Doctor Who Series 8 Episode 9 “Flatline” Review

Doctor Who Series 8, Episode 9, “Flatline,” by Jamie Mathieson had so many interesting elements, I thought it was going to bring the awesome, but it never quite delivered. It didn’t make me want to throw things at my television the way “Mummy on the Orient Express” did. In fact I didn’t have any reaction at all. There is a lot to like in the setup: a graffiti artist doing community service, creepy two-dimensional monsters, The Doctor (Peter Capaldi) trapped in a shrunken TARDIS. But the episode went nowhere, and that’s largely because the last 15 minutes was lackuster.

I like the idea of Clara getting to play the Doctor, and that was the best part of the episode. The problem is that she totally handled it and came away with no better understanding of the Doctor than she had at the beginning of the episode. All the back-and-forth at the end just seemed like dialogue added to remind us that the Doctor is morally ambiguous just in case we’ve forgotten) rather than two characters having a conversation.

The biggest problem, though, was that we never learned what the two-dimensional creatures actually wanted. It’s o.k. to leave questions like that unanswered if you do it properly. It’s not o.k. to spend 10 minutes of a 50-minute episode making a big deal about the fact that the monsters might not even realize they’re hurting people and setting up a way to figure out how to communicate with them, then just drop that whole thread without an actual conversation.

There’s just not much more to say about this one. Missy spying on Clara at the end and saying “I chose well” prompted me to come up with a new crazy fan theory, though. I’ve thought all along that this season is leading up to the restoration of Gallifrey — or at least is the first stage in a longer arc that ends with the return of the Time Lords, which would be cool. I’m wondering if we’re being set up for some implausible twist which reveals that Clara is a Time Lord herself, and Jenna Coleman’s run is going to end with her bopping off to travel the universe in her own TARDIS.

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  1. I thought this episode had a lot going for it at the beginning, but oh how it faded.

    Two dimensional monsters are so unique and, in the current world of everything in 3-D, they were a great idea. When we finally saw the monsters they reminded me very much on a music video done by the 1980’s Norwegian Pop group A-Ha. If we never saw these two dimensional monsters again, then I would certainly not miss them.

    The setting in an old railway tunnel was also not a good point for me. At the very beginning of the episode, we were in a house where we first encountered the monsters, and to move them into an old railway tunnel, which surely nobody should have any access to in these days of health and safety, added to the frustration.

    Overall, I’m still enjoying this new series, but this episode is probably going to lay somewhere towards the bottom of the pile.

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  2. Same here. Just… meh.

    Quite curious about Missy and Clara, though! (But I can safely say I would not watch a Clara spinoff. Really nothing personal to Clara, though — I didn’t watch the Sarah Jane Adventures either, and I love Sarah Jane.)

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  3. I agree! It drove me crazy that they started the communication thread and never finished. I did like some of the suspense and I’m enjoying the morally ambiguous doctor. I liked Orient Express. Im enjoying the plot of Clara wrestling with staying and the Doctor’s seeming indifference to her possible departure. I am interested in finding out what Clara is.

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    1. Those sorts of unresovled plot threads just bug me. Interesting that you like Orient Express. I wanted to like it, really. I think I even said that in my review of it 🙂 I’m a bit fascinated by all the likes and dislikes from this season.They are all over the map and my general feeling about the season is that the show’s improved, even though you might not be able to tell that from my episode reviews.

      I like the morally ambiguous Doctor, but I do not like the moral ambiguity to be pointed out in a heavy-handed way. There’s a fiction writing rule: “Trust the audience” and I have no idea where it came from. I get the idea that someone at BBC does not trust the audience.

      I would love to see Clara wrestling, but I can’t see it.Clara can’t wrestle with anything because Clara isn’t really a person. She’s just there to serve the story. Hannah might back me up on this one if she happens to see this. If she doesn’t you should totally check out her reviews. Hannah and I talk a bit about Doctor Who, and she’s won me over to this way of thinking even though I made every effort to be hopeful about Clara’s development.

      Also, there’s Will. He doesn’t comment very much, but he writes reviews for me at http://sourcererblog.wordpress.com and I publish them on the weekends, if you haven’t seen them. He takes an even more negative view of Clara than me and Hannah, but his reviews are very smart. More like analysis than like this reaction-type stuff I wrote today.

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      1. Yes, I back you up on this one. 😉 Clara “wrestles” with everything, but in the grand scheme of things, she wrestles with nothing, because she doesn’t have a consistent viewpoint or reasoning. To compare her with Amy: Amy wrestled between two clear choices, a generally normal life with Rory and a fantastical life with the Doctor. She actually managed to unite the two options for much of her life. Clara is being set up for the same choice (which is its own problem), but we don’t have a clear image of what she actually wants from either choice, or a coherent storyline about why she wants anything at all. She says dramatic things, but they don’t have an arc or desires behind them.

        On the other hand, I did just see in a review (somewhere…) the idea that Clara doesn’t really care about the Doctor, but is actively “using” him to provide an adrenaline rush and a feeling of superiority to other humans who haven’t traveled. This would make a degree of sense and be a bit more of a coherent story for her, given how the only glimmers of character development are “narcissistic and selfish.” So, she wouldn’t actually be in a dilemma of wanting two things, she’s just in a situation where she’s reacting with hostility every time either man criticizes her.

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