TV REVIEW: Doctor Who, S8, E9: Flatline

Writer Jamie Mathieson (Being Human, Mummy on the Orient Express) returns to Bristol this week for the Doctor and Clara’s latest adventure. It’s an interesting idea and one that I’m genuinely surprised hasn’t been attempted before on televised Doctor Who. Creatures from another dimension … that’s missing a dimension. Does the concept (and this take on it) work? Here are my thoughts.

 

 

Separated from the Doctor, Clara discovers a new menace from another dimension. But how do you hide when even the walls are no protection? With people to save and the Doctor trapped, Clara goes against an enemy that exists beyond human perception.

I just want to prefix this with a disclaimer. I quite enjoyed the episode as a whole and most of the negative vibe that comes through are due to the annoyances reducing this to a mid-level story. It’s good but not great, similar to Mathieson’s previous Doctor Who episode which was broadcast just seven days prior to this one.

As with Mummy on the Orient Express, the episode has a fantastic concept at its core and for the most part delivers a coherent story which deals with a credible threat to our heroes and those people caught up in the events. I love the idea of the Doctor being stranded in the TARDIS and Clara being positioned into his usual role. This plot point is designed to give Clara a bit more empathy with how the Doctor has to think and as such, is intended (I think) to help any members of the audience come to terms with this new, sometimes brutal incarnation of the Time Lord. A laudable aim, if this was indeed the intent. I can’t really gauge the success of that intent, since I have always been a fan of this Capaldi incarnation anyway.

The threat level in the story was maintained at a consistent level, with the constant fear of the trans-dimensional enemy being able to pop up at any moment. The visual effects and direction of Douglas Mackinnon added to this and the flow of the story meant that the holes in the story only really became apparent after the episode finished and I began to think back on it for this review. For example: If the entities are indeed two dimensional, why do they need to open and use doors?

The plot included some suitably silly elements. The situation our Time Lord finds himself in, separated from Clara for the most part, allows for some amusing (if seemingly a little forced) scenes in the episode. Of particular note is what can only be described as television’s oddest Train-track escape scene. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to shake the image of that particular scene, whether I want to or not!

It struck me that considering the TARDIS crew are meant to have been separated, there is actually very little of the episode that has Clara making decisions and taking action on her own. Admittedly, it is her who comes up with the ultimate solution to the Doctor’s plight and (although a tad silly) her idea is sound and shows her once again to be inventive and intelligent. My main issue is that immediately following this show of companion fortitude, the situation is just handed to the Doctor to resolve. Indeed, the Doctor’s claim in Time Heist that he thinks his look may have come off “a bit too magician” has never been truer than in his time of victory this episode. The whole scene seemed off-kilter to me. Showy and with the Doctor spouting a speech for no real reason other than to say “hey look everybody, I am the hero here really!” This combined with the speed of the actual victory irritated me more than anything this week.

Another flaw this week – and it’s down to writing rather than the actor or Director was the inclusion of what can only be described as a pantomime villain character. In the episode, Clara teams up (and has to look after) a team of ne-er do wells on community service. The “gentleman” overseeing this group is perhaps more two dimensional than the creatures threatening our heroes. Every word from his mouth is a put-down, sneer or negative comment. There is nothing to redeem this mini-tyrant and even at the end of the episode, once the crisis is resolved he remains a caricature villain.

As I mentioned at the top of the review, I did enjoy this episode. Despite the criticisms mentioned above, I thought the adventure progressed at a great pace and had a fantastic premise. It’s always the case with a Doctor Who story that there will be some plot-hole or other strand that can be picked at to unravel the episode and that’s really what I was doing above. Yes there are a few such strands, but if watched to enjoy rather than analyse, Flatlines holds up well enough. As with the previous episode, it’s no classic but it is certainly in the “happily watch again” category of Doctor Who episodes.

Rating: 3.5/5
Reviewer: WedgeDoc

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