One of the things which is a little bit predictable about this series is how many episodes are set on Earth and this is yet another episode set on Earth. For a programme which is fantastical which is supposed to spark the imagination it’s almost too hamstrung by the restrictions of budget, so the easy way round it is to set stories on Earth. This is some the programme has suffered from since it’s return in 2005 with some good episodes, and some really dreadful ones.
Although Flatline is a relatively cheap episode set on Earth and in fact, Bristol (even though it doesn’t look like it was filmed here in Bristol) about aliens from a two-dimensional world invading Bristol which sounds utterly average, though the trailers made it look odd, but nothing exceptional.
Thankfully Flatline isn’t just exceptional, it’s the best episode of what is a series of high quality. It’s a fantastic bit of Who that draws upon classic Who a lot, while throwing in bits of Nigel Kneale, Twilight Zone and even a bit of Attack the Block. It’s a brilliantly original episode which seems like a Doctor-lite story as for most of the episode the Doctor is trapped in his Tardis whose exterior has shrunk thanks to these aliens sucking up ‘extra-dimensional energy’. This leaves Clara to carry most of the action this episode and the Doctor is an observer thanks to a bit of technobabble that allows him to hear and see what Clara does as she tries to get to the bottom of the mystery of disappearing people in Bristol.
This is yet another Clara episode, but it’s a vitally important one as she crosses a big line in it and one which is set up to have ramifications for the final episodes. In this, the Doctor discovers that Clara has lied to him about Danny Pink being fine with Clara continuing to travel with the Doctor. There’s a real sense of the Doctor’s outrage as he feels let down by Clara, but also at the same time Capaldi plays it so he’s almost impressed by Clara’s duplicity not to mention the fact she ends up being a very good Doctor.
As for the aliens, there’s some wonderfully chilling stuff going on as the Doctor and Clara work out that they’re not just turning 3-dimensional humans into 2-dimensional images slapped up on disused railways lines, which is a nice touch setting it in Bristol where every kid and their granny fancies themselves as the next Bansky. The moment when the Doctor sees that these creatures are dissecting humans and splattering their nervous systems or skin on walls is a brilliantly horrific moment right out of classic Hinchcliffe era Who. There’s also a fantastic moment where the creatures are communicating with the small group of survivors that Clara is protecting where they reel off the number on the jacket of one of community service criminals with Clara, and then the camera shifts to show that he’s been turned 2-D. It’s a brilliant moment but one sadly a wee bit ruined when taken out of context in the trailers.
At the end and after the worst CGI train you will ever see, Clara comes up with a plan to use street art to save the world and the Tardis which by now is a small box (The Doctor has put it in ‘siege mode’ to save power and seal it off from the aliens) needs to be saved. She comes up with a solution which restores the Tardis allowing the Doctor to confront these invaders. This is a wonderful scene with Capaldi portraying the genuine anger of the Doctor being forced to send back the aliens (who he names The Boneless) to wherever they came from. It’s another wonderful scene as the Doctor knows he’s given them every chance but he has to stop them and that means killing some of them.
After the baddies and killed/sent home, the Doctor and Clara reflect upon what’s happened and we yet again in the new series see the Doctor turning a companion into a weapon, and Clara shows she’s a very effective weapon as well. There’s a lot which moves the characters on in this episode from Clara’s ingenuity coming to the fore again and Capaldi’s Doctor being not just heroic and compassionate, but actually positive about humans he’s trying to save.
Flatline is a genuine classic and an episode fans will be talking about in ten or twenty years. It’s horrific, creepy (the scenes of The Boneless trying to make themselves 3-D are brilliantly unsettling if somewhat reminiscent of the monster from a segment of the horror film V/H/S) and sets up the final few episodes nicely as the Missy storyline that’s been teased since the first episode pops up again.
There is only three episodes left with next episode being the last before the two-part final story featuring the Cybermen. I can’t wait……