TARDIS. The Doctor’s mode of conveyance, Time And Relative Dimension In Space. We often see time and space explored in Doctor Who but what about “dimensions”? Flatline takes a look at this aspect, quite literally. Bringing Clara home from a recent adventure, the TARDIS is pulled off course and materializes in Bristol instead of London. Whatever caused that, has also started to cause the exterior of the TARDIS to shrink. Clara is sent to investigate while the Doctor tries to fix his craft but he is soon trapped inside, unable to escape with the ancient time machine being carried around in Clara’s purse. Together they determine an alien race from a Two-Dimensional Universe is coming into ours, their attacks leeching energy from the TARDIS and also dragging unsuspecting members of the public into walls and floors, explaining a recent spate of graffiti. Clara recruits her own companion, a local artist, and the two setup to try and prevent the invasions success and find a way to restore their time machine before it’s too late.
Jamie Mathieson, fresh from writing last week’s Mummy on the Orient Express returns with an incredibly clever and entertaining episode. The idea of a two-dimensional enemy attacking (analyzing?) by removing one of our own dimensions is a novel one and paired with some outstanding special effects work is inventive and pretty terrifying. After a run of some more alien and fantastical episodes, Flatline is a refreshingly stripped down and gritty outing, another reminder of how even with 50+ years under its belt Doctor Who is a superb showcase for clever sci-fi. The artist slant to the episode does allow for some great visuals, some surreal, some disturbing. People absorbed into floors or the partially reanimated bodies clawing their way from 2D into 3D as their abilities progress show Doctor Who fulfilling one of its main intents, to drive kids behind the sofa.
Often the show has a “Doctor-lite” episode in a season, a reduction in the time given to the titular character to showcase a plot, progress an assistance character or due to simple production necessity. Past efforts range from the sublime (Blink), to the fairly interesting (Turn Left), to the fucking terrible (Love and Monsters). Thankfully Flatline falls towards the sublime. Here the Doctor is put into the backseat in a very innovative way. A clever twist meaning the “bigger on the inside” TARDIS is now small enough to fit in a purse but still capable of handing out useful items to aid Clara, the visual gags alone make this episode a must see, from a sledgehammer being drawn out or a later moment where the Doctor goes “Addams Family” to drag his time machine out of the path of an oncoming train. With the Doctor being relegated, it is Clara who steps up, anointing herself as “Doctor Oswald” early on in a jibe at the real Doctor but it actually rings true throughout the episode. Her apprenticeship seems to have come to an end as she performs with distinction, WWTDD (What Would The Doctor Do) being foremost in Clara’s thoughts.
Jenna Coleman continues her fantastic work and it is gratifying to see Clara take charge so well. It is as if this whole season has been a training exercise to prepare her for this day to go it alone and make some tough choices. By the end of the episode she perhaps has a greater appreciation for the choices the Doctor himself has made in past episodes that she has been overly critical of. Notably, the use of lies to protect and serve the survival of people. It is an harsh lesson at the end, that the right people don’t always survive, she seems to be understanding some of the traits that she has abhored only recently. It is an interesting angle show as the lies to save lives can be explained but the lies she seems to be telling her boyfriend undermine her moral standpoint far more. In keeping with our Time Lord, she even takes a companion of her own. Local Bristol (not an accidental location) graffiti artist Rigsy (see what they did there?) is a capable sidekick, a boy from a more impoverished setting, largely misunderstood and played well by Joivan Wade, reminiscent of Boyega’s performance in Attack the Block.
The mysterious Missy reemerges after several weeks away and seems as impressed with Clara’s actions as I am. Her line “Clara. My Clara. I have chosen well” is effectively chilling. Could this mysterious woman be behind the phone call that set the Doctor and Clara on their path together back in Bells of Saint John after all? Only a few more episodes until we find out her plan.
Flatline will go down in the show’s catalog as a perfect standalone episode that takes a relatively simple, clever concept and delivers outstanding, spooky entertainment. Incredibly inventive and well crafted, this is not just good Doctor Who, this is great science fiction and storytelling. One of the highlights of an already impressive season.
Next Time — In the Forest of the Night: One morning, in every city and town in the world, the human race wakes up to face the most surprising invasion yet. Everywhere, all over the world, a forest has grown overnight and taken back the Earth. It doesn’t take the Doctor long to discover that the final days of humanity have arrived…