[A short warning: due to some real-life commitments, also known as finals, I had to put some more elaborate articles on hold – so instead you’re getting this slice of very nitpicky analysis. It’s a bit more low-hanging and cheap that what usually fills my side of the website, I’ll be the first to admit it. Don’t worry, though that’s not what the future of this column looks like, it’s more a little aside. That hopefully will prove enjoyable!]
“I had this insane conversation with [director Daniel Nettheim] where he was saying ‘This bit doesn’t work. What am I going to do? I’m shooting on Monday!’ ” – Steven Moffat
Tomorrow, “Extremis” is going to air – an episode written by Steven Moffat and directed by Daniel Nettheim. If you’re paying attention to the names of various Who directors, you’d have noticed Nettheim, who has worked a lot on British TV since the 1990s – doing some work on Glue, most recently – has previously helmed the series 9 two-parter, “The Zygon Invasion / The Zygon Inversion“.
I’m on record as being notoriously cold on that two-parter. It’s not awful by any means, but it’s inconsistent and riddled with weird quirks – an especially unfortunate state of affairs for an episode that tries to tackle extremly dark, difficult and contemporary subjects. But this is not about a complete analysis of that story (although I do have some folders full of notes about it and am intending to put those to good use) – let’s focus instead on one specific aspect.
But first, a proposition: the Moffat era is arguably the first time in Doctor Who’s history where visually-driven storytelling has been a consistent and important feature all throughout the series. Or, at the very least: a lot of Moffat’s talent rests on his ability to craft a cohesive nexus of meaning encompassing both the technical aspects of an episode and its script. The show looks good, very good these days, and has more than its share of absolutely stellar directors, from Rachel Talalay to Paul Whilmshurst.
Which makes it all the more obvious, of course, when someone is not exactly up to the task. If you assume as a starting point that the directing of an episode is a text that parallels and complements the actual script, with every shot and cut being a letter or a punctuation mark – then, well, if that text is not impeccably written, or if it contradicts the script in some key ways, well, we’ve got trouble, to quote Peter Capaldi back in his hotel manager days.
And, obviously, I think this episode has quite a lot of issues at the visual level. Let’s talk about those, shall we?