Sci-Fi · TV & Movies

Doctor Who Review: “Flatline”

“Flatline” was a pretty normal “freaky idea of the week” type of Doctor Who episode, but channeling Flatland. The monsters are two-dimensional. It’s a creative idea, but… meh. Maybe my undying love of Flatland is to blame, but it was kind of disappointing. Episodes (and horror-ish sci-fi movies) like this are always a let-down for me, where you spend the whole story curious about the premise and then you never find out anything about the aliens. I’m left with no idea who they were or what they wanted, so why should I care? What’s the point? It’s just a big shaggy dog story. In this story in particular, there are some cool effects to start with, but then they use a lot of questionable “this is a de-flattener” type science trying to make the concept work, or they just spend a lot of time running away from 2D monsters that have been needlessly rendered as 3D.

Doctor Who Review Flatline
We Geek Girls

The other bit of creativity in this episode is to trap the Doctor away from the action and give Clara his position of leadership. It doesn’t make me like her any more, but it is a clever plot device, and nothing really happened to make me like her less. I’m just annoyed that the Doctor was constantly telling her “You can do it! You’re stronger than you know!” etc. The Clara we were told we had wouldn’t need that kind of a pep talk, she’d just DO it. To be fair, she really is sort of “doing it,” she doesn’t act like she needs constant propping up, it’s just THERE for some reason. Of course, at the end she’s convinced she pulled it off wonderfully and that it doesn’t take any particular skill or fortitude to be the Doctor, which isn’t true. (So, I guess something did happen to make me like her less).

The episode also continues the “Am I a good man” theme by giving Clara the Doctor’s role and effectively letting him watch himself — or at least be forced to listen to what Clara thinks of him. He finally passes judgment — he says she made an exceptional Doctor, but “goodness had nothing to do with it.” I think he’s decided he’s not a good man, and that both worries me and makes me sad.

A few bits and bobs:

  • First, they kept on repeating “listen!” — coincidence? Probably, depending on how well the creators predicted the response to “Listen.”
  • Second, the episode culminates in Twelve’s attempt at an Eleven-style “I am the Doctor and this plane is protected!” speech. A lot of people seemed to love this, so more power to y’all, but it fell totally flat for me. (So to speak). It worked for Eleven, but when Twelve did it, he seemed more lost than ever about who and what he’s supposed to be. (This is a comment about Twelve, not about Capaldi).
  • Third, I echo the observation on Brotherhood of Evil Geeks that the Doctor seems to be “trying out” new companions this season, even with Clara standing right there. He’s done that before, often just before a supporting character dies, but it does seem to keep on happening in this season. Surely he can tell that Clara’s time is running out.

All told, it wasn’t an awful episode. I really enjoyed the creativity involved with the shrinking Tardis, the graffiti artist fooling the 2D beings, and whatnot. I just don’t think it’s the best Who has to offer.

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7 thoughts on “Doctor Who Review: “Flatline”

  1. While I enjoyed the fact that the Doctor was giving Clara a running tutorial on How To Be The Doctor throughout this episode… the show has already established that Clara Is The Most Important Person In The Universe (TM), what with her in Series 7 rescuing or guiding the Doctor at Every Point Ever In His Timeline, and then in Series 8 literally going back into his childhood and teaching him about fear, feeding him lines to use in 1963. So it’s a bit late to show her taking baby steps on heroism and team leadership. None of this is Jenna Coleman’s fault; it’s Moffat’s fault for trying to make Clara a Thing rather than a human being.

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    1. Agreed. The “character development” here is totally unnecessary. Clara already knows these things. Coleman doesn’t even portray her as needing to learn them, because she DOESN’T, but the script has her learning them.

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  2. I am sorry to hear you didn’t like it. I thought this was a really strong episode.

    I liked how Clara tried out the ‘style’ & spectacle of being a Doctor but was left thinking about ‘substance.’ Not preachy; just there. There were nice echoes of this theme throughout: the exaggeration of the tardis/person being bigger on the inside in this episode. …that going from 2D to 3D is difficult and that sometimes the transformation can warp the being into something awful even if we try to give it the benefit of the doubt … the juxtaposition of the ass**** leading community service with the much more human seeming service workers …

    I am also starting to get interested in this idea of how being a companion could be kind of an addictive experience: this harkens back to Sarah-Jane and her feelings of just being abandoned but somehow pulling herself together and then using the experience to live a good life in -this- world. Even becoming a kinder/gentler mentor in the end when all she wanted was to be mostly left alone. I think I see a theme developing: the danger that glamour can so easily overtake essence and that living the good life can be a messy thing.

    I also really enjoyed the visuals in this one: the graffiti people on the wall and the tardis in lockdown were really nice bits of eye candy. I also like seeing how the special effects in the show are evolving and getting better over time. These things going 3D are loads better than Tennant’s squiggle monsters, for example.

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    1. I think in this case it’s really just a question of my preferences, rather than the episode’s objective quality. 🙂

      I like how you link the 2D-3D thing to character development… One thing this season really has been doing well is creating subtle but coherent themes like that.

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      1. The episode wasn’t perfect. I wanted to know more about these aliens, too. And not knowing made it all feel kind of (forgive me) a bit flat. Like pop without the fizz.

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