Steven Moffat is back writing a Doctor Who episode and his distinctive style of writing is present from the outset with the show going back into more complex storytelling.
The Doctor (Peter Capaldi) has been left blind after the events of ‘Oxygen‘ and representatives from the Vatican ask for his assistances after their translators who have committed suicide after reading The Veritas document. The Doctor, Bill (Pearl Mackie) and Nardole (Matt Lucas) head to the Vatican to investigate.
The episode also looks at events in the past about how The Doctor came to the guardian of the vault for a thousand years and the person who happens to be inside it.
The episodes in Series 10 have been stand-alone ones which were loosely connected to each other. ‘Extremis‘ marks the first time the season has referenced past events (mostly from “The Husbands of River Song” and “The Witch’s Familiar”) and setting up a much bigger story: both for a three episode arc and the wider story elements involving the series’ lore.
The bulk of the episode focused on the events in the Vatican and its officials and this was where “Extremis” took a darker turn – both literally and figuratively. The darkest aspect was seeing a priest who just read the Veritias and going off into the shadows to kill himself.
Moffat used all his boxes of tricks for this episode and ‘Extremis’ is ambitious with its themes about reality and the nature of existence. It’s heavy philosophical themes for the show and the episode is the Doctor Who version of The Matrix.
Like many of Moffat’s mysteries there are multiple layers being slowly unwrapped as the episode progresses and reveals more information. Moffat enjoys doing this type of reveal in his stories: it’s his way of showing off as new elements are introduced and The Doctor comes up with a new solution.
Nardole gets an increased role in the episode as he helps The Doctor and tells Bill he is the only person allowed to ‘kick The Doctor’s arse’. When Nardole and Bill are separated from The Doctor he shows off his own deductive skills when figuring out the twist.
The flashback section of the episode was classic style Doctor Who as The Doctor has to take part of a ceremony with people in elaborate costumes. It’s big, grand and a little campy and that’s what made this part of the episode a delight. Although there is the question about how did Missy escape the Daleks at the end of “The Witch’s Familiar” where it was implied that she made a deal with The Doctor’s nemesis for her own self-preservation.
The new season has also been heavy with pop culture references. As already stated ‘Extremis’ uses elements from The Matrix and the episode makes reference to Harry Potter, Star Trek and Grand Theft Auto. The episode is set in both the Vatican and CERN which is similar to the Dan Brown novel Angels and Demons. It was cute at first but the series needs to tone it down now.
‘Extremis’ is a big and ambitious episode and satisfying for fans of the Moffat style of mid-season episodes.