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Doctor Who: Extremis (Review)

I need to know what’s real and what’s not real.

Don’t we all.

“Book him, lads!”

“Death is an increasing problem,” reflects the voice over at the start of Extremis.

The first five episodes of the season had largely been about establishing the new cast dynamic. The Pilot, Smile and Thin Ice were an old school present-future-past triptych to start the year in introduce Bill. Knock Knock focused on Bill’s life outside the TARDIS. Oxygen marked the first episode to properly incorporate Nardole into the adventure. This was largely work setting up a dynamic that would carry across the season. However, the table has now been set.

It ain’t Oval ’til it’s Oval.

It makes sense that the season should turn its attention to the prospect of death at this point in the year. This will be the final season of Doctor Who to star Peter Capaldi. It will also be the last season produced by Steven Moffat. Extremis is the sixth episode of the twelve-episode season. It marks a point of transition for this final year, particularly positioned as the first episode in a mid-season pseudo-three-parter.

Death permeates Extremis, in a manner both literal and metaphorical. It is an episode in which the Doctor effectively commits suicide, along with many of the planet’s best and brightest, accepting his own uselessness in the context of the world around him. This primary plot is juxtaposed with a framing sequence in which the Doctor bears witness to the execution of Missy, a sequence that goes into great detail about just how difficult it must be to kill a Time Lord.

The light at the end.

Extremis is a very grim episode, in a manner that recalls Heaven Sent. Both are episodes built around the big twist that the audience is watching an iteration of the Doctor, rather than the definitive version of the Doctor himself. It is possible to contextualise this within the broader framework of the Moffat era, populated as it is by doppelgangers and counterpart Doctors; the ganger!Doctor from The Rebel Flesh and The Almost People, the Teselecta from The Wedding of River Song, even Clara at the end of Hell Bent.

However, the iterations of the Doctor in Heaven Sent and Extremis exist to ask their own particular question. These are episodes built around the challenge of what the Doctor does when he is confronted with a problem that he cannot solve, a trap that he cannot escape. In Heaven Sent, no single iteration of the Doctor can escape the clockwork prison. In Extremis, this iteration of the Doctor is actively helping the enemy. Neither is the “definitive” Doctor. What does the Doctor do when confronted with the idea that he is not “real”? He fights anyway.

He hasn’t a prayer.

The big twist in Extremis is that the audience has been watching a fake Doctor in a fake world. The Doctor describes it as a “shadow world”, or “a practice Earth” that is effectively a “great big computer game.” The core idea is that an alien menace has been running simulations of Earth in order to simulate their invasion, a very clever process that seems several degrees smarter than most Doctor Who villains. Of course, one wonders how successful the model could be if the shrewder simulations are constantly executing themselves.

Indeed, this development ties back thematically into the looming return of the classic Cybermen from The Tenth Planet. That classic sixties story suggested that Mondas was an alternate Earth, a planet hidden within the solar system as a grotesque and warped counterpart to the real Earth. This even idea carried over to the reintroduction of the Cybermen into the revived series in Rise of the Cybermen and The Age of Steel, a two-parter that went as far as to depict the development of the Cybermen on an alternate universe version of Earth.

The truth is really out there.

This idea of a “fake” or “alternate” Earth might be seeding this concept. The idea of an alternate Earth physically existing within this solar system is a little ridiculous for modern audiences, particularly given that there are now technically only eight planets in the solar system. However, the introduction of grotesque and deformed figures, rotting skin clad in robes, haunting “a shadow world” seems to offer a sly update on that classic sixties origin of the Cybermen.

After all, Kit Peddler originally conceived as the Cybermen as “space monks.” As strange as that might seem given how the concept has evolved in the years since The Tenth Planet, it certainly fits with the monsters presented in Extremis. In fact, they even speak while holding their jaws open, one of the more uncanny attributes of the sixties Cybermen. The alien menace in Extremis, with their religious design and their shadow world, feel like pilot fish for the sixties Cybermen lurking later in the season. They play like thematic foreshadowing of what is yet to come.

The truth is in there.

The “shadow world” is a clever premise for an episode on a number of levels. On the most obvious level, it lends the mysterious new antagonists a lot of plot clout. It is certainly a memorable introduction, akin to the introduction of the Weeping Angels in Blink or the Silence in The Impossible Astronaut and Day of the Moon. There are faint echoes of the Goa’uld invasion from There But for the Grace of God, the antepenultimate episode of the first season of Stargate SG-1 that depicted a brutal invasion of an alternate world to help raise the stakes to the season finale.

However, that is far from the most interesting aspect of the episode. After all, the threatened invasion never occurs. Most of the more important people on the planet opt to commit suicide rather than allowing the simulation to play through, which would arguably be tantamount to giving the enemy intelligence. “It’s like Super Mario figuring out what he is, and deleting himself from the game because he’s sick of dying,” the Doctor muses. Still, it is very effective introduction to these red-robed monks.

Cardinal sins.

More interesting is the framework itself. The idea of a virtual simulation of the real world is nothing new. It has been repeated and reiterated across various texts and philosophies from the dawn of man. It is arguably an extension of gnosticism, which informs its use in comics like The Invisibles and movies like The Matrix. In fact, the gnostic roots of this idea likely informed some of the storytelling choices in Extremis, right down to the Doctor visiting the Vatican to investigate this existential mystery.

Indeed, there is something decidedly cheeky about the use of the Vatican and the Catholic Church in Extremis. In its own weird way, Extremis is essentially a story about living in a world where mankind discovers incontrovertible proof that God actually exists. Of course the Doctor is brought into consult by the Vatican rather than by U.N.I.T. or the Pentagon. The crisis at the heart of Extremis is existential and spiritual more than literal.

Executive orders.

There is something darkly subversive in the idea of the Vatican discovering that an all-powerful entity exists with complete control over the world, a revelation that drives several men of faith to commit suicide. The scientists at CERN also commit suicide, but arguably as a tactical gesture to deprive the enemy of strategic knowledge. After all, when Bill asks what the CERN researchers are doing, their leader drunkenly replies, “Saving the world.” Blowing up themselves and their equipment is guerilla warfare in a cybernetic framework.

There is something very different in how Extremis treats the religious characters. As charming as the joke with the Pope visiting Bill’s bedroom might be, and as sincere as Cardinal Angelo’s pledge to hear the Doctor’s confession might be, there is something very cynical in the way that way that Extremis plays with the notion of faith. As Cardinal Angelo points out, suicide is a mortal sin. Confronted with proof that their world was the result of intelligent design, these men of faith choose to damn themselves.

Executive orders.

Artificial reality was very popular during the late nineties, as demonstrated by films like eXistenz, The Thirteenth Floor, Dark City and The Truman Show, or television shows like Harsh Realm and VR-5. As the nineties came to a close, and as people fond themselves asking profound questions at a time of relative peace and prosperity, there seemed to be a genuine worry that the world was somehow fake and that everything might fall apart at a moment’s notice. However, this trope largely slipped into the background in the early years of the twenty-first century.

However, like the hypercapitalist future presented in Oxygen, there is a sense that Extremis is embracing a classic science-fiction trope that happens to have a renewed relevance. Extremis is not the only recent piece of science-fiction to play with the idea that the world is an illusion. Westworld became the breakout hit of late 2016 touching on similar themes. Human staff frequently challenged synthetic beings, “Have you ever questioned the nature of your reality?” Seemingly human characters were revealed to be robots, asking the audience if they could tell the difference.

A killer twist.

Alien: Covenant marks the first time that the franchise has truly focused on the inner lives of its synthetic characters, focusing on two androids asking tough questions about the nature of their existence. Blade Runner 2046 promises to return to the ambiguous world of the original Blade Runner, inviting audiences and characters to question whether particular characters are “real” or “synthetic.” There are already rumours about rebooting The Matrix for a contemporary audience.

These reflect fears in the real world. Conspiracy theory exploded in the nineties, but the internet allowed networks to form. After the 9/11 attacks, a small but committed group of “truthers” asserted that the official version of events was not what “really” happened. As the first decade of the twenty-first century gave way to the second, this existential paranoia only fragmented further. There were “truthers” for just about every crisis or rumour, people who believed school shootings had been faked and that the President of the United States was a secret terrorist.

Burn brain after reading.

These schisms in the skin of reality only amplified during 2016. Studies suggested that internet services allowed people to live in pocket realities, in “bubbles” in which they were able to perceive of an entirely different reality than people living mere feet away in the real world. Impossible rumours went viral, to the point that one deranged individual brought an assault rifle to a Washington pizza restaurant because he was convinced that Hillary Clinton was involved in a child-sex ring on the premises.

Things only got worse in the months that followed, as the world seemed to actively reject reality. The President of the United States decried anything that ran counter to his version of events as “fake news.” One of his key advisors insisted that the White House was propagating “alternative facts.” Language was bent beyond all meaning, and nobody was held to account for anything. Those who should have been offended by the horrific reality of what the world had become merely disconnected from it, secreting themselves away in pocket realities.

Clear and President Danger.

Of course, this is more than just an abstract idea. The notion that humanity was trapped inside a computer simulation was embraced by certain segments of the population. In particular, the “alt-right” movement that helped fuel the ascent of Donald Trump is firmly intertwined with concepts like “Roko’s Basilisk”, the notion of an all-powerful all-knowing futuristic artificial intelligence that has the power to run simulations and punish those people who would not help it come into being.

Even beyond the fringe world of internet chat rooms populated by neoreactionary trolls, the idea has taken root in certain science and technology circles. Elon Musk has stated that mankind is “almost definitely” living in some computer simulation of reality rather than the nominal “real” world. At least two of Silicon Valley’s tech billionaires are investing large quantities of money in breaking out of this hypothetical simulation. Bank of America believes that it is as likely that mankind is inside a computer simulation as outside of one.

A cagey hypothesis.

As with the return to Reagan-era science-fiction in Oxygen, it could be argued that the computer simulation in Extremis reflects the current political climate. Events like the Brexit vote and the election of Donald Trump represented an earthshattering blow to neoliberal consensus. In both cases, these events seemed to defy all predictions and all common sense. Philosopher Nick Bostrom has even argued that they are evidence for the suggestion that mankind is trapped within a simulation. They arguably fractured a sense of reality.

Certainly, it could be argued that events like the vote for Brexit and the election of Donald Trump represent a blow for progressive idealism. Hate crimes have increased substantially in the United Kingdom following the Brexit vote, while Donald Trump has embarked upon a number of brutal violations of constitutional norms – from his “Muslim Ban” to fabricating terrorist attacks to criticising judges to firing the head of the FBI. Given the hope embodied through the election of President Barrack Obama in 2008, it feels like a sizable setback.

Are you a Vatican or a Vatican’t?

There are deeper connections between Extremis and the development of the so-called “alt-right” movement. Time and again, over the course of the episode, characters reference and acknowledge video games as a frame of reference. Nardole explains that this holographic world is “basically Grand Theft Auto.” The Doctor likens his predicament to that of Super Mario. The characters navigate via portals, perhaps a nod to Moffat’s own favourite recent video game.

These video game references make sense in the context of the simulation, but they also fit clearly within the framework of a commentary on the contemporary neoreactionary movement. The modern “alt right” owes a lot to the “Gamer Gate” movement, a campaign of reactionary and close-minded video gamers who reacted with hostility towards what they perceived as intrusions into their space. They had a profound influence on contemporary culture and politics.


However, there is more to it than that. These movements arguably applied tactics imported from video games to their political movements. The alt right’s primary political weapon seems to be “trolling”, attacking existing system and frameworks rather than engaging politically. In many ways, this involves treating reality as a video game, as a system that can be hacked. They publicly “out” their opponents rather than engaging them. They target their critics with “doxxing” or “swatting”, sociopathic tactics that win an argument by forcing an opponent out of the arena.

In some ways, this attitude accounts for some of the support for Donald Trump and Brexit. There is an argument that many voters saw the Brexit poll as an opportunity for a protest vote, rather than treating it as a serious issue about which they should be informed. Prominent Trump supporters like Milo Yiannopoulos treat their racism and misogyny as provocative performance art. Broad swathes of Trump supporters voted for him out of a sense of nihilism, whether to send a message to Washington or simply to break the political system.

The mad monks.

Common to all of these political philosophies is a sense of nihilism about the world at large, a desire to break down existing systems for any number of reasons. British voters were be so eager to deliver a shock to the political system system that they voted to leave Europe in support of a political party using blatantly Nazi imagery. American voters were so eager to reject the establishment that they were willing to elect a President who bragged on tape about sexually assaulting women and who launched his campaign by insisting most Mexicans were rapists.

There is something deeply unsettling about this. It treats reality as a game, ignoring the very real consequences for other people. Trump voters might have had legitimate reasons to be upset with the system, but the fact remains; they cast a vote that forced many of their fellow citizens to live in fear, whether African Americans concerned at Trump’s plans to role back accountability in law enforcement or non-citizens who have built productive lives within the borders of the United States. There is a complete lack of empathy here.

A stony facade.

Then again, this complete lack of empathy makes sense in the context of the political and moral philosophy of the alt right. In the case of Gamer Gate, it makes sense that a political movement spawned from the world of traditional video gaming would treat the world as a system to be gamed without any moral framework. Pointedly, the Doctor reflects this notion of treating life like a video game. “Those people you shoot at in computer games?” he assures Bill. “They think they’re real. They feel it.”

On a very literal level, the Doctor is obviously wrong. No gaming developer designs a simulation to feel actual pain, even if they do emulate it. However, in the “shadow world” of Extremis, the Doctor is making a broader point. Empathy is not something that should be disconnected or cut off because a person believes that they are playing a game. Empathy is not reserved for those who deserve it, because that creates a cynical and self-defeating sliding scale.

Head of the executive branch.

Even within simulations and fantasies, compassion and empathy remain a key part of humanity. They say more about the person experiencing empathy than they do about the person receiving empathy. However, the neoreactionary movement has largely eschewed that in favour of a more rigid and inhuman moral framework, one justified by cold hard self-justifying “rationalism.” It is self-interest above all, one that denies any empathy for the larger world.

This is perhaps best reflected in the dilemma of Roko’s Basilisk, in which a person who can imagine an artificial intelligence that can come into being is compelling to help it so, lest they (or their simulated clones) spend eternity being tortured by this machine as punishment. It is an impossible choice, but the movement argues that the only rational thing to do when confronted with such a situation is to capitulate. If the only way to save one’s self is to imagine a machine that will enslave mankind, the neoreactionary thing to do is to offer up the world as tribute.

Portal, Too.

The logic for this is somewhat convoluted, but at least part of that is down to the belief that the person confronting this dilemma might actually be a simulation run by this malevolent artificial intelligence, and so is using that simulation to judge the “real” individual. Because there is every possibility that the person considering this option is merely a facsimile, and because they can never know, the only proper response is to assure the artificial intelligence that the real individual is cooperative. In some ways, it is a technologically-derived religion.

It is a weird and warped logic game, but it is very revealing of the world in 2017. It often seems like people have rejected any notion of empathy or compassion, any true engagement with the world as a place that really exists and within which decisions have weight.  Extremis pointedly rejects this moral philosophy. The Doctor believes that even imaginary lives are worth saving, that even his enemies are worthy of compassion. Even trapped in a “a great big video game”, the Doctor insists that his choices still matter. Even if he is a copy or a simulation, he still has his principles.

Dead presidents.

Extremis is very clearly informed and shaped by the theory of Roko’s Basilisk. The religious imagery plays as a sly commentary on those objectivists who have imagined their own deus ex matrix. The tactical use of a simulation replaying all of human history feels like another nod to the theory. However, Extremis is a rejection of the philosophy. Tellingly, none of the characters within the simulation choose to surrender or capitulate to the powers at work. They all make a conscious choice to fight against this sinister scheme.

Extremis plays as a commentary on the neoreactionary movement, and the world that it has helped to create. The episode takes the Doctor to both Europe and America. He journeys first to the Vatican to inspect the Veritas text, which later leads his team to CERN and the White House. It should be noted that Britain’s scientific community was one of those areas most directly affected by the Brexit vote, with Britain’s relationship with the rest of Europe enabling worthwhile projects like CERN. Literally blowing up CERN feels like a pointed statement of intent.

Book on psychic tape.

More than that, there is something particularly overt about setting the climax of the episode in the Oval Office. The Doctor figures out what is happening as Bill stumbles across the dead body of the United States President. Although he has dark (rather than blonde) hair, it is particularly notable that the President of the United States is a middle-aged white guy. Extremis is an episode in which the world has gone to hell and the Doctor has the best seat in the house, behind the desk in the Oval Office.

In some ways, this plays as an engagement with the idea of Doctor Who. The franchise is generally optimistic in its outlook, to the point that exceptions like The Caves of Androzani and Midnight are notable for their very existence. Doctor Who tends to believe that people are inherently decent, when properly empowered and enlightened, and that mankind is capable of wonderful things. The Doctor loves mankind because he believes that they are capable of great things. That is why the Master’s exploitation of mankind in The Last of the Time Lords was so devastating.

Everybody lives.
Except the people that Missy has killed.

Steven Moffat has really embraced this idea, championing the show’s optimism to the point that The Day of the Doctor is largely an extended essay on how the murder of millions of children was radically out of character for a hero who calls himself “Doctor.” More than that, Moffat is a big fan of “everybody lives” endings, as codified by his scripts for episodes like The Empty Child, The Doctor Dances, Silence in the Library, Forest of the Dead, The Big Bang and The Pandorica Opens.

That attitude is very much on display in Extremis, when it is revealed that the Doctor refused to execute Missy for her countless crimes. To be fair, the realities within the story make it hard to justify sparing Missy’s life, in much the same way that it is hard to explain Batman’s reluctance to kill the Joker. However, it is a broad philosophical statement about the values that Moffat deems essential to the series. The Doctor saves people. That is what he does. He makes things (and people) better.

Who would want to live in a world without pope?

Even beyond the high concept trappings of this digital world, Extremis touches on this fundamental aspect of who the Doctor is and what the Doctor does. Much like Heaven Sent before it, Extremis is a story about how the Doctor is a person who does the right thing no matter what the cost. Even confronted with the reality that he cannot save the world, or himself, the Doctor still finds the energy to do something. After all, as Nardole quotes from River’s diary, this is the essence of heroism.

As with Heaven Sent, it is very clear that the audience is not seeing the very first iteration of this tale. “We have killed you many times,” the mysterious antagonist warns the Doctor, conjuring up images of the climactic montage from Heaven Sent. In most narratives, the Doctor would be diminished by his status as a clone or a copy. After all, fans tend to think of stories as taking place in “continuity”, and display a bias towards stories that “count.” In practice, Extremis is as imaginary as any other Doctor Who story, but it still exists at a remove. However, that does not matter.

… but not necessarily in a galaxy far away.

One of the more endearing aspects of the Moffat era has been a decidedly playful attitude towards that genre fixation with “canon” and “continuity.” The Doctor constantly lies and bends the truth, while Moffat repeatedly subverts audience expectations about so-called “mystery boxes.” Moffat repeatedly insists that characters are not important because of their plot function, but that they are important because of their agency. The Pandorica was empty in The Pandorica Opens, Clara was just a normal girl in The Name of the Doctor, the Hybrid could be anything in Hell Bent.

Extremis takes this idea to its logical extreme. It is a story built around a computer facsimile of the Doctor, set in a world that has been created to simulate an alien invasion. The audience never even finds out what happens to this version of the Doctor, although it seems safe to assume that his enemies delete him in the most painful manner possible. Extremis is arguably a “dream” story or a “reset button” story, a story with apocalyptic stakes that is isolated and contained from continuity. However, that is entirely the point.

“You can’t kill me. You’ll Missy me.”

Extremis offers a very compressed summary of how Moffat sees the Doctor. The Doctor does the right thing, no matter what the circumstance. Even if there is no reward, even if there is no escape, even if it is arguably pointless. Even in an abstract computer simulation, even as a copy of himself, even acknowledging that he is not real. The Doctor is such a heroic ideal that even copies of him are compelled to do the right thing. So how does this very optimistic science-fiction outlook engage such a seemingly cynical world?

Extremis is arguably an episode about how powerless Doctor Who is in the face of this existential horror. After all, the Doctor cannot thwart the Muslim Ban any more than he can stop hate crimes. He is a fictional character. He is a construct. He is not a real person. Repeatedly over the course of his tenure as showrunner, Moffat has engaged with the idea of the Doctor as a mythical construct. The Doctor is arguably more of an idea than a character, and Moffat has repeatedly suggested that the Doctor has power as an idea.

It’s a trap!

Most obviously, Moffat suggested in A Good Man Goes to War that mankind got the word “Doctor” from their encounters with the Time Lord. This insistence upon the allegorical power of the Doctor evokes writer Grant Morrison’s suggestion that Superman is an idea more powerful than the atomic bomb, an idea of pure goodness and idealism that has power that transcends the fact that he is a fictional construct. In some ways, this theme dovetails nicely into the (admittedly lighthearted) use of superheroes in The Return of Doctor Mysterio.

At the climax of Extremis, the Doctor is confronted repeatedly with the challenge that he is somehow diminished because he is not “real.” His enemy protests, “You are not the Doctor. You’re not real.” The Doctor responds, quite honestly, “You don’t have to be real to be the Doctor.” It’s an endearing sentiment, one that rings true when his adversaries challenge him towards the end of the story. “You are not real,” they state as a matter of fact. “There is nothing you can do.”

The Master in the High Castle.

However, Extremis embraces the idea that the Doctor still has worth even if he is not real and even if he cannot literally save the real world. The Doctor is able to reach beyond the confines of his simulation and to influence the “real” word by sharing information and by inspiring somebody outside his fictional universe. At its core, Extremis is an episode about how the “real” Doctor finds the strength to save the world by watching an episode of Doctor Who.

The teaser is very clever, with the opening credits playing as soon as the Doctor downloads “Extremis.” It seems like the Doctor watches the show like a lot of viewers, downloading the episodes online rather than watching them on television on the BBC’s schedule. Perhaps Moffat is even making a sly dig at the show’s slipping television ratings. The Doctor certainly wasn’t included in Extremis‘s ratings. An episode of Doctor Who about the Doctor watching Doctor Who. This might be the most metafictional that the Moffat era has been, but it is still a heartwarming adventure.

There’s always Pope.

In some ways, this is the perfect response to the challenges of writing and producing Doctor Who against the backdrop of such a chaotic and uncertain world, in the face of such depressing news arriving on a daily basis. Even John Oliver has found himself asking “is this real life?” Now, more than most times, stories have value and meaning. When the entire world seems to be a work of badly-plotted fiction, these narratives are in no way diminished by the fact that they are not “real.”

History books tell us who we used to be. The news tells us how far we’ve come (if we can hold back from weeping). But imaginary heroes tell us something much more important about ourselves – they tell us who we want to be.

– Steven Moffat, Doctor Who Monthly

11 Responses

  1. And then the incantation was completed. Dissection of a spell became itself a spell, weaving out through the psychoconography of its influence. As Moffat placed his spell, giving the text of Doctor Who its own life and consciousness, he never knew of the consequences. And as Philip Sandifer sat at his keyboard for the first time, ready to theorize about the power of An Unearthly Child, he didn’t know what was coming. And as Darren absorbed these messages, and wrote the definitive analysis of what Doctor Who, under Sandifer’s and Moffat’s joint keyboards, had come to meant, he did not know the effect it would have. Bravo, sir. This is beautiful.

  2. As always a very insightful review. 🙂

    I liked this episode a lot, though I have to admit I don’t quite *get* the angst about being a digital simulacrum. If I’m fake but sufficently realistic to fool myself into thinking I’m real then… well, surely I am real just in a different way? Is it so terribly different from being a sentient robot? I do understand the idea of being created by a sinister external being is horrifying but there seems a strange leap to go from there to universal suicide.

    I will say that my favourite ‘not real’ moment in this series has always been in “Death in Heaven” where Clara claimed to be the real Doctor (I really like Capaldi but I still desperately wish that hadn’t been a fakeout – which I suppose ironically makes it simultaneously my least favourite ‘not real’ moment in the series because the show introduced a breathtaking idea only to run hard in the opposite direction.)

    • I don’t know. I mean, I think the simulation in Extremis is something constructed for a very clear purpose. So “I’m a being in a simulation” is something I’d probably have a fairly blaise reaction to. After all, if I can’t tell the difference, does it matter? However, “I’m a being in a simulation that is being run in order to help an alien species invade Earth and presumably kill or enslave my real self”, then I can see the level of existential angst.

      And I think that’s something quite interesting about the episode. While the suicides in the Vatican are undoubtedly motivated by an interesting existential paradox – a collection of men of faith who just proved that the universe is the result of intelligent design, but who find their faith shaken in the moment that it is realised – there is at least some ambiguity about the suicides at CERN and the White House. Those are in some senses tactical decisions, players opting to take themselves out of the game rather than assist the enemy.

      • I’m not so sure about that. The scenes at CERN definitely seemed to have a ‘driven mad by the revelation’ feel rather than a stoic refusal to aid the enemy though I admit it’s subjective.

        Also to heck with the ‘real’ me – what’s that guy done for me lately? 😉 Okay I admit that’s flippant but the show is essentially asking us to belive that everyone who discovers the truth automatically prioritises the well being of what is essentially an alternate version of themselves over their own immediate survival.

      • I think the scientist is asked what he is doing, and he explicitly says, “Saving the world.” Of course, there’s also an element of going mad with the revelation, but I think there’s a weird rational aspect of the suicide of the scientists and the world leaders that is notably absent from the suicide of the priests. Which I thought was quite pointed.

  3. Something doesn’t make sense about the premise of this episode. If an alien spacefaring race is so powerful that it can create a simulacrum of the entire world, then sure it’s technologically advanced enough that it could conquer 21st century Earth pretty easily. After all, how hard could it be to conquer a race that hasn’t yet developed space combat? I’m hoping that issue is explained in a later episode, but for now it seems like a glaring problem with the setup.

    Also, if the Doctor was going to spare Missy, why did he go ahead with the pretend execution anyways? This seems very typical of Moffat, writing to surprise the audience rather than what makes the most sense for the plot.

    • See Pyramid at the End of the World for a basic response to the first bit. And why don’t we see Lie of the Land before we judge the Missy thread?

      • Sure, we can wait until the end of the Missy thread, but I’m not really sure how anything would change the artificiality of the “fake out” execution. I like Doctor Who, but I guess I’m just tired of Moffat’s “clever” plot twists that don’t really seem well thought out.

    • I don’t know. One imagines that the United States runs complex simulations of interventions before it does so. Obviously, those are less advanced that the technology available to the Monks, which is also designed specifically to model potential futures. This seems like a very practical and clever use of this technology, regardless of the difference in technological levels between the Monks and the humanity. After all, if such technology existed in today’s world, it would still likely be used for something as one-sided as the United States invasion of Iraq. (And think of the the trouble it might have prevented.)

      The episode suggests that the Doctor wasn’t always going to spare Missy. He only decided that he wasn’t going to be party to her execution when Nardole came to visit. As for why he activated the device, it seems like a nod to the old urban myth about being sentenced to death only assures the state the right to attempt to execute you, that a prisoner is entitled to walk away from a failed execution attempt. This is, of course, absolute nonsense. (That’s why judges say “… until dead.”) However, it is a nice visual and storybeat, and it allows the Doctor the pretense of fulfilling his obligation. He was brought here to witness an execution attempt and to guard the vault, and he will do so. Even if the execution attempt fails and even if the vault contains a living rather than a deceased Time Lord.

  4. Still think this episode is fantastic. One of Moffat’s best. What makes it great is how it digs into the nature of reality-it of course combines this with some chilling atmosphere. The scenes with the Doctor and the Vatican are really well directed, and unsettled me a fair amount. And it, of course, ends the way a Doctor Who episode should-the Doctor trying to do good, even at great cost to himself. The Lie of the Land was a massive letdown, but the fact remains Extremis was a fantastic set-up.

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