Monday, October 20, 2014

Doctor Who Season 8, Episode 9: Flatline

I honestly didn't have much hope for this episode when I saw the preview, as it looked like nothing more than a retread of Fear Her, largely regarded as one of the low points of the revived series. So I was pleasantly surprised when it turned out to be a fun little romp with a legitimately scary foe and some of the weirdest scenes in the show's fifty-plus year history.


The Plot:
The Doctor takes Clara home to London but they wind up in Bristol instead, because his ability to control the TARDIS varies based on the script requirements. As soon as they land they discover that aliens are leaching energy from the TARDIS, causing the outer shell to shrink to 1/3 its normal size. 

Clara takes a look around Bristol and when she returns, she finds that the TARDIS has now shrunk to action figure size, trapping the Doctor inside. Note that the Doctor and the TARDIS interior aren't shrinking, just the exterior. He gives her his sonic and tells her to investigate the energy drain before the TARDIS shrinks even further.

Clara and a local vandal, er, I mean graffiti "artist" named Rigsy discover that two dimensional creatures are causing the disappearances of local residents. The Doctor, through Clara, tries to communicate and reason with the creatures (dubbed "The Boneless") but is unsuccessful. Clara, Rigsy and several other characters whose names you needn't bother learning are chased by the Boneless into a nearby subway.

Inside the subway the 2D Boneless figure out a way to pop out of the walls and become 3D, shambling toward Clara and the others. Meanwhile, the TARDIS has gone into Siege Mode, sealing the Doctor off from our universe. Clara must then think like the Doctor in order to recharge the TARDIS, release the Doctor and defeat the Boneless.

She's eventually successful and the Doctor tells the Boneless to scram, much the way you'd shoo a dog out of your yard. Clara's experience helps her understand why the Doctor is so often such a prick, and discovers that lying to her boyfriend Danny Pink is as easy as breathing. And Missy, who we haven't seen for quite a while, was apparently watching the same episode we were on her iPad, and says she "chose Clara well," whatever the hell that means.

• I thought this episode's cold open was very well done. After the victim is killed by the Boneless, we see a strange decorative stripe on the wall behind him. As the camera moves toward the wall, the parallax shift reveals the stripe to be the flattened victim's screaming, elongated face. Creepy!

• In Deep Breath, the first episode of the season, the Doctor asked Clara if he was a good man. She replied that she didn't know. A few weeks later in Kill The Moon, Clara finally had an answer for the Doctor. She was so fed up with his constant lying and manipulation— even though it was for humanity's own good— that she told him to shove off for good.

Then in Mummy On The Orient Express, the Doctor demonstrated to Clara that lying and manipulation was sometimes necessary. Now this week Clara was forced to become the Doctor and found herself lying in order to save the people she was trying to protect.

Putting Clara into a position where she basically IS the Doctor is an interesting way for her, as well as the audience, to examine his motivations and see what makes him tick. Whether the Doctor's did this intentionally or not, it's helped her understand why he does the things he does.

• Last week I accused this season of recycling plot lines and elements of previous episodes. This week's story is no exception. The idea of two dimensional artwork attacking the Doctor was used a few seasons back in the aforementioned Fear Her. When the Doctor tells the 2D aliens to shove off because Earth is under his protection, his speech is virtually identical to the one he gave to the Atraxi in The Eleventh Hour. Even the ending, in which the Doctor seems displeased that the detestable Fenton has survived, recalls his similar reaction when the greedy Rickston Slade was one of the few survivors of the Starship Titanic in Voyage Of The Damned.

This isn't even the first time the TARDIS has shrunk. It and its inhabitants were reduced in size way back in 1964's Planet Of Giants. The TARDIS also shrank in 1974's Logopolis.

Despite these recycled elements, screenwriter Jamie Mathieson (who wrote the previous episode Mummy On The Orient Express) weaves them into something wholly original and best of all, bizarre. This is my favorite episode of the season so far.

• Just about every episode this season has focused on Clara, while the Doctor is elbowed into the background. Nowhere is that more evident than this week, in which Clara pretty much IS the Doctor.

There's a very vocal group of fans out there who desperately want to see the Doctor regenerate into a woman. I wonder... is it possible this whole "Doctor Clara" thing is a sneaky attempt to pave the way for such an occurrence? You've got to admit, it's a great way to gauge audience reaction. If fans react negatively to these Clara-centric episodes, then the BBC will know that the time's not yet right for a Doctor with two X chromosomes.

• This is some hard core nitpicking, but I thought it was worth a mention: when the TARDIS first shrinks, the front door is about half its normal size but is still lined up with the bottom of the wall.

Later on when it shrinks again, the now even tinier door is in the middle of the wall. So why the change? Shouldn't the little door still be down on the bottom of the wall, like a cartoon mouse hole?

• When the Doctor and Clara first squeeze out of the tiny TARDIS, he thinks for a moment that it's normal sized and they've gotten bigger. HAW!

• I'm sure it's just a coincidence that Rigsy's name sounds an awful lot like Banksy, the world's most famous graffiti "artist." And yes, as you may have deduced, I have a low opinion at best of taggers.

• Despite the fact that Steven Moffat didn't write this episode, creatures that exist only in two dimensions seems right up his alley. I'd be very surprised to find out he didn't have at least a small part in their creation.

The Boneless, as they're called in the episode, made for an extremely creepy foe, especially once they made the jump to 3D. Something's got to be done about their name though...

• Hey, we've gone two episodes in a row now without the Doctor making a disparaging remark about Clara's appearance. Progress!

• After the TARDIS has shrunk to toy size, the Doctor tells Clara to pick it up.

The Doctor: Clara, I need you to pick up the TARDIS. Carefully! It should be possible. I've adjusted the relative gravity.

Clara: You mean you've made it lighter.

The Doctor: Clara, it's always lighter. If the TARDIS were to land with its true weight, it would fracture the surface of the Earth.

That's something I never thought of before, but it makes perfect sense! The TADRIS is infinitely large inside— infinite weight / mass plus the Earth would indeed spell disaster.

• I wonder if the fun-size TARDIS was an off-the-shelf toy from Character Options? I've got a few in my collection that are close to that size.

• Favorite line of the episode:

Banksy, er, I mean Rigsy: It's bigger on the inside!

The Doctor: You know, I don't think that statement's every been truer.

• My favorite part of the episode was the mind-bending scene in which the Doctor uses his hand to right the tiny TARDIS and then move it off the subway tracks. 

I wonder though— he sticks his hand out the door and then turns his wrist to move the TARDIS upright. Could he then have simply raised his hand to lift it up into the air? As if the TARDIS was like a watch or a bracelet looped around his wrist? Would that have worked?

• After the Doctor moves the TARDIS off the tracks, it accidentally tips back over. To prevent it from being struck by the approaching train, the Doctor activates the TARDIS' Siege Mode, which essentially locks it off from the entire universe.

I believe this is the first ever use and mention of Siege Mode.

I wonder if it's just a coincidence that the Siege Mode TARDIS looks a lot like the Pandorica from The Pandorica Opens? Expect a toy version any minute now.

• The Boneless have a great way of preventing their victims from escaping— they turn the door knobs (and the doors as well?) from 3D into 2D!

• With the Doctor incapacitated, Clara comes up with a dangerous idea to save everyone. She has Banksy, er, I mean Rigsy use his amazing tagger skills to paint a fake door on the back of a large poster. They then hang the painting in the subway tunnel, hoping the Boneless will aim their energy rays at it as they try to turn this fake 2D door into 3D, which will hopefully recharge the TARDIS that's hidden behind the poster. 

The risky plan works, until about 2/3 of the way through when the top of the poster comes unstuck and droops down. Fortunately the Boneless don't seem to notice this discrepancy and continue blasting away at the fake door. I guess they hadn't yet adapted to living in 3D to notice?

• I kind of like the notion that the Boneless aren't poor misunderstood aliens, but just plain evil. 

There's way too much of this "sympathetic villain" crap going on in fiction right now. I don't want to see Sleeping Beauty told from Maleficent's point of view. Why can't a villain just be a colossal asshole once in a while?

• Once the TARDIS has been recharged, it reverts back to normal size. The Doctor emerges, takes his sonic from Clara, gives a short speech to the Boneless, and then either kills them or banishes them back to their own dimension— it's not quite clear which.

Did I miss something? Clara had the Doctor's sonic all through the episode. Couldn't she have just used it to kill the Boneless? Or did the sonic need a power boost from the TARDIS? Or maybe killing 2D aliens with a sonic requires a special flick of the wrist that only Time Lords can perform.

• At the end of the episode the Doctor uses the TARDIS to transport everyone from the subway tunnels back to the surface (as opposed to having them, you know, just walk). So once again he seriously disrupts the lives of several ordinary humans by exposing them to undeniable existence of alien technology. 

Granted the others had already seen the Boneless and were forced to accept the fact that extraterrestrials are real, but... did he have to show them the mind-melting interior of the TARDIS as well?

OK, so he's not Batman and doesn't have a secret identity, but he's being pretty casual about revealing his alien nature lately.

• I have absolutely no clue what's going on with Missy and her monitoring of Clara, so I'm not even going to speculate.


  1. Another great review, did you miss the door mistake? When the group were trapped by the door with the flat handle/wheel they used the Doctors gizmo for the second time and it worked. They then completely ignored the now 3D wheel and just grabbed the side of the door to open it.

  2. Thanks! I must have missed the door mistake. I'll need to check out the episode again.


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