Please feel free to comment on my review.
‘The Monks Trilogy’ Begins
I know I’ve been critical about ‘Oxygen’ especially on its ending, despite liking some aspects to it. But it’s because I get that sense of things being incoherent and cryptic with certain Steven Moffat era stories.
Speaking of incoherent and cryptic storytelling in ‘Doctor Who’, this brings us to our next episode…‘Extremis’. This is the first of a three-episode story arc featured in Series 10 of ‘Doctor Who’.
I say it’s a three-episode story arc since the three episodes, ‘Extremis’; ‘The Pyramid at the End of the World’ and ‘The Lie of the Land’ are loosely linked together. Yet Steven Moffat didn’t write all of them.
This was the case for ‘Face the Raven’, ‘Heaven Sent’ and ‘Hell Bent’ during Series 9 of ‘Doctor Who’. The episodes are interconnected, yet they’re not listed as being a three-part episode story structure.
They’re listed as being three standalone episodes. I currently follow by how Wikipedia and ‘The Complete History’ books of ‘Doctor Who’ list them as being individual stories and not as a three-parter.
The last two episodes of Series 10, ‘World Enough and Time’/’The Doctor Falls’ are classed with the episode codes 275a and 275b. Yet ‘The Monks Trilogy’ episodes have straight-forward numbered codes.
If it’s supposed to be a three-parter, I wouldn’t mind that so much. Yet how is it that Steven Moffat didn’t write the complete trilogy of episodes himself in order to provide more coherency and clarity?
I’m not even sure that ‘Extremis’ is supposed to be the beginning of this three-part story structure in Series 10. It more or less started in ‘Oxygen’ with the Doctor getting blind at the end of that episode.
My idea of three loosely connected episodes of ‘Doctor Who’ that are not a three-parter is something on the lines of ‘The E-Space Trilogy’ and ‘The Black Guardian Trilogy’. I would’ve liked this.
Why couldn’t we have had ‘The Monks Trilogy’ take place on three alien planets instead of them all seemingly set on Earth? It would’ve been awesome and more interesting compared to what we got.
Anyway, let’s talk about ‘Extremis’, the first episode of ‘The Monks Trilogy’ by Steven Moffat. Um…yeah! This one was a bit of a puzzler for me. Even on a second viewing of this, I was still baffled.
I did enjoy the episode when I saw it on my tablet on BBC iPlayer back in 2017. And again, I think I have gained more clarity on what the episode’s plot is. But I still don’t rate this highly like others do.
I suppose it’s because looking back on ‘The Monks Trilogy’, it wasn’t the most exciting set of episodes in Series 10 of ‘Doctor Who’. Perhaps it’s just me in terms of preferences on ‘Doctor Who’.
The episode continues on from where ‘Oxygen’ left off with the Doctor being blind. And he decides not to tell Bill about it. Only Nardole knows of it. Yeah…um, why didn’t the Doctor tell Bill he was blind?
Yeah I know he said he didn’t want to be ‘worried about’ and that he didn’t want his blindness to be a permanent thing. But the Doctor is at his most vulnerable and needs all the support he can get.
Considering what happens in the next episode of ‘The Monks Trilogy’, the Doctor’s recklessness and stubbornness to handle things himself becomes a disadvantage. We’ll get onto this aspect next time.
Anyway, the Doctor receives a visit from a group of monks led by Corrado Invernizzi as Cardinal Angelo. Joseph Long as the Pope is among the group, wanting a personal audience with the Doctor.
If you recognise Joseph Long from somewhere, that’s because he’s been in ‘Doctor Who’ before. He played Rocco Colasanto in the episode ‘Turn Left’ from the David Tennant era. He’s good as the Pope here.
Soon, the Doctor, Bill and Nardole get embroiled in an adventure at a forbidden library in the Vatican, Italy. The library contains a peculiar text called the Veritas. Apparently it is death for anyone to read it.
The Doctor also comes across a bunch of dead zombie-like monks at the forbidden library. Soon, it becomes very clear to the Doctor that these monstrous monks want to invade and conquer the Earth.
There was a lot going on in this episode with the Doctor, Bill and Nardole visiting the library. Cardinal Angelo escorts them and gives lots of exposition on what’s going on with the Vatican and the Veritas.
I’m not sure a lot of this stuff involving the Vatican and the Veritas is historically accurate. It’s probably fictionalised. There were some deeper meanings behind some of the texts featured in this.
It was interesting how the Church becomes involved in the episode, especially with the monks, the cardinals and the Pope. It was quite off-putting to see the zombie-like monks that make their appearance.
It’s not clear where these Monks came from; how they knew of the Earth and how they knew of the Doctor. They are pretty scary and grotesque to look at and seem to have a merciless attitude to life.
The voices for the Monks are provided by Tim Bentinck. I’ve met Tim Bentinck in real-life and he’s done some ‘Doctor Who’ audio tales with Big Finish, including ones featuring Peter Davison’s Doctor.
I admit I got rather confused at the point when it turned out that the Doctor, Bill and Nardole weren’t real and they were actually holograms. It seems the events of this tale were all a simulation.
I like how Nardole makes a reference to the fact that it’s like a holodeck environment from ‘Star Trek’. It seems that it was all a ‘dress rehearsal’ by the zombie monks before the real Earth invasion begins.
Somehow that put me in mind of ‘The Android Invasion’ which I think is a neat idea. It was interesting how the Doctor worked it all out by the episode’s end, but there’s twist I will get onto later.
This episode also features the return of Michelle Gomez as Missy. I was expecting this episode to be a full-on Missy story and that she was the actual villainess behind it all here. Sadly this wasn’t the case.
Apparently the Missy stuff in the episode is all part of an interesting set of flashback scenes that take place before Series 10 started. It’s all set on an alien world where the Doctor seemingly ‘executes’ Missy.
I’m not sure I fully understand why the Doctor was ‘executing’ Missy in those flashback scenes. I’m also not sure whether Nardole, disguised in a hood, persuaded the Doctor to not ‘execute’ Missy either.
In any event, the Doctor doesn’t kill Missy during the ‘execution’ since she happens to still be alive. This displeases Ivanna Jeremiah as the executioner Rafando, who was expecting the Doctor to kill Missy.
Eventually the Doctor and Nardole store Missy in the vault before taking it to Earth where the Doctor lectures at St. Luke’s University. At least we have the reveal of who was kept inside that vault.
It turns out it was Missy the whole time. I wasn’t sure where this story arc in Series 10 was going to go and how it was supposed to develop Missy’s character. That’s something I’ll discuss more in later reviews.
I enjoyed Peter Capaldi as the Doctor; Pearl Mackie as Bill and Matt Lucas as Nardole in the episode. Bill is seen dating someone, Ronke Adekoluejo as Penny. This is all before the Doctor ruins her date.
Bill of course gets angry with the Doctor for ruining her date before she agrees to help out. I enjoyed the scenes Bill and Nardole share together without the Doctor. They seemed to work well together.
Matt Lucas does deliver a more serious edge to Nardole’s character compared to his previous appearance in ‘Oxygen’ which I appreciate a lot. He even gives some stern warnings to Bill when they’re together.
Nardole has said he’s known to kick the Doctor’s ‘arse’ in the past, trying to make himself sound brave before he gets squeamish. I liked it when Nardole and Bill visited places like CERN and the Pentagon.
Yes! CERN makes an appearance at last in ‘Doctor Who’! In the audio realm, CERN appeared in the ‘Torchwood’ audio play, ‘Lost Souls’. It was interesting to see the place on screen in a ‘Doctor Who’ story.
I found it disturbing when Nardole and Bill realised they were holograms and they started to dissolve into nothingness. I wondered what had happened and whether the ‘real’ Bill and Nardole were safe.
However, Peter Capaldi is the one who steals the show as the Doctor in the episode. It was intriguing to see Capaldi’s Doctor gone blind. He wears his sonic sunglasses for most of the time to disguise this.
Capaldi’s Doctor gets easily frustrated when he can’t see properly. He has a few moments of proper sight before it gets all blurry again and he gets so angry when he cannot read the Veritas from a laptop.
I liked how the Doctor worked things out in the episode, especially in terms of how the Monks were preparing their invasion plans via a simulation. But it turns out the Doctor isn’t the real Doctor at all.
He was a holographic simulation like Bill and Nardole. Yet he somehow managed to send a message to his real self via his sonic sunglasses. I wonder how the holographic Doctor did that since he’s not real.
ROWAN ATKINSON’S DOCTOR: “I’ll explain later!”
But we’ll never hear it. Again this is another of those puzzle-solving episodes that Steven Moffat gives us in order to work out. I’m not sure how many were able to get this episode without confusion.
‘Extremis’ is a fairly decent episode from Series 10 of ‘Doctor Who’. It was a puzzling; confusing and complex episode for me to watch. I have given this episode a second chance to understand it better.
To some extent, I do appreciate some of the complexities of the plot. However, I don’t rate this episode highly as I found it hard-going to watch despite it being the build-up to ‘The Monks Trilogy’.
The DVD special features on this episode are as follows. On Disc 2 of ‘Series 10 – Part 1’ of ‘Doctor Who’, there’s the ‘Extremis’ – Inside Look’ featurette.
On Disc 3 of ‘The Complete Series 10’ of ‘Doctor Who’, the ‘Extremis’ – Inside Look’ featurette can also be found on there. On Disc 6, there’s the ‘Doctor Who: The Fan Show – The Aftershow’ edition for this episode.
The first half of Series 10 of ‘Doctor Who’ has been pretty decent so far. I like how Pearl Mackie as Bill gets introduced as the new ‘Doctor Who’ companion in the series and how she shares a good relationship with Peter Capaldi’s Doctor. I also like the stories ‘Smile’ and ‘Knock Knock’ in Series 10.
However, ‘Extremis’ was the beginning of what I considered to be making Series 10 a muddle of a ‘Doctor Who’ season as well as a mixed bag. There would be episodes that I would enjoy after ‘The Monks Trilogy’, but there would still be issues regarding this season that left me unsatisfied as a fan.
‘Extremis’ rating – 6/10
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