I think I’m ready to love again. Jamie Mathieson, will you marry the Doctor and become showrunner? You wrote my favorite episodes of Doctor Who series 8: “Mummy on the Orient Express” and this week’s episode, “Flatline.” I actually like Clara (Jenna Coleman) again! Longtime readers know I generally see no good in Clara’s character. She’s used so… generically, like a stand-in for a real Companion. “Mummy on the Orient Express” kept her out of view, but “Flatline” gives her a chance to act in a uniquely Clara way.
The Doctor (Peter Capaldi) tries to drop Clara off after their latest adventure, but lands in Bristol. As he tries to deduce a solution to the problem, Clara points out something more worrying: the TARDIS’ door has shrunk. The Doctor and Clara squeeze through and find a shrunken TARDIS outside.
“Flatline” introduces cool ideas about dimensions of space that I think the writer stole from Flatland. The interior of the TARDIS is infinite; the exterior is the size of a police box. As Whovians know, this leads to many humans gushing “It’s bigger on the inside.” The Doctor guesses that something is leeching power from the Tardis, causing it to shrink. He goes back inside, while Clara explores.
Clara meets Rigsy (Joivan Wade) and Fenton (Christopher Fairbanks) cleaning up Rigsy’s graffiti. Rigsy tells her of missing people, and shows her a mural that depicts each person from behind. She asks for his help, and goes back to get the Doctor.
Here’s where the show took a turn it really needed: the TARDIS has shrunk to the size of a paperweight and the Doctor is trapped inside. Clara picks it up, and we find out something really cool: the Doctor can adjust the TARDIS ’ weight. Since the Tardis is infinite, it would also be infinitely heavy if not for the weight adjustment. Usually it weighs as much as a police box, but now Clara can pick it up and stow it in her purse. It’s a great piece of world-building that I really liked.
Why is the TARDIS ’ size so important? The Doctor, just able to fit his hand through the door, passes Clara his tools: sonic screwdriver, psychic paper, and an ear piece so he can communicate. Clara picks up Rigsy to investigate the homes of the vanished people, and introduces herself as: “The Doctor. Doctor Oswald.”
The episode unfolds as you expect from here: investigation, discovery, running, enlightenment, running, taking control of the situation, running, and a final plan. Clara drives each of these moments instead of the Doctor, however. The Doctor provides exposition, but he does not play a crucial role until the end. And the Doctor himself has admitted that sometimes he just talks until he hears a solution he likes, making him sort of an exposition-machine even to himself.
Clara plays the Doctor’s role in a way I think is unique to her. We’ve seen other Companions – Rose and Donna come to mind – play at being the Doctor. Rose was terrified (“The Christmas Invasion”) and Donna nearly died (“Journey’s End”).
Clara is a human Doctor, and she’s very efficient at it. She tells Rigsy the truth – or at least part of it – and when he tries to leave Clara shows him the Doctor and the Tardis. While investigating one home she pretends to be MI-5 to get PC Forrest’s (Jessica Hayles) help. The Doctor decides the vanished people must be in the walls of the house; in a moment worthy of the Looney Tunes, he passes Clara a sledgehammer through her purse. Clara explains simply: “Apparently they’re in the walls.”
PC Forrest dies soon after, and we get our first good look at the cause: two-dimensional beings that capture and dissect humans to understand and assimilate them. This entails some grisly stuff and unsettling moments. Clara and the Doctor examine a wall mural, and figure out it is actually PC Forrest’s spine. As Clara and Rigsy try to escape, the Boneless (named by the Doctor) flatten the doorknob, and begin to creep through the walls and floor. Clara uses a hanging chair and the sonic screwdriver to smash through a window.
Clara and Rigsy return to the mural just as it comes to life and the Boneless become 3D. She, Rigsy, Fenton, and a few other “community service scumbags” (according to Fenton) run for an abandoned train station. Clara uses truth like the Doctor uses lies, and gets better results. When Fenton complains, she whispers, “I am your best chance at getting out of here alive,” and ignores him for the rest of the episode. The Doctor loves to insult people and act dramatic; Clara does just enough to do the job. When placed in a similar situation in “Kill the Moon”, Clara freaked out. She’s apparently grown enough to play the Doctor and enjoy it.
The Boneless pick off the community service crew, until only Rigsy, Fenton, and Clara are left; Rigsy leads them into old train tunnels. Fenton and Rigsy’s bickering causes Clara to drop the TARDIS onto the tracks far below. The Doctor starts to give a brave final speech, but Clara interrupts to remind him that the Tardis is currently much lighter. I would love this episode if only for this The Addams Family reference.
The Doctor is forced to activate “siege mode” as the TARDIS loses power, and Clara is on her own. She stops a slow-moving train, and uses it to smash some of the Boneless and buy time. Clara concocts a plan to re-energize the TARDIS , and pulls inspiration again from the Looney Tunes. The Boneless can change the dimensions of objects; she has Rigsy spray paint a picture of a door, and hangs the painting on one side of a wall. She places the dying Tardis on the other side. The Boneless attempt to embiggen the false door, and instead pour power into the Tardis.
The Doctor enlarges his favorite phone box once again. For the first time this series he delivers a heroic speech, calling himself the “man who stops monsters” as he destroys the Boneless. It’s a powerful moment, and highlighted by the Doctor’s brief conversation with Fenton. After escaping, Fenton dismisses the deaths of the graffiti crew as “for the greater good.” The Doctor has said similar things, but his and Clara’s roles are reversed now: she exults in the victory, and he counts the cost of the dead.
Other things of interest: Still a lot of speculation about Missy. I’m curious, but I hope she isn’t just some end boss; so far, she’s done nothing evil, and saved(ish) several people. I think she’s either an alternate version of Clara (which makes her line: “My Clara. I have chosen well,” super-weird) or a future incarnation of the Doctor. Any theories?
Also, whose approach to being the Doctor do you think works better? Is the Doctor right that “goodness” has no part in being the Doctor?