If ever an episode of Doctor Who needed watching a second time, it’s Extremis.
Show runner Steven Moffat’s narrative is all over the place in this story, teasing bits of story out over a long time timeline, making it an unpredictable watch. For me this was complicated by pixilation, and dropped dialogue, on free to air television in New Zealand, most probably due to atmospheric conditions.
Pre credits, the Doctor (Peter Capaldi) arrives a long time ago for the execution of a fellow Time Lord who, of course, turns out to be his best enemy Missy (Michelle Gomez). Except, of course, he doesn’t execute her, instead putting her in the cabinet. (I hate to say it, but told you so).
Post credits and we’re in contemporary England where the Doctor is about to deliver a university lecture, only to be interrupted by a Roman Catholic cardinal and the Pope. Everyone who had read The Veritas, an ancient text found in the Vatican, has been found dead by their own hand. The Pope urges the Doctor to investigate.
Thankfully Moffat dispenses with the obligatory comedy Pope scene, when the TARDIS arrives in companion Bill’s (Pearl Mackie) bedroom, early in the script so that we can get into the story. From there it’s dark and mysterious with plenty of prompts to hide behind the sofa from the ghoulish monk-like aliens. They’re running a holographic simulation ahead of a real invasion of Earth.
The episode’s conclusion seemed to come out of nowhere, except of course it’s all in the title which is Latin for the point of death. The question one is left asking at episode’s end is what is real and what is an illusion, a question that befuddles us now.
Missy’s story is interlaced, throughout, although her appearance is almost incidental to the main plot. However, she is contrite for her sins, and utterly convincing. Top marks to Gomez for her utterly toned down performance.
It’ll be interesting how this tale, in the middle of the season, dovetails into next week’s.