A long time ago…
Okay, cool. So there’s an entire planet for executions. They can kill anyone and anything. Cool cool cool.
The Doctor is there, and the man explains the process: it will stop both hearts, all three brain stems, and permanently disable regenerative ability. The Doctor says he knows how it works, and the reply is “You certainly will in a moment.”
Is someone trying to kill our Doctor? Or is this, ahem, for someone in the vault?
The body must also be guarded for at least 1000 years just in case life finds a way (Admit it: you know that’s what Moffat wanted to say.). Oh, and a final stipulation is that only another Time Lord can execute a Time Lord, and they’re not exactly easy to come by…
Missy pops out of a door and seems to be teasing him about Darillium and domestic bliss – but then changes tack and offers condolences. (RIP River) Missy gestures toward the executioner’s platform, and The Doctor moves over. The head executioner declares that the prisoner will kneel, and The Doctor and Missy exchange deep glances. It isn’t until the executioner gives a nod and the others move to move Missy onto the platform that we get confirmation of who exactly is on the chopping block today. She steps forward and kneels in front of The Doctor.
Back to the present, and The Doctor is at the vault. He is whispering into the vault to Missy that he’s blind. He can’t tell anyone else (except Nardole, apparently) because “memories are so much worse in the dark”.
In the lake in front of the executioner’s platform, a metal box begins to rise out of the water. It is the Quantum Fold Chamber, where Missy’s body will have to be placed. The Doctor reaches for the lever, and Missy begs for her life. She’ll do anything if he lets her live.
In front of the vault (I sense a lot of back and forth coming in this episode, so stay with me.), The Doctor gets an email alert on his sonic shades. He can vaguely see outlines of things around him with the shades, and the email’s title is “EXTREMIS”. As it downloads, the image goes staticky, as the theme plays.
The static returns, and The Doctor is standing at the lecturn of an empty and dark lecture theatre. The shades give him vital information about people entering his ‘vision’: gender, age, height, weight, heart rate, and temperature – all pretty useful bits if you’re an alien who’s suddenly blind. A dozen or more vitals pop up, and a cardinal from the Vatican steps forward. As he starts to banter with them (collecting for a leaky roof?), Nardole steps in to let him know that, whatever it is, it sounds important and he should shut up and listen for once.
They have come to him because he has the personal recommendation of Pope Benedict IX in 1045 … who was a woman and with whom he had a little affair – what would Lizzie have to say about that?!
The current pope wants a personal audience, and, as The Doctor begins to snip that he should have come in person to see him if he was so keen, the Pope does, indeed, step forward. Nardole clues him in, and The Doctor points out that the Pope doesn’t zoom around in the Popemobile, surprising people. The Pope’s response is a single word: “EXTREMIS”.
In The Doctor’s office, the cardinal explains that there is an ancient text buried deep in a secret Vatican library that is older than the church itself. No one knows the language in which it is written, and only the title remains: “VERITAS”. An old sect once translated it, but they all killed themselves, and all copies of their translation disappeared. A few months ago, it was finally translated again. Same story: suicide and destruction. All the bodies were recovered except one. The Doctor says there’s a rogue translator out there somewhere.
The cardinal points out that, because the translators were all very devout, they would have seen suicide as a mortal sin – and they chose it over living with whatever they learned in the translation. The Pope implores The Doctor to read the Veritas.
Bill has brought home a date! She is back living with her foster mum (after the big house adventure didn’t pan out), who chides her on how she still isn’t allowed to bring over men. When her foster mum sees it is a woman, she is relieved (ha!). Bill makes a pot of tea. The sound of the TARDIS interrupts; Bill explains it away as the sound of pipes in her room.
Penny (the date) is a bit nervous, and Bill comforts her that nothing has actually happened yet between them, and, if it did, there’s nothing to feel guilty about. In walks THE POPE, which I’m sure makes a pair of nervous ladies on a date feel really comfortable! Bill excuses herself to her room to find the TARDIS and gaggle of cardinals in there. Penny is spooked and runs out. I don’t blame her!
Aboard the TARDIS, Bill tells off The Doctor for interrupting the “rare and special thing” that is a date in her life – especially with the Pope in her bedroom! The Doctor is fiddling around with a bit of mech and says Nardole will explain everything. Nardole is warned off explaining the blindness bit, and The Doctor sonics the “deadly” mech while the cardinal chats. He says that Benedict said The Doctor was more in need of confession than any man alive, but when she offered to relieve him, he told her it would “take too much time”. The offer still stands, he is told.
We blip back to Missy’s execution. A priest has been requested – but not by her. The head executioner says that The Doctor may discuss with the priest if what damage may be done to his soul by his part in the execution (for five minutes). The hooded priest reads a passage on the nature of goodness and virtue. It is only true goodness and virtue in the darkest hour, in extremis. It says it is what ‘he’ believes, and that is why he is loved – the husband, the Madman in a Box. The Doctor is taken aback. It is River’s journal, and the priest is Nardole.
So that’s how they team up. Except, it’s less of a team up and more that he was sent by River from Darillium – with permission to kick his arse. Oh, River. I miss her.
The TARDIS lands, and, before he can step outside with the others, Nardole corners The Doctor about hiding his blindness from Bill. He says it’s because, as soon as he tells her, it’ll be real and he’ll have to deal with it. The Doctor brushes it off by saying now he definitely won’t be telling her.
Outside, the Pope says that he won’t be joining them in the library. The library in question is the Haereticum, the Vatican’s secret library of blasphemy. Only Cardinal Angelo (the chatty one) will be taking them through to the Veritas. The Haereticum is designed to confuse people, so they need to stick together.
Bill probes The Doctor about his shades, and he replies, “in darkness, we are revealed”. He was passed those words by Nardole at the execution. Missy begs some more, asking him to teach her how to be good. She’ll turn. He responds, “Without hope, without witness, without reward” – more of River’s words.
Back in the library, they’re speaking in riddles. Nardole narrates a mysterious light – it looks like a portal. The Doctor asks the cardinal what’s through the door where the portal is, and he says there is only a wall. A figure stands in the portal before it disappears, and the shades aren’t offering any vitals for it. The cardinal stays to check over the wall, and the others move toward the translating cage(?). As Bill approaches, a face pops around from the chair. A translator/priest is still in the cage. He has a small gun, and he apologises for “sending it”. He seems desperate, and he runs.
The cardinal, meanwhile, appears to have been dragged through the portal by a ghastly hand. In the cage, they discover a laptop (and wifi!) and a chair with restraints. The priest who was in the cage emailed a copy of the Veritas translation to the folks at CERN, who have replied “Pray for us”. Bill is confused why a bunch of scientists will be asking for prayers, and The Doctor points out that anyone will when they’re very, very afraid. But what could possibly scare them both?
Bill thinks it’s promising that the translator was there – it means he didn’t kill himself. Oh, until the gunshot heard in the distance, maybe? The shades immediately show us that the man is dead, but The Doctor sends Bill and Nardole to investigate anyway. He’s getting rid of them, and they kind of know it. Bill wants a promise that he won’t read the Veritas without them, and he says “Trust me” instead of answering.
The Doctor sticks some bits from his TARDIS mech onto his temples, and they wander off in search of the dead translator. The Doctor said that Nardole is meant to walk in front of Bill to protect her, which she doesn’t exactly care for. Nardole snaps off his glasses and delivers a sharp lecture about how he is the only person allowed to kick The Doctor’s arse and how he’ll do the same to her if she doesn’t follow instructions. He returns to happy, chatty Nardole when the glasses go back on, and Bill asks if he’s a secret badass.
They find the dead translator, and another portal immediately opens. They know it’s stupid, but they want to see what’s on the other side.
The Doctor explains to Cardinal Angelo (he thinks – doesn’t look like him to me!) that the mech will either temporarily fix his eyesight or fry his brain. When it starts up, it’s hard to tell which it was.
Back at Missy’s execution, she says she’s speaking the truth because it will make no difference in the end. She is his friend. He pulls the lever, and she is hit with electricity. She collapses, and The Doctor takes an oath to guard her body.
Bill and Nardole have ended up in the Pentagon! They don’t have the appropriate clearance, so they scoot out of there pretty quickly and back into a room full of portals. They find themselves in CERN next, and a scientist (with a bottle of wine) says that everyone is in the cafeteria, so they can “all go together when they go”. They follow him.
The Doctor isn’t fried, but his vision isn’t great either. He has borrowed something from his future to have proper eyesight. He doesn’t know what he’s given up, but he’ll be able to read the Veritas. He is speaking to unlikely-to-be-Cardinal Angelo and asks for help doing up the chair restraints. He takes a moment to slag off Moby Dick before being able to see that it’s not Angelo – and whatever the creature is, it’s not alone. They look like Monks, but, you know, alien.
The Doctor turns out the light, and there is a struggle we can’t see. They know his name, which is unnerving. He usually has to introduce himself.
When the light comes back on, he is gone from the chair and the cage, but the Monk still has the book. He has, however, taken the laptop with the translation – which I have been wondering for a while why he didn’t just read.
Bill and Nardole make it to the CERN cafeteria, and there’s a countdown on a screen. Five minutes. The scientist who led them there calls for last orders, and most of them grab a drink, but Nardole notices the tables all have explosives under them.
When The Doctor is confident he’s along, he opens the laptop.
A TEST OF SHADOWS
As he scrolls to read, his vision starts to fail. The Monks have found him and give chase. He finds a portal, and there’s no other way out.
Back at CERN, the scientist explains that they are all saving the world by blowing themselves up – because this isn’t the world. He cops on that they haven’t read the Veritas. He gets them to play a number game. They both are to say a number when he smacks the table. At the same time, Bill and Nardole say 36. 17. 9. 48. 103. 1 million. 7 billion and 7. 67. 905. 20,460. 12. 4. 87. 702. The rest of the cafeteria eventually joins in. They all have the same numbers. The scientist says it’s a shadow test and then starts the final countdown, and Bill and Nardole run back through the portal.
Nardole has figured something out, and there is a trail of blood in the room of portals. Nardole sees that it’s not the portals that are being projected – it’s the worlds, themselves. They aren’t real. They’re holographic simulations. So what’s on the other side of the projectors?
Nardole doesn’t know when the holograms started – he’s sure they went to the real Vatican because he programmed the TARDIS himself. Nardole puts his hand between the projectors and is revealed to be part of the simulation. He disappears into pixels and static.
Bill is now alone, and she decides to follow the trail of blood in case it was The Doctor. She finds herself in the White House, where there is a total communications blackout. The president is slumped over with a bottle of pills beside him. He read the Veritas, too.
The Doctor listened to it read for him on the laptop. He asks where Nardole is. Bill says she needs to know what is real and what isn’t.
The Doctor tells her that the Veritas tells of a demon who wants to conquer the world. He wants to get it right, though, so he creates a shadow world full of shadow people to practice on, but the people all think they are real. The shadow test has to do with the numbers the scientist at CERN had them shout: write down the numbers on one side of paper, turn it over, and write more down. If you’re not real, you’ll have the same numbers in the same order. Computers have a hard time with true randomisation. Bill said the numbers, as did The Doctor.
The demon from the tale is, today, an alien life form that wants the Earth. All of human history from the Earth is in the simulation. He says the suicides weren’t about death; they were about escape. It’s like Super Mario, he explains, getting tired of dying in his games and just deleting himself to stop it.
Bill disappears into pixels, and a Monk approaches (maybe made her disappear?), saying that she was not real. He isn’t real either, which he admits. They have killed him many times. They want him to suffer, not just disappear. When he says he has nothing, not even hope, he remembers Missy repeating his/River’s words on the execution platform and pulls out the journal.
He makes the declaration: He IS The Doctor. You don’t have to be real to be The Doctor, as long as you never give up. He has trapped The Monks! The shades are set to record, and he doesn’t have to be real to email his memory to The Doctor – the real one!
“I’m doing what everybody does when the world is in danger: calling The Doctor!”
Gah, I love when he’s cocky.
Back to the vault, and The Doctor has just watched, presumably, much what we just watched. He gets a second message:
P.S. Dear Doctor,
The Doctor x.
He phones Bill, perfectly well in her house making up a cuppa. He gives her a bit of the ol’ life’s-too-short business, telling him he should ask out a girl called Penny, even though she thinks she’s out of her league. He’s a scary, handsome genius from space – he knows these things. He also knows they are going to be busy tomorrow, so live tonight.
He whispers into the vault once more. If it comes down to it, if everyone else is gone, has he got Missy on his side? She said she was his friend.
We see her, once again, prone on the execution platform. As the executioners go to lift her body, she pops up and pops off. She’s just a bit sleepy; after all, she was just executed, wasn’t she? The Doctor swore an oath to look after her body, but never did he said she was going to be dead.
He is threatened by the head executioner. The Doctor tells him to look him up in his fancy Fatality Index. Sure, everyone has an entry, but he wants him to check under “Cause of Death”. The machine clicks away, showing him all the beings who have died at his hands. The other executioners hurry away, and the following exchange is delightful:
Where are you going? He’s unarmed. You ARE unarmed?
You stand alone?
You’re the one who should be afraid.
Have a nice day then!
And he scurries away.
The Doctor officially acknowledges that it’s MISSY (not another iteration, for the pedantic amongst us) inside the vault. He doesn’t know how he’s going to save everyone if he’s blind.
That was, quite possibly, the best episode of Doctor Who I’ve seen in a long time. Every once in a while, there’s a little glimmer of what we’ll be missing when Steven Moffat goes. It’s fascinating that almost nothing we saw in “Extremis” actually happened, but it all informs something that we’ll clearly see again.
I am a little disappointed, I’ll admit, that it is Missy in the vault. I was hoping for something with more pizzazz. Something less predictable. I still don’t know how John Simm’s Master is going to play into things, so I suppose there’s still mystery left in it!
Let us know your latest theories and how much you’re enjoying this series of Doctor Who by chatting with us on Twitter using #PWDW and @PopWrapped. Remember that you can see Doctor Who next Saturday in the UK on BBCOne at the slightly later time of 7:45pm and at its regular time in the US on BBCAmerica at 9/8c.