On the D/L – Doctor Who
Season 8 Episode 9 – “Flatline”
Looks like Doctor Who has finally done it and decided to dispense with The Doctor and let Clara do pretty much all of the work when 2 Dimensional beings invade our reality and cause people to go missing as they pull them into the walls.
Writer Jamie Mathieson was responsible for Mummy on the Orient Express last week and managed to do a good job of penning an unsettlingly claustrophobic horror story so it’s good to see him writing another episode so soon. It seems that Mathieson’s wheelhouse is horror themed stories which works for me as he is pretty good at them.
This story was well paced with some creepy elements throughout but the episode plays like a mystery but the audience has been all but shown what the culprit is in the teaser. If the teaser clip hadn’t shown a man being pulled into the wall and we learn what’s going on as Clara and The Doctor do it would have been far more effective. I felt like I knew what was going on and was waiting impatiently for the characters to catch up.
Other than that the mystery elements were quite effective if a little typical for Doctor Who. Clara takes on The Doctor’s role throughout this episode which involves asking questions, taking charge of everyone, acting superior and even talking to herself -though in this case she’s talking to The Doctor- while she investigates the disappearances in the area.
I really have had enough of The Doctor taking a back seat to Clara in this season. In many ways this episode made fun of the fact that this has been happening all season but The Doctor didn’t really have anything profound to do here. Many of his scenes involve hanging around in the TARDIS control room yelling things at Clara who hears him through an earpiece as she waves the sonic screwdriver around. We don’t learn anything about The Doctor and his personality is more erratic than ever. It’s also annoying that the friction in their relationship seems all but forgotten as that had great potential for the characters to be at odds with each other for the rest of the season but instead the reset button has been pressed on that plot point and nothing seems to have come of it. It’s also notable that The Doctor isn’t treating Clara any differently despite the fact that she specifically stated that she was fed up of the way he was treating her. This series feels very old school in the sense that nothing has any consequences for anyone.
Clara wasn’t especially well used in this episode and was acting entirely out of character for me. She has always been assertive and compassionate which definitely comes across here but there’s something petty about the way she conducts herself in the investigation. She tries to emulate The Doctor by making fun of him but this doesn’t really work in the context of the story. She also seems to be taking things a bit too lightly in terms of the death toll and how dangerous the situation is.
There was some great imagery in the episode like the shrunken TARDIS being moved by The Doctor’s hand to escape an oncoming train. The TARDIS being very small was a gimmick that was pretty well used and managed to bring some genuine laughs to the story. When the 2D creatures crossed into the third dimension and shambled after Clara and the group they looked great and evoked a sense of inevitability in their pursuit. Jamie Mathieson’s monster idea worked really well and managed to be genuinely unsettling.
As with last week the resolution of the episode needed a lot of work and seemed a bit too simplistic given the gravity of the situation. Too many plots are being solved by the wave of the sonic screwdriver and it just really lifts the threat level out of everything. This formula of Clara doing most of the work with The Doctor coming in at the last minute to finish things off really isn’t working and has gotten very stale.
One moment of the episode struck me as interesting towards the end. After the problem had been dealt with Clara pointed out that the death toll was acceptable if you factor in the survival rate and generally seemed to be pretty detached from the fact that a number of people had died as a result of this attack. When she was looking for validation of how good a “Doctor” she made The Doctor told her that she was exceptional but she was not “good”. Attention has definitely been brought to the fact that she seems to have lost some of her sense of morality and that is something I find really interesting. I like the idea that Clara is becoming as detached as The Doctor and telling herself that the deaths are acceptable when everyone else is saved but my problem is that this hasn’t been seeded throughout the season so it just seems to come out of nowhere. I wonder if the writers that aren’t Steven Moffat are given an indication of where the characters should be by the point their episode appears so write it on that assumption which gives us the problem of no prior development of certain concepts.
A strong an unsettling story with an intriguing horror premise. The inherent problems that the show has still exist in their droves. Clara and The Doctor are all over the place in terms of characterisation and there is almost no point in The Doctor being present in these stories any more since Clara is doing most of the work. A shrunken TARDIS and creepy looking monsters really sell this episode visually but it’s brought down by a really simplistic and anticlimatic resolution with no real significance or weight to any of the events. Despite that it was a well paced episode that remained entertaining throughout. Jamie Mathieson will hopefully return as a writer in the next season.