Doctor Who: Extremis
May 20, 2017 10:00 PM - Season 10, Episode 6 - Subscribe

In the Haereticum — the Vatican’s secret library of blasphemy — there is an ancient book known only as The Veritas. Throughout history, anyone who has ever read it has immediately taken their own life. Now a new translation is online, and the danger is spreading. The Vatican appeals to the Doctor. Will he read The Veritas? But can even the Doctor survive the ultimate truth?

- We finally find out who's in The Vault, and why.
- The Doctor remains blind, carrying that continuity over from the previous episode: Oxygen.
- The episode's title, Extremis, means "in extreme circumstances; especially: at the point of death" or "in the farthest reaches" in Latin.
- Extremis is the first episode of a three episode arc that has been nicknamed "The Monks Trilogy." It will continue with episode 7: The Pyramid At The End Of The World and conclude in episode 8: The Lie of the Land
- Time Lords have two hearts and three brain stems.
- Directed by Daniel Nettheim, who previously directed The Zygon Inversion and The Zygon Invasion.
- The Pope was played by Italian-English actor Joseph Long. He was last seen on Doctor Who in Turn Left.
- From Den of Geek: The priest who emails the files over to CERN has a full inbox. Names they were able to make out include: actor Bill Pullman, recently deceased actor Phil Bond, this episode's standby art director Christina Tom, BBC art director Daryn McLaughlan, actor Peter Dukes, and Rob Hull, who "holds the record for the largest collection of Daleks."

"Goodness is not goodness that seeks advantage. Good is good in the final hour. In the deepest pit, without hope, without witness, without reward. Virtue is only virtue in extremis. This is what he believes, and this is the reason above all, I love him. My husband. My madman in a box. My Doctor." - River Song's Message to The Doctor
Nardole: "Your missis wouldn’t approve." "...and I have full permission to kick your arse."
The Doctor: "Memories are so much worse in the dark."
Missy: "Get off, I’ve just been executed. Show a little respect”
Bill: "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!"
The Doctor: "Something’s coming, Bill. Something very big. And something possibly very, very bad. And I have the feeling that we’re going to be very busy."
Missy: "Knock yourself out. Actually, do that. Knock yourself right out."
Bill: "Are you secretly a badass?"
Nardole: "Nothing secret about it, babydoll."
posted by zarq (12 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I do not like the blind subplot. I do cautiously like the idea of a new Big Bad, and, to be honest, the mummy corpse people are viscerally "hiding behind the couch" worthy.

I loved Nardole tonight. Babydoll is my longtime nickname for one of my best friends, so that was personally delightful. I love that the answer to the question of "Why is Nardole around?" is that River Song dispatched him as a proxy. It's been a theme in NuWho that the Doctor needs someone to keep him in check, and Bill isn't quite that person yet, so I'm cool with that explanation.

Half right on who was in the vault. I thought it was Simm. I doubt the "friend" angle, but saving Missy was a very Doctor like thing to do. It goes back to Tinkerbell Jesus Doctor and Simm Master, and really even back to Four not wiping out the baby Daleks when he had the chance.

I thought the email thing was a cop out, but it lead to a genuinely sweet scene where the Doctor and Bill talk about Penny. "She's out of my league." "No, you should call her." I think that moment sums up everything I love about Bill and the Doctor. Bill has her own life apart from the Doctor, which has been a theme this season, and the Doctor is awkwardly trying to respect that. I've watched every existing episode of Doctor Who, and boundaries have never been the Doctor's strong suit. Eleven genuinely could not understand why Amy Pond would choose to be touched by a Weeping Angel so she could be with Rory. I think right now, Twelve understands humans more than he ever did. At the same time, though, I think that will ultimately be Twelve's downfall.
posted by Ruki at 11:07 PM on May 20, 2017 [3 favorites]

The big problem with this episode, like so many written by Steven Moffat, is that the plot does not make sense.

The idea of an enemy creating a simulation of Earth to game out how best to invade it is a good one, although it's not original even within Who; that was pretty much the plot of The Android Invasion in 1975, although using a physical replica of an English village populated by android replicants. And it's a nice twist to have the Doctor simulation attain enough insight to send a message to the real world outside the simulation with the aim of frustrating the simulation-creators, although as I've seen pointed out elsewhere that's also not a new idea: it's what simulation Garibaldi did in the B5 episode 'The Deconstruction of Falling Stars'.

But where things went wrong was the whole idea that somehow the Veritas text would cause 100% of those within the simulation (with the natural exception of the Doctor) to commit suicide.

Firstly, the test set by the text is nonsense. 'All simulations will come up with the same random number sequence?' Just using each simulated humans height x waist / inside leg as a PRNG seed would lead to different outcomes for everybody. And in the whole of simulated human history, nobody ever tries shared-guessing with somebody else? Games of rock-paper-scissors would get boring very fast.

Secondly, whilst Moffat might perhaps be of the view that if he found he was a character in a simulation then he'd top himself forthwith, it's daft to suggest that everyone would feel the same way. I suspect that yes, some people would. Some would go mad, or act out their impulses. Some (like me) would think through the implications, and probably go "oh well, carry on but be prepared to deal with a lot of people who can't cope with this." A good many people would just shrug.

Thirdly, we're told an early Christian sect killed themselves because of learning this. Er, the concept of being in a simulation wouldn't even have been meaningful (although I suppose it could have been conceptually translated as 'you are provable all figments of Satan's imagination.')

Finally, what is the point of the Veritas test? I can just imagine a sort of red-pill-blue-pill trap intended to be found by simulation characters that begin to question the nature of their own reality but why have a hidden-away text that acts as a memetic self-destruct sequence and then seemingly randomly have a group within the simulation find it? All you've done is have the risk of any given simulation run terminate itself for reasons that have nothing to do with the purpose of the simulation.

It all looks nice. It has the superficial appearance of being deep. But it Does. Not. Make. Sense.
posted by Major Clanger at 2:37 AM on May 21, 2017 [8 favorites]

I thought it was another rock solid episode, and the cast was terrific. As much hate as Moffat gets now, I bet people will be MUCH more positive about his tenure looking back. (Especially if the new guy really struggles, as I fear may be the case.)

I keep expecting the fans to throw fits about Nardole bossing Bill around, threatening to kick her arse and calling her babydoll, but so far I haven't seen a single complaint. Nardole's such a weird little little teddy bear that it didn't really come across as threatening or asshole-y to me, but where's all the usual outrage about Moffat being sexist?

Major Clanger, could it be that the characters in the simulation are programmed to lose their minds and kill themselves if they find out they're not real? That way they don't spread the knowledge and ruin the whole program.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 4:35 AM on May 21, 2017 [4 favorites]

Great episode and this season is, for me, shaping up to be the best season of NuWho.

Finally, what is the point of the Veritas test?

Didn't the Doctor say that the point off the test was to find the people who are the biggest threat to an invasion ? I guess that's also the reason for the random numbers not really being random, it was a deliberate part of the simulation.
posted by Pendragon at 5:33 AM on May 21, 2017

I thought they killed themselves to hurt the simulation in some way.
If they kill themselves the invaders won't have any more data from them.

The guy from CERN says "we're saving the world"
posted by fullerine at 5:38 AM on May 21, 2017 [6 favorites]

could it be that the characters in the simulation are programmed to lose their minds and kill themselves if they find out they're not real?

That would make sense, I suppose, but it has the risk of what we saw depicted: if proof that the world is a simulation gets disseminated, then the simulation rapidly goes awry.

I suspect that Moffat had some key images and concepts: the secret library in the Vatican; the Pope appealing to the Doctor for help; the document that drives those who read it to kill themselves; the revelation that most of the episode is set inside a simulation*. But rather than get a logical plot that ties all those together, we get an arm-waving, don't-think-about-it-too-hard rush.

(Yes, my problem is that I do think about it too hard. I suspect that a lot of those who have issues with Moffat are in the same boat.)

*And that reminds me of another precedent for this episode: Person of Interest and 'If-Then-Else'.

OK, things I liked. Matt Lucas was indeed very good, showing that even the apparently meekest of characters can have a core of steel when needed. The Monks are very effective (and they have a lot to live up to, in that they are going to be compared to The Silence.) The reveal of the existence of the simulation was done nicely. And both Pearl Mackie and Michelle Gomez turn in superb performances. The only regret I have about Gomez' run as Missy is that it puts her out of contention to be the first female Doctor.

Trivia: Star Trek, and specifically TNG, exist in the Doctor Who universe, although there have been references as far back as the first series of NuWho. (Mind you, we've previously seen that so does Alien, which the Doctor hadn't heard of but finds "really offensive".)
posted by Major Clanger at 11:21 AM on May 21, 2017 [2 favorites]

But rather than get a logical plot that ties all those together, we get an arm-waving, don't-think-about-it-too-hard rush Moffat.

Fixed that for you. I enjoyed isolated moments of this episode (the Pope freaking out Bill's date, for one), but I am just so utterly, utterly tired of Moffat's lazy "cool bits connected by not very much at all, really" style these days. I can't wait to see how the show changes after he's gone.
posted by Mr. Bad Example at 1:15 PM on May 21, 2017 [3 favorites]

I enjoyed it - it's a pretty dark story with everyone including the main characters realising they're simulations and "dying", Nardole continues to be great and the pope appearing from Bill's bedroom. The revelation that Missy was in the vault and the Doctor changed his mind about executing her was a bit of an anti-climax, especially since we already knew whoever was in there was alive. For a moment I thought the person in the Vault might have been a future/past version of the Doctor himself which would have been more interesting.

Er, the concept of being in a simulation wouldn't even have been meaningful (although I suppose it could have been conceptually translated as 'you are provable all figments of Satan's imagination.')

Didn't they literally state that in the show? The original story was "a demon who wanted to conquer the world created a shadow world full of shadow people" or something. It was in the Doctor's summary in the Oval office. If anything, being devoutly religious and realising that you weren't real is a bigger mindfuck (god is real but he didn't create you, a demon did) than the CERN scientists who would understand the real mechanics of it (and have likely heard the theory already).
posted by EndsOfInvention at 2:27 AM on May 22, 2017 [1 favorite]

After three strong and original episodes tantalised us with the prospect of a Nu Who series , this story recycled so many Moffat ideas it makes me dread what the next two in this "Monks" trilogy will be like.

From the great Moffat recycling bin we have:

—stuck in a computer simulation ("Silence in the Library"/"Forest of the Dead")
—creepy dark library (ditto)
—the Doctor gets his enemies to retreat by having them look up his historical record (ditto)
—character imprisoned in a vault-like cubic prison for many, many years ("The Pandorica Opens")
—weird quasi-/pseudo-religious order as enemy, with bonus raspy voices ("The Impossible Astronaut"/"Day of the Moon"), called "monks" ("A Good Man Goes to War")

Also, that's not how random number generators work with computers! Moffat, will you please do your bloody homework when writing a science fiction programme?
posted by Doktor Zed at 9:14 AM on May 22, 2017 [4 favorites]

There are just so so many talented writers out there.
posted by bleep at 11:12 AM on May 22, 2017

I was genuinely enjoying this season, but I knew Moffat it would fuck it up. the man can't write a decent arc if it handed itself to him gift wrapped. I knew this would end up being a mess, I just didn't know how quickly it would go from "I am enjoying this TO OH MAKE HIM STOP."
posted by miss-lapin at 9:38 PM on May 22, 2017 [2 favorites]

I enjoyed a lot of the little moments, with special mention going to the Pope busting in on Bill's date. I'm even on board with the monster in the vault being Missy - I love Missy, no matter how dumb it is to keep any incarnation of the Master around - but I must also join the general consensus here and voice my annoyance with the overall Moffatness of this storyline.

The RNG stuff really took me out of it, but I think my biggest pet peeve is still the 'look me up' conceit. I grew up on Tom Baker - I watched the show and owned dozens of books - and I really feel the fanboy nature of NuWho, where the modern writers want him to be Crystal Dragon Jesus or have a hot girlfriend or be the terror of the universe because he's their favorite fictional character, and it... just really fucking bothers me. I feel like they're slobbering all over this thing I loved when I was a kid.

I mean, the Doctor might have a big enough ego to plausibly attempt a gambit like that every so often - although I hate it - but past that? It makes the universe they're positing so small. It's like the Star Wars prequels that way, where things are so contained and tiny that one family might have that big of an impact on the entire course of history. The thing I always loved about Doctor Who was that the universe felt limitless and mysterious and wondrous, and the further they push 'he is the bestest and the coming storm and all the girls are so into him,' the less true that is for me, and the more I feel like I'm watching poor quality fanfic. (As opposed to the good stuff.)

Anyway... argh.

(I wish they wouldn't try to make big statements, either. They're not very good at it. Like, I liked Oxygen pretty well, but the message about capitalism was handled very poorly, and I'm speaking as someone who's pretty far left and shares many of those views. I'm with Major Clanger in that the universal suicide thing just doesn't make sense, even if we assume it's been coded into the Matrix there - people smart enough to read the Veritas shouldn't be eliminated from the simulation early, as they won't be eliminated from the real engagement so easily.)
posted by mordax at 10:59 AM on May 23, 2017 [3 favorites]

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