Doctor Who: What we’re thinking about after “Extremis”


Doctor Who kicked off its first three-part story in years last week, and we have a bunch of questions as a result. Here are three things we’re thinking about after “Extremis”.

We pretty much knew going in that Doctor Who episode “Extremis” would start the series’ first official three-part story in quite a long time. So obviously it left us with a lot of unanswered questions and general confusion. After all, the writers have to give us a reason to tune in for parts two and three, right?

But the big twist of “Extremis” though, was that almost nothing that we saw in the episode actually happened. From the ancient text that drove anyone who read it to kill themselves, to the Doctor’s temporary cure for his blindness, to our three main heroes themselves, it turns out that almost every aspect of this episode wasn’t real. The bulk of what we watched was a psychic video sent by a simulated version of the Doctor to his real self, meant to serve as a warning about the nefarious plans of new Who villain the Monks, who want to take over the Earth. (It doesn’t entirely make sense. Just go with it.)

So if we look at it as the first part in a trilogy, “Extremis” sort of left a bit to be desired. And it’s a bit difficult to predict what might happen next when we can’t entirely trust what we just saw. But, we can make some educated guesses. (And speculate wildly about almost everything else.)

Here are a few of the things we’re thinking about in the wake of “Extremis”.

The Monks have a plan – but what is it?

Most of “Extremis” took place on an artificial Earth populated by fake people. It was a big simulation designed to allow the villainous Monks to practice world domination. In fact, the false Earth was positively vast in scope. The Monks literally included all of human history within its parameters. That is officially a lot of effort.

Is the Monks’ plan so complicated that they needed to run multiple simulations to see how humanity would respond to their invasion? After all, one of the monsters told Twelve that their digital replicas died many times in the false world of the Veritas. What were they trying to learn? And did they learn it?

It seems that the ultimate use of the Veritas was to provide the truth. And the people who read it faced something so profound (their lack of existence) that they immediately wanted to run away. So much so that they were willing to end their own (fake, but realistic) lives. Was the goal of the simulation to determine how long it took the cleverest members of humanity to figure out the truth of their false reality? Or to see what they would do once they did so? If so, to what end? Is this merely contingency planning around how the Earth’s smartest residents might react to an invasion? And if so, how does the question of existence play into that? It honestly seems like a bit of planning overkill.

In short: What do the Monks want? Their incredibly detailed planning simulation really doesn’t hint at anything specific. And that’s an awful lot of work for “just” world domination, is all I’m saying.

Secondarily, now that we know the first episode of this “Monks Trilogy” involved a false reality, it’s hard not to wonder how much we can trust the world we see. Did anything else leak out of the simulated world, besides the Doctor’s psychic message?

The Doctor’s still blind

It turns out that the biggest mystery we talked about post-“Oxygen” is still around after this episode. The Doctor remains blind. Bill still doesn’t know about it. The trailer for next week’s episode indicates that Twelve comes clean to someone about this sight. We have to assume it’s Bill, I think. It seems unlikely that he’d be able to keep something like this from her for longer than an episode or so. But weirder things have happened.

All the questions about the whole blindness issue from last week, still apply. And even in this false reality, the Doctor seemed to struggle a bit more than last week with his new disability. Perhaps it is because he fears its permanence, but he lacked much of the confidence he displayed whizzing around computer panels the episode prior. That’s deeply interesting, and something that the next episode should continue to explore.

During “Extremis”, we saw Twelve temporarily regain the use of some of his sight thanks to some technical Time Lord wizardry. Thanks to some unidentified device, the Doctor managed to siphon some vision off a future regeneration in some way. The ultimate cost of this move wasn’t clear. From what Twelve said, that payment could be anything. Including and up to all his future selves ending up blind as a result. Is that little bit of technology real? Is that how the Doctor does plan to get his sight back, in the real world? Or was that just a throwaway thing meant to stress fans out even further about his eventual regeneration later this season?

The Missy reveal

One of the few “real” moments in “Extremis” happened to be the flashbacks that solved the season-long vault mystery. And of course the prison’s occupant turned out to be Missy, just as we all predicted all season long that it would. But other than that, “Extremis” doesn’t actually tell us much about her or her current state. We don’t even see her in the present-day portion of the episode. We merely witness the Doctor talk to her through the vault door. How is she doing in the vault? How long has she been in there, really? And does the Doctor come and go as he likes to hang out with her? (Or does he just pass her takeaway through some sort of food slot?)

“Extremis” doesn’t tell us what crimes Missy committed that merited the sentence of execution we witness in the flashback. Nor does it explain how she survived her run-in with the Daleks in the second half of the “The Magician’s Apprentice”/”The Witch’s Familiar” two-parter. Though given that she heard about the Doctor’s time in Darillium from the Daleks, that does indicate she must have been with them – or at least in contact with them – for quite some time. That probably means they parted on something like good terms, yeah?

Twelve’s decision to rescue Missy from certain death makes sense. Over the years and through all their various regenerations the Doctor and the Master (or the Mistress, in this case) had a special relationship. And even though Missy, in multiple forms, has tried to kill Twelve, in multiple forms, he will always try to save her. He will leave room for the possibility that she might learn how to be good. And maybe he thinks that a thousand years in a magical prison chamber might help with that, who knows?

But there is one unexpected potential upside to Missy’s imprisonment. As far as the Monks go, she’s the Doctor’s secret weapon. They built their simulated Earth on a copy of all of human existence. Well, Missy currently resides in a quantum fold chamber. Doesn’t that make her the only thing on Earth the Monks don’t know about? If it’s supposed to be the most unbreakable prison and/or potential tomb in the universe, it seems likely that scanning its contents would prove difficult. We know Missy’s getting out of that box before the season’s over. (Heck, probably before this trilogy is over.) Maybe she’s going to save the day?

Next: Doctor Who season 10 episode 6 review: “Extremis”

Doctor Who season 10 continues Saturday, May 27 on BBC One and BBC America.