Timestamp #278: Extremis, The Pyramid at the End of the World, & The Lie of the Land

Timestamps Featured Image

Doctor Who: Extremis
Doctor Who: The Pyramid at the End of the World
Doctor Who: The Lie of the Land
(3 episodes, s10e06-08, 2017)

Timestamp 278 Monk Trilogy

All shall love and despair.


A long time ago, the Doctor confers with an executioner named Rafando about a method for destroying a Time Lord. After the execution is completed – a process that stops both hearts, all three brain stems, and the ability to regenerate – the body will be placed in a quantum fold chamber for a millennium to prevent “relapses“. The process also requires that a Time Lord be the one to pull the lever.

The prisoner slated for execution is Missy. The Doctor has been selected to kill her. Missy begs for her life, promising to do anything in return.

In the present day, the Doctor confides in Missy about his blindness through the vault door. His discussion is cut short by an email, sent via the sonic sunglasses that he uses to get around, with the subject line of Extremis. Always curious, the Doctor opens the message.

The Doctor stands in a darkened lecture hall as fifteen men enter. They claim to be from the Vatican, and a cardinal named Angelo asks for the Doctor’s help after a series of suicides. The Pope descends the stairs and personally asks the Doctor for help. In his office, the Doctor is given a parchment that reads Veritas – literally, and not subtly, truth – but the resulting text is in a language lost to time. A later translation contains a secret that drives the reader to suicide. All of the bodies have been recovered except for one.

The Pope asks the Doctor to read Veritas to help. Because he has lives to spare?

Bill brings a girlfriend named Penny to Moira’s home, but the romantic interlude is interrupted by the TARDIS and the Pope. Penny runs out in fear as Bill chastises the Doctor for dropping the Pope and his assembly in her bedroom. As Nardole briefs Bill on the task, Cardinal Angelo offers a friendly ear for the Doctor.

Back at Missy’s execution, Nardole arrives dressed as a monk with orders from River Song to stay the execution. After the conference, Missy begs for mercy with tears in her eyes.

In the present, the TARDIS materializes in Vatican City. Nardole confers with the Doctor about the secret of his blindness before the Pope bids farewell. Cardinal Angelo shows the travelers to the Haereticum, a labyrinthine library that reminds Bill of a fictional wizarding school. Angelo leads the group to the heart of the library where a bright light shines through a portal with a man inside.

The portal vanishes and Angelo checks the security while the travelers proceed to the cage where Veritas is kept. Angelo is soon abducted by a mysterious claw-like hand. A priest scares the group and reveals that he sent the email before running off. While the Doctor investigates the Veritas, the mysterious priest commits suicide. When Bill and Nardole investigate the body, they find another mysterious portal and take a look.

I realize that I said mysterious a lot. This whole story is full of it.

As the Doctor begins scanning Veritas with a device that will temporarily fix his eyesight, he is approached by a mysterious peculiar figure.

Back at the execution, the Doctor pulls the lever and activates the machine. He promises to guard Missy’s corpse for one thousand years.

In modern day, Bill and Nardole emerge from a closet into a Pentagon operations center. They climb back through the portal into a strange hub. They walk through another portal to CERN (the European Organization for Nuclear Research) and meet a scientist.

The Doctor finishes his work and tries to read the book as the mysterious curious figure with a zombie-like face locks him to the chair. The figure takes Veritas but the Doctor uses his sonic screwdriver to turn off the lights and escape with a laptop containing a translation. He later tries to read the screen but is interrupted by more of the figures and his failing eyesight. He runs off and finds another portal.

At CERN, the scientist leads Bill and Nardole to the cafeteria where a five-minute countdown has started. The countdown is leading to a mass suicide explosion. The scientist explains that the explosion will release them from this world, a world that doesn’t truly exist. He tests Bill and Nardole by having them pick a series of random numbers. When each choice matches exactly, they both run and dive through the portal at the last second.

Bill and Nardole find a trail of blood in the hub as Nardole realizes that each portal leads to a holographic simulation. He soon realizes that they are also part of the simulation and he steps outside of the projectors, thereby vanishing. Bill follows the blood trail to the White House and finds the Doctor and the President of the United States in the Oval Office. They both have read the Veritas and the President has committed suicide. The Doctor explains that a demon is trying to conquer the world but has created a “shadow world” to practice. This simulation assesses the abilities of the human race throughout history. The key to understanding that one is in the program is a string of numbers, the same ones that Bill and Nardole recited.

Once a simulant understands their role in the program, they escape back to reality by ending their program.

With that, Bill disappears, leaving one of the mysterious strange figures behind. It tells him that they have killed many times before, but the Doctor replies that they have fallen into their own trap because the simulation is too good. Since he is linked to the sonic sunglasses, they are a recording of the last few hours. Before he vanishes, the Doctor emails the recording to the Doctor in the real world.

The Extremis email was that recording. The Doctor finishes watching it and then calls Bill. He tells her to call Penny and ask her on a date.

In the last flashback to Missy’s execution, the Doctor reveals that he sabotaged the machine to knock her out instead of killing her. The Doctor scares the executioners away by asking them to look up his list of fatalities, then he and Nardole load Missy into the vault.

Outside of that vault, the Doctor asks Missy through the door how he can save his friends when he is blind.

The Pyramid at the End of the World

Following the Doctor’s recommendation, Bill takes Penny back to her home. During the date and walk home, Bill relays her experience in the alien computer simulation. Once they reach Bill’s home, the United Nations Secretary-General arrives and demands that Bill take them to the President. Bill denies knowing the President of the United States – she wouldn’t have voted for the “orange” man anyway – but the Secretary-General clarifies his request. Because the world is in danger, he’s looking for the President of the World.

He’s looking for the Doctor.

The Secretary-General takes Bill to an airplane while explaining their interest in a 5,000-year-old pyramid in Turmezistan. It’s a fascinating site because the pyramid literally appeared overnight. Meanwhile, the Doctor meditates with his guitar while he monologues about how each person’s death is predestined and each step takes them closer to the event. To punctuate it, a woman named Erica breaks her reading glasses as she leaves home, suggesting that a minor event can lead to a series of larger ones.

The Doctor is surprised to find that his TARDIS has been hijacked by the secretary-general’s plane. His university office apparently has much larger windows now as well. As the Secretary-General explains what he needs, Erica delivers coffee to her lab partner at Agrofuel Research Operations. The lab partner, Douglas, is hung over, but since Erica can’t see without her glasses, she asks him to mix the next stage of their experiment. As they work, the mysterious aliens Monks watch through a lab camera.

The travelers arrive and meet United States Army Colonel Babbit – a man who is out of uniform since he’s wearing the rank insignia of a four-star general – before investigating the pyramid. The structure opens for the Doctor and he is greeted by a Monk. After a brief interaction, the Monk retreats and everyone’s clocks around the world are set to 23:57:00.

Three minutes to midnight. Three minutes left on the Doomsday Clock.

Sure enough, Douglas miskeys a value in the experiment. Not recognizing the mistake, the scientists leave for lunch and let the computer take control.

The Doctor assembles Ilya Svyatoslavovich (the leader of the Russian military in Turmezistan), Xiaolian (the leader of the Chinese military in Turmezistan), General-Colonel Babbit, the Secretary-General, Bill, and Nardole in the UN base. They discuss the reasons for the Monks’ arrival, settling on the relative weakness of humanity at this time. Despite his companions’ objections, the Doctor recommends a coordinated attack to demonstrate strength.

The Doomsday Clock advances to 23:58:00. Nardole and Bill become concerned for the Doctor.

Bill later asks the Doctor what’s bothering him, but he says that fear rules him to the extent that he cannot even reveal what scares him. As they speak, the pyramid emits a bright orange beam into the sky that consumes the bomber en route to the pyramid. The crew are replaced by Monks and the plane is gently deposited on the desert floor. Several members of the coalition military emerge from the pyramid as a Russian submarine lands in the desert. The Monks have stopped all of the attacks against them, but they are ready to talk now.

The world leaders join the Doctor and his companions in the pyramid. The Doctor tells Bill that traps provide a chance to learn about their enemies. The assembly meets with a Monk who explains that the chain of events is in progress that will destroy the planet at humanity’s hands. They witness the Monks working on the simulation from the outside, weaving strands in a tapestry. The Monk shows the group a vision of the future, then offers to help humanity survive, but to do so will enslave the human race.

The Doomsday Clock advances to 23:59:00.

The Monks must be wanted and loved because ruling through fear is inefficient. With the vision of the future in his mind, the Secretary-General consents to help, but since his consent was based on fear, he is immediately destroyed. The rest of the group leaves the pyramid.

At Agrofuel, the experiment goes awry. Erica and Douglas begin analyzing the problem, but Douglas breaches containment in the process. In Turmezistan, the world leaders consider their position and decide on peace. But since they are not the source of the end of the world, the Doomsday Clock doesn’t budge. Sure enough, the experiment at Agrofuel is the source and creates a deadly microorganism. The world leaders come to the same conclusion, and the Doctor responds by placing every top secret document online so that they can all start searching. Meanwhile, Douglas collapses from exposure to the virus and immediately decomposes into a puddle of goo.

General-Colonel Babbit wants to negotiate terms with the Monks, but the Doctor suggests that the price is way too high. Bill agrees with them because she sees no other choice, and the military leaders decide to surrender. As they leave, the Doctor almost reveals his secret to Bill but then decides on a different course of action.

Leaving Bill to watch the military leaders, the Doctor and Nardole use a list of biochemical labs on the UNIT watchlist to narrow the possible targets. They turn all of the CCTV cameras off, and when the Monks restore the feed, the Doctor takes the TARDIS to Agrofuel. The Doctor asks Nardole to monitor him from the TARDIS but Nardole has already been exposed. Meanwhile, the Doctor briefs Bill and the military leaders on the situation.

The Doomsday Clock advances to 23:59:40.

Since the lab’s filtration system has been compromised, the Doctor decides to incinerate the microorganisms. While he works, the military leaders are killed since their consent is based on strategy, not love. The Monks offer the deal to Bill since she is the representative of the Doctor. She must truly want their help in light of the consequences.

The Doctor sets the incendiary device and the Doomsday Clock begins to reverse. As the Monks panic, Bill leaves the pyramid. Unfortunately, since the lab is locked down, the airlock is secured by a combination lock. Since the Doctor is blind, he cannot see the numbers and therefore is trapped with the bomb.

He tells Bill about this problem and she decides to save his life by asking for help. She asks the Monks to restore the Doctor’s sight by consenting to their rule. Her consent is pure. The Doctor can see again. He spins the numbers and leaves the lab just in time.

As the fires rage, Bill asks the Doctor to get her planet back.

The Lie of the Land

As the Monks take control of humanity, they cultivate the lie that they have always been by humanity’s side. Their propaganda is spread by television broadcast messages delivered by the Doctor. Any dissension is punished by imprisonment and execution.

It’s only been a few months since the Doomsday Clock event at the pyramid but it feels like an eternity.

Bill prepares two mugs and concentrates, apparently summoning another woman to sit across from her. This woman is her mother. Bill reveals that she can’t remember escaping from the pyramid but she can see how the people of Earth have been brainwashed. Every day is harder than the last as the memories threaten to invade, but Bill believes that the Doctor will come back and save the world.

Her monologue is interrupted by Nardole, and after verifying that he is real, she welcomes him. Nardole recovered from the microorganism after six weeks and has done some research. He has traced the broadcasts to their source, a prison ship that is regularly resupplied by small boat. The captain of the supply boat hates the Monks since his son has been imprisoned for possession of comic books.

Nardole also points out that the Monks have altered the perception of human history for a good reason: However bad a situation is, if people think that’s how it has always been, they’ll accept it.

Nardole and Bill access the prison ship and are almost caught immediately, but an appearance by a Monk distracts the guards. They sneak into the bowels of the ship and find the Doctor in a room surrounded by speeches. The Doctor calls for help and the room fills with guards. He places a call to the Monks and then explains that human society is regressing, but Bill argues in favor of free will. They argue philosophy and Bill’s actions with the Monks and his eyesight. Bill tries to use a coded message regarding their trip to the Thames, but the Doctor deflects.

Bill finally breaks, talking about her personal rebellion while waiting for the Doctor’s return, and eventually pulls a gun on the Doctor. Seeing him as the enemy, she shoots him several times. The Doctor stands and appears to regenerate, then reveals the entire thing as a ruse. From sneaking on board to Bill shooting the Doctor (with blank ammunition), the last six months have been a plan by the Doctor. He even de-programmed his own personal guards.

Now he needs an ally nearly as smart as himself. So, the Doctor drives the prison ship to the mainland. They return to the university to find the Monks in wait, so they head to the vault and open it, finally revealing Missy inside. Bill is astounded to see who she thinks is just a woman, but the Doctor reveals her true form.

Missy tries to haggle over her role in the process, then works through the mystery of the Monks with the Doctor. The Doctor eventually comes to the conclusion that they use Bill as a linchpin through a psychic link. To keep themselves in power, the statues around the world act as transmitters to boost the signal. The link would be passed down genetically through millennia, so Missy suggests killing the linchpin and ending the chain.

Bill, obviously, has problems with that proposal.

Of course, Missy’s plan requires ages since the memory of the Monks would fade over time, so the Doctor and Bill offer a counterproposal at resistance headquarters. They decide to break into the Cathedral, the place where the Monks power their transmission, and replace Bill’s brainwaves with his own. Through reconnaissance, they determine that there are only a few Monks on the planet, but the transmissions make people believe that the Monks are everywhere all at once.

Using headphones playing a recording of their mission objectives, the resistance members infiltrate the Cathedral. Two of them are killed and one is turned when his tape player is damaged, but the turncoat is dispatched by Nardole. The team reaches the broadcasting chamber – Fake News Central, the eye of the storm – and finds a Monk wired into the antenna and sending the message. The Doctor attempts to override the transmission but the Monk is too powerful. The Doctor is knocked out.

When the Doctor comes to, Bill has tied him up to a pillar. She says her goodbyes and thanks the Doctor before walking to the antenna. The Doctor breaks free just as Bill places her hands on the Monk’s head. The Monk’s power overwhelms her and starts overwriting her memories, but the one that they cannot touch is that of Bill’s mother.

The Doctor sees this and persuades Bill to fill her mind with images of her mother. The pure, uncorrupted, irresistible image is broadcast to the world and overrides the control signal. The people of Earth are free and the Monks leave the planet in their Cathedral.

Sometime in the future, at the university, Bill and the Doctor muse about how humanity doesn’t even remember the Monks or what they did. The Doctor leaves Bill to her studies and sits with Missy as the prisoner expresses remorse for all of the people whom she has killed.

I mused about it in the slug line, but this story reminds me of Galadriel from The Lord of the Rings. When the elder elf is tempted by the One Ring, she compares herself to various forces of nature and declares that people would love her, fear her, and despair ever having liberty under her rule as a Dark Queen. Her subjects would love their slavery.

Galadriel passes her test by rejecting that vision of the future, but Bill takes an alternate path by accepting the Monks to save the world and her friend.

Episode by episode, this trilogy experiences several ups and downs. I found Extremis to be equal parts confusing and clever, especially how the flashbacks to (re)introduce Missy betrayed the main story’s existence as a virtual reality simulation. It’s a fascinating setup that slowly unravels as plot points don’t quite line up. The whole “practice invasion” scenario is quite reminiscent of The Android Invasion.

The Pyramid at the End of the World starts with a decent mystery surrounding the titular pyramid, but the intrigue is drowned by the snail’s pace of the story. The cardinal sin behind this second part is boredom, broken in parts by gallows humor (as scientists with hangovers create a pathogen that can destroy the world) and the absurdity behind the apparent inability to check United States Army rank insignia when the internet literally sits at the world’s fingertips. The story also returns to the fictional Turmezistan, which I called out not that long ago for Orientalism.

In better news, the Doctor gets his eyesight back, but The Lie of the Land makes me wonder why it was even a plot point at all when he can regenerate at any time. All I can think is that it doesn’t count unless the Time Lord starts healing, like the Eleventh Doctor giving up a small bit of energy to River Song. This episode moves a little better than Pyramid, but it still takes forever to establish a brainwashed world that won’t be remembered. The final solution is touching, but the idea that the world chooses to forget the whole earth-shattering experience is a bit much to swallow. The entire world was under their control for months and people across the globe were subject to horrors during that time.

Of course, the sonic screwdriver was easily fixed before this whole trilogy started. That should have been a clue about consequences and how long they last.

Rating: 2/5 – “Mm? What’s that, my boy?”

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: Empress of Mars


The Timestamps Project is an adventure through the televised universe of Doctor Who, story by story, from the beginning of the franchise. For more reviews like this one, please visit the project’s page at Creative Criticality.

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