Monday 22 May 2017

WHO REVIEW: 10-6 - "Extremis"


Review after the break

"Extremis" kicks off a three-part storyline that will see mysterious alien zombie Monks attempt the invasion of Earth. How it approached this is unique, dealing not with the beginnings of the invasion, but a practice run. Both the alien menace and the viewer have a chance to explore the concept before next week's episode kicks off the invasion proper.

This isn't the first episode that has left us questioning reality, a trope that has turned up several times in Moffat's run. There's nothing strictly wrong with the "It's all a dream!" or "Nothing is real!" story device, but is has to be used sparingly and cleverly or else it rapidly becomes stale. Most importantly, though, the imaginary world has to have a bearing on the real world; without consequences, a story is ultimately pointless. This is why "Last Christmas" worked, while "Amy's Choice" didn't. The former had layers of false reality that were ultimately stripped away as the work of a real danger, while the latter was a fairly simplistic story that told us something about the character but fell flat because at no point was there any real threat.

I found "Extremis" to be an interesting episode, but also a predictable one. Once the non-random number revelation was dropped, I realised that we were watching a simulation and that the remainder of the episode would see our heroes coming to terms (or not) with the nature of their existence. This, though, seems to have more to do with the way I think than anything else, as others have described the revelation as a serious rugpull. The possibility that the universe is some kind of simulation is one that I've encountered before and have spent some time thinking about (I also read a lot of Stephen Baxter, and this has long been an obsession of his. I'd love to read his opinion on the episode, as we know he's a fan.)

The central idea, if you haven't encountered it before, goes like this: at some point, a culture will exist which develops the computing power and complexity to simulate an entire world, or even universe, large enough in scope to be appear infinite to its simulated inhabitants. It follows, then, that such a civilisation would create many such simulations, either in succession or in tandem, with different initial conditions. Simulated universe would be multiple, outnumbering the real universe. Therefore, the logical conclusion is that our reality is more probably a simulation than real.

Of course, this is based on a supposition, and may be inherently flawed. It is also unfalsifiable. However, it is a fascinating idea, both scientifically and philosophically. It's also not really worth worrying about; even if we are all simulations, it would make practical difference to any of us. I imagine I would take the news that I am just a figment quite comfortably, but that's my psychology. A lot of people would surely react as the priests and scientists do here: with fear, psychological collapse, and suicide.

This is all very heavy stuff for an early evening family drama, so thank goodness it's lightened up by those fun flashbacks concerning the Doctor's duty to execute Missy. I'm very glad that it's turned out to be Missy in the Vault, not simply because it means I guessed it right (hardly a massive triumph) but it's a relief to have a series that doesn't drag out the background mystery for a whole season. It took The Flash twenty episodes to reveal the identity of its latest villain. The mystery of the Vault is done in six. It is, of course, possible that another rugpull is on the way, and that Missy has already escaped... but I think it's more likely the Doctor will be releasing her to help foil the invasion. After all, she is, presumably, the one entity on Earth that the Monks haven't figured into their simulations.

Surprisingly enough, the real light-hearted moments come from the Catholic Church. Moffat has been very even-handed in his approach here; the Church isn't given a pass from the Doctor's universal criticism, but he does go pretty easy on them. I'd have ripped into the whole monstrous organisation if I'd written this, but then, I don't have to worry about what the BBC is willing to broadcast. It's all very respectful, but really, most episodes of Father Ted are more cutting than this. Still, poor Bill, her date ruined by the sudden unannounced appearance of the Pope, just when she's finally gotten her would-be girlfriend to relax and stop feeling guilty. It's good that at least some of the Church's primitive morality is questioned, even lightly.

Bill otherwise gets sidelined for much of this episode, which is a shame, but this is an episode that is primarily about the relationship between the Doctor and Nardole. We finally get to see more to Nardole's character than a few quirks, and the steel he hinted at in episode five is explored as he shows that he's, in Bill's words, "secretly a badass." Only seconds later he's leaping out of his skin. Matt Lucas has the impeccable comic timing needed to sell a character like this, and Nardole has developed into a far stronger character than the one-note dweeb he was in "The Husbands of River Song." The flashbacks to Missy's execution tie together the twelfth Doctor's ongoing story since he lost Clara, explaining Nardole's presence, addressing further his mourning for River and examining his friendship with Missy (who will, presumably, remember Clara).

"Extremis" is an odd mix between gothic horror, computer science and existential philosophy. At its core, though, is a very funny joke: the Doctor is blinded and then immediately gets asked to read the most important book in the world. Quite why the Veritas exists within the simulation is unclear, unless it's a further test (perhaps one put there specifically for the Doctor). It works very well, as a more cerebral, talky episode, although the final revelations might have had more impact if it had turned out this entire season had been a simulation.

Observations and links:

So, the Doctor's "fatality index" is so long it terrifies the executioners.  What I'm not clear on is if that's a list of deaths at his hands, or deaths that he has suffered. After his loop of life and death in the Confession Dial, the Doctor must have died more times than anyone in history. Either way, it's another version of the "Look me up," threat from "The Forest of the Dead," but handled better.

Considering that episode, is it coincidence that River is mentioned for the first time this season in another story about simulated life? The supposedly terrible existence is no different to the afterlife to which the Doctor left River. I hope that River doesn't return, since she's had two very effective farewell episodes now and to push it further would weaken that, but if she is to make another appearance before Moffat goes, this wouldn't be a terrible way to do it.

The Master has been executed before, of course, back at the hands of the Daleks. They were more successful than this lot, but it still didn't stick.

I somehow doubt that the Monks have anything to do with the Doctor's old rival, the Time Lord known as the Monk, but here's hoping.

Best line:

"It's like Super Mario, figuring out what's going on. Deleting himself from the game, because he's sick of dying."

No comments:

Post a Comment