Extremis – Doctor Who Review

Peter Capaldi and Pearl Mackie continue to deliver great performances, but have little to work with.

Multi-part Doctor Who stories have something of a mixed history. Though they made up the majority of the original series, they’ve been used somewhat sparingly since 2005. Often they act as a balancing force between the much faster paced single episode stories by bringing a little more time for development and the exploration of an idea.

Indeed, the best multi-part Doctor Who stories of the last twelve years have been those that have put the time into really delving into the concepts. The Rise of the Cybermen, the Impossible Planet, Human Nature, and The Sontaran Stratagem are good examples in my mind. While you can debate if they are good stories, they at least spend time on their concepts and flesh them out.

Pacing

Having multiple parts to a story often gives writers the chance to pace things out a little more. It can give the audience a chance to get to know the characters a little better as there is less running about from crisis to crisis. So long as it stays interesting, this can be a very good tool to keep us engaged and intrigued.

Extremis was – how can I put this? – boring. The side plot revealing the secrets of the Vault was nice, but felt like it could have been bigger. It is almost as if Moffat realised that this locked door mystery wasn’t that interesting and so quickly shelved it in favour of something that might be.

The Doctor dealing with his blindness was dealt with pretty much as you would expect. Too proud to admit it to his companion, too vulnerable to admit it to his enemies. Throw in a few jokes about him not seeing someone and it pretty much writes itself. The return of the sonic sunglasses will delight some, and infuriate others, no doubt.

The fact that it took so long for him to discover text-to-speech software was frustrating. Perhaps it says something about the Doctor that he would rather sabotage his future regenerations through an elaborate scheme than simply use text-to-speech.

As for the ‘simulation’ aspect; there were interesting moments and the idea being explored is certainly worthy of a Doctor Who episode. But it’s handled poorly and we don’t get chance to really think about what’s being discussed here. What’s the problem? I think it’s the ‘plot twist’ way it is delivered.

It was all a dream

The idea of discovering that you are living in a simulation is a really interesting one. Science Fiction and fantasy delve into this concept fairly often and when done right it can become a classic. However, it is a fairly high concept, one that requires a lot of time and care to really pull off effectively. Instead, this episode relegates it to a ‘surprise ending’ instead of giving us a truly interesting exploration of it.

Once again, rather than letting the characters, and the audience, really come to grips with the idea, it is swept away instantly with what amounts to “it was all a dream”. Such stories can be interesting if given the time and space (no pun intended) to really explore them. In Extremis we are given about five minutes and it is not enough.

Part Two

We shall have to see if more of this is explored in part two, though I doubt it will be. Moffat likes his two-parters to have distinct episodes with their own concepts and ideas. Which is fine, I suppose, but can mean you rush through one or both of them, resulting in neither getting fully explored.

For what we have, there are still nice moments between Bill, the Doctor and Nardole. But if feels kind of cheap, knowing it was all a lie. Still, we get a glimpse of the Doctor and Missy, some questions about why Nardole is there are answered, and the Vault mystery is solved. Each of these things could have been given more weight if explored separately. Here it all feels a bit rushed, a bit haphazard.

I have been generally impressed with the series so far, but this episode was the first one to have me checking my watch every five minutes.

Nice ideas, but bad pacing and poor execution (pun intended).