Doctor Who Review: Flatline

doctor who review flatline jamie mathieson douglas mackinnon clara oswald jenna coleman joivan wade peter capaldi

You were an exceptional Doctor. But goodness had nothing to do with it.

Doctor Who is at its best when it does things that other shows can’t do, or simply haven’t been done before.

That is, I think it’s fair to say, one of the facts of the program. Innovation and originality are where Doctor Who sings; that’s the time when you can say “yes, this is one of the best things on television, and there’s nothing else I’d rather watch”.

And I tell you what, the Boneless absolutely typify this. They just aren’t like anything we’ve seen before. At first there’s this wonderfully strange, sickening sort of body horror – the nervous system, and the skin? That’s some really scary stuff. Then it evolves slightly, and there’s that Banksy style graffiti, shifting and moving and coming to life, claiming its victims by pulling them into the painting. And then those glitchy jittery zombie creatures, almost like something out of a videogame, with their slow lumbering movements, and a real evocation of the uncanny valley.

They were really very chilling, and really very Doctor Who.

doctor who review flatline douglas mackinnon the boneless perspective shift flattened worker jenna coleman joivan wade jamie mathieson

Visually, this episode was pretty stunning. I’m not talking in terms of the location or anything like that – though that train station was pretty spooky – but rather the direction, and all the little visual tricks that were used to really sell the idea of 2D monsters. Things like the shifting perspective, where the camera angles move and what we thought was 3D, like the door handle, is in fact completely flat. When they did that to one of the workers, it was just horrific, frankly.

Lots of great funny moments in here too – the Adams Family TARDIS, for example, that was pretty great. Going to be honest, I snickered a bit at Danny’s “…sounds active” line towards Clara, though it probably wasn’t intended the way I read it.

Rigsy (conscious echo of “Banksy”, perhaps?) and Fenton were both rather excellently characterised. Loved those two, and the conflict between them; the young, mostly harmless graffiti artist, and the old, bitter, probably a UKIP voter and all round nasty piece of work. There are few characters, I think, that I’ve genuinely hated quite so much as that fellow. I kept expecting him to be revealed to be some sort of alien (incidentally, the actor had a part in Guardians of the Galaxy recently, albeit under heavy prosthetics) but, no, he was just a horrible person.

The best part though, and what really made the episode stand out to me, was the further development of the relationship between the Doctor and Clara, and the question of whether or not the Doctor – and now Clara – really are ‘good people’.

doctor who review flatline clara oswald jenna coleman on balance goodness had nothing to do with it peter capaldi jamie mathieson

This is some fantastically weighty stuff; the Doctor’s own morality and manipulative nature is being reflected in Clara, and she is changing. It all adds up to a fantastic bit of character development, and it is, again, largely pretty new ground for the show – something similar might have happened in the NAs with Ace, perhaps, but I’m not certain of that.

It’s written with such subtlety and finesse throughout; one of the best moments for the Doctor, I would say, is his line “Absolutely” when Clara asks if he’s sure that the 2DIS will help them. It’s very clear though that he isn’t – which makes that line all the more crucial. For Clara, I’m thinking of the “on balance” exchange towards the end of the episode – she was so damn pleased with herself at being the Doctor, she didn’t even give a second thought to the people who had died. She started thinking on balance – which, as the Doctor says, is something he does so other people don’t have to. But because they’ve been around each other so long, she’s started doing it too.

Honestly, this was an absolutely fantastic episode. It was so deep, and clever, and nuanced. Definitely another strong 9/10 – Jamie Mathieson has to come back next year. And every year after that!

Related:

Doctor Who series 8 reviews

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