Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Review: Doctor Who 8.9: Flatline

Twelve obviously trying to imitate his predecessor
Tristan Farnon... From The BBC
Written 20/1/15.

The joy of hindsight. I had an inkling when I first saw Flatline that it was trying to be a little more complex than normal. That's a valiant ideal for the current state of the show, one which I'm always excited for whenever it appears. I'm not sure whether Flatline managed to carry it off entirely, and her background plot with Danny still makes no sense, but I think the fact that the episode took a theme and ran with it wholeheartedly is something that makes it stand out in these troubled times.
      The Doctor attempts to take Clara to London, but they land in Bristol instead, the TARDIS' external dimensions having somehow shrunk to half-size. While The Doctor sends Clara to investigate the surrounding estate, The Doctor stays inside. Clara discovers an estate where hordes of people are missing - and it's worse now, as The Doctor is trapped inside a TARDIS whose external dimensions resemble the toy version. Giving her the tools of his trade, The Doctor inadvertantly lets Clara become "The Doctor" as she investigates the disappearances, eventually discovering a race of two-dimensional monsters who kill people and dissect them by flattening them into two dimensions. Eventually they attempt to manifest into three dimensions, but Clara uses the beings' powers to resize The TARDIS and The Doctor banishes them to their own dimension.
     Okay, so the big main theme thing. The episode is structured in a similar way to a Doctor-lite, setting The Doctor aside and giving another character (in this case Clara) the chance to shine. While that label may not be fully accurate (Capaldi gets plenty of screentime and voiceovers, he just spends most of it in the TARDIS set), it does make the episode's theme possible - Clara attempting to act like The Doctor. What it means to be The Doctor has changed back and forth, especially with Moffat's series, but here the vision seems to be quite detailed, as Clara both mimics The Doctor's behaviour and is then coached by him on the hard decisions. It allowed Clara a bit more depth, giving a base to some of her few character traits and, for once, allowing her some moments both of strength and vulnerability that felt naturalistic as opposed to out of nowhere. It can be argued that The Doctor appearing at the end as a literal god-of-the-machine and saving the day diminished Clara's role somewhat, but it's the scene before that, where she stops her own companion Rigsy from throwing his life away, that this theme comes into full force, and that makes it worthwhile.
A Redshirt gets flattened.
From geekcrusade.
     It's always hard to know how much of the story of Moffat Who comes from each episode's writer, but I was pleasantly surprised when I discovered that this episode came from Jamie Matheson, the writer of some okayish episodes of Being Human. The ideas in those episodes were fairly uninspired, and by comparison Matheson's scripts for Mummy on the Orient Express and this episode is quite fantastic. While I think the idea could have been done with more tension than it was, the episode's effects managed to carry off the threat of a two-dimensional menace rather well. I liked how the episode took its time to deliberately state their maleficence and disprove any hope of a simple misunderstanding, but this led to them becoming... well, a little two-dimensional. They were a device more than a presence, and that made them less effective.
     I'm behind the curve a little, I'll grant you, and maybe viewing this episode in conjunction with the rest of the season gave me a different opinion on it. But for all my current apathy about this series of Doctor Who, Flatline manages to make me a little bit excited. It did something with its setup which actually came across well instead of being crippled by plotholes. I'm still not sure about Clara's development and whether this season managed to make her anything less than pointless, but if there's an episode that comes close to managing that, it's this one.


NEXT TIME: Trees, and the reason why you should never work with children or animals. We go for an adventure In The Forest Of The Night.

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