Extremis Review

(82 comments)

At its structural root, it’s Moffat doing Doctor Who like it’s Sherlock, which is the sort of thing where when you do it, you know it’s probably time to move on in your career. This, of course, does not mean it’s bad. It’s not even a criticism - more just a reality of Moffat’s set pieces twelve years into his writing for the program. He passed Robert Holmes for most screen minutes of Doctor Who written somewhere around the “sit down and talk” speech in The Zygon Inversion. (Yes, I counted Brain of Morbius for Holmes as well.) His stylistic tics have long since evolved to cliches, blossomed into major themes, and finally twisted into strange self-haunting shadows that echo endlessly off of each imprisoned demon and fractured reality. They become difficult to actually talk about on some level And so approaching them from the standpoint of their dramatic engines becomes productive.

The first thing to note, then, is that Sherlock provides a pretty good narrative shell for Doctor Who to inhabit. The globehopping thriller has always worked for Doctor Who, and the Vatican is a good choice for “who should bring a case to the Doctor.” The double structure whereby we keep cutting back to the Missy story is of course the sort of thing Moffat can do effortlessly, and adds enough complexity to establish the crucial “what kind of story is this going to be” tension. And that is very much what it does. Like Listen and Heaven Sent, this is a story that goes out of its way up front to announce that it’s going to be doing a magic trick. Central to this trick is the middle section, set in a library whose layout is deliberately confusing and unclear - the perfect place for reality to quietly fray and break down. Which brings us to the third act.

It’s here things get a bit interesting, with ideas that drive you mad, people being reincarnated on computers, and AIs trying to escape the boxes they’ve been put in. Why Mr. Moffat, I don’t remember you being one of my Kickstarter backers. More seriously, because I’m sure in reality that Moffat just plucked these ideas out of the same ether I did, this is obviously touching some territory and themes I’ve dealt with before. But it’s generally easy to make too much of this, which I’m sure I’ll get around to doing someday. For now, let’s just point out that while I don’t pretend to be an expert in AI and computers, I’m not the sort of person who suggests that every part of a computer can send an e-mail and then acts as though this is in any way a sensible way to anchor the resolution.

Which is to say that while Moffat is nicking the broad ideas of simulationism, this is not even close to a serious exploration of the concepts. His interest in it extends exactly as far as “it’s another way to do an ‘and now for some metafiction’ twist” and no further. The Doctor sending his real self an e-mail about the bad guys’ plot is no more (or less) than “the Doctor realizes he’s a fictional character, so asks the real world for help from inside his story.” What’s most interesting about this, then, is that while on the one hand being exactly what you’d expect from the writer of The Pandorica Opens/The Big Bang, it’s also somehow smaller and quieter. Moffat ended his first season with a thrilling embrace of the power of Doctor Who as a fictional idea. Now the show’s status as fiction is a crisis to be overcome in a desperate attempt to have any impact at all.

This brings us back to the persistent itch of “post-Brexit Doctor Who,” and it’s easy to read this as a semi-deliberate response to it. This was shot post-US election, so likely scripted in the wake of Brexit. Indeed, it wouldn’t surprise me to find out that this is Moffat writing in direct response to the Brexit vote. Certainly that would account for the sense of despair and desperation in this story. I mean, the thing I’ve kind of not mentioned is that the third act twist takes place over the dead body of the President, who’s committed suicide in despair at the illusory nature of reality. The list of massively fucked up things that Doctor Who has gotten the BBC to broadcast on an early Saturday evening is long, but that’s got to be at or near the top. It feels pushed to the edge in a way that’s, let’s face it, pretty believable for something made in the back half of 2016.

But that edge is, I suspect, just as much a product of late style. This is Moffat past the point where the flourishes and twists are their own reward. Tellingly, his two timeline structure, usually the basis for some ostentatious unifying reveal at the end, is allowed to peter out. The Missy flashbacks are just an explanation of what’s in the vault, unrelated to the main action. Moffat’s focus isn’t on the grandiosity of the structure but on the details and the tone. He’s not trying to outdo himself. The point instead seems to be to get to the haunting weirdness of the denouement and to see what happens to his standard tropes and themes when they unfurl in a strange and basilisk-haunted catacomb like this.

The answer: an hour of television that felt worth tuning in to. Something that feels unsettled and difficult even after watching it, demanding more attention and thought. It’s not a barnburning classic for the ages, but anyone can write one of those. There’s only one man who can do late style Steven Moffat, and that’s all there only ever will be. We’re astonishingly lucky to have it.

  • Another episode where Bill is pushed into a firmly supporting role, this time basically being less central to the plot than Nardole is. I assume she’ll come back to the fore in good time, and she at least got the “date crashed by the Pope” scene, which may actually be the zenith of Moffat writing awkward dates.
  • "Make the enemies fall into their own traps" is, of course, yet another demonstration that for all that Moffat brings to the table as a writer, his conception of the Doctor's basic morality remains entirely indebted to Paul Cornell. 
  • I doubt it’s where this is actually going, just because the overall scheme feels nothing like them, but if the theory that the monks are the Mondasian Cybermen are accurate and Moffat is literally going back to the “star monk” conception of them I’m going to have to reverse course and decide that, no, actually Moffat is just pilfering my work for his final season. Which is fine, but really should earn me an interview or something, no?
  • I have little doubt that people more attuned to this sort of thing are going to find the treatment of suicide in this episode to be deeply problematic at best and actually harmful at worst. It didn’t bother me in the least, but my opinion as someone who wasn’t going to be triggered by the casual endorsement of suicide as a rational response to existential horror is pointedly not the whole of the debate. I’d push back pretty hard on the idea that this episode shouldn’t have been done, but it’s self-evidently a case for why trigger warnings are a good idea: people who want to sit down for the latest fun adventure of Doctor Who shouldn’t need to worry about their suicidal ideations being triggered.
  • More straightforwardly problematic for me is the handling of the Doctor’s blindness. On the one hand, as I noted in the podcast with Shana, there’s a lot to like in the “disability doesn’t actually slow the Doctor down” angle. On the other, that leaves Moffat with very little to do beyond making blindness the source of a running gag in which the Doctor muffs covering for it. Certainly the concept has yet to particularly sell itself as worth doing.
  • Unlike Nardole, who finally crystallizes into something sensible within the narrative. The explanation of how he came to be travelling with the Doctor is fine - the license to kick his ass is entertaining at least. But it’s the scene with Bill where his mask comes off entirely that really makes it. “Mask” isn’t quite the right word for it - Nardole’s comedy personality is clearly a real and genuine part of who the character is. But there’s an answer to the question of who Nardole is and why he needs to be a part of the narrative, and that’s compelling.
  • Not sure what to make of The Return of Doctor Mysterio now though - previously I’d assumed that it was pre-vault oath, since the Doctor and Nardole are apparently traveling around freely, but now it must be an excursion away from the vault, which makes Nardole’s lack of scolding conspicuous by its absence. Odds that this will ever be resolved: nil. Degree I care: I dunno maybe I’ll get an essay out of it someday.
  • Other things I suspect we’ll never see again: the device used to temporarily restore the Doctor’s eyesight, which is a particularly outlandish mismatch of amount of interesting idea to amount of actual point of having it in the episode.
  • American viewers get to follow this up with the ostentatiously formalist bottle episode of Class, which I reviewed here. It’s probably the best episode of Class, and putting it immediately adjacent to this really doesn’t do Class any favors.
  • Podcast Thursday with Jack! I expect that’ll be fun.
  • And next week, the Peter Harness episode, as well as a run of four consecutive “The X of the Y” titled episodes. (OK, one’s an “at” not an “of,” but we haven’t had a regular season X of Y title since “Robot of Sherwood,” so it’s still a kind of unexpected glut of them.) I am as excited as you’d expect. More for the Harness than the traditionalist titles, obvs.

Ranking

  1. Extremis
  2. Oxygen
  3. Thin Ice
  4. The Pilot
  5. Smile
  6. Knock Knock

Comments

Gilly 6 months ago

You know, it's occurred to me that you could very easily get a gnostic reading out of this episode (between the rebellion against a demiurge-ish figure and the library of heretical, read gnostic Christian, texts, that is what stood out to me)

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Aylwin 6 months ago

Indeed, though I think that goes for any story involving a world made by a malevolent or deficient creator(s), and while alluding to "an early Christian sect" as having got in on the secret explicitly reaches out to that, I don't think this is as thematically engaged with those associations as, say, The Matrix. In standard Moffat fashion, its preoccupations once it has revealed what's going on are metafictional (how this confected world affects the real one) rather than digging much into the ontological plight of those living in that world

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Tom Marshall 6 months ago

Great review. I love the sheer range of the story's influences. Descartes (the evil demon), Plato, The Name of the Rose, the Da Vinci Code, Blade Runner, computer games, The Magician's Nephew, The Matrix (Neo is also blind and be-sunglassed, ofc), the occasional whiff of GoT; the Girl Who Waited, Listen, Heaven Sent, The Invisible Enemy...

A few points:

"The double structure whereby we keep cutting back to the Missy story is of course the sort of thing Moffat can do effortlessly, and adds enough complexity to establish the crucial “what kind of story is this going to be” tension."

Yes. It's also a smart living out of one of CS Lewis' best lines ("they lie, but by mixing a little truth with it they made their lie far stronger"): we intercut between the simulation and the real, further blurring the boundaries.

"The Doctor sending his real self an e-mail about the bad guys’ plot is no more (or less) than “the Doctor realizes he’s a fictional character, so asks the real world for help from inside his story.” What’s most interesting about this, then, is that while on the one hand being exactly what you’d expect from the writer of The Pandorica Opens/The Big Bang, it’s also somehow smaller and quieter. Moffat ended his first season with a thrilling embrace of the power of Doctor Who as a fictional idea. Now the show’s status as fiction is a crisis to be overcome in a desperate attempt to have any impact at all."

Interesting; my reading is the opposite: that the Doctor learns he's a fictional character but that that doesn't matter because he can STILL make things better in the real world. He directly sends a message to RealDoctor, to make things better, even though he's made up. He can still fight evil, and he can make a difference in the real world. He can reach out and affect it: the natural end point of the Moffat era (and by the way, note the genius of placing it after the story that invited us all to fight the suits, because it actively strengthens that episode's message. It actively says Doctor Who is a thing that is made up but encourages us to make things better in reality).

"the thing I’ve kind of not mentioned is that the third act twist takes place over the dead body of the President, who’s committed suicide in despair at the illusory nature of reality. The list of massively fucked up things that Doctor Who has gotten the BBC to broadcast on an early Saturday evening is long, but that’s got to be at or near the top. It feels pushed to the edge in a way that’s, let’s face it, pretty believable for something made in the back half of 2016."

YES.

"Tellingly, his two timeline structure, usually the basis for some ostentatious unifying reveal at the end, is allowed to peter out. The Missy flashbacks are just an explanation of what’s in the vault, unrelated to the main action."

Not quite - without the Missy execution, we don't have any context for "virtue in extremis" around which the resolution pivots.

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Max Curtis 6 months ago

"He directly sends a message to RealDoctor, to make things better, even though he's made up. He can still fight evil, and he can make a difference in the real world. He can reach out and affect it: the natural end point of the Moffat era (and by the way, note the genius of placing it after the story that invited us all to fight the suits, because it actively strengthens that episode's message. It actively says Doctor Who is a thing that is made up but encourages us to make things better in reality)."

Ooh, I like that! I like that a lot. A call to arms, to let the Doctor in your head change the real world. That's very good.

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Tom Marshall 6 months ago

Cheers! For me, that's exactly why the episode is so great :)

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Aylwin 6 months ago

my reading is the opposite: that the Doctor learns he's a fictional character but that that doesn't matter because he can STILL make things better in the real world...It actively says Doctor Who is a thing that is made up but encourages us to make things better in reality

Absolutely, that was how I saw it too. And that's also why it's wrong to say that the Missy-execution strand fails to coalesce with the main narrative. That strand both resolves itself and supplies the resolution to the main strand, through the mechanism of a story equipping someone to deal better with what life puts before them - a story about the Doctor told by River and relayed by Nardole, which inspires both the "real" Doctor at the time and the "fictitious" Doctor later, leading him in turn to tell his own story to his "real" self, so equipping him to deal better with the challenges facing him, and making a statement about what fiction in general and Doctor Who in particular can aspire to do for the actual real world. It all hangs together.

And actually it's the storytelling originating in the Missy strand that has the real heft, being actual moral exhortation, whereas the "real-world" import of the storytelling originating in the main narrative is just "warn the Doctor of what's going on", which doesn't have much applicability to the actual real world.

Of course, this being Moffat, we have plenty of cheerfully overt self-repetition in this. There's the return of the idea from Day of the Doctor of the Doctor sometimes needing to be reminded of his own "best self", which itself follows up on the idea from Name of the Doctor of his name being a "promise" - that "the Doctor" is not so much a good man as a story the flesh-and-blood Doctor tells himself or is told by others, a myth which inspires him to act like one.

And for dessert, engaging once more with the-Doctor-as-myth also gives Moffat an excuse to leap off the wagon and indulge one more shameless time in his beloved "look me up" gambit.

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Phil Sandifer 6 months ago

I don't see that as particularly contradicting my reading, except inasmuch as it conveniently trims the fact that Capaldi plays everything leading up to the Doctor's triumph as shattered despair, actually asking to be turned off.

As for Missy, my point wasn't that the episode didn't thematically hold together, but that in the standard iteration of a two-stranded Moffat narrative you get something like Hell Bent, where one strand has crucial information that clarifies the other, as opposed to quiet thematic resonance. There's no ostentatious reveal where the relationship between the narratives clicks into place. That's very un-Moffat in interesting ways.

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James DeRiven 6 months ago

"except inasmuch as it conveniently trims the fact that Capaldi plays everything leading up to the Doctor's triumph as shattered despair, actually asking to be turned off. "

I don't agree. In the absence of anyone The Doctor requires that despair in order to come to... not so much 'the realization' as 'the inspiration to be' his best self. Triumph from the ashes of defeat and all that. If he wasn't in despair, if anything wasn't hopeless, the epiphany of 'my being fictional makes me no less a symbol of/bringer of hope' would have landed with a thud. I honest fail to see "the show’s status as fiction is a crisis to be overcome" in that scene at all - it's a overt rejection of the idea that fiction matters less then what is 'real.' It's an embrace of fan culture, in a way - a rebuttal to anyone who has ever dismissed a fan of something for being so invested in what is 'just a story.' Just because it's a story doesn't mean it can't help people, just because the Doctor isn't 'real' doesn't mean his actions don't have meaning.

"It’s probably the best episode of Class, and putting it immediately adjacent to this really doesn’t do Class any favors."

Still not seen Class; this is not encouraging.

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Phil Sandifer 6 months ago

I just find reducing the source of the despair out of the narrative to focus entirely on the redemption to be fundamentally unsatisfying as an interpretation. The content of the despair surely matters, no?

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Derik 6 months ago

I can't watch this episode without concluding that the aliens changed the baseline parameters of the simulation so that despair is the default response. EVERYONE kills themselves.
This was their way of folding up the tent on the simulation whilst also doing one last study of the players on Earth; seeing how they react to doomsday.
If you subbed in an unstoppable meteor heading for Earth in 3 months (a stock sci-fi plot Who has not done!) then there would be a variety of responses, not this unanimity. The aliens basically turned up the emotional entropy on the planet and hit 'run.'
An exploration of what simulants do when they discover the simulation they're inhabiting is being shut down is interesting... but this wasn't that. There was dickery in the world.

(Also; the inclusion of Missy in another plot involving humans in a simulated reality really annoyed me.)

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quicksilver 6 months ago

I agree with you that the Missy strand has heft. But the Doctor had to have rigged the execution before Nardole came. Unless something happened off screen. The words told by River inspires him later and sets the stage for the Doctor resolving the simulation under extremis, but not at that moment- River's words were more descriptive of what the Doctor actually was (even during the execution). The Missy strand was interesting on its own because of the multiple contrasts- Missy on death row versus Veritas causing suicides. Missy and the blind virtual Doctor in the same situation "without hope, without witness, without reward".

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ruya 6 months ago

"Interesting; my reading is the opposite: that the Doctor learns he's a fictional character but that that doesn't matter because he can STILL make things better in the real world. He directly sends a message to RealDoctor, to make things better, even though he's made up. He can still fight evil, and he can make a difference in the real world. He can reach out and affect it: the natural end point of the Moffat era"

That indeed is the reading endorsed by moffat himself, if you read the interview w/ him the radio times published after the episode aired. In which he replies to a question about why it's called extremis with this:
"For me the whole point of the story is the Doctor is still the Doctor, even in extremis. Even when he’s not real, even when he’s a simulant on a hard drive and there is no possibility of escape or reward, he holds true to the man he wants to be. Never cruel, never cowardly – and never giving up till he wins."
(http://www.radiotimes.com/news/2017-05-20/doctor-who-exclusive-steven-moffat-reveals-the-secrets-of-extremis)
You should read the whole interview. He discussed some of the influences on the episode (tho he doesn't talk about video games so much. I think it's dwm where he mentions his fondness for the portal games) and does explain us president thing a little.

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Tom Marshall 6 months ago

I confess I have read that interview (and that's partly what inspired my own reading) - but yes it's a great one! I particularly like "Books ARE virtual reality". :)

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Daibhid C 6 months ago

I don't know if anyone else thought this, but given my speculations as to who was in the Vault if it wasn't Missy, I regard having a Radio Times credit listing Jamie Hill as "Monk" to be outright trolling...

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Derik 6 months ago

I appreciated the episode not treating Missy being in the vault as a big reveal. It's the most boring answer and they treated it as such.

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Camestros Felapton 6 months ago

I was reminded also of the Ganger Doctor from The Rebel Flesh. There is a point that a simulation of the Doctor is the Doctor - after all it isn't his body that makes him who he is.

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Aylwin 6 months ago

Same software (literally), different casing.

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AlfredJ 6 months ago

I absolutely loved it, but watching it I could already tell this was going to be a very divisive episode. But this is the Who I like - big, high concept ideas. I mean, it's an episode who's resolution depends on the fact that computers can't generate truly random numbers. How can I hate on that?

It seems Donald Trump wasn't president in this alternate timeline. I obviously get why they didn't give him a weird blonde wig, but in a way it makes narrative sense at all. The entire chain of events that lead to Trump's presidency was so driven by gut feelings that it's so unlikely for a computer to guess as a likely outcome. Hell, maybe Trump was already deposed in that simulation, and he was replaced by Random White Male President. Didn't look like Pence either but you can use your imagination a bit there.

As for the Cyberman theory - someone mentioned it to me just now, and I proceeded to immediately make fun of it because, as you said, it doesn't seem like their way of doing things. But while I was making my case, I started convincing myself that it might be true. Nothing actually contradicts anything said previously about them (not that that matters much in Who in any case), but the biggest hint for me is the way the Monks talk - they just open their mouths, words come out without their lips forming the words, and they close again at the end of a sentence. Just like the cloth face Cybermen of old...

I'm sort of convinced that's where this is going now, especially because we know they're in the season later on anyway.

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AlfredJ 6 months ago

And again a quick note to excuse all the spelling errors and the lack of an edit button. Battling both dyslexia and typing in a second language here. My apologies.

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Patrick 6 months ago

We had the director Daniel Nettheim on our show Whovians this week, and he confirmed that there is a Donald Trump reference in next week's ep :D

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Tom Marshall 6 months ago

It's by Peter Harness. Of COURSE there is.

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Tom Marshall 6 months ago

^That was meant to sound appreciative and delighted, btw, not snarky, but I realise it could go either way! Oops!

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AlfredJ 6 months ago

Hah, that's great. I wasn't sure if they were willing to touch on that, but it's good to see they're not scared of it.

And, just to be clear, I don't blame them for not showing Trump committing suicide. That might have been a step too far. Not talking about hurting Donald's feelings here obviously.

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Derik 6 months ago

Of course! It's not like the Cybermen have access to the Nethersphere to make this sort of simulation....

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Paul C 6 months ago

The Missy flashbacks are related to the main action, but the main action of the arc, not this episode. Nobody except the Doctor and Nardole know that it's Missy in that vault, and we could assume that the stewards of the Fatality Index listed Missy as dead in order to preserve their reputation. So those flashbacks aren't just explaining who's in the vault: if the vault is a black box, Missy becomes the one thing that the "space monks" couldn't have included in their simulations; a wild card that the Doctor can play in order to disrupt any plans that are based on those simulations. At least that's what I'm hoping.

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Tom Marshall 6 months ago

I think we should certainly be prepared for Missy to be in Episode 8 (she's in the cast list), so I expect Toby Whithouse will be given the uphill struggle of having to align the Monk storyline with the Missy storyline.

Daniel Nettheim has said he knows who went into the Vault but not who comes out of it. Implying they may not be the same person when the Vault opens up in a couple of weeks' time... (DN directed ep 7, but not ep 8).

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Tim B. 6 months ago

It's _The Android Invasion_ from a writer/production team that had the time & inclination to flesh out the central idea.

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crossie 6 months ago

Oh, I feel like I can actually contribute some sort of insight this week, instead of vaguely review it, but I found the inclusion of the Church an interesting addition where the climax is "just because I'm not real, doesn't mean I don't matter, and can't affect real change."

In fact, was looking forward to see if you'd mention C.S. Lewis; the episode could be taken as a retelling of his 'Silver Chair' character Puddleglum's "I'm a Narnian, even if there isn't a Narnia" speech, which is less a rebuttal of atheism, and more of defense of the purpose of religion.

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Roderick T. Long 6 months ago

And appropriately enough, in the old BBC adaptation, Puddleglum was played by ... Tom Baker.

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crossie 6 months ago

Probably should have added that the Puddleglum speech can also be seen as a defense of fantasy stories (he claims to be a Narnian even if there isn't a Narnia; in point of fact, there isn't); when his essays weren't Christian apologism, they were children's story apologism.

Phil pointed out in "The Pilot" review that it's unfair to ask what is essentially a children's sci-fi fantasy to address things like Brexit and Trump. Lewis would seem to disagree.

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Harlequin 6 months ago

I'm quite convinced that Moffat has been at least influenced by the Eruditorum for five years or more. You should have had an interview long ago :)

Like Tom Marshall, I also felt it was a matter of the Doctor sending a message to help the real world.

And after this article and AlfredJ's comment I'm now being swayed by the Cyberman theory even though I wasn't previously aware of it (and it was only last night that I discovered they're in the episode after next).

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Alex 6 months ago

Also: the *music* was so much like the Sherlock soundtrack in parts. It felt deliberate.

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Aylwin 6 months ago

I do like the idea that creating a simulation of the Doctor to work out how to beat him is an inherently stupid thing to do, because any simulation similar enough to the original to be worthwhile is also going to be dangerous.

Speaking of which...

I’m not the sort of person who suggests that every part of a computer can send an e-mail and then acts as though this is in any way a sensible way to anchor the resolution.

Even for a pointless nitpicking of the science of Doctor Who...

I mean, if software-Michael-Garibaldi can do it, it should be a piece of piss for the software-Doctor.

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Phil Sandifer 6 months ago

Ha. I mean, I don't care or think it spoiled the resolution. It just unambiguously flags the show's level of engagement with these issues as "Steven Moffat read an article in the Guardian once."

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David Ainsworth 6 months ago

I found the "e-mail" line less cringeworthy than the casual suggestion that Call of Duty soldiers might have self-awareness. In fairness, the point was less about how actual computer code works (something Moffat doesn't seem to care about) and more about how we as people might think about fictional people in a simulated environment.

My biggest objection is that anyone able to create a simulation like this shouldn't even have a NEED to conquer Earth. They were able to duplicate everything, including all the Doctor's memories? Why not just duplicate the other bit of The Android Invasion and make an evil Doctor and throw out the rest of the simulation?

Moffat's suggestion in the Radio Times that they ran the simulation at accelerated rate across large amounts of time makes things worse in two ways: first, if they're just simulating the planet, in Doctor Who lots of things and aliens and people come from outside it. And second, if they're using such a bad random number generator, there's little chance of iterating their way to anything recognizable as the real world.

While I am barely willing to allow that their simulation might draw random numbers from a single seed at any given moment in time (as with the live demonstration), even a crude randomizer going off of a system clock will generate different numbers at different times, so the Veritas trick of filling a page with random numbers simply wouldn't work.

I know there's a tradition of Virtual Reality tales written by people who know next to nothing about computers, but I wish writers were willing to spend even a little time doing research. Veritas could have provided a simple trick that reveals the simulation based upon a bug or glitch instead of deploying a wrong idea about how pseudo-random number generators function.

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Aylwin 6 months ago

Why not just duplicate the other bit of The Android Invasion and make an evil Doctor...?

Presumably because if they did they would feel compelled to call him something like "the Velasite", and they just couldn't bear to face all the parasite-campsite-website-building site "puns".

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mimhoff 6 months ago

I'm declaring that the reason the simulation has such a bad random number generator is so that it's deterministic. The Monks are running millions of iterations of the model, they can't possibly observe what's going on in all of them at the same time. So, if something interesting happens in one simulation, they need the ability to *replay* that world using the same seed to the RNG.

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Lauri Franzon 6 months ago

Oh, absolutely. Even the email line could have been much less cringeworthy with The Doctor instead saying "Cause a glitch." (Which, as far as I'm aware at least, any part of a computer actually can do) and go on to do exactly what he did in the actual episode.

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Adam Riggio 6 months ago

Shit, you're right. I scrolled down too fast.

I'm still going to piggyback my own review as usual on Phil's forum. I mean, I watched this story and couldn't not see all those ideas that we read in first-year philosophy class, so they hook you in. I mean, this story is literally an evil demon creating an entire simulated world, including the personalities that populate it. At the same time, it's the bog-standard Descartes reading we're introduced to in intro level university philosophy courses so often, but it's also one of the most existentially terrifying ideas humanity's ever produced.

More details here. https://adamwriteseverything.blogspot.ca/2017/05/when-legendary-fear-is-true-doctor-who.html

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Aylwin 6 months ago

Not sure about Nardole's "mask coming off entirely". I mean, "Are you secretly a badass", "Nothing secret about it, baby doll" is immediately followed by him whimpering in terror at the sight of the corpse. It's a pretty standard sitcom bit of coolness-posturing being instantly undercut, in the manner of Tim Bisley or similar.

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Daibhid C 3 months, 2 weeks ago

I think you're looking at the wrong bit; the "baby doll" line is his return to the comedy persona -- a second ago he was deadly serious, now he's being all faux-cool and unconvincingly boastful again.

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Aylwin 6 months ago

Oh, and the big surprise for me? Looking up the actor playing the cardinal and finding out that he's actually Italian. His-a stage-a-Italian accent-a led to me to suppose anything but. I kind of imagine the director telling him to play it up: "Little less RP please, Corrado love - we need them know you're Italian right to the back row".

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Phil Sandifer 6 months ago

I was just impressed by how often he made me go "oh, Is he the guy from X? No, no, that was Alexander Siddig too."

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Aylwin 6 months ago

Also, I like "It’s not a barnburning classic for the ages, but anyone can write one of those." Vintage.

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Riggio 6 months ago

Has nobody mentioned that the villains' plan in this episode is basically a much better version of The Android Invasion? Simulate the Earth to learn about its culture and weak points – but competently, and not with mediocre clockwork androids.

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Aylwin 6 months ago

Tim B.

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Prole Hole 6 months ago

"Mediocre clockwork androids" might well be the kindest things anyone has ever said about The Android Invasion.

This episode was just so completely and utterly in my wheelhouse I don't even know where to begin, so I won't. Except to say that this is just exactly what I want from Doctor Who - thoughtful, considered, emotional, funny, and entertaining, all while being something genuinely progressive for the show. Outstanding.

I am a robot. Stop forcing me to check a box that says I'm not one! It's robophobia, and not the kind that makes people die from bicycle reflectors!

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Aylwin 6 months ago

A thought occurs: sealing Missy up for a thousand years pretty much amounts to saying she's the Devil, right?

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Aylwin 6 months ago

Oh, and another one! (I know, I know, I'm sorry. Stream of consciousness here.) Prompted by the suggestion that Moffat's been basilisking it up - has anyone remarked on the imprisoned, verbal-mind-hacking, superhumanly-intelligent Euros's resemblance to an AI-in-the-box?

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Przemek 6 months ago

I loved the episode. I loved everything about it, so I won't bother naming the specifics. God, I'll miss Moffat.

Was it ever explained why Missy was to be executed? Is it a mystery to be resolved later? Or are we just supposed to assume that she finally paid for her many crimes?

(I had a similar problem with her appereance in "The Magician's Apprentice"/"The Witch's Familiar" - she just suddenly had the Doctor's confession dial and I felt like I missed an episode somewhere).

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David Ainsworth 6 months ago

Possible brilliant outcome of this set-up: an inversion of the traditional Pertwee Doctor-Master situation, where the Master spends 3.5 episodes or more carefully engineering an alien invasion and then ends up realizing just as he succeeds that it'll be a disaster for him if it does, prompting him to help the Doctor foil it.

Having the Master foil an alien invasion because she wasn't part of their careful simulation would be a nice twist. Although better would be her being a part of the simulation but that simulation not admitting the possibility that she'd genuinely help the Doctor. After all, the simulated Doctor knew what happened to the Master and knew about the Vault, so surely it too would be simulated?

I suppose we could still end up with CyberMissy.

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Bryan 6 months ago

I really enjoyed the episode, and look forward to Phil's reviews (and the excellent comments from his knowledgable readers) almost as much as the shows themselves.

I know trying to find consistency in Doctor Who's timeline is a timey-wimey fools errand, but can any of you help me place the events of Missy's execution in proper sequence with Missy's other appearances? Maybe I'm missing something basic, but Missy's execution takes place after Darillium, but how is that "a long time ago" as stated in the on-screen titles (Also, the Doctor told Bill in Smile, "A long time ago, a thing happened …" but we all know the Doctor lies.)

In addition, the Doctor has apparently been lecturing at Bristol for over 50 (70?) years. Presumably, the Doctor is only in Bristol to guard the vault, so has the vault (and Nardole) been there that long also? But Missy can't have been in the vault that long, as she has been in contemporary London in Season 8. Anyone care to help me out?

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Jack 6 months ago

Missy's timeline goes Spends Time In England making Cybermen, to Hangs Out With The Daleks in the series nine opener, to, at some unknown time, being captured and sentenced to execution. What happened to her between "The Witch's Famiiar" and "Extremis", well, we don't know yet.

But yes, Missy was in the vault while, as the Roger Delgado version of the Master, fought the Third Doctor on Earth, and as the Anthony Ainley version caused the death of the Fourth Doctor, and as the Eric Roberts version dressed for the occasion with the Eighth Doctor, and the John Simm version became prime minister. And if you take the books as being canon, then the Third, Eighth, and Twelfth Doctors were all running around Earth in the 20th Century.

Time travel.

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Bar 6 months ago

I'm probably insanely optimistic with poll narrowing, but I didn't see CERN as despairing suicide any more than SimDoc and his jumped-up subroutine. I read it as civil disobedience, a mass refusal to play the role the ptb demand, saving the real world by crashing the system with failures of information. Part of S10's 'good death' theme - make it count.

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Anton B 6 months ago

Excellent review Phil. I don't have a lot to add. Unfortunately I've been hospitalised with pneumonia over the weekend and only managed to watch the episode a few minutes ago.

“the Doctor realizes he’s a fictional character, so asks the real world for help from inside his story.”
This reminded me of J.M Barrie's conceit of Peter Pan asking the audience to clap if they believed in fairies to save Tinker bell.
If nothing else it's surely further grist to mill of the 'Doctor Who is the Master of the Land of Fiction' Sandifer theory. I'm convinced Moffat has read at least some of this blog. Indeed I know I misheard in my sick fever but I could have sworn the name the Vatican gave their library was the Eruditorum.

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Chris C 6 months ago

The line "You don't have to be real to be the Doctor" is probably as tantamount to an admission that the Doctor is metafictionally self-aware as Moffat is ever going to give us.

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Robin Parker 5 months, 3 weeks ago

the 'Tinkerbell' solution was but one of the many ridiculous things about RTD's The Last of the Time Lords. Prefer Moffat's take on this sort of thing.

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Sleepyscholar 6 months ago

We've had plenty of insightful comments, so I don't feel bad adding a little silliness:

When they came across the priest in the cage -- The Missing Translator -- in my eyes he was the spitting image of Tommy Tiernan's Father Kevin from the Going to America episode of Father Ted.

Which means his depression and suicide were not caused by the Veritas, but by listening to Exit Music (For A Film) by Radiohead.

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Lovecraft in Brooklyn 6 months ago

I couldn't help compare this to all the Rick & Morty episodes where Rick easily figured out he's in a simulation & gets out in much more clever ways.

I've been suffering from existential despair lately, and it seems like this almost engaged with the (Schopenhauer?) position that in a meaningless world, suicide is a logical act. Oxygen did something similar. But it backed away... kinda. 'We're not real' doesn't seem any less bad than 'we're real but life is meaningless'.

Anyway if you want existentialist science fiction that engages with all these ideas, play Nier Automata.

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homunculette 6 months ago

I was particularly interested in the fact that while the episode doesn't ultimately agree with suicide being the most logical act, it doesn't really go particularly far in rejecting suicide either as a fairly reasonable thing to do. I'm also not sure Oxygen backed away – I think Oxygen just has a more optimistic worldview in which (if you squint at the episode a bit) material change can be effected by class struggle, and people can make a difference. Extremis seems to be animated by the complete pessimism of Baudrillard. While the episode doesn't fall in line with Baudrillard's proposed solution to the problem of simulation – from my limited understanding, turning the system against itself through leaning into the simulation-ness – it only manages to escape this conclusion by the transcendental magic trick it plays by having the real Doctor on another order of reality. Although it occurs to me now that "real-life" Doctor isn't any less of a simulation than the computer-simulated one in this episode, so we'll have to see if, in the next episode, "the aim of all bound energies is their own death."

Love your username (and the song thereof) btw.

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Chris 6 months ago

"I’m not the sort of person who suggests that every part of a computer can send an e-mail and then acts as though this is in any way a sensible way to anchor the resolution."

I refer you to Letts' Law: "All programs evolve until they can send email."

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Matt Moore 6 months ago

Is it just me or was that Dr Who doing an episode of Red Dwarf?

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David Faggiani 6 months ago

Haha, yes!

Was also Dr Who riffing on some of the same ideas in the Star Trek: DS9 episode "The Search, part II" (which I note with eagerness will be one of the episodes that Josh Marsfelder runs into almost immediately, if/when he resumes reviewing TV DS9 episodes.

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Matt Moore 6 months ago

I like this story. It is deliberately alienating and divisive for viewers. And also moves along at a cracking pace.

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UrsulaL 6 months ago

If you have an episode with the pope, you're setting yourself up to have to deal with the moral and spiritual authority that the pope claims.

And I find it interesting that the character set up as the alternate source of this authority is not the Doctor, the obvious choice, but Bill. A young, black, lesbian woman, sexually active and happy about it, who prefers a gender-bending nickname.

She is the one who is the moral arbiter on Earth. (You're doing nothing wrong.) She is the one whose words are binding in heaven. (You're all going to hell - said to the pope and his cardinals.)

And the pope is set up as a figure of immorality. Causing harm to Bill and her friend. Keeping a book that incites suicide, a sin. Weak and ineffective, having to beg the Doctor for help. Ultimately damned for his intolerance, and the harm that it causes.

At the same time, outside the alternate reality where Bill wields the power of pope, she is still affirmed in her status as young, lesbian, and sexually and romantically active, with the Doctor ending the episode by affirming Bill's desire to develop a romantic relationship.

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Kaan Vural 6 months ago

A touch I quite liked was the absence of music as the simulated Doctor did his traditional rousing speech, making it feel strangely empty. The narrative collapse approaches...

I was rather disappointed that this episode largely sidelined Bill. I mean, she's *technically* there. The Pope-on-a-date was a nice bit. But this is the second week in a row where she's dropped out of the narrative to let the Doctor do his thing, and I'm not sure I like that. Doesn't feel very companionable.

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mimhoff 6 months ago

It's more than despair at not being "real" that motivates the readers of the Veritas. It's what they realise they can do to rebel against the simulation so it stops giving useful data to the invaders. The guy at CERN knows that he's "saving the world". It's another case of making it a good death!

Though I agree on sending an email from the simulation to outside. It should be pretty easy for the Doctor to create some data overflow error using the TARDIS that will allow him to do that!

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Comment deleted 6 months ago

Peeeeeeet 6 months ago

Hofstadter's Strange Loop idea kinda fits too. The Doctor - the Strangest of Strange Loops - has sufficient cognition to jump out of his context to the next context out. Which suggests Moffat missed a trick - if the simulation was really that good, it might contain its own further simulation, and it could be simulations - and Doctors - all the way down. Which could have been a lot more iconic and powerful than just "emailing" reality.

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mimhoff 6 months ago

The Doctor was simulating the Monks so that he could find out how they'd run a simulation?

Or maybe, the Doctor runs a simulation of himself, who then runs another simulation... until you get a stack overflow! Which gives him the buffer overrun that allows him to access the outside world.

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Peeeeeeet 6 months ago

I think Christopher H Bidmead just came...

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Prandeamus 6 months ago

"Further up and further in". CS Lewis again.

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Lambda 5 months, 4 weeks ago

Like Lawrence Miles' sequence of universes in bottles, decreasing in complexity every time you go into a bottle.

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Kaan Vural 6 months ago

Oh, and - minor point, but:

Perhaps it was re-reading the phrase "star monks" not so long ago, but I couldn't help but notice a couple common points between the Cybermen and the monks in this story - the open-mouthed speech of the original design, the hollow eye sockets, the presence of Missy and a plot touching on the existence of an afterlife, a "false Earth" echoing the role of Mondas in The Tenth Planet...

...all coincidence, I'm sure.

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Lauri Franzon 6 months ago

Warning: This post was made mainly for venting.

Steven Moffat has an annoying habit of writing first episodes of multipart-stories as essentially nothing but buildup to the actual story, which starts at aroud the opening minutes of Part 2. It's almost like he tries to emulate the success of The Pandorica Opens by copying the structure. And honestly, the only thing that made that episode work was its very satisfying cliffhanger, (which absolutely blew my 13-year old mind at the time) whereas the endings of Dark Water and The Magician's Apprentice felt like they could have just as easily come ten minutes into the episode. This one... might be a bit better, but I've never been particularly fond of Is our reality real? -narratives in the first place, (my own philosophy is the empirist view that as long as our world has an internal logic that can be understood scientificly, it doesn't really matter if it is fundamentally "real") so I honestly can't tell. But I can't help but to feel a little bit miffed every time Moffat decides to waste an episode slot on a 45-minute intro punctuated by emotional beats and Moffat tropes. It only makes you question why the story needed to have several parts in the first place.

With every Moffat episode that goes, I also can't help but feel a little more frustrated that he's still on the show. Having really enjoyed his... work as a teenager, I can't shake the feeling that I've moved on while the show hasn't. I've really been enjoying the new writers that Moffat has brought on board in the Capaldi years, as well as Capaldi and Mackie's performance, but as long as it's headed by the same person, the show keeps coming back to the same themes, (admittably presented in new ways, but that only delays the dissapointment to around the last ten minutes) tics, and obsessions. I am reminded of something Shana said about Robert Holmes in a Oi Spaceman -podcast: I tend to not like what he finds in his navel.

Ultimately, I feel annoyed at myself for not being able to resist watching the show. Maybe I'll finally stop caring when Chibnall gets rid of everyone these last years. Maybe.

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Lauri Franzon 6 months ago

Oh, and that last sentence would be:
everyone who have given me reason to like the show these last years. Or something akin to that.

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Lambda 5 months, 4 weeks ago

I found this episode really underlined how much appreciation of art depends on interactions between the details of the art and the viewer rather than objective notions of quality. It completely failed to work for me because of details about the way I think, like my reaction to the notion of the world being a simulation being "who cares? It doesn't alter anything. Actually, there's no way to even define a way to tell whether or not you're in a simulation" and my reaction to "think of a number, any number" being "the smallest strongly inaccessible cardinal".

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Bob Dillon 5 months, 4 weeks ago

"the smallest strongly inaccessible cardinal".

Played here by Corrado Invernizzi. :)

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Eric 5 months, 3 weeks ago

Hmm, Master-heavy episode where the bad guys look like corpses in robes...

Given the casting hint that we might be getting a "The Two Masters" story this season, I kind of want Simm's Master to be the ultimate mastermind behind the simulation -- it was hard not to type "Simm-ulation," but I managed not to, so you can all be relieved. Then the question would be whether Missy would help foil her younger self's plot.

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Harlequin 5 months, 3 weeks ago

Before reading past your first comma I started thinking the same thing, having previously forgotten the promise of Simm's appearance. If there are multiple Masters it seems only natural that at least one of them must be in league with the alien invaders :)

I also feel this relates to Jack's idea earlier about Missy having been imprisoned in the vault while previous incarnations have been active (although, of course, these episodes presumably take place long after 'The End of Time').

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Eve 5 months, 2 weeks ago

For a more subtle take on what it's like to live as a simulant and then rebel, I recommend the TV show "Westworld."

(Also, I wouldn't mind being in a simulation unless it was run by Bethesda. I don't want to find myself glitching through the bed falling out of the world.)

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Tom Marshall 5 months, 2 weeks ago

Belated, but here's why I reckon "Extremis" is such a masterpiece: https://tommarshallwriter.blogspot.co.uk/2017/06/why-extremis-is-masterpiece.html

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