Well, it’s time to review the sixth episode in the new series of “Doctor Who”. Again, although I’m not sure how many of the new episodes I’ll end up reviewing or how long it will take me to review them. But, I’ll try to review as many as I can.
So, that said, let’s take a look at “Extremis”. Needless to say, this review will contain some SPOILERS.
The episode begins “A long time ago”, on a balcony beside a lake. A man talks ominously about an execution involving a timelord-killing weapon, whilst The Doctor listens solemnly. However, it soon turns out that it isn’t the Doctor who is going to be executed, but someone else….
Under some kind of galactic law, The Doctor must serve as the executioner and then must guard the body for a thousand years (Yes, this explains the mysterious vault and the Doctor’s oath). Needless to say, the Doctor isn’t happy about the idea of being an executioner and is racked by moral conflict. However, before he can make a decision, the title credits roll and the events of the episode begin.
Back in the present day, The Doctor is still blind from the events of the previous episode. However, he is able to use his sonic sunglasses in a similar manner to Geordi La Forge‘s VISOR from “Star Trek: The Next Generation”. He can see elements of the world, but this is relayed through sonar and computer data. Still, he decides to keep his blindness a secret.
However, a while later, he is visited by a cardinal from the Vatican who says that the Pope requests his help. A few seconds later, the pope appears – having made the journey due to the urgency of the situation. The cardinal tells the Doctor of a mysterious heretical document in the Vatican’s vaults called “The Veritas” which apparently drives all who read it to suicide. For reasons that aren’t explained at this point, they want The Doctor to try reading it….
One of the first things that I will say about this episode is “WOW!!!”. After the disappointment of the previous episode, my hopes for this one weren’t that high. Yet, this episode absolutely excels itself in so many ways! It’s a great sci-fi episode! It’s a great horror episode! It’s a great thriller episode! It also contains a few memorably hilarious comedic moments too.
There are almost too many cool things to mention about this episode. There’s a mysterious underground library, there are some elements from the cyberpunk genre, there’s a scary mystery, there are some hilarious moments, there’s more of the Doctor and Missy’s backstory and there are…. zombies !!! 🙂
All of these brilliant elements are connected together in a really clever way, which actually helps them to be greater than the sum of their parts.
The science fiction elements actually follow some kind of logic (unlike the “we’ll make it up as we go along” science fantasy of some earlier episodes/series of the show) and this helps to explain the thriller and horror elements of the episode. The comedic moments of the episode also feel like an organic part of the story and, along with the thriller elements, also help to leaven the seriousness of what could be a fairly depressing story in the hands of a lesser writer.
And, yes, this episode is surprisingly dark for a “Doctor Who” episode. Drunken scientists gleefully blow themselves into oblivion with dynamite, a high-ranking American politician overdoses on medication, a priest shoots himself and a couple of major characters also die horribly too. Yes, the ending puts a slightly different spin on what happens, but it is still a surprisingly creepy and dark episode of the show. As a good horror episode of “Doctor Who” should be.
And, although I won’t spoil the ending, I love how this episode is both a (mostly) self-contained story whilst also being part of a story arc. Rather than an unsatisfying and annoying “to be continued…” ending, the episode tells a single story which seems to be the set-up for another more spectacular story. Many of the main plot points of the episode are resolved in a really clever way, whilst also leaving the audience wanting more.
Likewise, we also get a payoff to the mystery of the vault beneath the university. Although the brief presence of John Simm in the “later in the series” trailer at the end of the first episode clued me in to the fact that The Master was probably inside the vault, I didn’t expect The Master to still be Missy instead [EDIT: Yes, Missy appears in this trailer too. But, I assumed that the Master’s past self was in the vault whilst Missy was still out there].
Likewise, the way that The Doctor resolves his moral conflict about executing Missy is yet another “Star Trek” reference (he doesn’t explicitly mention it, but it’s hard not to think of Kirk and the Kobayashi Maru in this scene).
The set design in this episode is also astonishingly good, with a wide variety of locations on show in this episode. From the creepily cold white walls of various futuristic/scientific locations, to suitably gloomy old buildings and a few other interesting locations, the set designs are fairly atmospheric and absolutely brilliant.
Likewise, the background music in the episode contains very slight hints of the theme tune to “Sherlock”, which fits in really well with the investigation/mystery at the centre of the episode’s story.
And, as if this couldn’t get any cooler, the preview for the next episode seems to include Ancient Egyptian pyramids! Awesome!!!!! 🙂
All in all, this episode is a brilliant return to form after the slight disappointment of the previous episode. It is a brilliant blend of horror, science fiction, cyberpunk, thrilling mystery, serious drama and amusing comedy. It sets up the events of the next episode without leaving the viewer feeling short-changed or disappointed. It also helps to develop the central story of the series too. It’s probably the best episode of the series so far.
If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get at least five.