Sunday, 21 May 2017

Doctor Who: Extremis (1)

Doctor: 'In darkness, we are revealed'.

This was the first really interesting episode of the season. After the more linear opening stories, this felt like classic Moffat: with its fractured narrative, ugly-AF bad guys, returning classic adversary, and half-answered questions. Which means the internet's already whining about not getting enough answers. At the end of the first part of a three-part story. Which actually gave us plenty of answers. Yeah, the internet's great.

Firstly, we now know why Nardole's there: River sent him, with express orders to kick the Doctor's arse. He's evidently been to the 51st century to pick up Song's diary, too. Better with Nardole than in a Vasta Nerada-infested library, I suppose. We also know why the Doctor doesn't want Bill to know that he's blind: because the whole situation would then become real, and the Doctor isn't ready to deal with reality yet. He may also be genuinely concerned about Bill fretting over him, but Nardole's explanation rings truest, even if the real truth is that it simply provides a more expansive range of story options. The Doctor should have said, 'I'm not telling Bill in order to to create future plot-difficulties and/or emotional drama', and been done with it. And of course, the entire conversation was between two simulacra anyway—so we probably shouldn't read too much into any of it.

We also know who's in the vault: Missy. Obviously, the fact that we haven't seen her in there yet makes me as suspicious as hell, but Moffat definitely wants us to believe that she's there, and the Doctor certainly believes it—so why didn't they show it? Moffat promised in the Radio Times that it's definitely Missy inside—and what's going on between her and the Doctor is a mystery still in need of resolving—but is it outside the bounds of possibility that the Missy in the vault may not be the Missy that we know? She could have regenerated, right? Time Lords do that, I hear, and it would certainly explain the lack of a physical reveal. This is Michelle Gomez's final season after all.

I was also happy that Missy was far more restrained tonight than in past adventures. True, she was awaiting execution—an event traditionally devoid of hearty laughs and thigh-slapping high-jinks—but a more desperate, subdued Missy I can totally get behind. I just hope they manage to do a similar thing with John Simm's Master when he returns. I suppose it's conceivable that Simm's Master is inside the vault, but if he is, then we have to assume that there's some colossal twist imminent, and that the preseason press leak has rather fucked things up. I'm hoping this isn't the case—it would ruin the mystery, after all—but it's currently feeling like a distinct possibility.

There was also some nice development for Bill this week—or rather there would've been had any of it been real. In fact, if this week's story had an obvious weakness, it's that none of it really happened... at least, not to our actual heroes. Yes, we got an insight into the Monk's modus operandi, but both Nardole and Bill's stories didn't actually take place, which is a real bummer as (a) I liked Penny, and (b) I also rather enjoyed Nardole. He finally played a significant part in a story, had the occasional line of humorous dialogue, and at times showed genuine insight. Can we argue that because the simulation was based upon reality, that his character development was at least potentially possible, and then like him on that basis? It just feels ironic that Nardole's best episode to date hardly had him in it.

Obviously with a story like this—with two parts and a denouement still to come—it's difficult to assess how successful it was. Whether the mysteries that arose will have satisfying conclusions is yet to be determined, but despite the throwaway nature of the bulk of the story, we still learned some relevant things. We at least know who this season's big bad is, what they want, and how they intend to achieve it. More importantly, we know that Bill could potentially cop-off with Penny. Plus, the vault stuff was real. Whether you think this story was good, I suspect, depends upon whether you like the more traditionally linear Who story, or favour the more convoluted, drip-fed tales that have become Moffat's stock-in-trade. I'm firmly in the latter camp, so I loved it.

Other Thoughts:

—I like the way they're weaving the Doctor's inability to see into the narrative, although I'm not entirely convinced that switching off the lights would help a blind Doctor escape a seemingly eyeless monster.

—Magnificent misdirect at the beginning. It seemed obvious that the Doctor was the one being led to his death.

—I'm not sure I bought that the sprites in Mario Bros think they're real. Presumably the simulation they were in was far more complex than a computer game, with self-awareness sub-routines built in. I can't imagine that's true of Super Mario Bros.

—The library of blasphemy looked lovely.

—Poor fake Penny. Like she wasn't feeling weird enough without having the Pope turn up.


Doctor: 'Pope Benedict. Lovely girl, what a night. I knew she was trouble, but she wove a spell with her castanets.'

Doctor: 'Assume nothing. Assumption makes an ass out of you and umption.'

Bill: 'Do not, under any circumstances, put the Pope in my bedroom.'

Nardole: 'Warning. I have full permission to kick your arse.'

Bill: 'Harry Potter!'
Doctor: 'Language.'

Doctor: 'I've read a lot of books that this chair would be quite useful for. Moby Dick. Honestly, shut up and get to the whale.'


NatsPlippe said...

I really think you should have put a spoiler warning before your comments about the return of John Simm. I'm currently watching season ten for the first time and you've just ruined the big surprise.

Paul Reed said...

I didn't tag it as a spoiler because it isn't one. The return of Simm was part of the pre-season build-up. Simm appeared in the trailer at the end of the first episode, as well as publicly announcing his return via Twitter. The Master's return isn't meant to be a surprise, it's a tease used in all of the promotional material.

I do understand that some people watch the show cut off from all internet discussion, and without watching any of the teasers/trailers. I do however watch them as they're part of the show, and I can't really pretend that I don't. If there's a mystery at the heart of the show, and I know that The Master will be returning, then of course I'm going to factor it in. My only other options are to pretend not to know, or not comment on a significant development at all.

Both seem like poor solutions.

Donnager said...

Obviously this episode sets up a wider story, but the simulation storyline pretty much stood on its own. The Doctor finding meaning in a fake world was a nice message to finish on. Here's hoping the rest of the threeparter is as engaging.