[Review] - Doctor Who, Series 8 Episode 9, "Flatline"

Courtesy of the BBC
First, a note to Steven Moffat: any time you want to let Jamie Mathieson write another episode of Doctor Who, you go right ahead. That's fine by us.

Mathieson, in his second (and consecutive) script, managed to do something entirely new, and almost unheard of in the 50 year history of the series: wrote an episode where the TARDIS herself was an integral element. And not just in the passive sort of way, like last years' Journey to the Inside of the TARDIS. It was as much a part of the proceedings as the sonic occasionally is. Like time travel itself, the TARDIS is usually just a plot device used to allow the show access to the myriad of genres and story potentials that has allowed it to survive this long. It is rare that the Big Blue Box features as an element itself. On top of that, Mathieson gave us a truly terrifying episode, and once again put Clara front and centre, and moved her closer to becoming more like the man she so recently abhorred.

Hit the jump for the review, which contains spoilers that don't think that statement's ever been truer.

The bread and butter, not only of this series, but of all science fiction, are so-called "forehead aliens." Humans in costume, be they as minimal as Star Trek's Bajorians (or as non-existant as the many human aliens in nearly every sci-fi franchise) or as elaborate as District 9's prawns. Some aliens are non-corporal (such as Stargate's Ori) or only tenuously psychical, like Sky-net. What they all share is that they are recognizable in some way. Not popular, but that they conform to a pre-established understanding of the universe. What science fiction rarely does, at least on screen (literature has a better track record of trying), is establish a truly alien threat. Something that is utterly inconceivable and unknowable.

A two dimensional threat is exactly that. It cannot be comprehended in any conventional way. The human mind experiences the universe as it is perceived, and it is extremely difficult to over come that. A two dimensional threat is literally beyond understanding. As the Doctor points out, every assumption a person would have about how such a being might live has to be thrown out. Communication, perception, even physics would be fundamentally different to a species that has no concept of depth. It would be conceivable that a two dimensional and three dimensional species could coexist with one another and never know the other is there. They would be fundamentally disregarded as life as we know it.

What this episode did was establish a two dimensional threat that was both effective and believable. And terrifying. That for the majority of the episode, Clara and her band of desperate survivors were incapable of doing anything other than run and hope they all didn't die, expressly because the enemy they faced was immune to even unconventional attack. Their weakness and defeat was only possible once they made the transition into a shared dimension. In that respect, the conclusion was disappointingly conventional, but it can't always be Christmas. The CG was top notch in constructing the the Boneless creatures, a combination of oil paints and digital corruption. The Boneless are therefore a faceless and inhuman monster, as the Doctor eventually recognizes them. So even when they burst into the world of 3D, they remain utterly alien.

Mathieson clearly has a strong handle on the Doctor/Clara relationship, and while last week he got to write a lot of quality material for his self described Doctor House, this week Clara got to take the lead, and assumed the mantle of the Doctor, protector of Earth. It's a role reversal that rarely happens, and in this instance it was used to show that Clara's anger some weeks ago over the Doctor's behaviour might have been because she was starting to recognize more of herself in his new incarnation. The Doctor lies, but he lies to give others hope where there is none, because hope is more helpful than dread. The Doctor lies with death, because one person's death might mean a dozen survive. The Doctor faces the monsters and wins because he acts monstrous himself. These are the issues Clara deemed unfair, and now that she's walked a mile in his sonic, sees the value in his actions, and that burns her. Goodness has nothing to do with doing good. With the Doctor, the man who saves is the one who can't stay for the party afterwards. He's not welcome.

The downside to the episode was paired with the up. After several weeks of strong supporting casts, this week's band of doomed was so ill defined and unlikable that it was hard to care about anyone surviving accept Clara (though, maybe that was part of the point of things: sometimes, people not worth saving are the ones you have to save). The CG might have rendered the unfamiliar and intentionally distorted Boneless well, but for the very real train, it was an obvious let down. It was a weaker episode in total than last week's, but this one had far deeper things to say about the Doctor and Clara as characters. So, it's a trade off. What pushes it over the top is the inclusion of the increasingly tinier TARDIS, which was both a hilarious and brilliant way to keep the Doctor in on the action, while keeping hi out of the action. That, and we were treated to the lengthy Capaldi spider-walking out of the Baby Blue Box, while Clara only barely ducked.
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About MR. Clark

Adopting the descriptor of "successfully unpublished author", MR. Clark began writing things on the internet in 2012, which he believed to be an entirely reputable and civilized place to find and deliver information. He regrets much.


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