Doctor Who: Flatline (S8E09) Review

flatline*SPOILERS*

After a solid run of three really good episodes, I was ready for a bit of slide this week, especially when I read the synopsis saying that with the Doctor out of action, Clara has to become the Doctor. After all the complaining I’ve done about the series being too Clara-centric, how was I ever going to find something to like this one?

When the TARDIS returns the Doctor and Clara to Bristol after another escapade, they are astonished to find the outside of the TARDIS is much smaller than usual. As Clara goes to investigate, the Doctor returns to the TARDIS only to find himself trapped in the increasingly small time machine leaving Clara to fend off an attack from beings who literally have a completely different perspective on life.

Although it starts whimsically enough, this is a tense and creepy episode with a fantastic alien threat and yet more really good, hard sci-fi concepts. Although there was a bit of shrinky-dinking of the TARDIS in “Logopolis“, this is the first time I can remember the story focussing so much on the ‘D’ for Dimensions in TARDIS. The idea of the outside getting smaller and smaller while the Doctor remains trapped is a fantastic concept and gives for some wonderfully light moments, including a sledgehammer-themed homage to “Mary Poppins”.

I actually enjoyed Clara again in this episode, the intrusive couple of sequences with Danny aside (although hooray for the Doctor being aware that Clara had been lying to him all long). Left to her own devices, she was plucky, resourceful and almost back to her old self. There were so many great moments in this, from the TARDIS hermit crab escape  to Christopher Fairbanks horrifically closed-minded community service supervisor thwarting the psychic paper through sheer lack of imagination but the episode belongs to the alien threat – eventually dubbed ‘The Boneless” by the Doctor. Creepy, imperceptible and so alien, the idea and the execution are first rate. There’s an almost “X-Files” vibe of alien abduction and experimentation as they study us and how to adapt to our three dimensional world. The underpass of painted victims is particularly effective, as are the shambling, partly formed three dimensional versions the aliens manufacture. There are moments where the effects let the episode down, though, notably when portraying real life objects such as a train but really, if you’ve been with Doctor Who for the long haul the occasional shoddy effect isn’t going to trouble you. Alongside the clever visuals and constant stream of ideas there are more callbacks to the series’ long history. The Doctor once again advises a hostile alien force that this world ‘is protected’ and even the TARDIS’ arrival in Bristol instead of London echoes the Doctor accidentally dropping Sarah Jane Smith off in Aberdeen at the end of “The Hand Of Fear”.

Resolved in a clever way which pays off several plot points from the earlier portion of the episode, this is another strong script from writer Jamie Mathieson and another deserved entry into the Doctor Who Monster Hall Of Fame. I very much hope we haven’t seen the last of ‘The Boneless’ and after writing this adventure and “Mummy On The Orient Express”, I hope Mathieson will return to the show too. The reappearance of Missy in a brief and cryptic coda is a reminder that we’re only three episodes away from the end of this series. After “Deep Breath” and “Into The Dalek”, that wouldn’t have bothered me. Now, those three remaining episodes are a precious and scare commodity and it feels like this excellent series will be over all too soon!

9/10  TARDIS 9

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