at the End of the World," written by Steven Moffat and Peter Harness: