Writer Jamie Mathieson (“Being Human,” “Dirk Gently,” and Frequently Asked Questions About Time Travel) takes his second shot at “Doctor Who” after last week’s episode “Mummy on the Orient Express.” Rather than time or space, Jamie takes aim at dimension here in this week’s episode, for what may be one of the better stories of the season so far. Meet me after the jump for my thoughts on “Flatline.”
State of The Doctor
We’re nine episodes into Peter Capaldi’s Doctor, and a few things stand out, and not all of them are complimentary. He’s mean, he’s forgetful, he frequently puts his companions and humans in general in danger often. He is decisively unlikable and often almost as monstrous as his opponents. It is truly no wonder that people are not taking to him as quickly as they have previous regenerations.
At 2000 years old, I have to wonder if The Doctor has begun to go senile? He can remember the past vividly. Witness his “Are you my mummy?” line last week along with his subtle use of Jelly Babies, but then again he forgets things that just happened, and sometimes seems oblivious to the perfectly obvious. He really doesn’t seem to very good at this hero stuff, now does he? Thankfully in this episode, he finally steps up, but we’ll get to that later.
We open on a man on his phone calling for help. He can’t speak up, ‘they’ might be listening. It’s some kind of conspiracy and he’s found out too much. He says the word ‘listen’ and our ears perk up. We “Doctor Who” fans have been trained to be on the lookout for certain watchwords since way back in the days of ‘bad wolf’ and we know that “Listen” was the name of this season’s fourth episode.
When it’s too late, the man seems to have disappeared with the phone still hanging from the wall. A closer look reveals that he has actually become part of the wall – flat and two-dimensional as if a long stretchy photo on the wall, but he’s still breathing. When taking the title of the episode into account, “Flatline,” this becomes more or less a horrific pun.
Smaller on the Outside
One oft-repeated jokes and/or lines of “Doctor Who” since the very beginning has been about the TARDIS. Its construction is a paradox. From the outside it appears to be an old fashioned British police call box, but it is much ‘bigger on the inside.’ Much much bigger. In this very episode The Doctor mentions there are acres inside, and then there is that legend of the huge indoor swimming pool.
Imagine The Doctor’s surprise when he goes to drop Clara off from an adventure (as sneakily as possible because she doesn’t want Danny to know she’s still hanging with The Doctor), and he discovers the TARDIS has become smaller on the outside, physically smaller. It’s a little five foot tall TARDIS. Like one of those cabinets you can buy or build online.
Clara takes a look around and discovers people have been disappearing. When she returns to the TARDIS it is toy-sized (kinda like one of these bad boys, only without the lampshade), and continuing to shrink. The Doctor has determined that something is leeching dimensional energy nearby, and causing the TARDIS to shrink.
While he stays in the TARDIS that Clara neatly stashed in her purse, and hands out his psychic paper and sonic screwdriver to her since he won’t be able to get out of there any time soon. She immediately starts to investigate, happily calling herself The Doctor. A local graffiti artist named Rigsy doing community service lends her a hand. He’s not as cool as Perkins last episode but he’ll do in a pinch.
In the new series, other than that other universe where Rose Tyler is the Defender of the Earth, the TARDIS hasn’t dealt much with dimension, and it really should. Dimension is after all what the D in TARDIS stands for. It’s not just the victims that are becoming two-dimensional, it’s the monsters themselves that are two-dimensional. With the flair of a Steven Moffat monster they move along flat surfaces at will, very scary.
When they attack, Clara must help and lead Rigsy and his group of graffiti painter-over-ers (soooo close to a “Misfits” crossover and yet so far…). It’s almost as much fun watching Clara pretend to be The Doctor as it is to watch The Doctor actually deconstruct his routine and show her how to be him in such a situation. It’s very eerily like an instruction manual on how to write a “Doctor Who” episode.
Dimensions and Things
The Boneless, as The Doctor names them later, aren’t just taking human victims but they are also taking on their forms in two-dimensions, and eventually they evolve into three. We’ve seen a couple “Doctor Who” episodes in theaters over here in the States, and at least one in 3D. Well, this one with The Boneless moving into our dimension would’ve been awesome in 3D. Nice, if brief, special effects.
In the meantime the mini-TARDIS has been lost and dropped into subway tracks. You guessed it’s going to be hit by a train. Sticking his hand out of the TARDIS a la Thing from “The Addams Family,” The Doctor saves himself and his box from destruction. I just wanna know – how long before the BBC has that toy in the market?
As the TARDIS Turns
Startlingly, The Doctor has once again left Clara alone to make huge life-altering decisions, yet this time, unlike “Kill the Moon,” where it caused their relationship to fall apart… Clara doesn’t blink an eye. Does she love The Doctor so much that she can overlook his flaws? He is even meaner to her now, handing out left-handed compliments about her performance as fill-in Doctor (“You were an exceptional Doctor, Clara. Goodness has nothing to do with it.”), and she does nothing.
The cat is out of the bag as far as Clara still adventuring with The Doctor behind Danny’s back, and The Doctor acts as if he had known all along anyway. Mean mean mean. Danny probably also knows too, thought it’s unverified. We do see him with the TARDIS in the scenes from next episode. How will he react to Clara’s lies? And then… we get to see Missy again, watching Clara on a tablet, and suggesting that The Doctor ‘s companion is her tool… I wonder what is the real bigger threat?
In nine episodes, Peter Capaldi has yet to have an event, an encounter, a conflict, where he has risen up against a threat and declared himself. “I am The Doctor!” “This world is defended!” That sort of thing. Finally at the end of “Flatline,” he gets it. This type of scene, like with David Tennant with the Sycorax in “The Christmas Invasion,” or Matt Smith with the Atraxi in “The Eleventh Hour,” cemented both men in the role. Even Christopher Eccleston, who most already considered The Doctor, had a similar moment when called himself ‘the oncoming storm’ with the Daleks.
Here, when confronting and naming The Boneless, Peter Capaldi finally gets his event, his “I am The Doctor!” moment, although “This plane is protected!” doesn’t quite have the shine of “This world is defended!” But the other naming, “the man that stops monsters,” that is one to conjure with. Despite his going back to standard operating procedure afterward, for just a few minutes, I could see very clearly that Peter Capaldi is The Doctor.
Next: In the Forest of the Night!