When there is as much hype surrounding a single episode as there was for ‘Extremis’, it is easy to be both massively excited and a little nervous. Luckily for Moffat, he has somehow managed to achieve the creation of an episode that lives up to its high expectations. Not only this, but ‘Extremis’ also propels Series 10 in a completely new direction, away from its fairly simplistic standalone stories and towards a story arc that requires a bit of extra consideration from the viewers.
However, before any of the episode’s real action begins, we are thrown into a flashback. “A long time ago” the Doctor is brought to a foreign planet to execute a Time Lord for crimes against the universe. A Time Lord who, as it turns out, is Missy. Yes, she’s back in all her playful, wicked glory, but this time she has a certain sense of vulnerability, as she begs the Doctor to spare her life. Even at she tugs on the Doctor’s heartstrings, we still wonder – is this simply a ploy to psychologically taunt him? Perhaps, but more on this side story later.
Our main story picks up in real-time, as the Doctor is approached by the Pope to help the Vatican in a dire situation: an ancient text called the Veritas has been translated into English, but every single person who worked on the translation has committed suicide. They have uncovered some sort of ultimate truth that has led to them taking their own lives.
Upon entering the Vatican’s Haereticum, a library of forbidden and heretical texts, the trio are slightly too late in stopping a deranged priest from sending a translation of the Veritas to CERN. Shortly after doing this, the man runs away to commit suicide. In this scene, the Doctor’s blindness continues to be handled with both tact and cleverness. His sonic shades finally have a practical purpose other than being a merchandising opportunity, as they show vague outlines of objects and track people’s movements.
Bill and Nardole are ordered to pursue the priest, while the Doctor stays behind to try to figure out a way to read the Veritas. He “borrows” from his future self to allow himself a brief few minutes of sight, while in return sacrificing some part of his future.
Maybe all my future regenerations will be blind. Maybe I won’t regenerate ever again. Maybe I’ll drop dead in twenty minutes.
He takes a huge gamble here that may hold potential for later in the series and given the twist at the end of this episode, it is hard to tell whether this sacrifice will have a lasting impact.
Right before reading the text, our monsters of the week turn up – withered, corpse-like humanoids in red robes that Moffat has dubbed Truth Monks. Their exact nature isn’t clear yet, but this is something that will likely be revealed in the coming weeks. The Truth Monks steal the Veritas right from under the Doctor’s nose before he can get a chance to even glance at it, but he maneuvers his way out with a digital copy of the Veritas in hand.
Meanwhile, Bill and Nardole have stumbled through a portal and into a white, circular room. Arranged around the edge of the room are several other portals much like the one they just came through and it’s not long until they discover that these portals connect to different important locations around the world – the Vatican, the Pentagon, and CERN.
Bill and Nardole encounter the ‘Test of Shadows’ as is outlined in the Veritas: name a string of any random numbers, as long as you like, and turn the page.
If the numbers on the following page match your random numbers, then the secret the Veritas holds is true. Unfortunately for Bill and Nardole, this is exactly what happens. But why? What exactly does this indicate?
Bill and Nardole run back into the white portal room and Nardole theorises… what if the portals aren’t portals? What if they are projections of a simulated world like the Matric? Computers can’t generate random numbers, hence why any attempts at entropy must always be pre-programmed – this would explain the Test of Shadows.
Nardole continues to wonder a little too much: what happens if you step outside the range of the portals? Well, exactly what would happen to a video game character if they left their video game, they would cease to exist.
Once Nardole steps outside the field of the simulation and dissolves into nothingness, I was genuinely worried that this was the end of his character. This is perhaps a positive sign that the episode’s stakes were so high that I was genuinely worried for not only their lives, but also their very existence.
Bill then stumbles through a portal to find the Doctor in the Oval Office with a recently deceased POTUS. The Doctor has finally managed to read the text via an audiobook-type device and as an audience, we finally find out what truth the Veritas contains.
The Veritas tells of a demon that wishes to conquer Earth, but must first learn about it. So the demon creates an incredibly realistic simulation of Earth to practice – a simulation that our characters have been living in their whole lives.
I then became quite concerned that the show was about to erase the existence of 54 years of history, and that the Doctor doesn’t exist at all. That would have been a bold and scary direction for the show to go in, but it was a relief to discover that the simulation only extended as far back as the beginning of the episode.
To save the day, the simulated Doctor sends his real self an email – a warning about the incoming invasion of Earth, information on the simulation, and everything he knows so far and at this point, we lead into next week’s episode. A cliffhanger for the first part of a trilogy.
But what about Missy’s fate in the flashback, as mentioned at the beginning of this article? Well before apparently executing her, the Doctor swears an oath to guard her body for one thousands years. Only of course the Doctor doesn’t really end up killing her, because he could obviously never kill his oldest frenemy. Still, he locks her in the vault in keeping with his oath, and presumably also to stop her from messing around with the human race.
So, Missy is inside the vault and despite this, it would be foolish to assume that this is the end of the story arc for the series. The doors haven’t officially opened yet, and there are still 6 episodes to go. We can be sure that Moffat has something big in store in regards to this later on.
This episode is the strongest in Series 10 so far, and sets up an intriguing premise for the two next episodes, which will continue the story of the Truth Monks.
Next Week: A pyramid appearing out of nowhere, the Truth Monks ask for permission before invading, and Bill finds out the Doctor is blind.
What did you think of the episode? Tell us your thoughts in the comments below!