Rot-faced monks, Catholic conspiracies, hidden knowledge centuries old. You may be thinking that this is Steven Moffat’s version of The DaVinci Codswallop but you couldn’t be any more wrong because unlike Dan Brown, Stevie can string whole sentences together that make actual sense. Plus none of his scripts read like they were written by the poor chimps who write jokes for Christmas crackers. No grammar/plot challenged authors here *winks at the Moffat haters and blows raspberry*
Extremis is the name, and monsters are very much the game.
Yes, I said monsters! Proper aliens with dubious motives. No misguided humans here, no sir. We have our Big Bad at last. Oh, and we get to see who is in the Vault. Probably.
This episode is technically two stories which are told at the same time. But for the reasons of keeping a key plot point secret, I won’t reveal all until towards the end. Even though you all know what happened.
The Doctor is mooching by the Vault when he receives an email on his sonic sunglasses. Bill still doesn’t know he is blind, she just thinks he is obsessing on Lou Reed or Neil Gaiman. This email, which must enter his brain without the use of his optical peepseers, has one word, or rather the email has the word ‘Extremis’ in the subject line.
If you note carefully, the email is also CCed to Dr Who, Dr What, Dr Why and Dr This Joke Is So Old That It Is Not Funny Anymore.
We crash into the titles sequence, very pretty per usual, and then we crash back into an empty lecture hall where the Doctor is standing at the podium wondering why it is so quiet today. “Ach, these students ar’ awfully quiet taedae.”
On his sunglasses he sees life signs entering. Students? In university? Shouldn’t they be out on the streets vomiting colourful alcopops onto the cobbles or picking up dodgy gaseous sex monsters?
No, not students. Catholic priests and the Big Cheese of the Vatican, the Pope!
You may recognize the actor who plays the Pope from previous episodes such as Turn Left, Turn Around and You Spin Me Right Round Baby Right Round Like a Record Baby Round Round Round Round. This is Joseph Long who previously played Rocco Colasanto. I like to believe that he is playing this reality’s version of the character. Hasn’t he done well? Give him a round of applause.
The Pope speaks in Italian to the Doctor. About a book at the Vatican called Veritas and the translators who read it and then killed themselves.
A lot of confused Whovians, mainly Rookies, were confused as to why the Pope spoke actual Italian when the TARDIS normally translates. Also why is the book not called Truth? Firstly, the Doctor can already speak Italian so he doesn’t need it translated. Also, everything sounds better in Italian. Secondly the book’s title is not translated for the same reason Gallifreyan is almost never translated which is this: it sounds better in the original language. Plus the word ‘Veritas’ is probably understood by the majority of humans so yeah, does that sound plausible? You might as well ask why the TARDIS is called the TARDIS when English isn’t the language spoken on Gallifrey.
Back in the real world, Bill has taken a date home. A girl called Penny (played by Ronke Adekoluejo whom my spellchecker insists should be called Rorke Adenoid Lovejoy). Penny is a rookie lesbian or wants to be. She has tasted the cherry chapstick and wants more and Bill is all too willing to oblige.
But Bill’s foster mother is home.
“What have I told you about bringing boys home, Billie?”
“Soooooooooo not a problem, momma.”
She leaves the sheepish Bill and the anxious Penny alone. Any thoughts of romance is ruined when the TARDIS arrives in her bedroom…..vworp vworp bang! Bill blames the sound on the pipes. Reasonable. But the Pope leaves her bedroom, looks at her and looks disapprovingly at them. Explain your way out of this, missy. Awkward! Penny runs away. A shame for Bill who was 87% sure that this one wasn’t a sentient puddle.
The TARDIS takes our heroes and the Pope and his band of merry men back to the Vatican. The Pope allows Father Angelo to escort the TARDIS trio into the secret library of the Vatican., the Haereticum. Or as the Pope might say, if he hadn’t scurried off to catch up on Lucifer on Netflix, “La biblioteca della blasfemia, l’Haereticum“. See? Things DO sound better in the original language.
The Haereticum is the repository for all the books that the Vatican deems heretical. As Father Angelo takes them deep into the depths which I swear is the same location that they used for the TARDIS’ library in Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS. They go past shelves of the Parseltongue translations of the Harry Potter series, the three wings dedicated to the works of Enid Blyton and a small cabinet containing the skull of Dodo Chaplet. Yep, she is as dead as her proverbial avian namesake.
Bill is impressed by the Haereticum but more so that it has wifi. To which the Doctor says, “Crivens, Bill! ‘Tis a library. O’ course it has wifi. It even has,” he points at a slumbering figure, “homeless sassenachs sleeping wi’ wee little books o’er their faces.”
The Doctor explains to Bill about this dodgy book which compels whoever reads it to commit suicide. No, not The DaVinci Code. This is Veritas, a book written by some dead dude who found out a great truth centuries ago. No, I said it wasn’t The DaVinci Code! Look, can you see an albino assassin? No? Well then! Lets hear no more of this Dan Brown dreck, eh?
The book was recently translated by the Catholic priests responsible for the Necronomicon and the Buster Annual of 1475. Now, call me Mr Silly but why would they translate a book that kills whoever reads it? Are these priests the type of guys who stick their hand into a bonfire despite knowing it will burn?
Suicide is a mortal sin according to the Catholics, so why would priests willingly kill themselves? Suicide leads straight to hell, do not collect £200 and prepare for a bunch of horned red guys with tridents, which means that whatever they found out, it was better to risk Hell than to continue living. Maybe Veritas is the new Dan Brown novel?
“Doc, if this book kills people, shouldn’t it be called Digitas?” asks Bill.
“Ach, dinnae be stupid, lass.”
They get to the cage containing the book. “Ha’ everyone died who read this thing?” “No, well, maybe. One of the priests may be alive, we haven’t found him”, which leads to the one surviving translating man popping up when Angelo goes off to investigate a sound. “Mamma mia, not the bloody bookworms again!” Angelo fans, be warned, he gets killed by a rot-faced monk.
The surviving translator? After he pops up like Pop-Up Pirate, he mumbles, dribbles and runs away. And commits suicide.The Doctor sends Bill and Nardole off to find him, despite his sonic sunglasses telling him that priestboy is dead.
Inside the Veritas cage, the Doctor discovers a laptop. The priest’s laptop. Checking his email history, our Time Lord friend checks the sent emails folder. The priest has sent online copies of the Veritas to CERN, the White House and the Pentagon. Because misery loves company, right?
CERN is a particle physics laboratory. The largest in the Solar System and, what? OK, OK, the world! No idea what the White House or the Pentagon is, I think they do takeaways.
Bill, babydoll, and Nardole, secret badass, wander through the corridors of the Catholic Hogwarts. In search of the dead priest who is dead. Instead of tripping over his body, they see a bright light. Is it the second coming? Is Jesus checking out the Vatican’s copy of The Famous Five Sacrifice Timmy to Beezlebub? Uh, no. Just a portal.
They step through the portal. Of course they do. Why wouldn’t they? Instead of being gnashed to death by sabre-toothed goblincats as they might have been, they find themselves in the safe environment of a white voidy room. Portals arrayed in a circle. White monoliths in the centre around a black small void. Are the monoliths projecting the doors? Are they the Ogri’s smarter, well-dressed cousins?
No matter. Bill and Nardole go through one of the portals and find themselves in Dilbertville, a cubicle farm. This is no ordinary office though. It is the office of the Pentagon. It isn’t a curry house, it is the place where secrets happen. Our heroes are in Virginia. In one of the most secure places on Earth. They make their excuses and leave.
The Doctor, safely tucked up in the Haereticum, prepares to read the book. Because he is blind, he uses a Time Lord device to restore his eyesight. But how? Well, constant reader, this gadget will borrow eyesight from his future self. It comes with a drastic drawback though, the Doctor may not be able to respawn (Can I hear the sound of Greybeard Whovians grinding their teeth is silent fury?), he may have a time head, become a goat, his future regenerations may be blind, or, and this is most unlikely, become a woman. He does it anyway but before he can read more than the title, rotting monks appear with their large gnarled hands. They want the Veritas more than cats want cheeseburgers.
Bill and Nardole, in the wheel of places, choose another portal. They don’t know where they are at first but a tipsy scientist informs them that they are at CERN. Nardole is happy though because he wants to have a ride on the Large Hadron Collider. Sadly he can’t because he has to be a certain height before he can go on the particle accelerator. Muttering about how he never gets to have fun, he follows Bill and the scientist into a large room full of scientists who are getting drunk, drunker or who are already drunk.
The scientist goes up to a huge display with numbers counting down to zero. He asks Nardole and Bill to give him a random number. They try. They give the same number. “Sixty-nine, dude!” They do it again and again, each time they both come up with the same number as each other. The rest of the scientists join in. Never has numbers been so unsettling. Maybe Adric was a secret badass too? Nah!
Bill and Nardole see comedy explosives underneath the tables. Sticks of dynamite, really? Acme must be laughing all the way to the bank. They look at the countdown again. They look at each other and play patty-cake before fleeing. As they jump through the portal, they hear the scientist shouting, “This mass suicide has been brought to you by the letters T, N and T. Goodnight, Vienna!”
In the void between places, Nardole thinks that the white monoliths are actually projecting reality, that the portals are merely holograms. He compares them to the holodecks in the Star Trek franchise. This does not bode well. How many times did the holodecks break down? Practically every time the Enterprise hits a speed bump.
This raises the question of whether Bill or Nardole are real. They came through one of the portals so are they hologrammatic too? Nardole tests his theory by reaching his hand out into the black void behind the monoliths. It pixilates into nothing and the rest of his body goes with it.
Bill is overcome with sadness. She didn’t sign on for this. Not the death of friends. She is distracted by spots of blood leading into another portal. Whose blood? The Doctor’s blood? She follows…
…and enters the Oval Offices of the White House. Again, not a curry house but rather the place where the President of America resides. Aforementioned President on the floor, dead by his own hands. Before you ask, no it isn’t Trump. Too thin, young and he has his own hair.
The Doctor is in the President’s chair, spinning around and shouting, “Weeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!”
When he has stopped spinning, he explains to Bill how Veritas is all about a demon call Bob who possesses human beings, and how the brave knight Sir Dale of Cooper travelled to Twin Peaks to slay the… Sigh, no, of course not. It is about a demon but it is more of an alien with a taste for invading the Earth. It makes dummy-runs by faking up huge hologrammatic simulations, Shadow Worlds, and running them so it/they can find the best way to nobble the humans. Oh my glob, are the Monks really the Kraals? No.
The Doctor goes on to say that the Shadow People can discover their fakeness by coming up with pseudo-random numbers which proves that their reality is being run by a computer.
I could try and faff my way around making the explanation of this Shadow World funny (‘try’ being the operative word) but me so lazy. So here are the relevant quotes from Wikipedia, this universe’s version of the Veritas book. Here comes the science bit.
“A pseudorandom process is a process that appears to be random but is not. Pseudorandom sequences typically exhibit statistical randomness while being generated by an entirely deterministic causal process. Such a process is easier to produce than a genuinely random one, and has the benefit that it can be used again and again to produce exactly the same numbers, which is useful for testing and fixing software. To generate truly random numbers would require precise, accurate, and repeatable system measurements of absolutely non-deterministic processes. Linux uses, for example, various system timings (like user keystrokes, I/O, or least-significant digit voltage measurements) to produce a pool of random numbers. It attempts to constantly replenish the pool, depending on the level of importance, and so will issue a random number. This system is an example, and similar to those of dedicated hardware random number generators.”
“Epistemologically, it is not impossible to tell whether we are living in a simulation. For example, Bostrom suggests that a window could pop up saying: “You are living in a simulation. Click here for more information.” However, imperfections in a simulated environment might be difficult for the native inhabitants to identify, and for purposes of authenticity, even the simulated memory of a blatant revelation might be purged programmatically. Nonetheless, should any evidence come to light, either for or against the skeptical hypothesis, it would radically alter the aforementioned probability.”
This raises a valid point about the nature of the Shadow World. If people became aware that they were basically no different from Super Mario, would the Monks allow them to know? Would they not purge the Veritas knowledge out of the video game characters? Unless they don’t give a hoot about the lifestock finding out. Mind you, the Monks do seem keen on getting their hands on the Veritas although why didn’t they grab it when the book was first written? Given that everything is a huge hologram, why bother grabbing it when they could just get one of their tech savvy rot-faced nerd Monks to delete it?
Now, if none of you have died of boredom, I’ll continue…
When people discover that they are not real, they commit suicide so that they can escape the Shadow World. This is the most unlikely part of the story (what, really?). Would people really kill themselves if they thought they weren’t real? Yeah, I’d admit that some might and that others who are suicide risks might be more likely to kill themselves but mass suicide of reasonably rational human beings? Nuh-uh. Not buying that.
The only difference between the Real World and the Shadow World is that the Real World doesn’t have Veritas (it has Wikipedia instead) and Rocco Colasanto isn’t the Pope.
A Monk appears from under a table. Only pausing to stretch his back, it turns Bill into digital flotsam and Bill is no more. Goodbye HoloBill.
The alien is about to kill the Doctor but he has a cunning. He pulls out his sonic turnip (shaped like a thingie) and boasts that he has recorded everything that he has seen and experienced via the veg. One click and he emails the whole kit and caboodle to…
…the real Doctor who is mooching by the Vault when he receives an email on his sonic sunglasses from the digital Doctor. This email has one word, or rather the email has the word ‘Extremis’ in the subject line. And a brief message:
Are you doing well? I’m doing fine.
Love the sunglasses.
Oh, and view this attachment.
Love to Bill and Nardole and Pete.
The Doctor x
PS. Don’t forget to order some milk. You know how grouchy we get without our cow juice in the morning.
PSPS. Yes, I don’t write with a Scottish accent. Deal with it!
So the Doctor didn’t fight any monsters whatsoever? It was a JR-in-the-shower moment? Am I right in thinking that this is the first time since Black Orchid that the Doctor hasn’t battled an alien threat?
Remember how I mentioned that Extremis was really two stories? Here comes the second one. Don’t worry, I’ll keep it short.
Alien world. Blokes in robes. Medievalish architecture, beautiful landscape. The planet Carnathon. Just think Game of Thrones with less nudity and no dragons.
The Doctor has been asked, nay commanded, to execute another Time Lord. Missy by the Fatality Index (the guys in robes). That bad girl has done something so bad that she needs executing. And as the only other Time Lord about, the Doctor is on death duty. Only a Time Lord can kill another Time Lord according to the Fatality Index. When it is done, her body will be stuck into a vault (it has yet to gain the big V) and the Doctor has to watch over it in case she comes back to life. Like that is going to happen!
Missy begs. Discomforting to see that. The Master has a habit of doing this, begging the Doctor, and then stabbing him in the back. The Doctor won’t fall for it.
The Doctor falls for it.
A monk, not one of the rot-faced, red-robed gits, approaches and wants to talk to the Doctor. I could have sworn that it sounded like John Simm. But no, it is the Master. He reads from a very familiar book, the diary of Moll Flanders AKA River Song. She has sent him to make sure that her husband doesn’t take any extreme actions or as they say in ancient Rome, extremis.
A disturbingly amount of Rookie Whovians questioned how Nardole has the book when they saw it left behind at the Library where River snuffed it. Do these fans not understand how time travel works? Meh.
The Doctor executes Missy but she isn’t dead! He tampered with the controls! She still has to go in the Vault though. That thousand years will pass quickly not.
Back to life, back to reality and the Doctor has finished remembering and watching. He bangs on the Vault and asks Missy for her help in fighting the Monks.
Now, call me cynical but I reckon that Missy isn’t in the Vault anymore. She’ll be an android copy or something. Or maybe she really is Missy?
Second theory: Nardole is the John Simm Master in disguise. Seems unlikely but who knows?
Peter Capaldi, excellent as usual. Good to see him still blind as it seems as if he is playing the character slightly more subdued. Might just be my imagination. Seems more vulnerable than he normally is. Like normal, I love his performance here.
Pearl Mackie is brilliant but less well acted here. Just a smidge though. Still great. The early scenes with her as HoloBill being embarrassed by HoloFostermother and HoloPope while she is on a date with HoloPenny (who exists in Bill’s reality, go for it, tiger!). Her reaction to Nardole’s death is sad, true and an important thing for her character even if it isn’t really Bill. Again likewise when she talks to the Doctor later on. Loved her.
Michelle Gomez appears infrequently during the episode via flashbacks. But when she was pleading for her life, even I felt sorry. So good to see Missy played in an understandably normal fashion. More of this, please! Oh, and the usual craziness too, cheers!
Matt Lucas as the man who has permission to kick the Doctor’s arse. I am starting to appreciate him more and more as this series goes on. Largely comedic but there is a purpose to Nardole and we get to see more of it here. Again, loved him. More please!
Corrado Invernizzi as Angelo, liked him too. I could have done with more of him but hey ho…
Anymore to say about the other characters? Hmmm for the sake of brevity, no. But all performances were spot on.
Now, the important question. Should you watch this story? Yes, of course. Yeah, yeah, it is basically man watched film for forty minutes while remembering the past but it is so much more than that. It is cool, it is clever, it is a delight to watch.
So watch it! If nothing else, it beats being killed by an ancient tome. Just ask my Aunt Janice, a copy of War and Peace fell on her head and killed her stone dead. Do you want to be like my Aunt Janice? No. So watch Extremis!