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Elizabeth Sandifer

Elizabeth Sandifer created Eruditorum Press. She’s not really sure why she did that, and she apologizes for the inconvenience. She currently writes Last War in Albion, a history of the magical war between Alan Moore and Grant Morrison. She used to write TARDIS Eruditorum, a history of Britain told through the lens of a ropey sci-fi series. She also wrote Neoreaction a Basilisk, writes comics these days, and has ADHD so will probably just randomly write some other shit sooner or later.Support Elizabeth on Patreon.

81 Comments

  1. Gilly
    May 21, 2017 @ 9:38 am

    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)

    Reply

    • Aylwin
      May 21, 2017 @ 1:23 pm

      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

      Reply

  2. Tom Marshall
    May 21, 2017 @ 9:42 am

    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.

    Reply

    • Max Curtis
      May 21, 2017 @ 10:38 am

      “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.

      Reply

      • Tom Marshall
        May 21, 2017 @ 12:20 pm

        Cheers! For me, that’s exactly why the episode is so great πŸ™‚

        Reply

    • Aylwin
      May 21, 2017 @ 1:52 pm

      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.

      Reply

      • Elizabeth Sandifer
        May 21, 2017 @ 2:23 pm

        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.

        Reply

        • James DeRiven
          May 21, 2017 @ 3:31 pm

          “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.

          Reply

          • Elizabeth Sandifer
            May 21, 2017 @ 5:43 pm

            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?

          • Derik
            May 21, 2017 @ 6:33 pm

            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.)

      • quicksilver
        May 21, 2017 @ 8:52 pm

        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”.

        Reply

    • ruya
      May 21, 2017 @ 2:15 pm

      “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.

      Reply

      • Tom Marshall
        May 21, 2017 @ 2:18 pm

        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”. πŸ™‚

        Reply

  3. Daibhid C
    May 21, 2017 @ 11:12 am

    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…

    Reply

    • Derik
      May 21, 2017 @ 6:36 pm

      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.

      Reply

  4. Camestros Felapton
    May 21, 2017 @ 11:19 am

    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.

    Reply

    • Aylwin
      May 21, 2017 @ 1:56 pm

      Same software (literally), different casing.

      Reply

  5. AlfredJ
    May 21, 2017 @ 11:26 am

    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.

    Reply

    • AlfredJ
      May 21, 2017 @ 11:27 am

      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.

      Reply

    • Patrick
      May 21, 2017 @ 12:02 pm

      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 πŸ˜€

      Reply

      • Tom Marshall
        May 21, 2017 @ 12:16 pm

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

        Reply

        • Tom Marshall
          May 21, 2017 @ 12:17 pm

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

          Reply

      • AlfredJ
        May 21, 2017 @ 12:23 pm

        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.

        Reply

    • Derik
      May 21, 2017 @ 6:38 pm

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

      Reply

  6. Paul C
    May 21, 2017 @ 12:03 pm

    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.

    Reply

    • Tom Marshall
      May 21, 2017 @ 12:19 pm

      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).

      Reply

  7. Tim B.
    May 21, 2017 @ 12:22 pm

    It’s The Android Invasion from a writer/production team that had the time & inclination to flesh out the central idea.

    Reply

  8. crossie
    May 21, 2017 @ 12:32 pm

    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.

    Reply

    • Roderick T. Long
      May 21, 2017 @ 4:32 pm

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

      Reply

      • crossie
        May 21, 2017 @ 9:09 pm

        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.

        Reply

  9. Harlequin
    May 21, 2017 @ 1:37 pm

    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 πŸ™‚

    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).

    Reply

  10. Alex
    May 21, 2017 @ 1:41 pm

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

    Reply

  11. Aylwin
    May 21, 2017 @ 2:05 pm

    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.

    Reply

    • Elizabeth Sandifer
      May 21, 2017 @ 2:25 pm

      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.”

      Reply

      • David Ainsworth
        May 21, 2017 @ 6:19 pm

        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.

        Reply

        • Aylwin
          May 21, 2017 @ 6:46 pm

          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”.

          Reply

        • mimhoff
          May 22, 2017 @ 12:45 pm

          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.

          Reply

        • Lauri Franzon
          May 23, 2017 @ 7:36 pm

          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.

          Reply

    • Adam Riggio
      May 22, 2017 @ 1:38 pm

      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

      Reply

  12. Aylwin
    May 21, 2017 @ 2:13 pm

    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.

    Reply

    • Daibhid C
      August 6, 2017 @ 9:53 pm

      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.

      Reply

  13. Aylwin
    May 21, 2017 @ 2:19 pm

    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”.

    Reply

    • Elizabeth Sandifer
      May 21, 2017 @ 2:26 pm

      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.”

      Reply

  14. Aylwin
    May 21, 2017 @ 2:46 pm

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

    Reply

  15. Riggio
    May 21, 2017 @ 2:50 pm

    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.

    Reply

    • Aylwin
      May 21, 2017 @ 4:30 pm

      Tim B.

      Reply

    • Prole Hole
      May 21, 2017 @ 9:03 pm

      “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!

      Reply

  16. Aylwin
    May 21, 2017 @ 4:08 pm

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

    Reply

  17. Aylwin
    May 21, 2017 @ 4:23 pm

    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?

    Reply

  18. Przemek
    May 21, 2017 @ 5:14 pm

    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).

    Reply

  19. David Ainsworth
    May 21, 2017 @ 6:23 pm

    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.

    Reply

  20. Bryan
    May 21, 2017 @ 9:13 pm

    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?

    Reply

    • Jack
      May 21, 2017 @ 9:39 pm

      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.

      Reply

  21. Bar
    May 21, 2017 @ 9:24 pm

    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.

    Reply

  22. Anton B
    May 21, 2017 @ 10:01 pm

    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.

    Reply

    • Chris C
      May 21, 2017 @ 10:37 pm

      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.

      Reply

    • Robin Parker
      May 26, 2017 @ 9:57 am

      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.

      Reply

  23. Sleepyscholar
    May 21, 2017 @ 11:08 pm

    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.

    Reply

  24. Lovecraft in Brooklyn
    May 22, 2017 @ 12:35 am

    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.

    Reply

    • homunculette
      May 22, 2017 @ 1:02 am

      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.

      Reply

  25. Chris
    May 22, 2017 @ 1:05 am

    “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.”

    Reply

  26. Matt Moore
    May 22, 2017 @ 1:17 am

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

    Reply

    • David Faggiani
      May 22, 2017 @ 9:21 am

      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.

      Reply

  27. Matt Moore
    May 22, 2017 @ 1:25 am

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

    Reply

  28. UrsulaL
    May 22, 2017 @ 4:18 am

    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.

    Reply

  29. Kaan Vural
    May 22, 2017 @ 8:16 am

    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.

    Reply

  30. mimhoff
    May 22, 2017 @ 8:35 am

    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!

    Reply

  31. Peeeeeeet
    May 22, 2017 @ 8:59 am

    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.

    Reply

    • mimhoff
      May 22, 2017 @ 12:42 pm

      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.

      Reply

      • Peeeeeeet
        May 22, 2017 @ 1:42 pm

        I think Christopher H Bidmead just came…

        Reply

    • Prandeamus
      May 22, 2017 @ 8:30 pm

      “Further up and further in”. CS Lewis again.

      Reply

    • Lambda
      May 24, 2017 @ 2:34 pm

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

      Reply

  32. Kaan Vural
    May 22, 2017 @ 7:47 pm

    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.

    Reply

  33. Lauri Franzon
    May 23, 2017 @ 8:28 pm

    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.

    Reply

    • Lauri Franzon
      May 23, 2017 @ 8:30 pm

      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.

      Reply

  34. Lambda
    May 24, 2017 @ 2:50 pm

    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”.

    Reply

    • Bob Dillon
      May 24, 2017 @ 5:59 pm

      “the smallest strongly inaccessible cardinal”.

      Played here by Corrado Invernizzi. πŸ™‚

      Reply

  35. Eric
    May 26, 2017 @ 5:23 am

    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.

    Reply

    • Harlequin
      May 29, 2017 @ 12:42 am

      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 πŸ™‚

      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’).

      Reply

  36. Eve
    June 4, 2017 @ 11:18 pm

    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.)

    Reply

  37. Tom Marshall
    June 7, 2017 @ 11:33 am

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

    Reply

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