Well, it was bound to happen eventually. This series of Doctor Who has been so strong that it was inevitably going to come crashing down. ‘Extremis’ – which is the first episode of a three-week arc – isn’t an awful hour of television, but it is the kind of impenetrable nonsense that we’re used to seeing from the pen of outgoing showrunner Steven Moffat. The breezy, fun tone of the first few episodes of the series has seemingly been replaced by needless complexity and an episode almost entirely free of drama. Aside from the final revelation, there wasn’t much to chew on here.
The episode began with the Doctor (Peter Capaldi) living completely blind and relying on Nardole (Matt Lucas) to inform him that he had received a visit from the Pope. He had come to the Doctor as a result of Veritas – a book that has seemed to drive everyone who had read it to suicide. With Bill (Pearl Mackie) in tow, the Doctor and Nardole were taken to a hidden library within the Vatican, where the Doctor had to try to somehow find a way to read the book whilst blind.
Given how rushed ‘Extremis’ felt at times, it’s shocking how little plot there actually was in the episode. This was Doctor Who at its most talky and overwrought, squandering an entire hour of mostly entertainment-free television largely just to build to its final revelation. That reveal – that the events of the episode took part in a simulation – was admittedly shocking and nicely written, but it came at the end of a fairly dismal and unimpressive episode.
The other elements of ‘Extremis’ were vintage Doctor Who from the Moffat era. We got a whole heap of allusions to River Song because Moffat is entirely unable of letting her go and we also got a ludicrous slice of Michelle Gomez as Missy in a distinctly underwhelming conclusion to the Vault mystery that has been bubbling under throughout the season. It felt like Moffat hurriedly assembling all of his pieces on the chessboard without much care for how much sense they made.
This was, however, a story that benefited from the same strong performances that have really helped the series. Matt Lucas continued to evolve Nardole into an interesting member of the TARDIS crew and Capaldi did a decent enough job with his blindness, even as he was separated from the other two for most of the episode’s running time. Unusually for this series of Doctor Who, Mackie was something of a spare part this week, which was a little sad given how essential she has felt to the strongest stories and moments the show has produced this year.
We also have very little sense of the alien threat that the Doctor and his friends are going to be facing in the next two weeks. The Monks were quite scary-looking, but we know very little about who they are or what they want. In the context of an episode that was intended to set the table for a compelling selection of future stories, that was a pretty major misstep. This was an undercooked stew of an episode, but that’s not to say that this won’t prove to be a good tale when all is said and done. Fingers crossed.
Next week: There’s a big bloody pyramid and that’s where the Monks are running their invasion. That’s pretty much all I can work out.
Doctor Who is airing on Saturday nights on BBC One and is available on BBC iPlayer.
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