[The Following Review Contains SPOILERS!]
Once, a long time from now, though that could mean the future just as easily as the past, The Doctor answered a summons to act as an executioner. It was a request he answered only because of the intended prisoner – his greatest enemy and oldest friend, The Master, who was currently going by Missy (short for Mistress) because she was decidedly old-fashioned about these sorts of things.
The Doctor played fast and loose with the execution, however, sabotaging the machine that was meant to kill Missy. He did, however, agree to honor the promise to guard over the prisoner’s body for 1000 years that he made as part of the execution rites. Thus did The Doctor establish a vault under St. Luke’s University in Bristol, where he could play the part of an eccentric professor whilst guarding over his charge.
Still, time changes even Time Lords and Missy has shown signs of remorse for the evil she has committed. She has expressed a desire to do good. Real good. To try and be good like The Doctor.
Now, The Doctor has decided to give her a chance, despite the quite reasonable objections of Nardole and Bill Potts. It is agreed (in The Doctor’s head, if nowhere else) that his companions shall be Missy’s companions for one test run, as the four of them answer a distress call from a gigantic spaceship that is barely saving itself from destruction on a black hole’s edge. Unfortunately, the real threat to the ship and it’s crew is already there waiting for them…
It is unfortunate that the trailers for the end of Series Ten felt the need to give away the presence of this episode’s villains some three months before this episode aired. Steven Moffat wrote a rather effective episode that slowly builds up the mystery to what should-have-been a plot-twist worthy of the name. There’s also a number of sly references in the script that will leave Classic Who fans feeling very clever indeed for having spotted the hints at what is coming ahead of everyone else.
The rest of the production team delivered their A-game for this episode as well. Director Rachel Talalay does a fantastic job of pacing the story and the middle sequence, in which Bill wakes up in a strange hospital, is one of the strongest moments of horror in the show’s history. Equally stunning are the images of the city beyond the hospital, which seems delightfully alien yet born of some weird amalgam of Dickensian London and 1970s New York City.
For all that, I think the performances may be the most heart-breaking aspect of the episode. Peter Capaldi gives what may be his best performance as The Doctor yet and one wishes he had been given better material to work with early on. Matt Lucas doesn’t have much to do as Nardole, but he is efficient as both “exposition” and “comic relief”. Pearl Mackie proves capable of carrying the weight of years that Moffat’s script requires of her. And the only reason Michelle Gomez doesn’t steal the show as Missy trying to be a hero is that the demented Mary Poppins isn’t given nearly enough screen time.
My only real complaint apart from that is an idle musing that someone must have introduced “The Grand Moff” to Babylon 5 recently. I felt that the resolution of Moffat’s Extremis seems remarkably close to that of one segment of The Deconstruction of Falling Stars. In this episode, the dialogue of Mr. Razor – the hospital janitor who takes charge of Bill – seems very much like the speech-patterns of Zathras. (And for those who will ask, I mean Zathras – not Zathras.)