THE WHO REVIEW: “Flatline”

It’s scary Banksy this week as graffiti literally comes to life. Can Clara become a Doctor to stop it? 

With a premise that could have easily fallen flat, Jamie Mathieson is back to pen another blinder of an episode. Billed as the traditional “Doctor-lite” instalment of series 8, “Flatline” breaks the tradition somewhat with an episode that still had plenty of The Doc involved. Once again, it was Clara who took centre stage, but not all is right with this reversal of roles.

The main themes of the series ran throughout, with even life being used in death, as The Boneless, two-dimensional creatures who are looking to get into the third dimension, are taking those from the 3D world and replicating them. It is quite a sinister plan indeed, as those killed are put into paintings or even murals of their nervous system. Mathieson’s Mummy last week had a creepy skill and he pretty much tops it with The Boneless. The sense of fear is easily generated when even walls are not enough to save you from the monsters.

This is even the case for The Doctor as the TARDIS exterior begins to shrink, harking back to 1981’s “Logopolis” when The Master played around with the Chameleon Circuit equations. Our Time Lord is not safe in his box, so it is up to Clara and her new gang of Community Service misfits to save the day. Rigsy (Jovian Wade) gets the largest focus, a graffiti artist whose talent is punished by the system but ends up saving the world. Naturally.

Doctor Who has always been great in showing the best in humanity, no matter a character’s talents, but there are always those who are not so nice. This role is given to Fenton (Christopher Fairbank), a jobsworth watcher of the gang with forthright views on the “community scumbags” he looks after. It was nice to see the character ridiculed for his lack of imagination in seeing what was on psychic paper. The mirroring of 2007’s “Voyage of the Damned” was a nicely cruel touch as, in both stories, sometimes the wrong people survive. This is also the case for Matt Bardock’s character Al which, oddly, is the second Saturday this month he has died on screen – his character in Casualty, Jeff, was killed off too. Scheduling can be a funny thing.

The fleshing out of supporting players is what has been missing in a number of episodes this series. With The Doctor stuck in the TARDIS, this did allow others to get more screen time. Although, like any episodic fantasy/sci-fi show, you need your fodder for the monsters and there were enough for The Boneless to feed on. Those actors were then captured in 3D to create the sinister models that would chase Clara and her remaining gang in the terrific tunnel scenes. It felt a lot like the Metro series for all the right reasons.

The main theme for the episode was Clara assuming the role of The Doctor. Those clamouring for a female Doc got to see how that would work whilst those wanting Clara to have the typical companion role will be mumbling again. I, for one, am happy to see her in this capacity. The material Jenna Coleman has had this series far outweighs the quality of the last. Any character that grows in an effective story arc is welcomed. We know so much about Miss Oswald now as her character has the feeling of becoming fully-evolved. She’s gone from “The Impossible Girl” to The Doctor’s equal, to the displeasure of our Time Lord. “Flatline” was like a documentary for him as he watched a person in his own image lying to encourage those who are scared. She got the job done but without any goodness, and only with his bad habits. The “Am I a good man?” question of the series is back and it is here to stay till the finale.

It is then that we see Missy watching on what is clearly an iPad (you can do better, design team!). Do not let that little niggle refrain you from asking questions. So Missy has chosen Clara but for what? She also refers to her as “My Clara,” something we have only heard The Doctor refer to her as. The subtle arc of Missy has been effective because, with such little information, we as an audience have more questions to entice us. Promotional material for the two-part finale has her representing a company known as “The 3W.” Until “Deep Water,” we will know nothing more.

The focus on Clara doesn’t mean The Doctor didn’t assume his role of Earthly protector, sonicing The Boneless away with that epic “I am The Doctor” speech all of the Time Lords get in their lifespan. The finishing of the antagonists was a bit simplistic despite their threat, but this was Peter Capaldi’s moment to really feel like The Doctor. Last week it was more subtle, but this time it was the big performance.

Despite a rushed finish and a few lapses in special effects and design, “Flatline” was a another great episode that keeps up the arguable consistency that has been series 8. It all came down to another excellent Mathieson script. To paraphrase the words of Missy: Moffat, you have chosen well. I hope we see him back to write again for Doctor Who.

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