I suspect many, myself included, went into Doctor Who’s latest episode expecting a similar tale to Tennant’s dire ‘Fear Her’. The only accelerate that story holds is its title for being the worst episode of new Doctor Who ever. Alas, a similar fate does not befall ‘Flatline’.
Brimming with stunning visuals, daring ideas, and stunning performances, ‘Flatline’ is a triumph of an episode. This is surprising, at least to me, considering this somewhat Doctor-lite episode doesn’t feature a strong supporting cast.
But the triumph of ‘Flatline’ is its threat, the monstrous, but aptly named, Boneless. It’s been a while since we’ve had an episode with a true threat realised superbly; perhaps not since ‘Into the Dalek’. The Boneless are chilling; their mode of slaughtering the police officer is realised on screen in the most stunning fashion, and their experimentation upon their victims is genuinely frightening. Bravo to writer Jamie Mathieson for creating such a memorable threat for his very first episode. The Boneless’ final, visceral 3-D image is striking, and one which will certainly be remembered. The flickering CGI looked entirely believable.
The supporting cast is where this episode fell, somewhat. It was only Jovian Wade’s Rigsy which shone, but even he began to grate somewhat come the middle of the episode. The rest were simply fodder, and the only question I had with regards to them was who would die next. Christopher Fairbank’s Fenton surely should have been killed; he had zero redeeming qualities, and was harshly brutal with regards to the killed community service team. None of these characters was fleshed out, so it made empathising with them impossible.
Aside from the flickering, stalking Boneless, the other memorable image from ‘Flatline’ came in the form of the TARDIS miniaturised. The glee on Jenna Coleman’s face was a delight. Quite how some of those shots of the Doctor’s looming face, or him passing Clara the psychic paper and sonic screwdriver were realised I do not know, but impressive they were.
It was evident ‘Flatline’ was done on a budget, but with such impressive imagery it doesn’t matter. Likewise, the Doctor manoeuvring the TARDIS out of harms way Thing-wise was laugh-out-loud hilarious, and a true standout of the episode. And whilst much of this episode was dedicated to an overlong chase, such scenes were needed.
Now many have argued that Doctor Who of late has become Clara Who, and this is never realised more than in ‘Flatline’. It is almost as though Steven Moffat anticipated such qualms, and commissioned this episode as a big middle-finger to those naysayers. As a Clara fan, I have to admit I had no problems at all with her larger role this episode, or indeed this series as a whole. In ‘Flatline’, Clara does become Doctor Clara Oswald, and Jenna plays this new form with relish.
Clara is clearly enjoying being the Doctor until the gravitas of his role falls upon her. She needs to protect this group of people, so she needs to step up. And step up she does. But it is such a brilliant notion that when she begs the Doctor to tell her she did good towards the close of the episode; he simply replies deadpan: “goodness had nothing to do with it”. The Doctor has perfectly summed up himself.
Because Capaldi’s Doctor still cannot be deemed good; he is entirely without compromise as he banishes the Boneless back to their dimension, and he doesn’t lament the human losses. His most brutal not-good way comes when he deems the Boneless monsters. I can’t remember there ever being a time the Doctor called a species’ monsters, with the exception of the Daleks or the Cybermen. Usually, he is desperate to help. He is still entirely shady and still entirely captivating with it. I’m enjoying not knowing whether this Doctor is good or not, I just hope that ultimately the finale shows the Doctor must do something chillingly bad before he can finally be deemed good. And as I proposed last week, I still think that action will be banishing Clara from the TARDIS for good.
But alas, back to this week. The final confrontation with the Boneless greeted up to another stunning speech from Capaldi, who claims he is “the man who stops the monsters.” He isn’t even bothered whether or not they survive their trip back to their dimension, which shows how callous this Doctor is. Even when it comes to the Daleks, the Doctor would rather they survived than died, but now he doesn’t care a damn. “I am the Doctor,” Capaldi snarls. Yes, he is. Matt Smith. Matt Smith who?
I will always love Smiths buoyant Eleventh Doctor, but I equally love Capaldi’s Twelfth.
The final moments tease the Nethersphere arc once more, throwing up the possibility that Clara has been planted in the Doctor’s life much like Madame Ovarian planted River. Missy laments “Clara, my Clara. I have chosen well.” But surely that cannot be the case; the Doctor sought her out in 2013’s ‘The Bells of Saint John’. Whatever the case, my interest in the Missy arc has never been stronger. Roll on the finale.
As a final note, next weeks ‘In The Forest of the Night’ should, fingers-crossed, be a beautiful fairytale of a story. It’s been touted as such. I just hope shitty child actors don’t ruin it, but I shan’t hold my breath…