Analysis of Series 8: Episode 9: Doctor Who – Flatline

Flatline

Jamie Mathieson

SPOILERS SWEETIE – Do not read if you haven’t watched

7 - getting to workFlatline” has several mind-blowingly brilliant concepts, all artfully woven together into this meaty action-packed thrilling adventure. There is much to enjoy about it from the point of view of the Doctor and Clara swapping places, the Doctor remote controlling one epic, hectic situation from his tiny TARDIS at the bottom of Clara’s handbag, discovering and defeating the 2-Dimensional monsters that the Doctor names, and a general comment about society.

All season has built to a huge hinted-at finale, and “Flatline” adds to that process taking a slow, strong build, and ramping it up several degrees. Over season eight, the relationship between the Doctor and Clara has fluctuated between companionship and conflict, but through it all, neither of them has let us down. This episode is amusingly told from the perspective of Clara, giving us a turn in the Doctor’s metaphorical hob-nail boots.

1 - phone callWe meet the plot at the point where the last victim Roscoe (John Cummins) who’s figured out the mysterious threat and is trying to convey what he knows to emergency services, and is unfortunately turned into a strip of screaming wallpaper, and a skin graft deco-decal. The Doctor’s involvement – re the TARDIS dimensions being leeched – is a result from the same invisible 2-dimensional threat that Roscoe’s figured out too late.

Clara is lying about Danny to the Doctor – not just evading, or omitting – but plain old garden variety lying. We discover she’s lying about why she isn’t leaving her things behind on the TARDIS. If she and the Doctor aren’t involved in a physical relationship, this is a waste of energy. She’s acting as if she has something to hide. In theory, she could just tell Danny she’s traveling with the Doctor (knocking about) and have done with it. The truth would be far easier to manage, and wouldn’t damage her reputation.

The TARDIS lands in the right timeline, but a completely different space – Bristol. The Doctor and Clara notice something is amiss when the door is half the size it usually is. The music is perfect (as usual) for drawing out the atmosphere and tension. Although our friendly TARDIS is the same on the inside as it ever was, it has lost half it’s external surface area due to energy being leached from external dimensions.

The Doctor is both amazed and afraid because the TARDIS has never done this before.

5 - oh that's not good
“Can you not just let me enjoy this moment of not knowing something, it happens so rarely?”

Realising with frustration she’s got a potentially awkward explanation with Danny brewing, Clara heads off into town to investigate, to find someone who might know what’s been going on while the Doctor stays with his mobile home. If he’d left, he’d not have been able to remote control from within his TARDIS later, and all the remedies applied wouldn’t have been possible.

Cut to the people on community service. They’re being commandeered by not a very nice man, Fenton (Christopher Fairbanks) who gets Rigsy (Joivan Wade) the convicted graffiti-artist to paint over his signature. Al (Matt Bardock) expects some sort of trouble over it, but Fenton isn’t racist, or sadistic, he’s just not very nice and has a cynical disposition, and he clearly just doesn’t like anyone. He has a strong ethical code though, he ensures rules are followed – you wouldn’t want to cross him, but he doesn’t break the rules to enforce them.

8 - questions

Clara is mildly cat-called and Rigsy takes quick break, strolling over and apologise to her on behalf of his boorish buddies. They get chatting and Clara discovers that people have gone missing, someone has painted murals under the bridge, and Rigsy is a convicted graffiti artist. She smirks when he points out he hasn’t done anything murdery. I wonder what’s going through her mind, she’s not exactly an ordinary girl.

“Did they just appear after people… disappeared?”
“Did they just appear after people… disappeared?”

Having discovered the problem, Clara heads over to the TARDIS and the exterior dimensions of the TARDIS have changed – it’s the same size as a plastic toy TARDIS – doctor is the right size on the inside along with everything else. We’re all chortling along with Clara as the Doctor informs her of the situational severity. It’s sheer brilliance. Humour and horror juxtaposed properly, always created a darkly hilarious balance in the dynamics.

Clara keeps telling the Doctor to stop with his stories – every episode she all but tells him to Shush. He hands Clara the psychic paper, sonic screwdriver and nanotech for multi-sensory communication, through the tiny door, and Clara puts the lightweight TARDIS in her handbag, the nanotech in her ear and keeps hold of the sonic screwdriver for flair. She is now imbued with the ability to literally channel the Doctor.

In certain communities, people claim to channel higher dimensional entities – I’m not commenting on the veracity, just the activity. I found “Flatline” an interesting look at that phenomenon, first where Clara actually has the Doctor in her head (seeing through her eyes) and he can hear her phone calls…  then it’s taken that extra bit further because it’s applied the other way, to the lower dimensions instead with the 2-dimensional monsters.

17 - here take my things

Clara bumps into Rigsy again and jokingly introduces herself as the Doctor. The Clara music plays – smooth Clara.

R: “So what are you a Doctor of?” D: (“Of Lies!”) C: “Well I’m usually quite vague about that. I think I just picked the title because it makes me sound important.” D: “Why Doctor Clara you are hilarious. Could we get back to work, do you think?”
R: “So what are you a Doctor of?”
D: (“Of Lies!”)
C: “Well I’m usually quite vague about that. I think I just picked the title because it makes me sound important.”
D: “Why Doctor Clara you are hilarious. Could we get back to work, do you think?”

As they enter Roscoe’s flat, Rigsy explains that Roscoe went missing from inside, and the Doctor comments that he enjoys a locked room mystery, and in replying to him, Clara reveals that she’s not traveling alone. Rigsy starts talking about how the police never get around to investigating these things and the Doctor writes him off as a fluorescent pudding brain. I suppose his view on life is different – if something is wrong, investigate it.

Through the mirror

While Clara is reflecting (smirking) into a mirror (her sigh accessed by the Doctor) – Mirrors and Eyes again, we see Rigsy’s reflection in the background. There have been mirrors used throughout this season, I’ve written about them in earlier analyses. Because the moon turned out to be an egg, I’m not entirely convinced they are in true reality… There was a great novel I read in my teens by Stephen Donaldson – the Mirror of her Dreams… 

Clara does something odd, she blasts the mirror with the sonic screwdriver and it causes the console in the TARDIS to show static. I am not entirely sure how this is possible – Mirror should really just be glass. The Doctor seemed confused too.

Tiny TARDISRigsy thinks out loud, based on those locked room things you get in books and something about that changes the Doctor’s mind. Is it that Rigsy demonstrated  an unexpectedly independent thought – one that almost exactly echoed the Doctor’s a few seconds before – a thought that only Clara heard… Or is someone / something in Rigsy’s head? Later when they’re underground I had a good look at his graffiti – couldn’t help think that last season the Van Gogh painting turned out to be quite important.

Missing man, locked room, shrink ray? Clara is thinking aloud, the TARDIS has shrunk – obvious to suspect a shrink ray, Clara didn’t know the Doctor had already set the sonic to scan for that when they entered the room (or at least that is what he said before going off to investigate the possibility). As Clara gets down on the floor to look for a man under a sofa or inside anywhere, Rigsy gets nervous and says he’s got to head back to his community service.

26 - meet the doctor
R: “It’s bigger on the inside.” D: “You know, I don’t think that statement’s ever been truer.”

“Clara, local knowledge is leaving, do something.”

They decide to show the Doctor to Rigsy, and this is another glorious moment of ingenuity and madness. We see the Doctor framed by the doors of the tiny TARDIS.

Clara proposes the man might still be in there and just be very tiny – TARDIS shrunk why not the man – it’s a good theory. Rigsy wants to leave at this point because it’s getting strange. Doctor is stuck in the TARDIS, and a huge energy drain hits the inside, and Clara grabs it and they run.

The Doctor has his blackboard out again, covered in calculations… this is another repeating theme that’s occurred throughout the season beginning at the home of Madame Vastra in “Deep Breath”. He explains more aloud for himself, than for Clara’s benefit, that it’s embarrassing as he’s from the race that built the TARDIS, dimensions are their thing… so why can’t he understand this? He suggests that they find out who else has disappeared for more clues.

27 - pc forrestCut to the Policewoman PC Forrest (Jessica Hayes) who is muttering about the case, says off the record, top brass hoping if they ignore it’ll all go away – here we come back to the theme of people just what’s necessary and nothing more. The Doctor suggests that in locked room stories, the person could still be inside, or buried inside the walls and he hands her a sledgehammer through the TARDIS door, and it comes out through her handbag. Another gasp-worthy moment of imaginative genius!

The policewoman goes into a separate room, notices something is off while justifying her time on the case, hangs up her phone-call, and falls victim to the 2-dimensional monsters. The floor moves, PC Forrest calls as she’s swallowed up, Clara and Rigsy arrive too late to see what happened, and as Clara scans the room the Doctor notices the mural is a nervous system – scaled up and flattened.

30 - hanging aroundThe first threat emerges. The walls and floor begin moving. Luckily the first victim had a swinging chair in the room situated right in front of the picture window. Unfortunately, Danny picks that time to call and the Doctor gets to hear both sides of the conversation – comments approvingly on Clara’s truth-evasion. While Clara and Rigsy swing frantically over a swarming floor, landing on the lawn outside the house.

“This explains everything. They’re from a universe with only two dimensions.”

The Doctor is excited at the discovery of the 2-dimensional beings (that the TARDIS can’t detect) coming through to the 3rd dimension. His next thought is a scathing attack on Clara’s lying, asking what long story she’s going to tell Danny.

“You told me that Danny was OK with you being back on board the TARDIS… Congratulations. Lying is a vital survival skill…. And a terrible habit.”

I wonder what else the Doctor knows and has omitted to say – if it’s anything to do with all the scribbles on his blackboard.

31 - those are the peopleThe earpiece acts up at a convenient moment, the Doctor’s voice is breaking up (outside interference perhaps?) and while Rigsy is tries to stop the group from painting over them, Clara sonics the piece to get it working again.

The Doctor notices the murals for what they are and reaches out of the TARDIS in her handbag and points to the walls – and the missing people painted there.

Clara has a minor run in with Fenton, who hasn’t the imagination to see the psychic paper for anything other than what it is when she tried to convince him she was with Health and Safety. Stan moved forward to paint the wall as per Fenton’s instruction, but unfortunately he’s sucked in by the 2-dimensional mob. Perhaps sensing a threat, all the murals to turn around, and the Doctor points out that they’re “wearing the dead like camouflage”… more wonderful ideas emerge as the murals take the swarming shape we’ve come to recognise and love, and on the Doctor’s command to get them out of there, they run.

32 - numbers upThis plot is moving along nicely. They find themselves in an old warehouse with trains. The underground is creepy and dark, but conversely feels safer than out there where the swarming 2-d mob is. Doctor informs Clara that her first goal is take on the role of leader, which she does convincingly and with strength.

“I am the one chance you’ve got for staying alive, that’s who I am.”

Clara hopes she can keep them alive, the Doctor says “Welcome to my world” It’s an interesting dynamic flip, Clara puts it to the Doctor that she lies to them that’s what the Doctor would do.

“It is true that people with hope tend to run faster… whereas people who think they’re doomed…(C: dawdle)”

The Doctor doesn’t seem certain the monsters are just trying to understand and not getting it, or if they are planning an invasion. He wants to find out first. I suppose because if something is benevolent, it’s easier to resolve the issue. But it is clear after they lose Number 22 – George (Raj Bajaj), and after hearing the 2-d monsters say his number, that they’re dealing with a psychopathic mob.

D: “I know a race of sentient gas who throw fireballs as a friendly wave… I know another race with 64 stomachs that talk to each other by disembowelling”
C: “He has a hunch”

Fenton may be unpleasant and without a single sparkle or glimmer of optimism and cynical to his bones and ordinarily such character-tropes would be relegated to the eradication pile of disposable characters, but this episode is full of surprises. After George turns into a 2-d swarm, they run off into the tunnels. They discover that the monsters were there and turned the handles flat. The Doctor puts together a little contraption he calls the 2-Dis – able to restore dimensions.

37 - malfunction
2-Dis malfunctions, “Long way round it is.”

Clara uses the 2-Dis on the flattened handle, and it malfunctions.

Things get a whole worse when Number 36, Al (Matt Bardock) is taken by a big 3-D hand causing the 2-d creatures to morph into the bodies of their victims out of the very dust of the disused train tunnel. It’s apity because I think he was the only character that seemed to assure Clara’s safety from the nasty Fenton. The Doctor in the meantime makes an adjustment on the 2-Dis and they’re able to get through a door, discovering that the creatures have the same ability to restore dimensions.

The creatures have an immense amount of information and we learn all together in one terrific action, chase sequence that they can restore dimensions since they’re in the 3-D.

40 falling TARDIS
D: “Clara would you like the good news or the bad news” C: “We are in the bad news! I’m living the bad news!”

Thankfully, the Doctor has come up with a theoretical way to send them back to their own dimension, but there’s just not enough dimensional energy in the TARDIS to make that happen. The Doctor also tells Clara this one vital bit of information, before Fenton wrestles the TARDIS away from her – that the creatures can now pour the energy out as well as leech it, and theoretically could fill up the TARDIS. The tension about Clara being the only female with a dwindling band of “safe” men, who continue to include Fenton, is growing just that much stronger.

The TARDIS falls down onto a deeper train line and things that seem dire just get that bit worse. The structural integrity of the TARDIS is now failing, and as the Doctor peers out of the TARDIS doors, he realises that the light in the tunnel moving toward him, is a train.

43 - addams family momentClara suggests he move the TARDIS like Addams Family’s Thing and he turns the TARDIS the right way up, and uses his fingers to scoot along off the trap. But, as it turns out, things are not ready to turn around just yet, it’s not perfect positioning and the TARDIS topples over, before being knocked by the train’s wheels, and the Doctor’s communications are cut off from Clara’s. The Cloister bell rings – second time this season. He’s really pushing the limits, and goes into siege mode – with insufficient power to come out of it.

45 - oh myyyAlong the lower train lines, Fenton, Rigsy and Clara realises the monsters are still coming after them, Fenton points out another train is coming and they get it to stop. Bill’s (James Quinn) arrival re-balances the group because Fenton isn’t a nice guy at all, he would turn on them given half a chance – he’s already got one up on Rigsy and he’s responsible for the loss of the TARDIS.

While Clara is talking to Bill, Rigsy hops aboard the train to “hold the dead man’s handle” and Clara leaps up after him and gets her hair-band to do the job instead.

“You’re not getting off that lightly – there’s work that needs doing.”

48 - train printThe moment they jump, the train is transformed into a mural, sucked into the 2D world, providing the monsters with more energy to make them even more lethal than they were before.

“I quite liked that hairband.”

Clara discovers the TARDIS on the track, in siege mode, and recovers it – and they run away from the morphing 2D monsters, chirruping louder and more menacing than before.

They walk into an access shaft and Clara cannot contact the Doctor. She realises what the last thing the Doctor said, was the TARDIS needed energy, so that’s where they started. Clara doesn’t seem able to hear the Doctor from within his siege-enabled time machine, yet she confirms she could hear him once the dust has settled and they’re back in the light of day.

51 - paint jobFenton has no imagination, cannot understand what Clara is doing, says she’s insane, but Clara sets Rigsy up with the large poster and spray paints – what else would an artist do. A painting is 2-dimensional, Clara situated the TARDIS behind the poster of a door, and they wait for the threat to arrive.

All along we didn’t know if Clara could hear the Doctor talking, but somehow as the energy pours from the monsters on the poster, and being caught by the Pandorica shaped TARDIS behind, she can hear him say she was Good and that she made a mighty fine Doctor.

54 - energy boost
“Rule number one about being the Doctor, use your enemy’s power against them.”

The energy blast restores the TARDIS to full operation. In a gut blasting arrival, the TARDIS drops back down – loud and proud – with a massive force field holding back the monsters. The Doctor’s speech is powerful.

 

“I tried to talk. I want you to remember that. I tried to reach out, I tried to understand you. I think you understand us just perfectly, and I think you just don’t care. And I don’t know whether you are here to invade, infiltrate o just replace us. I don’t suppose it really matters now. You are monsters. That is the role you seem determined to play. So it seems I must play mine. The man that stops the monsters.” “I am the Doctor and I name you The Boneless.”
“I tried to talk. I want you to remember that. I tried to reach out, I tried to understand you. I think you understand us just perfectly, and I think you just don’t care. And I don’t know whether you are here to invade, infiltrate or just replace us. I don’t suppose it really matters now. You are monsters. That is the role you seem determined to play. So it seems I must play mine. The man that stops the monsters.”
“I am the Doctor and I name you The Boneless.”

Clara is triumphant – she’s got a lot to feel proud about, she asks the doctor if people still say Chipper. She seems to be walking along the edge of confidence and arrogance, one step either way and she could come up against a pitfall of her own making.

Fenton lives to tell the tale – anyone who knows him would have to believe the tale, but somehow I doubt he’ll tell of it – and after briefly meeting him, the Doctor comments that the wrong people may have survived.

F: “It’s like a forest fire, isn’t it? The objective is to save the great trees, not the brushwood. Am I right?” D: “Those weren’t trees, they were people.” F: “They were community-payback scumbags, I wouldn’t lose any sleep. 
F: “It’s like a forest fire, isn’t it? The objective is to save the great trees, not the brushwood. Am I right?”
D: “Those weren’t trees, they were people.”
F: “They were community-payback scumbags, I wouldn’t lose any sleep.

The Doctor is evidently not pleased with Clara. I suppose all that time alone in the TARDIS gave him time to stew – more so than usual. Clara reveals that she’d heard what he’d said, but gave him an out saying that the power was going out and he could have been delirious. He agrees that she was an exceptional Doctor – but Good had nothing to do with it.

“Ah! The return of the fluorescent pudding brain!” They say goodbye to Rigsy, he heads off… his world, and perception altered, and as an artist, we hope that he’d apply it to new creations.

35 - graffiti by rigsy
“You last painting was so good it saved the world. I can’t wait to see what you do next.”

Doctor confronts a less elated Clara and agrees that Clara was an exceptional Doctor, but goodness had nothing to do with it.

64 - My Clara I've chosen well
“Clara, My Clara – I HAVE chosen well.”

Missy! I don’t even know what to make of Missy yet. I have read so much speculation and some of it sounds okay, some of it sounds too far off the wall, and somehow I think the reality is so different to what everyone is expecting – this season has been dense with clues and red-herrings, it’s impossible to tell the difference.

63 - wheres camera
Where is the Camera?

I will say this. I have noticed that eyes, mirrors, reflection and duality somehow come into it. These are common themes across the season’s arc.

I don’t really care to speculate on Missy any more at this point – we have loads of information, but still not enough. At some point between publishing this and “In the Forests of the Night”, I will need to review all my notes and analyses and see what I can piece together from past questions.

Flatline” is the ninth episode of the eighth series of the British science fiction television programme Doctor Who, written by Jamie Mathieson, and directed by Douglas Mackinnon. The episode stars Peter Capaldi and Jenna Coleman, with Joivan Wade and Christopher Fairbank guest starring.

The Verdict

siege modeThe show was on the other foot in “Flatline“, Clara was at the centre of the action, whereas the Doctor had to stay put (opposite situation in Mummy). The story just didn’t stop in all it’s breakneck pace. The threat was scary, unfathomable, and having to go through this with Clara at the helm as opposed to the Doctor, is one of the most interesting ways to structure an episode in recent history – especially with their personal conflict. The Doctor called her a liar even before he heard her conversation with Danny.

One of the minor issues I had, was identifying the characters other than Rigsy and PC Forrest. Perhaps it was a comment as both of the stories written by Jamie Mathieson had a train-theme.

Mummy on the one hand, looked at the opulent aspects, where social conventions and niceties are the expected norm – we met each character as an individual, at their level. “Flatline” on the other, has taken the perspective from the blue-collared of society, and clearly not in the same social construct, or class. Each prisoner has a number, the train driver blue-collar, as is Fenton the distinctly unlikable supervisor. The only reason I knew their names was because I checked Wikipedia and googled images of actors – which by the way if I got anyone wrong, please let me know.

The ideas in “Flatline” were so good, that any imitation will be pounced upon by fandom, and hewn to shreds. This leaves room for The Boneless to become a returning monster. What a way to make it into Doctor Who cannon! Well done Jamie Mathieson – you’re an awesome writer!

"Good had nothing to do with it"
“Good had nothing to do with it”

The various stages of the shrinking TARDIS were simply genius, half-size, pint size and siege mode size – brilliant imagination and some humorous gags (Thing from the Addams Family). The Doctor framed in the confines of a tiny door to his capacious home, makes him unusually vulnerable. Despite her lying ways, he trusts Clara enough to give over to her keeping his life, TARDIS, Sonic Screwdriver, psychic paper and 2-Dis, and she follows through, albeit with a little added arrogance padding her confidence, and is a great Doctor.

His advice on her journey seemed largely free from interference, apart from a couple of moments – where I wondered if their argument about Danny was cut short to spare the viewer the agony, or if there was more to it – involving a voyeuristic Missy perhaps.

I’ll leave you with one last unrelated thought. How is Riversong connected with Clara? I can’t help wonder why Riversong had a psychic connection with Clara at Trenzalore, in “The Name of the Doctor” and I can’t help but wonder if we might be returning there at some future point. I may be barking up a completely wrong tree.

 

 

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