TV REVIEW: Doctor Who Season 8, Episode 9: Flatline

This review contains spoilers.

dw8x09 1It seems America is vehemently against letting me watch Doctor Who on time. Thank you, internet, for being my beacon of hope. And thank you, airport wait time, for giving me the opportunity to write.

 

Synopsis

With the Doctor trapped, it falls to Clara to restore the TARDIS to its proper dimensions and figure out how to battle invading two-dimensional aliens.

 

Plot

dw8x09 2

Thankfully it’s still bigger on the inside.

Clara is still travelling with the Doctor and lying to both him and Danny. When the Doctor drops her home-ish, they end up in Bristol, and something is wrong with the TARDIS. The dimensions are malfunctioning, causing the door to shrink. While the Doctor remains inside, completely unchanged, his ability to exit the TARDIS minimises until he can only get one hand out the door at a time.

dw8x09 3

Alien artwork on the wall, who’s the flattest of them all?

Clara sets off to look for any possible causes and finds that, in one housing estate, people are going missing in droves. She teams up with Rigsy, a young guy doing community service to make up for his graffiti, and together they investigate the incidents until discovering aggressive two-dimensional aliens intent on dissecting humans to find out what makes them tick.

For parts of this episode, I was worried this would be another stagnant point in the series with no development on the overarching themes. In the end, I got exactly what I wanted. I’ve prattled on in my last two reviews about my hopes for Clara’s character development. After Mummy on the Orient Express, I said that if I couldn’t have Clara walking out then I want a downward spiral into obsession, ruined relationships, and something massive to end her time with the Doctor. Well, GUESS WHAT? I’m getting it. I’m so getting it.

When Clara first started introducing herself as the Doctor, it was as a joke. When asked what she was a Doctor of, Clara said, ‘I’m usually quite vague about that. I think I just picked the title because it makes me sound important.’ Personally, I thought that was a bit on the nose but it heralded the beginning of Clara’s change in this episode.

dw8x09 alias

I’m kind of a big deal.

As the episode progresses, Clara becomes more like the Doctor. Since Rigsy and the others in the community service group can’t hear the Doctor through Clara’s earpiece, from their perspective she’s often muttering strings of gibberish to herself. Whenever the situation calls for it, Clara is ready with a new lie backed up by the psychic paper, introducing herself as the Doctor, an agent from MI5, a Health and Safety Officer, and ‘the one chance you’ve got of staying alive’.

Initially, Clara seems reluctant to keep spinning such a complicated story but soon comes to realise that the Doctor’s lies are to try and keep people alive. People who hope they can survive tend to run faster than those who think they’re facing certain death. But, when even the hopeful don’t run fast enough and someone dies, there’s no time to pause, no option but to keep moving.

Eventually, Clara and the Doctor (in the now almost pocket-sized TARDIS) are separated and she must make decisions not only to keep herself alive but to save the Doctor—which she does, by following rule 1: ‘Use your enemies’ powers against them.’ Maybe she meant Doctor Clara’s rule 1 because that’s certainly not the Doctor’s first rule. Back in the Russell T Davies days, rule 1 was ‘Don’t wander off.’ When Steven Moffat took over, rule 1 stopped existing for the companions’ physical safety and instead became a warning: ‘The Doctor lies.’

dw8x09 siege mode

Whenever the Doctor gets trapped, it’s going to be in something that looks like the Pandorica.

Certain that he is about to die inside the TARDIS (which is in siege mode), and almost as certain that Clara can no longer hear him, the Doctor admits that Clara has made a very good Doctor. I’m not sure what dying would look like for the Doctor if the TARDIS’s life support has been shut off. Maybe he would become stuck in a perpetual state of regeneration until someone rescued him? After all, he did say in a recent episode that he wasn’t sure how many times he could regenerate now.

When all is well, the Doctor has been saved, the aliens returned to their dimension by the power of their name, and the TARDIS’s outer dimensions have been fixed (in layman’s terms, it’s been returned to its proper size), the Doctor and Clara switch roles entirely. While saying goodbye at the housing estate, everyone is grateful to Clara for having saved their lives. They see the Doctor as only a secondary character—Clara’s companion.

dw8x09 ratman

You can just tell that this guy’s Animagus form would be a rat.

The unsavoury leader of the community service group likens the deaths of everyone else on the estate to a forest fire, saying that the objective is to save the great trees, not the brushwood. Clara agrees, preferring to focus on the fact that she is alive, and the world is safe. That should balance everything out. This is, she reasons, the way that the Doctor deals with constant deaths.

The Doctor reminds Clara that he thinks that way largely so others won’t have to. Even that doesn’t seem to sink in and Clara is still giddy from the excitement. She admits to hearing the Doctor’s dying/brain-addled compliments and urges him to tell her that she made a good Doctor. And then we have my favourite line of everything ever: ‘You were an exceptional Doctor, Clara. Goodness had nothing to do with it.’

dw8x09 duh

I fucked up.

Clara’s smile falters and she finally seems to understand what the Doctor is telling her: his is not always an enjoyable role. Yes, he takes people on journeys through time and space but he has seen innumerable deaths, and been directly or indirectly responsible for them. Learning to cope isn’t the same as becoming immune to the enormity of the destruction left in his wake.

Somewhere in all of that, the Doctor overhears a phone conversation between Clara and Danny. Basically, the Doctor is fine with Clara lying to Danny but lying to the Doctor is a big no-no. Maybe he developed a higher opinion of Danny than I thought in The Caretaker; I see no other reason for Clara to lie to the Doctor about Danny basically giving her permission to keep travelling.  You don’t need a man to let you engage in your own reckless freefall, Clara.

dw8x09 missy

We still get the latest tech in the Promised Land.

We close on a scene with Missy who, instead of welcoming the dozens of people from the housing estate who have recently died, is caressing a video of Clara on her iPad of Death. Missy thinks that Clara was a good choice. So I guess maybe everyone who hasn’t gone to Heaven this season just hasn’t been chosen by Missy. Whatever that means. What is so special about the people that have been chosen? We’ve got the head robot dude/Half-Face Man from Deep Breath, Gretchen Alison Carlisle from Into the Dalek, the policeman from The Caretaker … are they all soldiers or law enforcement? Is Missy building an army?  I don’t know, man. She confuses the heck out of me.

 

Next week

Red Riding Hood? The middle of London is now a giant forest? But, more importantly, IT LOOKS LIKE DANNY PINK IS GOING TIME TRAVELLING and he seems fine with it. Or at least not murderous, which may be promising for his relationship with Clara. Also time travelling: a bunch of schoolchildren who apparently don’t think Danny’s Teacher of the Year. Ah, well. Can’t win ’em all.

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