And this is the episode where it all slows down a little. Where Doctor Who starts to position itself for the second half of series 10. Where Steven Moffat returns on scripting duties, and lays down things that firmly keep the ethos of the series thus far in place, but also opens – no, stop looking for clues, because you ain’t getting spoilers here, no matter how hard you look – a few metaphorical things up.
Extremis picks up at the exact same point we left things at the end of Oxygen, and for the benefit of those who’ve avoided the next time trailers, I’ll skip a few things even that appeared in that. Likely, you know what bits I’m talking about.
The Doctor, then, remains blinded as we meet him, and is withholding this information from Bill (although how she doesn’t notice is open to debate), and in turn, that gives Matt Lucas’ Nardole a further, increased role in the episode. He was described ahead of the series as a sort-of valet to the Doctor. Here, Nardole finalises his move from sidekick to core character. In fact, at one stage, he’s doing the work of the Doctor so well that he could well be, well, be the Doctor. Not that I’m going to the bookies and sticking any cash on that.
The setup involves a bit of zipping backwards and forwards, and it’s a less steady entry into a story than I’d argue we’ve had thus far this series. The mystery centres on an old book called The Veritas, the kind of tome you don’t end up living for much longer after reading. A call from an unlikely figure brings The Veritas into the Doctor’s life, and things build from there.
They build slowly, too. And what I really, really like about Extremis is that, more than any episode this series, it takes its time to build. It’s quite a quiet episode, and you don’t get your usual dose of running down corridors, fast action and zippy special effects. That said, you do get a jump, and a fair smattering of comedy. Bill’s love life arguably gets the biggest laugh of the episode. But when Extremis quietly shifts into gear, Moffat and director Daniel Nettheim know exactly what they’re doing. I’m genuinely giving far less away than it may all appear here. I can comfortably say, without spoiling anything, that as the credits rolled, I wanted the next episode in front of my eyes right now. It’s that kind of episode, this.
But then that ties into a particularly impressive achievement with this particular run of Who. That, in an era of catch-up and on-demand, it feels again like the kind of show you want to catch as it’s transmitted. That there’s an intertwining of good individual stories, and an interesting core overarching narrative. One I for one want to find out myself before anyone spills the secrets.
All three leads are strong, and a damaged Doctor makes for a less predictable one, something that Peter Capaldi does Peter Capaldi things with. But I do think it’s Matt Lucas who gets a little more of the limelight at last, and his disciplined, work in the role of Nardole is paying dividends.
Extremis takes a little while to get there, but it turns out to be a really gripping episode of Who, leaving some good stuff to dissect afterwards. And, as any episode at the half-way point should, it leaves some interesting questions behind…