Discussing Doctor Who: Extremis

Doctor Who Extremis review

What if there’s a book that causes everyone who reads it to kill themselves? Most Americans would be safe. Maybe we need to change it to viral Facebook post, but regardless Kevin and I are back to talk “Extremis.”

Kevin Harvey is the author of All You Want to Know About The Bible in Pop Culture and a fellow Whovian who enjoys watching and breaking down the latest adventures of the Doctor. You can follow him on Twitter at @PopCultureKevin.

This week we talk “Extremis” (which, being a Latin phrase, makes English puns much more difficult). Previously, we breathed in “Oxygen,” opened the door of “Knock Knock,” stepped out on “Thin Ice,” emoted about “Smile” and navigated “The Pilot” If you need a refresher on last season, here is our recap of season 9.

Things seemingly finally got serious for the Doctor this week, as “Extremis” served as a hinge episode for a shift in this season. Did it work to kickstart the homestretch of the season?

Kevin: This was the episode I’ve been waiting for. Not that I haven’t enjoyed most of what we’ve seen so far this season, but save for a few minutes here and there concerning the vault, there hasn’t been much of a connection between the episodes, and there certainly hasn’t been too much urgency and danger.

But “Extremis” kicked all of that to the curb and hopefully has picked everything up for the remainder of the season about three of four notches.

In many ways, “Extremis” reminded me of the season 6 opener “The Impossible Astronaut,” which led to my all-time favorite season of Doctor Who. Instead of Richard Nixon, we had Pope Benedict. Instead of the Silent, we had the similar Monks. And they both left us with a dire sense of urgency.

Aaron: Now that was a Steven Moffat episode. The soon-to-be departed showrunner had seemingly been content to give us frequently well-done, but never quite extraordinary one-off episodes, while avoiding the large season-arching villain mystery that have characterized many of his previous seasons. “Extremis” blew that out of the water.

It built on previous Doctor Who episodes like “The Pandorica Opens” from series 5, last season’s “Heaven Sent” and, as you mentioned, “The Impossible Astronaut.”

The story drew from science fiction like Matrix and Inception, as well as horror like The Ring. And it was the first episode this season where my sons stopped after the episode and asked, “What just happened?” That is a good thing.

It also turned something random and ostensibly innocent into something terrifying like so many of the great episodes do. Who’s not just a wee bit frightened to say a random set of numbers after watching “Extremis”?

We shouldn’t ignore the fact that “in extremis” is Latin for “in desperate circumstances” or “at the point of death.” We have a blind Doctor facing an inevitable death and an extremely prepared villain. I’d say that is the definition of “in extremis.”

Speaking of “finally,” our long-awaited evil villains finally appeared. What are your first impressions of the Monks?

Aaron: I’ll say this for the Monks, they are probably the most prepared invading alien army ever. That’s a lot of work to run numerous computer simulations of those individuals and groups they feel are the most likely to threaten their mission.

Other than their immense intelligence and patient desire to take over the Earth, we don’t know a lot about them. They seem genuinely evil, which I will definitely take.

As far as their look, they definitely evoked the Veil from “Heaven Sent.” (That episode is the one from last season that most parallels “Extremis”—spending much of the episode with a copy of the Doctor who is unknowingly trapped inside a device.)

I’m interested to see what the Monks have, but I have to say I would love to see a blind Doctor come face-to-face with Weeping Angels. How would he stop them? I’ll be disappointed if Moffat doesn’t bring back his signature monster one last time—at least for a brief threatening moment.

Kevin: Moffat and Capaldi have to go out with a bang, right? I’d gladly forfeit seeing Daleks and Cybermen this season if we could get some combination of Weeping Angels, the Silent, and the Monks. Talk about the trifecta of creepy villains.

I agree that clearly the Monks have prepared more than any other villain for an invasion, so let’s hope that it was more than just a clever plot twist but that their plan is up to par with the preparation. It looks like they are back next week, so we’ll hopefully learn more about them and what they’re doing here. Color me relieved, however, that it finally looks like we have a villain this season that is not just a greedy capitalist.

While setting up the rest of the season, this episode also did a lot of heavy explanatory lifting—Nardole’s presence, the vault, Missy being inside, the oath. Was it too much all at once or a perfect reveal?

Kevin: All of those questions you mentioned were presumably answered in only about ten minutes of scenes, and honestly I’m glad to have it all done that way. It didn’t feel “explanatory” in the way so many other shows have explained long-held secrets, but more like an “Oh…that makes sense. I get it now” kind of way. After all, we’ve already lost half the season, so I’m glad to have those things answered so we can just focus on what will be (fingers crossed) an epic close to the Capaldi era.

I do have to point out, though, that even though I said last week that Moffat is just having some fun with us concerning the vault and that it’s definitely still Missy in there, no matter how obvious it is… well, now it seems more than obvious it’s Missy in there; it seems definite. Yet, they haven’t opened it up yet.

The Doctor even said “Missy” when he was addressing the vault in the end. Basically, they spelled her name out completely but didn’t dot the “i.” Is it possible that now we will get the surprise of the year when it opens up and she’s not the one in there?

Aaron: I agree—with both your points actually. This episode was Moffat at his best for a host of reasons, not the least of which was explaining so much mind-blowing information in such a concise, effective way. And even though it gave you so much, all we know only opens the door for even more questions. That’s how you write a great TV show.

I wondered what you would think about the “reveal” of Missy being in the vault. In this episode, they did everything to indicate she was there except to actually show her. Now, the Doctor did go in and have takeout with whomever is in there and he does call her “Missy” in this episode, but it all seems like it’s point the way for there to be a switch somehow.

Imagine the Doctor (without his newly useful sonic shades) goes into the vault expecting Missy to be there, only to realize too late that it is somehow the Master, who is helping the Monks. Missy and the Doctor team up, as thanks for sparing her life, to take down the Master and the Monks.

The executioners said (at least with their device), only a Time Lord could kill another Time Lord. Maybe Missy kills the Master because she knows the Doctor can’t do it. She becomes fulfills her promise to the Doctor as he has fulfilled his to her. She becomes good “in extremis.” Let’s just say I’m intrigued by where this season is headed.

The Doctor is always the center of the Doctor Who universe, but those in his orbit often shine brighter. What did you make of Nardole, Bill and Missy this week?

Aaron: To work at his best (and for the show to work at its best), the Doctor needs foils to play off his emotions, his exploits and his explanations. In different and distinct ways, Nardole, Bill and Missy provided him (and the viewer) with the best kind of foil.

As the Doctor was very serious this episode, what with him being blind, reading a suicide inducing book and discovering he’s not real, the other three carried much of the comedy load this week.

Nardole and Bill were a great tandem that I’d love to see more of in the future. Bill’s date being interrupted by the Pope (who was apparently saying, “It’s bigger on the inside” in Italian) was perfect. And Missy … what more can we say about Missy? She is absolute perfect.


Kevin: The look on Bill’s face when she first heard the TARDIS interrupting her date was priceless. She’s definitely growing on me in a way similar to Donna Noble several years ago.

And we’ve talked frequently this year about the two sides of Nardole, the funny sidekick and the bully; this episode kind of hinted toward his real personality. As he told Bill, I think he’s secretly a “bad#$&,” and he just happens to be quite hilarious too.

Knowing now that he is fully prepared to kick the Doctor’s butt if need be, I’m hoping we get to see him in action at some point taking down a villain, kind of like watching the old, limping Yoda fight Dooku in Attack of the Clones.

And whether Missy is in the vault or just hiding in the back of the TARDIS, we need to see her again really soon. It would appear that she is going to serve as the Doctor’s eyes the rest of this season, which is going to be really interesting.

Favorite quotes or one-liners?

Kevin: Even when the Doctor is more serious than usual, he’s still more than capable of delivering some great lines with the help of his supporting cast.

“When I am on a date, when that rare and special thing happens in my real life, do not under any circumstances put the Pope in my bedroom.” — Bill
“Okay, now I know.” — The Doctor

“Please stay close to me. The layout is designed to confuse the uninitiated.” — Cardinal Angelo
“Sort of like religion really.” — The Doctor

“You’d be wizards at writing Christmas crackers, you two.” — Nardole after hearing the Cardinal and the Doctor’s gloomy descriptions of the library.

Aaron: In addition to the allusions to the Matrix (computer simulated world) and the Ring (if you read/see this you’ll die), we got references to Star Trek and Super Mario. Doctor Who is embracing full nerd. Now we just need a Marvel Cinematic Universe nod.

“What are you doing?” — Alien monk
“I’m doing what everyone does when the world is in danger. I’m calling the Doctor.” — computer program Doctor

“Are you trying to get rid of us?” — Bill
“Why?” — the Doctor
“’Cause you’re sending us into the dark after a man with a gun.” — Nardole
“Ah, well, I thought of that.” — the Doctor
“Thank you.” — Nardole
“Nardole, you make sure you walk in front of Bill.” — the Doctor

“Goodness is not goodness that seeks advantage. Good is good in the final hour, in the deepest pit, without hope, without witness, without reward. Virtue is only virtue in extremis. This is what he believes, and this is the reason above all I love him, my husband, my madman in a box, my Doctor.” — River Song’s diary read by Nardole

What some spiritual takeaways from this episode?

Aaron: That may have been the first time since the reboot that the Doctor has had such a close interaction with religion—with his meeting the Pope and going to the Vatican.

It was interesting to hear someone offer to hear the Doctor’s confessions. But seeing the face of the executor as he tried to tabulate the Doctor’s “fatality count,” the Doctor would probably have to be in that confession booth for a while.

Obviously, we don’t want to condone or excuse suicide (is it suicide if you’re not real?), but we do find groups of people (programs?) willing to die in an attempt to save the lives of others. It is an interesting situation to learn you are not a real person and your death would increase the likelihood the real you survives an alien invasion.

Honestly, because the story is only partially told, it is difficult to pull a spiritual theme without knowing more of where the Doctor is headed. We can draw some parallels from one life mattering in how it relates to another “more real” life, but that connection can only be stretched so far.

Kevin: In the end, we learn that everyone who had killed themselves in this episode, from the priests to the physicists, did so upon reading an ancient text that reveals they have no purpose in life other than just being a puppet for an alien race to sharpen their invasion skills.

Having grown up in the church and never really living a day where I didn’t believe in some age-appropriate way in Jesus Christ, I cannot put myself in the shoes of the millions and millions of people who do not read and believe in the truth of scripture, who do not believe in the true purpose for their life.

But “Extremis” was a good reminder of our need for purpose and how empty those are who do not learn the Veritas, or the Truth, of Jesus and his sacrificial love for them.


  1. “The Veritas tells of an evil demon who wants to conquer the world.” That sounds familiar.

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Aaron Earls

Christian. Husband. Daddy. Writer. Online editor for Facts & Trends Magazine. Fan of quick wits, magical wardrobes, brave hobbits, time traveling police boxes & Blue Devils.