Doctor Who S8 Ep9: Flatline

The two-dimensonal Boneless are killing people in Bristol. The Doctor is trapped in a shrunken TARDIS. It’s up to Clara to step into the Doctor’s shoes and save the day.

Honestly, it’s bigger on the inside … (Image: BBC)

Doctor Oswald

Doctor, what would you do now? No. What would I do?

It’s easily overlooked because it’s all done with such style, but this wonderful little story – the second in a row by newcomer Jamie Mathieson after last week’s Murder on the Orient Express – is essentially this season’s Doctor-lite episode, with Peter Capaldi filming virtually all of his scenes on his own on the TARDIS set.

By contrast, having spent most of the previous episode sidelined, it’s Clara who takes on the role of the Doctor after he becomes trapped inside a miniaturised TARDIS.

At first, as Clara befriends graffiti artist Rigsy and gathers information on all the missing people, the Doctor is very much running the show from a distance via Clara’s nanotech earpiece. But in the end it’s all Clara, as her quick-witted plan that saves the day, fooling the Boneless into pouring their energy through Rigsy’s painting of a door to recharge the stricken TARDIS and free the Doctor to deliver the coup de grâce, banishing the two-dimensional beings.

Along the way, though, Clara discovers first-hand that there’s more to being the Doctor than just jokingly assuming his name. It’s she who has to bear the burden of taking charge of the situation. It’s she who must lie to keep the group’s hopes up. And it’s she who has to come up with the big plan at the end.

Just as Frank Skinner’s engineer Perkins served as a temporary companion of the week on the Orient Express, Rigsy becomes the companion to Doctor Oswald here, proving both his willingness to sacrifice himself for the greater good on the runaway train (the CGI for which was the one disappointing aspect of this episode) and a sense of adventure that is essential for any companion.

Like Perkins (and Time Heist‘s Psi and Saibra before them), he’d make for a fine full-time companion too in a season which has produced a succession of memorable one-off allies. Not bad for what the Doctor originally dismisses as a “fluorescent pudding brain”.

The Doctor lies – and so does Clara

Congratulations. Lying is a vital survival skill – and a terrible habit.

Back in The Big Bang, River Song warned Amy and Rory that “the Doctor lies”. Here he explains to Clara the importance of lying to maintain morale and encourage people to run faster. But it’s been a developing theme this season that Clara is lying more and more to those close to her – and maybe even to herself.

Clara is finding it increasingly easy to lie (Image: BBC)

She has lied to the Doctor on a number of occasions, denying she recognised Orson Pink in Listen, hiding her relationship with Danny and then last week pretending that Danny was okay about her continuing to travel aboard the TARDIS. She concealed her adventures with the Doctor from Danny, most notably in The Caretaker, and lies to him again here. And she also lies to Rigsy and the work crew to keep their spirits up.

This may ultimately come to nothing. But, as the Doctor himself might say, it’s definitely a thing.

Is the Doctor on to Missy?

You were an exceptional Doctor, Clara. Goodness had nothing to do with it.

This was an odd line of dialogue, no? What exactly does the Doctor mean by it? Is he already vaguely suspicious of Missy’s still undefined threat?

He has already reminded Clara about the woman in the shop who first gave her the TARDIS’s phone number in The Bells of Saint John. Missy’s brief appearance at the end reveals that she believes she has chosen well in Clara. But for what purpose, and why Clara? She appears to be playing a very long game indeed.

Another Mathieson masterpiece

If Mummy on the Orient Express was an impressive debut by writer Jamie Mathieson, then Flatline maintains his high standards.

The idea of the two-dimensional Boneless, against whom walls and doors offer no protection, is chilling enough. But the image of the graffiti people in the subway tunnel coming to life, turning round and emerging in three dimensions from the wall is superbly realised – my favourite moment in an episode full of tension yet still replete with humour, not least a series of sight gags involving the Doctor and his tiny TARDIS.

In both episodes, Mathieson has proven adept at mixing horror with humour, and his little character moments between the Doctor and Clara have been some of my favourite segments of dialogue this year, cementing the strength of this particular Doctor/companion relationship. Hopefully we’ll see more from him next season.

Fun stuff, references & quotables

  • “‘These readings are very ish-y.”
  • “Could you not just let me enjoy this moment of not knowing something? I mean, it happens so rarely.”
  • “You really throw your companions in at the deep end, don’t you?”
  • The Doctor mentions one race made of sentient gas and another with 64 stomachs, who communicate by throwing fireballs and disembowelling respectively. Nice.
  • The Doctor calls his deflattening device the ‘2Dis’ (Twodis). Heh.
  • Clara suggests that the Doctor moves the TARDIS off the railway line like in The Addams Family. In the 1960s TV series, Thing was a disembodied hand which moved by scuttling along using its fingers exactly as the Doctor does here.
  • “I tried to talk to you. I want you to remember that. I tried to reach out, to understand you.”
  • “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.”

Rating: 9/10

Doctor Who season 8 reviews

8.1 Deep Breath

8.2 Into the Dalek

8.3 Robot of Sherwood

8.4 Listen

8.5 Time Heist

8.6 The Caretaker

8.7 Kill the Moon

8.8 Mummy on the Orient Express

9 Comments on Doctor Who S8 Ep9: Flatline

  1. Hi Tim,

    I’ve had a quick scan on the Internet and can’t find any reference to a siege Tardis. Is this it’s first appearance?


    • As far as I’m aware, it has never been mentioned before either on TV on in any of the books or audiobooks.

      • Thanks Tim. I have to say this was one of the most enjoyable episodes I have ever seen, I agree with you let’s hope there is still more to come from Mr Mathieson soon!

  2. Loved it, especially the Tom Baker/Liz Sladen style of banter between Clara and 12. The CGI for the 3D versions of the aliens were brilliantly bizarre too. You wrote a great review, but goodness was nothing to do with it. Mine is where you’d normally find it

  3. What did the Doctor mean when he told Clara: “You were an exceptional Doctor, goodness had nothing to do with it.”

  4. Missy “owning” Clara. Isn’t this just Amy and eye patch woman, all over again? And the monsters were just glomming onto the tedious zombie popularity.

    • I think we’re a long way from establishing exactly what Missy’s relationship or intentions for Clara are yet – so, no, I’m not seeing this as a repeat of Kovarian. Not sure that I’d compare the Boneless to zombies either – (a) zombies don’t affect dimensions and (b) if anything the imitation is of A-ha’s iconic Take On Me video

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