Doctor Who: Flatline review

Review

Flatline

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The Doctor: Clara, this is a vital stage. This little group is currently confused and disorientated, but pretty soon a leader is going to emerge. You need to make sure that leader is you.
Clara: I’m on it.

Doctor Who Season: S34 (Ep9).
Story Number: 250.

Small TARDIS, big episode…

A Doctor-lite story – so lite that Clara can carry him in her bag.

It’s a very funny story – with some scenes of that push the limits of Doctor Who‘s Tea-Time Horror. (Actually it’s not particularly on at tea-time any more, thanks to it being on after Strictly Come Dancing sometime after 8pm).

The past 8 episodes before this have been the Doctor stopping and thinking about being the Doctor – whether he’s a good man, or not.

As The Name of the Doctor and The Day of the Doctor illustrated, “the Doctor” is a role that the Time Lord steps into the shoes of with each new incarnation. With Deep Breath, it was the Twelfth Doctor stepping into those shoes. By the end of that episode, he’d chosen a costume he was happy with. No frills, sombre. Minimal.

As Flatline sees Clara stepping into the Doctor’s shoes, it’s appropriate she already sporting a Doctor-esque outfit, (she hasn’t dressed for the occasion though). Tight black trousers, a no-nonsense jacket with wide lapels, she’s ready.f-1

The story Into the Dalek showed us how angry this new Doctor could be, and how this anger could sometimes be misdirected – he’s not happy when Clara takes on the mantle of being the holder of the psychic paper & sonic screwdriver: really though it’s when she’s being flippant about the title of “the Doctor”. Is he right to be angry, or should he relax?

f-2The Doctor is a legend, but the man himself doesn’t feel he can live up to that – as Robin’s end-speech of Robot of Sherwood showed, perhaps the main thing is he can inspire other people, even if he’s not happy with the things he has to do.

“You really do throw your companions in at the deep end, don’t you?”

His companions are supposed to be better people by being with him – Clara has taken on Rigsy as her companion and his painting-skills have saved the world by the episode’s end.
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The fear of monsters was the engine of Listen – the imagery of PC Forrest’s nervous system as a new mural for the room is some monstrous horror, and one more scary moment of dread that contrasts again the frequent vibrant humour of this story.

f-4The idea that the Doctor hates himself wasn’t fully on the surface of Time Heist, but it was (as arguably the central theme) amongst the rest of that great-looking story. (It doesn’t seem a coincidence that 3 of the most gorgeous episodes of this year have been directed by Douglas Mackinnon – Listen, Time Heist, now Flatline. There are some fantastic sequences which are some of the most dynamic Doctor Who moments ever: the TARDIS evading the train-tracks; the Doctor stepping out of the newly-resized TARDIS.) Perhaps some of the uneasiness of the Doctor this episode is for Clara taking on a role he sometimes hates.f-5

When the Doctor was The Caretaker, he saw Danny Pink as a distraction from his heroics, not as someone who could be part of team TARDIS. Not only does Clara not tell Danny she’s the Doctor now, she isn’t even being upfront about her continued TARDIS-travels – something the Doctor doesn’t think is a good thing.f-6

When Clara had to make the life-or-death decisions for once in Kill the Moon, she didn’t thank the Doctor. Now it’s different and she doesn’t recoil as she once did – but is the Doctor happy with her now-easy acceptance of this role?f-7

The apparent callousness of the Doctor on Mummy on the Orient Express (another script by Jamie Mathieson, like this story) was partly explained by his thought-process over choices which were all bad choices. We see the Doctor’s thought-processes now. The Doctor sees his thought-processes now.

“Clara, this is a vital stage. This little group is currently confused and disorientated, but pretty soon a leader is going to emerge. You need to make sure that leader is you.”

The two Doctors discuss the idea of “doomed dawdlers”, and Clara now understands the Doctor only too well. Should a companion have so much understanding?

It’s a serious business if Clara has taken on the name of the Doctor, by taking on the name she becomes the Doctor to a certain extent. The Doctor seems very agitated that the 2dis and the new monsters should be have proper names this episode. That makes sense when you consider he’s very attached to the idea of “the Doctor”, and when Clara give that role back to him, it seems he’s lost some of the ambivalence of the previous 8 episodes regarding this role:
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“I tried to talk. I want you to remember that. I tried to reach out. I tried to understand you, but I think you understand us perfectly — I think that you just don’t care. And I don’t know whether you’re here to invade, infiltrate or just replace us — I don’t think it really matters now. You are monsters! That is the role you seem determined to play! So it seems that I must play mine — the man that stops the monsters.”

The Doctor’s expression when everyone’s safe and dispersing is difficult to understand at the start of that scene, but easier by its end: he’s bewildered, with Clara, wondering if she will lose sleep over the people she didn’t save – whether like Fenton (the unpleasant character originally leading the group) she wouldn’t, with time, think of them as people.f-8

Is everyone suited to the role of the Doctor? As he said, Clara made an exceptional Doctor – and that’s what worries him.

Rating 5/5

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(Flatline on bbc.co.uk/programmes/)

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