Doctor Who 8.09: Flatline
When Doctor Who returned to our screens in 2005, it was very much a Doctor Who for the 21st century. Story arcs, pop-culture references and a companion that was the mouthpiece for the audience like none before. Rose was one of us and we got to experience the magic of the Doctors adventures through her eyes. She was no longer a companion who jumped into the Doctors life and left everything behind. He was the Doctor who jumped into her life – family, warts and all.
It also meant we got to see more of modern day Earth than ever, certainly since the Earth-bound Pertwee years of the early 1970s. Of course, 21st Century London was all gritty council Estates, high rises, offices and shops; a world as far removed from Gallifrey as possible. It made for an interesting dynamic, those early RTD years. It brought a very human side to the show that showed just how alien the Doctor was, demonstrated why Rose would want to escape the mundane reality of her life and cheaply set stories, or parts of stories in settings that required little budget indeed.
So this week was like a blast from the past, with a human companion dealing with some alien shenanigans on an estate, complete with hip-hop youth offenders and bigoted labourers. It truly felt like we were back in 2005. Imagine the story with Ecclestone’s Ninth Doctor and Billie Piper’s Rose and it would have worked just as well.
But there was a marked difference with Flatline. It may have been one of the cheaper-looking episodes this season – the money saving exercise before the two-part finale just a short way away, but it was like a fresh of air too. After the drama of mummies on a space train, spiders on the moon and futuristic bank heists, this episode was a pleasant break from all the high drama and spectacle, allowing the show to focus on the always electric dynamic between the Twelfth Doctor and Clara.
What’s more, the Earth-based setting worked, delivering an innovative and creepy villain, plenty of chilling moments. It has a narrative structure that made sense and had a satisfying conclusion. If there’s one key difference I would pick out between series eight and seven, it’s the pacing of the episodes. Series seven always felt rushed – like they needed ten additional minutes to deliver a decent conclusion. With series eight – and Flatline in particular, the story fitted perfectly into the 42 minute structure.
The alien threat is very well realised. The policewoman being pulled screaming into the rug is a moment sure to stick in our minds for some time and the 3D people stumbling through the tunnel pushed Doctor Who as far into zombie territory as far as it could manage. The mummy from last week might be scarier, but on mass the alien shapes were just as threatening.
There was also some great fun with the ever-shrinking TARDIS. From the Doctor and Clara crawling out of the half-sized doorway to the Doctor tipping the tiny version off the rail track with his hand. I LOVED the Addams Family reference. This Doctor isn't as clueless about humans as he might appear! I'm sure I wasn’t the only who suspected the Master and his shrinking talents when the image of the tiny TARDIS first appeared on the net, fuelling rumours of his return. It wasn't anything quite so dramatic but it was fun none the less.
It was also incredibly fun for Clara to play the role of Doctor, complete with her own companion. Both the Doctor and 'Doctor' Clara appreciated the talents of Joivan Wades young Rigsy and part me wonders what a spin off with Doctor Clara Rigsy and Courtney might look like. The next Sarah Jane Adventures perhaps?
Clara certainly proves herself in this episode, finding the way to charge the crisis-mode TARDIS with energy from the creatures. She also continues down the questionable path of lying to the people in her care; it might be for their own good but is she losing her conscience in the process? She certainly seems to be falling into the trap of lying to Danny, even ignoring his calls. I’m very eager to see where Clara goes next...
…And judging by the final revelation – that Missy had chosen Clara well – are we about to see that path take a very dark turn? (I assume this all but confirms that she gave Clara the Doctors phone number back in series sevens The Bells Of St John?)
Overall Flatfline is a very confident episode that feels fresh and exciting. An urban modern day Earth setting feels as dramatic as Sherwood Forest or the end of the universe, proving that series eight is proving audiences with plenty of variety. Capaldi and Coleman are on top of their game as always and the supporting case are strong. Plenty of deaths again this week…the days of everybody lives are long gone.