HomeTelevisionTV Recap: Dr. Who, 'Flatline'

TV Recap: Dr. Who, ‘Flatline’

Photo Credit: Ray Burmiston, ©BBC/BBC WORLDWIDE 2014
Photo Credit: Ray Burmiston, ©BBC/BBC WORLDWIDE 2014

I don’t know how the turnaround started, but it’s amazing to see how much life has been brought back into Doctor Who since the introduction of the Twelfth Doctor. While I won’t take anything away from Capaldi’s tremendous performance; the writing has been so crisp that it’s remarkable that it has stayed as consistent as it has been. A lot of this comes down to the focus on the character development but we can’t take away a great original idea and this season there have been many.

Photo Credit: Adrian Rogers, © BBC/BBC Worldwide 2014
Photo Credit: Adrian Rogers, © BBC/BBC Worldwide 2014

“Flatline” is another great idea delivered as a blockbuster. It pains me each week to have to retract my previous statements about what has been the best episode so far. Whether this was the best remains to be seen but it comes pretty damn close to earning that branding. There are echoes of so many kinds of Doctor Who stories that I could name but won’t because its originality trumps what it mirrors. For a second week in a row kudos must be given to writer Jamie Mathieson. Interestingly, this was the initial script he sold to Moffat which also scored him the other two episodes he wrote this season.

It’s becoming increasingly obvious that this current run of Doctor Who doesn’t need to accomplish much on the bells and whistles to be impressive and it just isn’t reserved to having a minimalist Doctor. Stories aren’t standalone to the narrative arc the narrative arc is standalone to the stories each week. This is a character-driven arc and it’s centered solely round Clara and not who The Doctor is. It’s possible that I have been getting it all wrong this season — this season is not just about Clara developing its about Clara confronting the things in her life she probably doesn’t notice. The last three episodes has had Clara taking actions that mirror the duties of The Doctor and while it remains to be seen if this is about the Doctor turning others into soldiers it definitely seems like its Clara understanding what being The Doctor really is and not how fun the adventures are.

This dovetails greatly into “Flatline” as Clara is forced to take on The Doctor role while investigating disappearances at a council estate in Bristol. An alien force is lurking and it’s eating away at the dimensions around the TARDIS causing it to slowly shrink trapping the Doctor inside making him only accessible by an ear piece given to Clara along with his sonic screwdriver. She uses the local knowledge of a graffiti artist named Rigsy and later that of a community service group to figure out what is going on forcing her to take the leader role in the Doctor’s absence.

Clara does a bang up job of being the Doctor but what is obvious is she has much more in common with the Doctor than she probably assumes. She can be manipulative and is apparently a damn good liar too leading one to wonder just how close to being the Doctor is she really? Somehow her actions this week factor in with Missy who we see for the first time in three weeks. Normally I would be bothered by the vague nature of her presence but even having her acknowledge Clara means something more sinister is a foot. Three more weeks, gang.

For the first time in ages we have an episode that focuses on the monster…and boy did we have a knock out with these two dimensional creatures (which the Doctor horribly dubs “The Boneless.”) It has been a long time since the show has had a truly frightening alien race and that includes the Weeping Angels. What works best is we are still never completely sure in the end what they are and what their intentions were but we know that they are unwanted on Earth by The Doctor.

Photo Credit: Adrian Rogers, © BBC/BBC Worldwide 2014
Photo Credit: Adrian Rogers, © BBC/BBC Worldwide 2014

The idea that we don’t know if their actions are misunderstood or not is brilliant. They are so unnerving in their actions that the viewer is conflicted and scared all at once. The visual of the nervous system of PC Forrest on the wall as possibly being a dissection of humanity is chilling and so clever. We do get a bit of an idea of why they choose the people of the council estate which is depressing and sickening even more when you realize all the good people die this week while an asshole like Fenton, the head of the community service group, is allowed to live and being ignorant and uncaring. Even The Doctor is taken aback by that.

Douglas McKinnon is behind the camera for the third time this season and firmly establishes himself as one of the show’s most atmospheric directors. Seriously, if he could just direct every episode of the show from here on out that would be great. The hoops that he and the production team jumped through this week to realize some of the visual elements here are worth the praise. Combine this, the writing, and the tour de force of Capaldi and Coleman and this really is one of the best and most original Doctor Who stories to date.

I can’t stress enough how consistent the writing has been between the new writers and the co-writers Moffat has been doing with various Who veterans. Save for “Robot of Sherwood” the consistency and replay value of Series 8 has been far and away the best in several years. “Flatline” continues this winning streak of episodes for Doctor Who that started with “Listen” five weeks ago and I hope that with three episodes left in this run that it can stay as consistent and original as this one was.


Jason Stives is the resident Anglophile and Pop-Break representative for BBC America conducting weekly reviews of Doctor Who and Orphan Black. He is currently a contributing writer for PropertyofZack.com and a freelance creative consultant for fundraising and marketing campaigns in New Jersey’s various art communities. He is a graduate of Rutgers University’s class of 2010 with a bachelors in Journalism and Media Studies. When he isn’t attending concerts or writing the great American novel he moonlights as lounge crooner J.M Heavyhart turning the works of Dokken and Dio into Sinatra-esque standards (or at least he would like to be). Follow his constant retweets and occasionally witty banter on Twitter at @jaystives.



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