Doctor Who review: The Time Lord goes in search of the truth in Extremis

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This is a post-UK broadcast review of Doctor Who: Extremis. River Song always warned the Doctor against spoilers, so be sure to watch the episode first. Doctor Who, season 10, airs on Saturdays at 7:25pm UK time on BBC One, and 9pm EDT on BBC America.

Doctor Who showrunner Steven Moffat clearly wants to go out in style: might he achieve that plan with a trilogy—starting with Extremis—that brings us mysterious new enemies known only as The Monks, who are plotting to conquer Earth with the help of a simulated computer game?

Elon Musk’s insistence that there’s a “one in billions” chance we’re not living in a simulated universe.

Moffat has clearly taken that idea (perhaps having also paid close attention to The Matrix) and run with it in an episode that finally reveals who it is lurking within the vault. I called it early(ish): it’s Missy, of course!

There’s a dual story running throughout Extremis—an ambitious episode that explores the Doctor’s blindness and psychic powers, while bringing us up-to-date on the fate of Missy. The two things bind together at the end of the episode when his trusty, if annoying, sonic sunglasses come to the rescue of a simulated Time Lord. You’ve got mail, Doctor!

brilliant brains at CERN. As the Doctor says: “Particle physicists and priests—what would scare them both?”

Get real

Simulated reality, it turns out, is what’s spooking everyone. About which, I have so many questions: what if the advanced alien lifeform—The Monks—is also inside a simulation? What if they’ve created a shadow world simply as part of the computer game that they are already part of? And have The Monks done this to escape the simulation and inhabit Earth?

She's baaaaack!
Enlarge / She’s baaaaack!
Simon Ridgway/BBC

I like that there is an inverted glitch, of sorts, that reveals to the brightest people that they are trapped inside a simulation. “Computers aren’t good with random numbers,” the Doctor explains. A single computer program generates the exact same string and it can spit out pseudorandom numbers—bringing us back to the question of The Truth.

This episode has some neat Web culture references in it, too. The leaking of “Veritas” online now seems an all too familiar occurrence in the real world. I also can’t help but think about disinformation and—apologies in advance—so-called fake news when trying to read some of the subtext of Extremis. The Truth is just too much to take, right?

The Monks are simulating people and places on Earth to learn how best to kill them. But people are rising up, the Doctor says. This isn’t suicide; it’s rebellion. “Like Donkey Kong deleting himself from the game because he’s sick of dying.”

Ars Technica UK


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