Sunday, 21 May 2017

Doctor and the Medici

Back when we knew Doctor Who was getting relaunched in 2005 but we didn't really have any more details than that, people did speculate a bit over whether Russell T. Davies would keep it a family show as it had originally been, or if he was going to go for a "darker and edgier" reboot - the Battlestar Galactica model.

"Extremis" by Steven Moffat, directed by Daniel Nettheim. Spoilers after the cut.

Well RTD very much kept things within the tone if not the budget of the original series, and so has Steven Moffat, but although there's been plenty of darker episodes over the years - I don't consider that a change of direction though as the first eight Doctors' stories could go there as well - "Extremis" seems to me the closest it's got to going full Galactica. It's a full-on existential nightmare as all the characters, or at least the versions of them we see this episode, turn out to be projections in a video simulation. Not an original idea but not one I would have thought a great deal of kids' fiction deals in, and then they get given an extra little headfuck in thinking of Super Mario realising he's not real and deleting himself.

There's also a bit of religious philosophising plus villains who are basically zombie Cardinals, but the most adult element of the episode is of course the heavy theme of suicide in the story - this bordered on needing a trigger warning, even as it got explained away at the end as the virtual people rebelling against their programming and refusing to help with the simulation. The idea of the Doctor having sacrificed an unspecified part of his future in return for 5 minutes' eyesight is of course retconned, but I imagine it'll be coming back for real to cast a shadow over the next regeneration - surely the Moff will want to leave behind an awkward turd for Chris Chibnall to flush.

Matt Lucas finally gets something to justify Nardole coming back as a full-time companion and showing a bit of depth to the character, and there's a few lighter touches to the darkness, like the show proposing Benedict IX as the legendary Pope Joan. I looked him up (as did a lot of people by the looks of it, no sooner had I typed in "Pope Benedi...." than Google suggested "..ct IX," the most recent Pope Benny must be miffed,) and it seems he was one of those rock'n'roll Popes from when it was alland there were loads of competing ones, and he was Pope on three separate occasions 'cause he kept changing his mind. So yeah, I can see why he was a good candidate to have been a woman who took some time off from Poping to get bummed by an alien.

The flashbacks to Michelle Gomez' Missy were another lighter touch which... considering they were about her being executed and the Doctor agreeing to do the deed, probably says as much as anything about how bleak the rest of the episode was. I guess the difference is it was obvious they'd find a way out of it and she'd be the thing in the vault. They were the most enjoyable scenes in the end, and it'll be interesting to see how this idea that River Song was behind getting Nardole to look after the Doctor gets developed. She may officially be dead but I can't see the Moff leaving her out of his final series entirely.

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