Doctor Who: Flatline (8×09)
Synopsis: Two-dimensional beings are wreaking havoc in Bristol, and people are being absorbed into walls by the handful. But the Doctor is out, and Clara must fill his shoes with the help of nothing but a faulty earpiece and a sonic screwdriver. Teaming up with graffiti artist Rigsy, Clara has no choice but to get to the bottom of this multidimensional mystery in order to save the Doctor and—you guessed it—the world (at least, the three-dimensional one). Is she up to the challenge, or will these otherworldly beings flatten the Doctor and his companion before they can be stopped?
There is something terrifyingly fascinating about a species that can only speak and communicate in numbers and lines, seemingly without any code of morality. Even more chilling is the fact that these creatures have complete control over our world’s two-dimensional planes and can absorb us into any surface at a moment’s notice. As is the case with several of this season’s episodes, one of “Flatline”’s highlighting features is its level of suspense, which is well-supported by brilliantly executed special effects. All of its elements come together to result in what is—yet again—one of the best episodes of the season, and one whose story will likely be regarded highly by fans for years to come.
That said, if you’re not a fan of Clara Oswald, chances are this episode will leave you feeling a bit, well, flat. The Doctor is present in voice and in spirit, of course, but for the vast majority of the episode, Clara is flying solo. I’m not sure what the show’s creators are attempting to do with this new independent streak Clara has recently acquired, but it seems strange to give her so much screen time when Jenna Coleman is rumored to be leaving the show at the end of this year. Perhaps they’re trying to suddenly justify the existence of this companion—who has left many fans with mixed feelings—before she departs.
What begins as another quirky adventure with the Doctor quickly turns sour as the TARDIS experiences some dimensional difficulties and rather hilariously shrinks in size. But things don’t stay funny for long, and soon the TARDIS is reduced to such a small size that it is impossible for the Doctor to exit his own time machine. Clara seems to find the entire situation laughable, and willfully sets out, toy-size TARDIS in hand, on a masquerade as the Doctor.
Clara soon meets Rigsy, a graffiti artist completing his community service hours, while investigating the disappearance of a man who has vanished while in his own home. The situation becomes rapidly serious when the pair discover that two-dimensional aliens are absorbing humans into the walls in order to conduct gruesome experiments on the three-dimensional world and its many inhabitants.
But Clara is on her own this time, as the TARDIS is still miniature with no hope in sight of returning it to its original size (or time to find out how). Clara and a hodgepodge team of city workers and law offenders make a run for it through the underground tunnels of Bristol, with only the Doctor’s words and a faulty, hastily made dimensional manipulator for assistance.
With the TARDIS completely drained of power, the Doctor has no choice but to put it into “siege mode” (which makes it look uncannily like the Pandorica–coincidence?). Without the power to turn off its defenses, the Doctor is completely helpless, trapped in his own time machine until he runs out of oxygen. Fortunately, some quick thinking by Clara saves the day, and she uses her enemy’s power against them, tricking them into charging up the TARDIS with the help of some first-class graffiti art courtesy of Rigsy (guess he’s not so useless after all).
All in all, “Flatline” was one of my favorites of the season thus far, right on par with “Listen” and “Time Heist”. While the episode was a bit of a bust for Clara haters, the storyline was solid for a one-shot Doctor Who mystery, and the pace kept up while delivering enough suspense to keep viewers squirming in their seats. As the season gears up for its finale in just a few weeks, I am excited to see what lies in store for the Doctor and his increasingly independent companion.
Things get wild next week as our time travelers find London overgrown with greenery and threatening wildlife. We’re brought back to the world of Coal Hill, and Danny and Clara must get their students to safety before they’re attacked by wolves, or worse. “In the Forest of the Night” premieres on Saturday, October 25 on BBC America and BBC One. Check out the trailer below, and let us know what you thought of “Flatline” in the comments below!