Doctor Who: 10.06 Extremis
One of the best things about series 10 is how every episodes have a nice pace; there isn't a breakneck opening or a rushed ending that has befallen many Doctor Who stories in the past. Similar to last series's multiple part stories complete with weekly cliffhangers, series 10 has a feel of harking back to the classic era of Who; quite simply, the time is being taken to carefully establish the story. And that is very true here as Doctor Who kicks off a three-parter (though each story will be written by a different writer).
Extremis is indeed slower than any of its series 10 predecessors, perhaps because it doesn't have the need to wrap up the plot by the end of the episode. But Steven Moffat, back on writing duties after The Pilot still manages to interweave an intriguing mystery throughout the story that has a chilling conclusion and spurs on the rest of the 'Monk's invasion of Earth'. Watching it, I was far from bored - the magic of Peter Capaldi's Doctor, Pearl Mackie's Bill and Matt Lucas' Nardole continuing to delight - though I did wonder if some viewers, perhaps the younger ones, might be a little bored at first. Extremis is far from concerned with delving straight into the action, and indeed there is very little action in sight; I suspect that will come next week.
Part of that is because the show doesn't take the cowardly way out of curing the Doctor's blindness; oh it teases it certainly with the show's lead hero hooking himself up to a Time Lord device and stealing what I assume is future regenerative energy to give him a few precious minutes of sight back. But by the episode's end he is still fragile, desperate and calling out to Missy in the vault for help against the upcoming invasion.
So yes, Missy, is in the vault. I can't say I wasn't a little disappointed, mainly because it was so blindly obvious. Now I love Michelle Gomez's take on the Master character dearly and she will be sorely missed if she is indeed leaving with Capaldi and Moffat at the end of the year but having her the core part of the series 10 mystery felt like a little bit of a letdown. I assumed (like many) that it was John Simm's Master, or maybe a future Doctor or even a past one? Though that's probably down to my desire to see Paul McGann back on the show. It could have been anyone but the obvious choice was Missy. It's the the River Song syndrome, though thankfully not as long. By the time she was revealed as Amy and Rory's daughter in mid-series 6 it all kind of felt obvious. Perhaps in this day and age of TV mysteries and years of pondering over Moffat's end games, we're just too clued into what he is planning.
That disappointment aside, the flashbacks to pre-season 10 gave us an intriguing new side to Missy, sentenced to death after (we assume) collusion with Daleks. Yet again, the complicated relationship between the Doctor and Missy / The Master prevailed, with him acting against the demands of Humans's Ivanno Jeremiah as Rafando and trapping her in the vault for a thousand years, rather than killing her without a chance of regeneration. Capaldi and Gomez were wonderful together, a more subdued, morose banter between them after the dramatic Cyberman and Dalek events of the past. Though I'm sure that decision not to destroy her will come back to bite him soon, even if she does aid him against the monks.
And the main story itself, the Vatican recruiting the Doctor to read the mysterious book Vertias in the hopes that it can yield answers as to why the previous scholars all killed themselves. Moffat was on fine form in the humour stakes; the Pope wandering out of Bill's bedroom into her kitchen while she was on a date with Penny was hilarious. Though I found the idea that the Doctor would let half the Catholic clergy travel with him on the TARDIS a bit confounding, even if he did have a past relationship with the 12th Century female Pope Benedict.
There was a great sense of forbidding as the blind Doctor, Nardole and Bill ventured into the secret library deep beneath the Vatican and Daniel Nettheim made great use of the set piece in his direction. There was a touch of Moffat's Silence in the Library about the whole thing and the surviving scholar killing himself only upped the tension. Surely the most chilling moment had to be when the Doctor, struggling to read as his eyesight floundered again, found himself bound in the chair by the mysterious monks. Yet again Doctor Who delivered the chills for the third week running; the aliens with their rotting faces were certainly the stuff of nightmares. And the Doctor's frantic escape with a copy of Vertias downloaded onto the laptop was tense, upping the stakes after a slow first part of the episode. The story made great use of the Doctor's blindness, leaving him in a state of vulnerability we haven't seen before.
It was also nice to get a mini adventure between Bill and Nardole as they accidentally travelled through a portal into the Pentagon and then to the CERN facility, where they were confronted with a group of scientists about to commit mass suicide and reciting numbers in unison. The two companions had great rapport together and I like how they were off solving clues on their own, without the Doctor to help them. The numbers scene was very creepy and Nardole stepping behind the projectors and vanishing into computer code was chilling. It was only when Bill found herself wandering into the Oval Office of the White House, it all became terrifying clear; they were living in a computer simulation.
It was a horrifying twist and certainly made you wonder what was real and what wasn't; for a moment there was even the possibility that Bill herself was just a simulation, vanishing before the Doctor as one of the monks confronted him. There was a taste of another Moffat story, The Impossible Astronaut with the setting and the creepy figure in plain sight and it was here that the Doctor realised it was all a prelude to invasion. He might have saved the world by sending his memories to the sonic sunglasses, but it left Extremis on the edge of a cliff plot wise, the real invasion pending and an enemy knowing your every thoughts. You have to wonder how many times Bill, Nardole, the Doctor and everyone else had experienced this.
So maybe Missy is the key to stopping them, absent from all the monk's simulations? With the Doctor at his weakest and an enemy that can predict every move Earth makes, it is going to make for a couple of intense weeks. And we're still only halfway through series 10...