Doctor Who: Extremis + The Pyramid at the End of the World + The Lie of the Land

So, what happened was that Series 10 so far has been really solid mystery storytelling, and I’ve been enjoying it a lot. And then, apparently, Steven Moffat had an idea for a blockbuster.

A Word on Confusion

Tying the Master/Missy to the end of the world — we’ve seen that before. I remarked to a friend that this trilogy is a lot like the finale of Series 3; only with a lot less cohesion. Because my main response to a lot of what’s happening here is confusion. And as when Bob Dylan got the Nobel Prize, I have to say I’m not inclined to call anyone a genius just because I don’t understand their songs. Or, to put it another way: there’s David Lynch confusion, and then there’s Moffat confusion. David Lynch will never explain anything to you, and you still love him. That’s his power. Steven Moffat at his best doesn’t give two figs about making sense until about five minutes before the grand finale, and you’re still having fun. That’s his. At his worst, Moffat thinks he’s being very, very clever while chucking random bits of plot at you while simultaneously bringing back the Doctor’s greatest (in every sense of the word) nemesis (Series 3) and also nearly blowing up the world (Series 3) and then forcing humanity into resistance against a totalitarian regime (Series 3), forcing his companion to walk the Earth to try and save everyone (Series 3) using a psychic link (Series 3).

So not only am I confused, I’ve also seen a lot of this before.

Extremis

by Steven Moffat

Three questions:

  • Why am I putting up with random flashbacks that keep disrupting the flow of the story for no good reason other than to hammer character beats with a giant gavel that are so well-travelled we can recite them in our sleep? Why not just tell the damn story with Missy and her execution (wtf) and the Vault in one go? It would have made a lovely pre-credits sequence as a whole.
  • Who, for the love of Clom, has the authority to sentence Missy to death? I mean, after everything the Master/Missy have done, this is when they’re finally done in? No less, on unspecified charges? On whose authority?
  • If the Doctor tampered with the equipment in an effort to save her life, why, for Christ’s sake, is he still imprisoning her in that Vault for a thousand years? Because he swore an oath? Surely, if he can defy whoever’s authority in not killing her, then that damn oath can go right to hell? I am really, really not seeing the payoff from all of that. “She’s going cold turkey from being bad,” isn’t doing it for me; not even with her tearful admission at the end. We all know that John Simm is waiting in the wings, so something is coming, but Extremis is not providing any answers.

The rest of Extremis is basically Matrix meets Dan Brown plus creepy corpsified space aliens who really, really want to enslave humanity. Also, the casual revelation that everything in the world we’ve been seeing is only a simulation. Oh, good.

Bill, meanwhile, has a date with a charming girl named Penny; and it’s an… inspired choice to have none other than the Pope burst in just as Penny is explaining to Bill that she’s not really gone out with girls before. Poor Penny, and poor Bill. Bill’s caretaker continues to be absolutely clueless, as per, and it’s a good example of the gal pal trope in action; which I really hope landed with kids.

The Doctor, hampered by his permanent blindness, has found ways around it. His sonic specs give him schematic night vision, if you will. He admits to Bill that he lied to her very late in the game (and one wonders how their odds of solving this in time might have improved if he’d been honest) — and since he goes back in time to prevent the events of Extremis by sending the info to his younger self, he gets to do that all over again in Part 2…

The Pyramid at the End of the World

by Peter Harness & Steven Moffat

… where it promptly proceeds to also bite him in the ass. What a surprise.

Bill’s second attempt at having a proper date with Penny goes only slightly better than the first: the United Nations Secretary General bursting in on you does, surprisingly, also not help with the romance. At all. The only positive is: they got a Trump joke in.

The Monks are back. The Doctor may have reversed things enough to save both Nardole and Bill from disintegration through self-awareness as part of the simulation, but the Earth is still, in one word, boned. Every watch is a doomsday clock now, and we’re inching closer to midnight.

Fun fact: no mention at all of the Vault in this episode. Aside from the next time trail, which reveals that Missy will be part of resolving this situation (and hopefully not exacerbating it), there is zero reason given why the mystery of who is in that vault just had to be lifted at the beginning of Extremis. Aside from the bit where Nardole reads from River’s diary that she gave him at Darillium, a passage that has some heavy moral and religious overtones, which at least sort of connects to the Vatican setting. That’s about it, though — two tiny facets do not a strong plot connection make. We could have had that revelation a lot earlier, and then simply waited for Missy to show up. Could have even included a conversation between them when the Doctor receives the message from his future self.

Erica, the Doctor’s new friend, is a blessing; and her drinking-on-a-weekday lab partner does not deserve her. I’m disappointed she didn’t appear in The Lie of the Land. (Also, pay attention: this is what inclusive casting looks like.)

Bill’s consent being pure is one of the best moments of the episode, because she makes the only possible bargain literally seconds away from certain doom, in such a way that sets her apart from the others who attempted to make the bargain before her. I say this because:

  • She still acts strategically. She asks for the Doctor’s sight to return because she knows he’s the only one who can save them.
  • She still acts out of fear. She doesn’t want to die, and she fears for the planet; and she fears losing the Doctor if he doesn’t get out of the lab fast enough.
  • But most of all, she is motivated by love. Love for humanity, and love for the Doctor.

It’s a lot like when Yoda keeps telling Luke not to feel anything because passion of any kind leads to pain, and pain to the dark side. But then Luke goes and channels all his love and fear and, to a degree, anger into something that does the trick: goodness and determination. Luke is not my favourite Star Wars character, not least because I empathise far more with Leia and her reaction to all things Vader (it’s nice that Luke can forgive him and all, but he killed Leia’s mother twice over, like… dude); but what I’m saying is, Bill takes all of what she feels and knows is possible and the driving force is still love, and still pure.

Now, though, Bill signed over the planet to the Monks, and so she’s going to have to join the Resistance.

The Lie of the Land

by Toby Whithouse

The Doctor has gone a bit off the deep end, though.

Those broadcasts are well creepy.

No matter how bad it is, if people think that’s how it’s always been, they put up with it.

The finale is easily the best part of the trilogy, not only because it finally offers some actual answers. It’s also well-paced and gives us Bill and Nardole as a powerhouse dynamic duo that does some proper infiltrating and rescuing.

Only, the Doctor is not their friend anymore. At least that’s what it looks like.

Pearl Mackie is outstanding in that scene. Her grief and rage at the Doctor’s betrayal are absolute and real, and she plays it spot-on. Shooting the Doctor dead is a surprise — but then, the script flips and it was all just a test, thank god. But oh boy, Bill is going to get him back for that one. They sort of wrote themselves into a corner there and there was only one way of getting out…

So. Missy could get out of the Vault. And she insists she won’t become good. So why is she still there? Answer: because, apparently, solitary confinement is having an effect on her. The question then becomes: why does she act the way she does when Bill is there? Why is she refusing to provide a different solution than murder when she clearly could? As with everything regarding the Master, we must ask ourselves if this is real, and true. If it is, I’m not sure what to make of it. There has to be a point to it, ultimately; and payoff to the whole setup. I never thought that six months in solitary would turn Missy ‘good,’ frankly not even a millennium. Character development in that direction might be a fantastic thing, and the Master has never been only evil, just… latently homicidal and very, very power-hungry. Then again, what is the Master/Missy, if not the Doctor’s chief antagonist; the other side of the coin? The only thing that really bugs me about it is the setup, with the whole fake execution and the very real Vault to imprison her in. It’s all frankly absurd and I’m also very wary of the implications of the Doctor keeping Missy in a box in the basement. It wouldn’t be the first time he’s thought about that…

I wanted you back by my side because it’s the safest place in the world.

In the end, it’s Bill who saves the world — it’s her mum. In Series 3, the Archangel Network used the chant of the Doctor’s name to revive him. In Series 10, it is the vibrant, beloved image of  a young black woman that sets humanity free.

In about seven billion is someone like you. That’s why I put up with the rest of them.

Random details:

  • The phrase “Praise be” is also nicely reminiscent of The Handmaid’s Tale.
  • Vulcan neck pinch. Nice.
  • Did you see the Pride flag in Bill’s memories? Good.
  • In all their mind-controlling glory, the Monks are rather a lovely metaphor for the current state of politics in, uh, certain parts of the world *cough* US and UK *cough*. There’s a cheap shot at KellyAnn Conway in there that I will not explicitly state, but I think you all know what I mean.
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