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Doctor Who: “Flatline”

I’m not going to lie to you. When I first saw the pre-publicity photos of the shrunken-down TARDIS with the full-size Doctor struggling to get out of its doors or the even smaller TARDIS in Clara’s hands, I thought for sure “Flatline” was going to be beyond stupid. I was wrong. (I thought much the same thing about “Mummy on the Orient Express” before I saw it and was wrong then, too. This season seems to be doing well when it comes to exceeding my expectations. But then, after the last few seasons, my expectations have admittedly been quite low.)

“Flatline” isn’t a bad episode at all, even if the shrinking TARDIS itself was kind of silly. Once again we get a classic Doctor Who setup with weird aliens to fight and a mystery to solve. With the Doctor trapped in the TARDIS and basically sidelined, it’s up to Clara to do the lion’s share of the work convincing people they’re in danger and getting them to safety. As a result, it’s Clara’s best episode to date. (I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: freeing her from all that Impossible Girl nonsense has really allowed her to shine. Imagine that: when her life no longer revolves entirely around the Doctor as someone who was “born to save him,” she gets to be far more interesting. Why, it’s almost as if Steven Moffat is learning that the trick to successful female characters is to make them something more than their relationship to a man!)

With the exception of the handful of scenes involving the Doctor’s full-size face peeking out through the shrunken TARDIS’s doors, the special effects in this episode were pretty great, especially once the aliens materialize. They look really freaky. Over all, it was a well done, creepy episode with good bits of humor.

However, the drama around Clara lying to Danny now feels completely intrusive. It’s forced, adds nothing to the story, and diminishes everything around it. In an episode filled to the brim with far-fetched ideas, the telephone scene between Clara and Danny was the only one that actually pulled me out of the story and had me rolling my eyes. Resolve this baloney already! Danny and Clara were actually a far more interesting couple when she was being honest with him about her time with the Doctor.


I have a couple of minor quibbles, which should surprise no one.

At one point, the Doctor engages a TARDIS failsafe he calls Siege Mode. Essentially, it locks the TARDIS so nothing can get in or out. Leaving aside how useful this Siege Mode would have been in other adventures had it ever existed before this episode (among the things it could have prevented: the Titanic colliding with the TARDIS in the 2007 Christmas Special “Voyage of the Damned”; the Sontarans getting inside the TARDIS in the 1978 serial “The Invasion of Time”; and the Cybermen getting inside the TARDIS in the 1982 serial “Earthshock”), there is the rather quibble-worthy addition that Siege Mode also turns the TARDIS into an impenetrable metal cube, complete with Gallifreyan writing or designs on it. This would seem to imply that the TARDIS’s chameleon circuit works after all, at least in this capacity. But how the Doctor got it to work for Siege Mode but not for, um, Normal Mode is never explained, which is frustrating. After all, it’s fifty-year-old canon that the Doctor can’t get the damn chameleon circuit to work right.

Unfortunately, “Flatline” ends with another brief and wholly unwelcome scene involving Missy. This time she’s watching Clara on what is essentially an iPad they didn’t bother disguising as anything else, and ruminating on how she has chosen well in selecting Clara for…what exactly? I don’t know, and I don’t really care. Missy and the “Promised Land” are this season’s weakest link.

And now for a bit of speculation. I’m wondering if the aliens from the other dimension might actually be the Time Lords trying to get back to ours. They seem able to drain off the TARDIS’s energy easily enough, which perhaps speaks to a familiarity with TARDISes, and human physiognomy seems to be close enough to Gallifreyan that the aliens’ attempt to take over human bodies might fit this theory. (Also, wasn’t the Doctor going to spend this season looking for Gallifrey? Or has that idea already been Moffated out of existence?) Missy could conceivably play into this theory, too. Perhaps her realm is the gateway between the two dimensions? But then, why work so hard to put Clara and the Doctor together? And why did Missy so creepily refer to the Doctor as her boyfriend back in the first episode this season? Those don’t necessarily fit, at least not in ways I can see yet. Okay, so my theory isn’t a solid one, but this episode did make me wonder.

4 responses to “Doctor Who: “Flatline””

  1. R. Francis Smith says:

    Also, Siege Mode looks entirely like the Pandorica to me. Which could be conceivably interesting if it were a deliberate connection, but I suspect it isn’t.

    I’m SOMEWHAT willing to forgive the Siege Mode thing otherwise as there’s precedent for awesome safety features that somehow never exist when they’re needed in other stories: HADS (appears only twice), the temporal state of grace (appears a couple of times, I think), and then there’s the time in The Daleks where it’s established that the lock will destroy itself if people tamper with it or some darn thing — okay, that was definitely best forgotten, and of course a lot of the really early stuff has to be swept under the rug canon-wise. Still, though, the TARDIS features seem to really come and go; I look forward to Siege Mode quietly being forgotten as well.

    The Missy thing was a turd in the punch bowl. I was really really enjoying the episode and I wish I’d just turned it off at the first sign of switching to her. It was corny and awful and if she had a mustache she’d have twirled it.

    Speculation about the aliens being the Time Lords: I’m going with “probably not” but it’s a neat idea. I rather suspect they’ll never heard of again (the flatlanders, not the Time Lords, at least one hopes.)

    Clara was fantastic. I have come to completely hate Danny, and I really didn’t intend to, but he is now Mickey++, or should that be Mickey– … anyway, he only exists to cramp the companion’s style in snippets of clinginess. Sigh. At least Mickey got his act together; I can only hope that Danny will, also, but sadly I don’t think Moffat has it in him to do something as excellent as Davies did having Mickey realize he was in a screwed-up relationship and needed to get his own life together. If I were the type to “ship”, I ship Smith and Jones, the two companions who gave the Doctor the shrug-off, became awesome world-savers in their own right, then sauntered off together when the Earth was back where it belonged.

    Um. Where was I? Right, Danny. Danny sucks now. That’s sad.

    That said, I loved the primary story; best in a long time. Reminds me a bit of Moffat’s glory days of writing spooky as hell stuff for Davies.

    • Nick says:

      Except Moffat didn’t write this one, or even co-write it. It was written by Jamie Mathieson, who also wrote “Mummy on the Orient Express.” Make HIM the next show runner!

      I, too, expect Siege Mode to pretty much disappear. Then again, the cloister bell didn’t make its appearance until “Logopolis” in 1981, nearly 20 years after the show began, and it’s stuck around since, so I suppose you never know.

      I think you’re right about the aliens, they’re unlikely to be the Time Lords. It’s just something that came to mind. I would like to know more about them down the road, and also more about Gus from “Mummy” — two mysteries that weren’t solved at the end of their respective episodes.

      They need to do more with Danny, stat. I liked him and Clara together at the start, but right now they’re mucking it up with all this forced drama.

  2. Paul McNamee says:

    “The Missy thing was a turd in the punch bowl.”

    Game. Match. And set.

    I had a brief thought that maybe she is a/the Black Guardian from way back. Then I stopped caring again.

    Outside of her, good episode – and I agree the Danny thing is feeling more & more forced the longer it goes on.

    • Nick says:

      I think it’s unlikely Missy will turn out to be anyone from the classic series, even though I’ve heard all sorts of theories ranging from she’s Romana to she’s the Master to she’s the Valeyard. I’ve heard she’s pretty much everyone but Chancellor Flavia! But I don’t think any of these theories will be the case. Whoever or whatever she turns out to be, I just hope she’s more interesting than these little snippets at the end of episodes have made her seem.

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