Writer: Jamie Mathieson
Director: Douglas Mackinnon
Starring: Peter Capaldi, Jenna Coleman, Samuel Anderson, John Cummins, Jessica Hayles
The Story: While attempting to drop Clara back home, the Doctor winds up in Bristol. Trapped in a shrunken TARDIS, he sends Clara to investigate a mysterious two-dimensional anomaly…
If Jamie Mathieson’s second Doctor Who episode is anything to go by, Steven Moffat may wish to hire him as a permanent writer. In fact, how about Moffat just hands over the showrunner crown entirely? Of the entirety of Peter Capaldi’s first series as the Doctor, only Mathieson’s writing has really delivered on the originality front. Last week’s Mummy on the Orient Express took a classic monster and gave it a unique twist; this week, he’s dreamt up something new altogether.
Flatline might bring the danger in its later moments, but it starts spritely. The Doctor accidentally lands in the middle of a dimensional anomaly in Bristol, resulting in a rapidly-shrinking TARDIS. It’s up to Clara to investigate, and as we build up to her presumed exit from the show, it appears the show wants to wring as much as possible from her character while it can. Kill the Moon attempted to give her some emotional footing, and now we’ve seen just how well-accustomed to the TARDIS she’s become, as she assumes the role of the Doctor for herself.
Granted, she does quite well at it (as the actual Doctor is loath to point out). But her character still seems devoid of interesting qualities, in part thanks to the revelations of Series 7’s finale, The Name of the Doctor. With the initial mystery gone and only scant hints at any kind of Clara-related arc this time around, we’re left with very little to remain attached to. It’s no particular fault of Jenna Coleman’s, but even Flatline can’t make Clara interesting.
Luckily, it can at least make the show – on a whole – more entertaining. As Clara heads off to investigate what’s going on, Mathieson (and returning Doctor Who director Douglas McKinnon, with a serious improvement over earlier Series 8 episode Time Heist) nail the perfect mix of humour, malevolence and action; a recipe embodied by one scene in particular, whereupon Clara and her new-found sidekick Rigsy investigate a house with a police officer – only for said officer to fall victim to one of the Boneless (okay, so their name is awful) – while the Doctor communicates to Clara from her handbag.
The Boneless provide a real visual scare too, particularly in their physical, three-dimensional forms later on. The effects are impressive, and the only criticism this writer could have is that we didn’t see enough of them. But then again, it’s difficult to think what more could be done without ruining the suspense – but perhaps we’ll see them pop up in a future episode. It would be particularly delightful if they were related in some way to the ‘Missy’ arc that’s popped up sporadically in this series.
Cementing Flatline’s hit-and-miss nature, Peter Capaldi, clearly feeling restricted by the little room he’s had to shine so far, completely overacts his (admittedly clichéd) speech as he sends the Boneless packing. Luckily, this doesn’t put too much of a dent on the episode, and it’s hard to fault Capaldi when he’s only compensating for what little service past scripts have given him. It’s just a shame that all elements of the show couldn’t live up to the generally superb writing and direction that Flatline offers.
With only three episodes to go, it’ll be interesting to see just how much next week’s episode builds towards the two-part climax – if at all. But with such little advancement of the overall arc, the finale might end up having to pack rather a lot in… particularly if it intends to advance upon the 50th anniversary’s revelations.
Seeing the physical, three-dimensional incarnations of the Boneless – a supremely impressive (and original) visual effect that will send shivers down the spine.
Clara: I’m the Doctor.
The Doctor: Don’t you dare!
Clara: Doctor Oswald! But you can call me Clara.
Rigsy: I’m Rigsy. So what are you a doctor of?
The Doctor: Of lies!
Clara: Well I’m usually quite vague about that… I think I just pick the title because it makes me sound important.
[usr=4] THN’s Doctor Who Series 8 Blog returns next Saturday.