TV Review // Doctor Who, Series 8, Episode 9: 'Flatline'
Warning: contains spoilers!
Cast: Peter Capaldi, Jenna Coleman, Samuel Anderson, Jovian Wade, Christopher Fairbank
Written by: Jamie Mathieson
Directed by: Douglas Mackinnon
The Story: With the Doctor (Peter Capaldi) trapped in a miniaturised TARDIS, Clara (Jenna Coleman) must save mankind from a two-dimensional menace from, erm, another dimension.
The standard of writing and direction in Peter Capaldi’s first series playing Doctor Who have been uniformly high, but even so, we’ve been waiting for that one episode that elevates it to a new level. And Flatline is that episode.
Sold by the BBC as a Doctor-lite episode, Flatline is no such thing, really, however it does put Clara firmly in the Doctor role, which completes the arc her character has been on throughout the series. And fantastic stuff it is, too.
Returning writer, Jamie Mathieson (Mummy On The Orient Express) proves himself to be a brilliant addition to the Doctor Who team with a script that is inventive and scary and has some of the best visual gags we’ve seen in Doctor Who. And Listen and Time Heist director Douglas Mackinnon brings Mathieson’s script to magnificent life with some of the best CGI the programme has seen.
Let’s start off with some story, then. In a pretty nifty pre-credits sequence, we see a terrified beardy bloke on the phone to the police vanish into thin air only for his face to appear along his own picture rail. This sets the scene very nicely for a two-dimensional monster with the ability to suck the 3D from humans.
The Doctor and Clara land in Bristol only for the 2D creatures’ work to cause the TARDIS to shrink to handbag size with the Doctor trapped inside. Which leaves Clara to become the Doctor and solve the riddle of what is causing people to disappear. With Clara in Doctor-mode, Jovian Wade as grafitti artist Gigsy - here on a Community Payback duty straight out of Misfits - takes on the more traditional companion role, bringing cleverness and a very human touch.
As Clara and Gigsy investigate, we see just how people are taken by the 2D monsters. In one particularly impressive scene a police officer is sucked into the carpet in a fabulously 1970s flat only for her nervous system to appear as a mural on the wall. It seems that the 2D creatures are studying humans and soon they take on the third dimension of their victims and the murals of the missing come to shambling, horrifying life as the Doctor darkly intones, “They’re wearing the dead like camouflage.”
As the action moves to a tunnel, the story, the effects and indeed the humour ramp up a gear. WIth the TARDIS stuck on a railway line and a train fast approaching, the Doctor is forced to do a Thing from the Addams Family and walk the TARDIS off the track with his hand jutting from the door. His little dance as the cloister bell (the TARDIS’s warning alarm) goes off is one to make you stand up and give a little round of applause.
Clara, in a very Doctor-y way, manoeuvres the 2D creatures into re-charging the TARDIS in time for the Doctor to come out in full-on fury mode and banish them to their own dimension.
The transformation of Clara over this series has been magnificently handled and her taking on the role of the Doctor is complete here as she wilfully deceives the people around her in order to save the world. What this has also achieved is the space for Capaldi to inhabit the role of the Doctor incredibly well and his ambiguous nature comes full circle in Flatline as he goes from trying to understand the 2D creatures to angrily dispatching them. Flatline also gives Capaldi room to show off his brilliant comedic acting as his giant face appears in the TARDIS doorway and again as he hands Clara a giant mallet through her handbag.
As Clara transforms into the Doctor, the lies around her mount up. Her living a double life - the one on Earth with boyfriend Danny and her travels with the Doctor - must catch up with her soon. In this episode, the Doctor calls her out for the lies she is telling Danny in order to continue with their adventures in the TARDIS. This is a very different girl from the one who stormed off in a rage a mere two episodes ago. Whatever happens next, she must surely have to explain her actions to Danny.
There are plenty of guest actors in Flatline, many of whom who are rather swiftly divested of their 3D selves, but a couple deserve a special mention. Christopher Fairbank plays Fenton, the misanthropic leader of the Community Payback scheme (and ironically, the most two-dimensional character of them all) who demonstrates by his miserable actions that sometimes saving the world involves saving some seriously unpleasant types while the good ones die. Jovian Wade as graffiti artist Gigsy, on the other hand, brings a lot of heart and bravery as he helps Clara and the Doctor to fight off and defeat the 2D monsters.
Flatline ends with the mysterious Missy (Michelle Gomez) saying “Clara, my Clara. I have chosen well” before laughing in a most unpleasant manner. What can this mean as we continue into the second half of this series? Well, you know us, we don’t like speculation. Or spoilers. We shall have to wait and see how this unfolds.
Did you know? #1: This is not the first time the TARDIS has appeared smaller on the outside. 1964 episode Planet of the Giants had it shrink to less than an inch and in Tom Baker’s final episode Logopolis, the Master caused the TARDIS to shrink.
Did you know? #2: This is not the first time that art has come to life in Doctor Who. In widely-panned David Tennant episode Fear Her, young Chloe Webber’s drawings are brought to life by an Isolus and in the more widely-loved Vincent and the Doctor, Van Gough’s painting The Church at Auvers contains an image of a Krafayis.
Did you know? #3: The scenes in Bristol were actually shot on Barry Island, which is coincidentally, the setting for the later series of Being Human, a number of episodes of which were penned by Flatline writer Jamie Mathieson.
Did you notice?: When the TARDIS goes into siege mode, it resembles the Pandorica from the Matt Smith era.
Clara “Admit I did good.”
Doctor “You were an exceptional Doctor, Clara…..goodness had nothing to do with it.”