This is a review of a post UK broadcast of doctor who: Extreme. River Song always warned the Doctor about spoilers, so watch the episode first. doctor whoseason 10, airs Saturdays at 7:25pm UK time on BBC One and 9pm EDT on BBC America.
doctor who showrunner Steven Moffat clearly wants to go out in style: could he achieve that plan with a trilogy — starting with Extreme– that brings us mysterious new enemies known only as The Monks, who plan to conquer Earth using a simulated computer game?
VR may not have taken off in the real world yet and, in my opinion, seems poised to join the 80s versions of the headsets in the Woolworths bargain bin (remember?). But in Extremethe technology is imaginatively used to create a nightmare-like vision that echoes space billionaire Elon Musk’s insistence that there’s a “one in billions” chance that we’re not living in a simulated universe.
Moffat clearly adopted that idea (maybe he paid close attention to it too) The Matrix) and get to grips with it in an episode that finally reveals who’s lurking in the vault. I mentioned it early(ish): It’s Missy, of course!
There is a double story everywhere Extreme– an ambitious episode that explores the Doctor’s blindness and psychic powers, while keeping us apprised of Missy’s fate. The two things come together at the end of the episode when his trusty, if annoying, sonic sunglasses come to the rescue of a simulated Time Lord. You have mail, doctor!
We also know that troubled Missy (Michelle Gomez) is still held captive in the vault, while the Doctor (Peter Capaldi) notes that “memories are so much worse in the dark.” Is he caught off guard into thinking that maybe Missy – a friend – can help save Earth from an impending war?
Nardole (Matt Lucas) tells the Doctor – who is preparing to execute Missy in the opening scenes of this episode – that he is on strict, ass-kicking orders from Time Lord’s late wife, River Song: “Your madam wouldn’t approve. ” Is this (divine) intervention the reason the Doctor rescues Missy, before locking her in the vault for at least 1,000 years? Or could it be that the doctor knows he will need Missy’s services later?
His own words are read to him by Nardole: “Only in darkness are we revealed. Goodness is not goodness that seeks advantage. Good is good in the last hour. In the deepest pit without hope, without testimony, without reward. Virtue is only virtue at the extreme.”
Extremis in Latin means ‘at the point of death’ or ‘in the farthest corners’. The question is whether this refers to The Doctor, Missy, the threatened destruction of Earth, or perhaps all three. Whatever the answer, it’s a complex answer: Moffat will do three businesses:Extreme, The Pyramid at the End of the Worldand The lie of the land-to complete this part of Season 10.
So far, anyone confronted with The Truth has committed suicide by reading the freshly translated, age-old “Veritas” text. Apparently it is too hard to discover that you are part of a computer simulation. It’s a fascinating premise for the doctor to explore. Especially since he can’t see the real world anyway.
And the premise is made even more entertaining by the inclusion — not just from the Vatican (Bill: “Doctor, here’s a tip. If I’m on a date, when that rare and special thing happens in my real life, don’t do that, don’t put the Pope in my bedroom under any circumstances!”) and the Pentagon – those brilliant brains at CERN. As the doctor says, “Particle physicists and priests – what would scare them both?”
Simulated reality, it turns out, is what scares everyone. What do I have so many questions about: What if the advanced alien life form – The Monks – is also in a simulation? What if they’ve created a shadow world just as part of the computer game they’re already a part of? And did The Monks do this to escape the simulation and inhabit the Earth?
I like that there’s a kind of reverse jamming that reveals to the smartest people that they’re trapped in a simulation. “Computers are not good with random numbers,” the doctor explains. A single computer program generates the exact same sequence and can spit out pseudo-random numbers – which brings us back to the question of The Truth.
This episode also includes some helpful references to web culture. The online leak of “Veritas” now seems like an all-too-familiar event in the real world. I also can’t help but think of disinformation and – apologies in advance – so-called fake news when I see some of the subtext of Extreme. The truth is just too much to take, right?
The monks simulate people and places on Earth to learn how best to kill them. But people are revolting, the doctor says. This is not suicide; it is rebellion. “Like Donkey Kong removing himself from the game because he’s dead sick.”
It’s smart, smart stuff from Moffat. And the episode is deftly handled by director Daniel Nettheim, who previously created Season 9’s amazing two-part episode. The Zygon Invasion and The Zygon Inversion. They contain another set of aliens who also hoped to take over Earth.
truth and lies
Bill (Pearl Mackie) and Nardole switched roles in Extreme. Nardole delivers some very important lines and is especially serious in this “something big is happening” episode. Bill, on the other hand, is Nardole’s comedic foil and delivers some of the best jokes: “You’re going to hell,” she tells the priests as they stand there in her bedroom, stranded outside the TARDIS (which immediately The wrong departmentbest episode ever for me Father Ted). Though Bill gets sober at the end of the episode when she’s forced to get real about the whole simulation reality thing.
What does all this mean for the doctor? He temporarily restores his sight by using a crude and deadly device – “perhaps all my future regenerations will be blind,” he tells the monster/audience. “Maybe I can’t regenerate.”
But then we know he’s saying this in a dream-like state, trapped in the simulation. Does this mean the real doctor is safe? I can’t wait to know next week.
List image by Simon Ridgway/BBC