I’m not going to lie to you. When I first saw the pre-publicity photos of the shrunken-down TARDIS with the full-size Doctor struggling to get out of its doors or the even smaller TARDIS in Clara’s hands, I thought for sure “Flatline” was going to be beyond stupid. I was wrong. (I thought much the same thing about “Mummy on the Orient Express” before I saw it and was wrong then, too. This season seems to be doing well when it comes to exceeding my expectations. But then, after the last few seasons, my expectations have admittedly been quite low.)
“Flatline” isn’t a bad episode at all, even if the shrinking TARDIS itself was kind of silly. Once again we get a classic Doctor Who setup with weird aliens to fight and a mystery to solve. With the Doctor trapped in the TARDIS and basically sidelined, it’s up to Clara to do the lion’s share of the work convincing people they’re in danger and getting them to safety. As a result, it’s Clara’s best episode to date. (I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: freeing her from all that Impossible Girl nonsense has really allowed her to shine. Imagine that: when her life no longer revolves entirely around the Doctor as someone who was “born to save him,” she gets to be far more interesting. Why, it’s almost as if Steven Moffat is learning that the trick to successful female characters is to make them something more than their relationship to a man!)
With the exception of the handful of scenes involving the Doctor’s full-size face peeking out through the shrunken TARDIS’s doors, the special effects in this episode were pretty great, especially once the aliens materialize. They look really freaky. Over all, it was a well done, creepy episode with good bits of humor.
However, the drama around Clara lying to Danny now feels completely intrusive. It’s forced, adds nothing to the story, and diminishes everything around it. In an episode filled to the brim with far-fetched ideas, the telephone scene between Clara and Danny was the only one that actually pulled me out of the story and had me rolling my eyes. Resolve this baloney already! Danny and Clara were actually a far more interesting couple when she was being honest with him about her time with the Doctor.
**MINOR SPOLIERS FOLLOW**
I have a couple of minor quibbles, which should surprise no one.
At one point, the Doctor engages a TARDIS failsafe he calls Siege Mode. Essentially, it locks the TARDIS so nothing can get in or out. Leaving aside how useful this Siege Mode would have been in other adventures had it ever existed before this episode (among the things it could have prevented: the Titanic colliding with the TARDIS in the 2007 Christmas Special “Voyage of the Damned”; the Sontarans getting inside the TARDIS in the 1978 serial “The Invasion of Time”; and the Cybermen getting inside the TARDIS in the 1982 serial “Earthshock”), there is the rather quibble-worthy addition that Siege Mode also turns the TARDIS into an impenetrable metal cube, complete with Gallifreyan writing or designs on it. This would seem to imply that the TARDIS’s chameleon circuit works after all, at least in this capacity. But how the Doctor got it to work for Siege Mode but not for, um, Normal Mode is never explained, which is frustrating. After all, it’s fifty-year-old canon that the Doctor can’t get the damn chameleon circuit to work right.
Unfortunately, “Flatline” ends with another brief and wholly unwelcome scene involving Missy. This time she’s watching Clara on what is essentially an iPad they didn’t bother disguising as anything else, and ruminating on how she has chosen well in selecting Clara for…what exactly? I don’t know, and I don’t really care. Missy and the “Promised Land” are this season’s weakest link.
And now for a bit of speculation. I’m wondering if the aliens from the other dimension might actually be the Time Lords trying to get back to ours. They seem able to drain off the TARDIS’s energy easily enough, which perhaps speaks to a familiarity with TARDISes, and human physiognomy seems to be close enough to Gallifreyan that the aliens’ attempt to take over human bodies might fit this theory. (Also, wasn’t the Doctor going to spend this season looking for Gallifrey? Or has that idea already been Moffated out of existence?) Missy could conceivably play into this theory, too. Perhaps her realm is the gateway between the two dimensions? But then, why work so hard to put Clara and the Doctor together? And why did Missy so creepily refer to the Doctor as her boyfriend back in the first episode this season? Those don’t necessarily fit, at least not in ways I can see yet. Okay, so my theory isn’t a solid one, but this episode did make me wonder.
Originally published at Nicholas Kaufmann. You can comment here or there.