Doctor Who recap: 'Flatline'
A small complication turns Clara into the Doctor for a day.
Jamie Mathieson should write more Doctor Who episodes. If any lesson is to be learned from last week’s “Mummy on the Orient Express” and this week’s “Flatline,” let it be that one. Following last week’s stellar episode, which has quickly become a fan favorite, the show delivers the second blow in its one-two combo of excellent episodes.
The cold open for the show is another X-Files-esque intro with a man frantically dialing for help before getting taken away by forces unseen. Unlike the mummy from last time, we do not get a clear glimpse of the monster of the week here. The Doctor is in the middle of dropping Clara back at home, and she is busy lying badly to the Doctor about Danny, when they both see that the TARDIS’ door is much smaller than usual.
The two exit with some difficulty and see that the TARDIS is half the size it usually is. This excites the Doctor so much that he turns into a kid who can’t find the right words because he finds himself at a complete loss as to how it happened. He recruits Clara into looking around while he pokes around the TARDIS for an answer.
We are introduced to the redshirts of the week: a community service crew tasked with cleaning up graffiti, led by someone who seems to be heavily inspired by Filch from the Harry Potter series. Clara examines a mural near the crew and attracts the attention of a young graffiti artist, Rigsy (Joivan Wade). Clara asks him about a mural under a bridge that depicts the backs of people and Rigsy explains that they’re portraits of people who went missing recently.
Clara goes back to the TARDIS only to find it big enough to fit inside her purse. Everything inside the TARDIS is still normal sized though, so the Doctor is trapped inside. What follows is one of the funniest visual gags in the show’s run as the Doctor poke his hand out from the tiny TARDIS and freaks out Clara with his gesturing. He hands her his sonic screwdriver, his psychic paper, and an earpiece that lets him hear and see everything she does.
Rigsy comes over and Clara, seizing the opportunity, introduces herself as “Doctor Oswald” much to the chagrin of the actual Doctor. Rigsy takes Clara to the apartment where she, and the Doctor by proxy, begin to poke around. Rigsy is thankful that somebody is finally helping out the missing people but is quickly freaked out by Clara’s seemingly insane ramblings, so she reveals the Doctor and the tiny TARDIS to Rigsy before all is lost. Something starts draining the TARDIS’ energy further therefore the three hastily leave the apartment.
The three visit another apartment where someone has disappeared, with the aid of a police officer and the psychic paper billing Clara as MI5. While she and Rigsy poke around with a sledgehammer, the police officer is attacked and gets sucked into the floor. Rigsy and Clara come into the room following the officer’s screams but find no trace of her except for the flashlight. On the wall, the Doctor notices that what was ostensibly was a mural is in fact the circulation system of a person. Clara and Rigsy realize that the doorknob is flattened to the door, preventing their exit. And then they start seeing all the furniture around them flatten into the walls like paintings.
NEXT: A flat out escape out of a flat
Clara and Rigsy get into a conveniently placed swing chair to avoid touching the walls and floor. And then, inconveniently, Danny phones Clara at that exact moment to balance out her good fortune of a convenient swing chair. Clara lies to Danny about being in a mundane situation and canceling their date while her daring escape through a window and down a floor or two are audibly heard over the phone. Oh, and the Doctor finds out that Clara has been lying all along about Danny being okay with his relationship with Clara since he can hear everything. He’s not happy about it.
Clara and Rigsy go back to the community service crew as they prepare to clean up the mural under the bridge. The Doctor urges Clara to save the mural since they seem to be the actual missing people, trapped in the wall. Clara introduces herself to Fenton (Christopher Fairbank), the Filch-inspired crew leader, as a member of Public Health and Safety, but, to her and the Doctor’s surprise, the paper is blank for Fenton. “It takes quite a lack of imagination to defeat psychic paper,” the Doctor muses. Fenton orders one of the crew to begin cleaning the mural but as he approaches the wall, the crewmember gets sucked into the mural. And that’s when all the people in the mural start turning around.
Clara, Rigsy, and the rest of the crew flee into a nearby industrial building. Clara realizes she actually has to be just like the Doctor now and establish a leadership role early so that she can take care of the group. She does it with so much ease and assertiveness that Jenna Coleman may have singlehandedly justified the possibility of a female Doctor. Clara realizes that the next step is that she has to lie to the crew and give them hope because “the people with hope tend to run faster.”
The Doctor, who has realized that the creatures exist in two dimensions only, believes that these creatures are attempting to reach out and communicate and may be unaware that they’re harming people. Clara sets up a speaker to listen to what the creatures are saying. Everyone quickly realizes that they are not trying to communicate when they give the number of the next person they want to take from the cleaning crew. Everyone realizes that that member, who looks suspiciously like the guitarist from Billy Talent, has already been taken when they weren’t looking, so they flee into the metro service tunnels.
In the tunnels Clara, Rigsy, Fenton, and one last redshirt find themselves trapped by the creatures. The Doctor hands Clara a device that lets her flatten and unflatten the environment, much like the creatures can do, called the “2DIS”, pronounced “two-dis.” (Get it?) Clara uses it to escape with Fenton and Rigsy when the creatures create a three-dimensional hand to take the last crewmember in what is far too literal of a visual representation. The creatures, meanwhile, take the forms of the people they have taken but look like they are phasing in and out of the third dimension. The effect lends itself to being the most terrifying looking monsters we’ve seen come from Doctor Who since the Angels revealed those sharp teeth.
The TARDIS, meanwhile, has been losing energy all along and has lost much of its ability to help. And then Fenton knocks it off a catwalk and onto the metro train tracks below. The TARDIS gets damaged heavily in the drop and is on its last legs. The Doctor tries to crawl the TARDIS off the tracks, away from an oncoming train, in an amusing Addams Family segment but fails.
NEXT: The good Doctor Clara
Clara, Rigsy, and Fenton find themselves between the creatures and another oncoming train. Clara uses the sonic screwdriver to stop the train. The Doctor reveals that he and the TARDIS have survived because he activated siege mode at the last second, but the TARDIS has absolutely no more power for anything, including air and heat. As the train conductor gets out of the train to talk to Clara, Rigsy climbs on board to ram the train into creatures. Clara jumps on board and coaxes Rigsy off with the help of a leather belt (don’t worry, it’s not what it sounds like) and the two jump off the train to let it ram the creatures autonomously.
But before the train can reach them, the creatures flatten the train onto the side of the tunnel wall. The four start their retreat and Clara finds an intricately designed blue cube on the track, which turns out to be the TARDIS in siege mode. The four find themselves in an old storeroom of sorts, where Clara gets an idea. She grabs a large poster and a can of paint, asking for Rigsy’s artistic graffiti skills.
The group then lay in wait over a section of the tunnels as the creatures approach a door on the wall. They begin trying to give a third dimension to the flattened door handle so that they can get through the door and to Clara’s group. The Doctor, fearing that this might be the last, tells Clara that she has been “a mighty fine Doctor.” Clara then reveals her plan: The door is a fake—a picture painted by Rigsy—and the creatures’ beams are going through the wall and restoring power to the TARDIS.
The TARDIS gets its full power back and flies to the creatures, trapping them in a force field. The Doctor gives a speech condemning the creatures for being unrepentant jerks and proclaiming his status as the Doctor. Unfortunately it doesn’t have the same gravitas as when Eleven gave speeches, but it’s far from the least intimidating. He then banishes the creatures back to their dimension.
Outside, and on the ground again, the surviving crew part ways with Clara and the Doctor, giving their thanks to Clara as a bewildered Doctor looks on. Fenton, though, remains a jackass to the end in a stunning display of a lack of character arc, and even the Doctor is annoyed by his survival. Danny, inconveniently again, calls Clara. She visibly ignores his call with an excuse and the Doctor makes his way to the TARDIS insisting that she speak with Danny, still unhappy that Clara has been lying to Danny and himself.
Clara, misunderstanding, wants the Doctor to say she was good at being the Doctor because she believes he’s unwilling to admit it. He makes her realize the true issue when he tells her “You were an exceptional Doctor, Clara. Goodness had nothing to do with it.” The episode ends with Missy looking upon the scene through what seems to be an iPad. “Clara, my Clara. I have chosen well,” Missy says to herself, mysteriously.