9 burning questions (and some soothing answers) we have after Doctor Who's mind-bending series 10 episode Extremis
Was there really a female Pope? Where is Missy? And what on EARTH was going on with that final twist? Series 10 episode 6 spoilers to follow
After a particularly brain-boggling edition of Doctor Who, we’re guessing you have some questions about Steven Moffat’s series 10 episode Extremis – so hopefully, these answers will help soothe your troubled brow.
Assuming any of this is real and we’re not all living in the Matrix, that is…
1. Wait, WHAT was going on in that episode?
Ah yes, the big question. Basically, we can safely say that the majority of the action in Extremis didn’t really happen – it was just a simulation intended as a dry run by some nasty aliens curious about how an invasion of Earth would go down.
So the whole storyline about Bill, the Doctor and Nardole meeting priests, going to the Vatican and reading the Veritas? Just a big ol’ game of extraterrestrial Sims that got out of hand.
The only REAL moments in the episode, then, were the flashbacks where the Doctor nearly executed Missy on that island, and the bits where he spoke to her through the vault door and Bill on the phone. Simple.
Though now we think about it, considering digi-Bill and Nardole discovered the REAL projectors creating them and the digi-Doctor sent a REAL message to his flesh-and-blood self, can we really say those moments weren’t real too? And in that case, wasn’t the whole episode real in a way?
Hmmm – we might need to watch that whole thing again…
2. Was there really a female Pope?
Well, the Doctor’s old flame Benedict IX (pictured) was a real Pope, known as a bit of a scandalous figure. Aged just 20 when he took office (take THAT, Jude Law), he was Pope on three different occasions between October 1032 and July 1048 and was the only person to be Pope more than once.
Benedict, the nephew of two other Popes called Pope Benedict VIII and Pope John XIX, reportedly led a life of real disrepute. Of him, Pope Victor III later said, “His life as a pope was so vile, so foul, so execrable, that I shudder to think of it,” though some of this hyperbole may have been related to rumours about his sexuality and political opportunism by his enemies.
Benedict was expelled from the papacy twice (regaining his power both times) and then decided to leave a third time voluntarily due to the pressures and his desire to marry – just so long as he was paid back for his election expenses. Later, however, he regretted this, taking the city of Rome and regaining the throne until 1046, while new Pope Gregory VI and another former pontiff called Sylvester III both also still held the title of Pope.
Eventually all three were deposed, though Benedict seized a papal residence in southern Rome called the Lateran palace after THEIR successor Clement II died in 1047 (technically making him Pope again) until German troops forced him away the following year.
So all in all, Benedict’s chaotic and scandalous papacy is pretty consistent with how he’s portrayed in Extremis, with one exception – there’s no evidence that he was really a woman, as the episode suggests.
Still, that doesn’t mean there was never a female Pope – popular legend has it that a woman held the office for a few years in the Middle Ages, reigning as Pope Joan while disguised as a man. Most historians now think this story is a fiction (it first appeared in chronicles in the 13th century) but the idea has had an influential effect on popular culture, inspiring many plays, films and novels and possibly giving Steven Moffat the inspiration for the gag in this week’s episode.
3. Where did I recognise the Pope in Extremis from?
But of course, Benedict isn’t the only Pope in the episode – there’s also the present-day version who mainly speaks in Italian (we blame faulty Tardis translation circuits).
Eagle-eyed Doctor Who fans might actually recognise the actor playing the part, as Joseph Long has actually appeared in the series before. He last cropped up as Rocco Colasanto, a friendly Italian man who shares a house with Donna’s family in 2008 episode Turn Left, in a storyline that saw an alternative-universe Britain in ruins after the Doctor’s death and Colasanto sent off to an internment camp (as you can see in the video below).
Who’d have thought a story about the Catholic Church and mortal sin would end up being his more cheerful appearance?
4. When will we find out what the Monks were up to?
Good news – we won’t have to wait ages to find out what the villains of episode six's story are planning, because based on the trailer we’ll be seeing them again in episode seven The Pyramid at the End of the World.
This means that we’re being treated to a stealth two-parter when we were expecting two individual episodes – which (as we discuss here) is something Steven Moffat has been hoping to surprise us with for years.
5. How did Nardole get River’s diary?
Obviously, as RadioTimes.com pointed out last week, River Song’s (Alex Kingston) distinctive Tardis-patterned diary was left after her death in a giant outer-space library, meaning its reappearance here is a bit of a mystery. Perhaps Nardole’s just part of a really good library membership scheme that let him dodge the Vashta Nerada and get it out.
6. When were those flashbacks set?
Based on the dialogue, we’d say that the Doctor’s decision not to execute Missy but to guard her instead takes place after 2015 Christmas special The Husbands of River Song, which concluded with the Doctor and wife River spending 40 years on the planet Darillium before she left for her death (already shown in 2008 episode The Forest of the Dead – yep, this is a weird show).
Extremis also reveals why Nardole ended up with the Doctor (he was sent by River to keep an eye on him), but it does raise one crucial question – where does 2016 Christmas special The Return of Doctor Mysterio fit into the timeline? Considering Nardole and the Doctor are working together it suggests it takes place after the flashback, but then why aren’t they guarding the vault? And why did Nardole make a comment about the Doctor reassembling his body due to loneliness if River was still alive?
We’re guessing that there’s a very complicated real answer to this – maybe Nardole read an instruction in River’s diary to help the Doctor AFTER her death and AFTER his reassembling had already taken place, meaning the flashback could have taken place AFTER the events of The Return of Doctor Mysterio – but we think we’re going to need a very big flowchart to make sense of this one.
7. Is it definitely Missy in the vault?
Don’t worry – despite the fact that we never actually SEE Michelle Gomez’ villain in the vault, we’re assured by Steven Moffat in our in-depth interview with him that it is indeed the case. Read the full Q and A now to find out even more secrets about Extremis…
8. What will Missy do next?
Now here’s something we can’t tell you. We do now know that Michelle Gomez will be cropping up in the series more than was initially reported (she’s been confirmed as a guest star for episode 8 at least), but if, how and why she’ll escape/be released from the vault is anyone’s guess, as is exactly how John Simm’s returning Master will factor into the equation.
Maybe he’ll release his future self, maybe she’ll seek him out or maybe they’ll just bump into each other down the shops – for now, we just don’t know.
9. And finally...am I living in a simulation too???
Good question – OK quickly, think of the first number you can and we’ll do the same, and if they match we’ll know that the Monks even programmed a seamless version of RadioTimes.com into their simulation.
We’re REALLY hoping you got something different on that one.
Doctor Who continues on BBC1 next Saturday 27th May at the later time of 7.45pm