DOCTOR WHO: “Flatline”

The Doctor and Clara switch roles and explore complex calculus in another hold-your-breath installment.

Could you not just let me enjoy this moment of not knowing something? It happens so rarely.

–The Doctor

In what has become a signature this season, we start somewhere in the middle of the story in the cold open. A man phones the police claiming to know some information about some shady business. Apparently, “they’re all around us,” as he exclaims before getting turned into a 2D wall hang. (Trust me; it’s just as hokey as it sounds. I think I’m supposed to be…frightened?) Cue credits.

After some annoying relationship banter to – once again – remind us that A. Clara has a boyfriend and B. he’s not the Doctor, the TARDIS lands a bit off mark (Somewhere called Bristol? Is that close to London?) and quite a bit more tiny than usual — on the outside natch. (If they sell these ¾ size TARDIS’s on Think Geek, I’m totally getting one.) The Doctor pleads for Clara to stay a bit longer so that they might figure out the reason for the Incredible Shrinking Blue Box, so the petulant companion searches the neighboring town for clues as the Doctor heads back inside the TARDIS on the hunt for a malfunction.

Clara meets Rigsy, a young graffiti artist fulfilling community service requirements, and grills him for information about a shrine to lost love ones she finds. The murals are life-sized, life-like paintings of people who’ve gone missing. Or are they really 2D versions like the guy in the opening? (Okay, I’ll admit the rhetoric of that question. We totes know it’s option 2.) When Clara heads back to share with the Doctor her discoveries, she find the TARDIS in cookie jar size. (I have one. Get yours here.) Something is leeching the “dimensional energy” (it’s totally a thing…it’s what makes the TARDIS look smaller on the outside) in the area — probably aliens, the pair assume, and Clara is tasked with finding the source, complete with the sonic screwdriver, psychic paper, and the Doctor tapping into her optic nerve so that he may she what she sees.

Bumping into Rigsy again, Doctor Clara gets her own companion for the episode, and the two explore the 2D man’s apartment. Seems he went missing while all the doors and windows were locked – from the inside. (Cue creepy music.) Doctor Clara and Rigsy hypothesize that the man could still be inside the room, maybe tiny like the TARDIS, but as they scan the room, something — or someone – begins to drain energy from our beloved blue box. “Rigsy. This is where we run!” Clara poses as an MI-5 operative (thanks to some psychic paper) and she and Rigsy are shown the crime scene of the first gentleman to go missing. The officer showing the two around takes a phone call and meets her doom as the floor underneath her seems to swallow the woman up, as if she were the Wicked Witch of the West. Unfortunately, Clara and Rigsy miss it, but the Doctor recognizes the mural on the wall to be that of a human nervous system. Something is taking people into the walls, studying the three dimensions. It locks Rigsy and Clara in the room, but they escape with some swinging antics as Clara taking the role of Doctor Clara very aptly, even while speaking to Danny on the phone during her getaway. (I’m just going to ignore the parts of this episode centered around the Doctor-Clara-Danny triangle. But if you must know, the Doctor discovers that Clara’s been lying to her boyfriend about continuing to travel on the TARDIS. I totally missed that last episode, as I thought it was the Doctor to whom she was lying….but, again, can we all just move on?)

The Doctor figures out the culprits are from a universe with only two dimensions (gleefully exclaiming its existence, once only a theory). Back in the subway, the other community service workers are trying to paint over the mural, but they soon realize the two-dimensional creatures have taken people into the walls, killing them and using their bodies as weapons. Clara and Rigsy get the remaining workers to safety, albeit temporarily. The group hides out in a warehouse next to an abandoned subway line. Continuing the arc flowing through this season of Clara understanding how the Doctor works, the two discuss how she might be able to save the people now in her charge. She tells the Doctor she should probably lie to them, telling them they’re all safe, like he would do. It’s one of those moments where each gets to examine how the other one lives: observer and savior, further understanding how those roles often intersect. The group tries to communicate with the 2D creatures to discover if they mean harm or are only trying to reach out – their idea of language is just as confusing as their idea of space. Even the TARDIS is confused, and therefore cannot translate as it normally does. (Take that Comic Book Guy! An explanation!) Once they connect, the 2D Scaries send a message: first “55,” the number of one of the fallen community service workers. Then “22,” the number on the jacket of one of the remaining group. Clara wants to believe that the creatures are only proving they can count, but soon realizes that they’ve targeted “22,” and he’s toast. Er…2D toast, as it were.

The group rushes into the abandoned tunnel, as if they were herded into there, and the Scaries become 3D killing one of the group, using the walls to create hands and bodies. Clara, Rigsy, and Canon Fodder run away as the third guy gets scared and drops the TARDIS down a hole…right in front of a train. On Clara’s suggestion, The Doctor uses his hand to reach out the TARDIS door, and scoots himself off the train tracks. It almost works, but he has to put the ship in “siege mode,” relatively removing her of all power. Clara finds a Gallifreyan-looking box and assumes it’s the TARDIS, luckily. When she cannot reach him, she knows she has to figure it out on her own. Doctor Clara commissions Rigsy to graffiti a door, and on the other side, she places the TARDIS. When the Scaries attempt to restore 3D to the fake door, they give the TARDIS the energy she needs to be herself again. And there she is…glorious in blue. After a lecture, the Doctor dispatches the Scaries and names them “the Boneless,” sending his message quite clearly: this planet is protected, her people are protected, and the Doctor is, reluctantly but truly, a warrior. Though he doesn’t like the mirror turned around on himself, it seems. Doctor Clara scares him.

 

It’s clear to me that the showrunners are attempting to appease fanboy messageboard frequenters, who constantly complain about Clara’s lack of spunk — her non-companiony ways, if you will. So much of this season has been about presenting Clara as a three-dimensional (pun intended) character before her big send-off. The playful relationship she’s built with Capaldi’s Doctor now sings in every episode, much more so than the angsty drama bits that threatened to overtake the show. Rigsy proved a fun companion, as I also sense the show might be testing the waters to present a younger companion, a la the Grand Ol’ Days.

Another solid episode in a series of them, Doctor Who is reaching critical heights the likes of Tennant and Baker eras. Capaldi has inspired the writing team to craft mature stories with complicated relationships that are so far above the Twilight angst that has populated current dramas. Series Eight is determined to continue that strand started in The Day of the Doctor – who is this Gallifreyan; can he save everyone; is it his job; can he amend for his past? So many questions…hopefully, Capaldi is around long enough to provide some answers.

Bravo, bravo. Keep ‘em coming.

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