REVIEW: Doctor Who – ‘Flatline’

Either The Doctor's put on weight, or this week an energy sapping alien has altered the outer dimensions of the TARDIS.
Either The Doctor’s put on weight, or this week an energy sapping alien has altered the outer dimensions of the TARDIS.

So what happened?

Attempting to take Clara back home after their most recent adventure, The Doctor soon realises that something is wrong when the TARDIS ends up in Bristol and its external dimensions have apparently shrunk. After his companion is sent to investigate the area, when she returns it’s now shrunk to the point where Twelve is trapped inside, leaving her to tuck him and the Time Machine in her handbag and further explore what’s causing the anomaly. Encountering a graffiti artist called Rigsy (Joivan Wade), who’s been forced to do community service and recently lost his Auntie to this disturbing phenomena, Clara soon realises that his local knowledge could be useful and introduces him to the ‘alien in the box’ whilst they’re investigating a flat where the tenant went missing.

Sensing they’re in danger, they move on to another disappearance that the Police are investigating and end up narrowly escaping the monster in the walls that reduces everything to 2-dimensions (including the Policewoman whose nervous system ended up as mural), before heading to the underpass where another mural featuring those who have vanished is about to be painted over at the request of Fenton, the supervisor of Rigsy’s group of community payback offenders. As an argument breaks out, the 2-D figures on the concrete wall turn around and force Clara, Rigsy and the others to run away to a disused train warehouse where, with his companion’s help, The Doctor attempts to communicate the aliens he surmises are from another dimension and may not be aware of the damage they are doing. In response they continue to pick off members of the gang and, whilst leeching power from both those they’ve killed and the TARDIS, they acquire the ability to make themselves 3-dimensional.

Clara gleefully explains to Twelve that size isn't everything.
Clara gleefully explains to Twelve that size isn’t everything.

As things become dire for everybody and the TARDIS is forced into siege mode just before being hit by a train, Clara comes up with a bright idea to utilise Rigsy’s artistic skills and use the aliens’ own powers against them, by getting them to mistakenly channel their energy through a faux door handle into the time machine, thus allowing Twelve to power up and banish this week’s antagonists, who he names ‘The Boneless’, back to their own Universe. Expecting a pat on the back for her successful stint as ‘Doctor Clara’, Coleman’s character is surprised when she’s told that she did well, but it had nothing to do with ‘goodness’. Meanwhile, back in her heavenly Nethersphere, Missy appears to have been watching the whole thing gleefully and bafflingly declaring, “Clara, my Clara. I chose well.”

Monster of the Week

Marieke: Ah, finally some original AND proper monsters again! Named ‘the Boneless’ by the Doctor, this graffiti kills everything it touches. We didn’t really know what their motive was… They have 3D envy I suppose! The effects looked particularly haunting, but the idea that you can’t really escape these 2D villains is what is most effective. They did walk a bit zombie-like, but well, no bones and all, it’s actually amazing they could walk. I particularly liked their ability to make doorknobs flat and manipulate the 3D world to their advantage. The Doctor hasn’t really killed them off yet, so I expect a return of the Boneless at some point, although I doubt that episode would be as original as this one.

Danielle: I have my suspicions that the idea for these particular aliens came from scientists theorizing that we possibly live in a 2-dimensional universe earlier this year, but what a novel development of that! I have to say though, when ‘The Boneless’ finally acquired the ability to become 3-dimensional, their unstable, cartoonish nature reminded me of the music video for A-Ha’s ‘Take on Me’. That probably says a lot more about me than it does about this week’s monsters.

The creepy mural that Rigsy's Auntie was 'absorbed' into.
The creepy mural that Rigsy’s Auntie was ‘absorbed’ into.

Creep Factor

Marieke: This episode started well, with the shrinking TARDIS and the Doctor not even knowing what was going on. Always a good set up, especially when it’s executed well. The people in the graffiti turning around to face the cleaners was particularly sinister as well and the disappearance of the police woman added a danger we haven’t seen in a while (helloooo Skovox Blitzer! I will never let this go, no). The effects of the Boneless bodies and the idea of them being everywhere only added to the creep factor. As an added creep bonus we had a mock cameo of The Thing, what more do we want?

Danielle: There is something particularly unnerving about people apparently disappearing, only to be later utilised as an undead army. I guess it’s so frightening because people have such a solid sense of self, which they don’t believe can be hijacked and here, not only are they initially flattened into static pancakes, they become little more than killing machines for an alien race that appear to have no relationship with morality and no better nature for The Doctor to appeal to. The fact The Boneless hide in the walls and can’t be seen also ramps up how terrifying they are too. An enemy is all the more dangerous when you can’t actually see who you’re fighting. *Shudders*

Mystery

Danielle: Whoa there! Let’s just try to process the fact that the mysterious Missy referred to our intrepid companion as “My Clara”. Does this mean that she’s some sort of spy working for her? Or more likely has she unknowingly been put in The Doctor’s orbit to see that he makes it to some point in time where Twelve and Missy meet? The latter seems to make more sense, as we’ve had no indication that Clara has some sort of evil agenda, yet in this episode we’ve learnt that the teacher is adept at lying to the two people closest to her, her boyfriend and The Doctor. It’s an interesting development considering we’ve been directed towards Twelve’s ambiguous sense of morality since his regeneration, when in fact we should probably have been paying more attention to his companion.

Marieke: Well we can really conclude now that Missy is the mysterious woman who has handed the Doctor’s phone number to Clara then. We still don’t know her purpose, although it’s a safe bet that she has something evil in mind. I really do hope Missy isn’t Clara’s mother or something. So even though it’s nice we got to see Missy again (no Chrissy.. err… Seb, however), I’m done with all these little clues (although this was a big one, it wasn’t a surprising one) and would want to see it go somewhere for a change. Which is obviously saved for the season finale. I guess this is the first time an overarching mystery has started to bore me (leaving aside that the River/Pond thing in Eleven’s era was unsurprising and perhaps a bit tiresome too).

Christopher Fairbank as Fenton.
Christopher Fairbank as Fenton.

Familiar Face of the Week

To our shame we both recognised Christopher Fairbank, who played the rather nasty Fenton, but couldn’t quite place where we knew him from. It turns out he’s been in everything! From Auf Wiedersehen, Pet to Borgen, The Fifth Element to Guardians of the Galaxy. Must do better next time!

Rigsy (Joivan Wade), one of the newcomers this series we'd love to see come back.
Rigsy (Joivan Wade), one of the newcomers this series we’d love to see come back.

The Verdict?

We both really loved the introduction of ‘The Boneless’. They ticked every box as far as scary Who villains go. Seeing Clara get to flex her muscles as ‘Doctor Clara’ was also massively entertaining, as was watching her work alongside a companion of her own, Rigsy. In fact we’d be happy to see the graffiti genius back at some point in the future. The one real niggle with ‘Flatline’, however, was the reliance on the sonic once again to defeat the ‘baddies’. After the TARDIS was recharged and Twelve was finally able to face this week’s foes, the resolution seemed all too easy for what was otherwise quite a nuanced episode. It’s a shame really, because in many ways it was another excellent outing for this Doctor. Never mind. Hopefully we’ll get a suitable resolution to this Missy arc in the coming weeks.

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