New Who Review – “Flatline”

It’s the premise of a classic short novel by a Shakespearian scholar and at least a half dozen EC Comics.  What happens when beings based in a differing number of dimensions interact?  Usually it’s the higher dimensions assaulting us, but if the invasion comes from the ground up, one would hope your defensive wall could be a…

By  Jamie Mathieson
Directed by Douglas Mackinnon

A mysterious force is causing the dimensions in a council estate near Bristol to collapse, resulting in people vanishing, with only distended and partial projections left behind.  The TARDIS is affected by the distortion, and when it lands, the connection between the interior and exterior of the ship is…oddly affected.  Reduced to half-size, and then smaller, The Doctor is trapped within the ship, leaving Clara as the one with boots on the ground to discover the source of the attack, save everyone, and get the TARDIS back in shape – literally.  It sounds easy-peasy lemon squeezy, but it turns out to be difficult-difficult lemon…difficult.

Possibly one of the best mixes of humor and horror in an episode in quite a long time.  The magnificent distensions of the human form created by the art department are perfectly counterbalanced by the truly hilarious sight of Peter Capaldi’s hand reaching out the door of a tiny TARDIS to drag itself across the ground.  And once again, the theme of the series shines through once again – lying.

GUEST STAR REPORT – Christopher Fairbank (Fenton) most recently played The Broker in Guardians of the Galaxy. He’s had parts in genre classics like The Fifth Element and the Underworld TV series, as well as voices in video games like Puppeteer.

John Cummins (George) worked on Steven Moffat’s series Coupling, though on the production end.  He’s been seen before the camera on The Hour in a couple of roles, and a member of Parliament in the most recent 24 series Live Another Day.


BUT I KNOW WHAT I LIKE – Writer Jamie Mathieson got the job for writing this episode with a unique pitch – he drew a series of pictures based on the stories, including for the one that would become this episode.  As opposed to the previous episode where Moffat handed him the title and told him to write a story around it, this one was all his idea, and Steven liked the idea of the monster enough that he asked Jamie to, ironically, flesh it out.


A good idea of how a Flatlander would see broccoli.

YOU’RE NOT THINKING TWO-DIMENSIONALLY – Edwin Abbot wrote the novela Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions, as satire of Victoran culture, but it accurately described how a three-dimensional creature would be perceived in a two-dimensional world.  Carl Sagan discussed the concept in the original Cosmos, summarizing the mathematical bits of the story with visual aids.  The three-dimensional extrusions of the flatlanders are a pretty good example of how they’d us “three-deers” – a series of slices.  They took that idea and mapped it to a 3-d form, the end result being what looks like the “people” traveling through physical space with those slices making up their form.  Creative, and chilling.

UP AGAINST THE WALL, MOTHER… – There’s at least two recent videogames that use the idea of becoming two-dimensional as part of the game mechanic.  The PS3 platformer SIDEWAY: New York allows you to flatten against walls the make your way around buildings and collect graffiti tokens, and the latest Legend of Zelda game A Link Between Worlds lets Link step into cracks between light and dark lands in the adventure for the Nintendo 3DS.

DOCTOR-LITE – As has become traditional and required, this episode featured a reduced appearance by The Doctor to allow Peter Capaldi and the production staff to produce more episodes in less time. Starting with Love and Monsters, each series has featured episodes where some of the cast appeared in limited capacity to allow for what’s called “double banking”.  This episode was a reverse of The Lodger, where Amy Pond was trapped in the TARDIS while The Doctor had to work alone with only audio connection to his friend.  In both cases, this allowed the actor on the standing set to film their scenes in a short time, leaving their schedule open for other episodes’ filming.  Tennant and Tate each got a largely solo adventure in the episodes Midnight and Turn Left.

LET’S GET SMALL – The TARDIS has had issues with shrinkage before.  The Hartnell story Planet of Giants was sparked by the TARDIS materializing at the wrong size, resulting in both the ship and its inhabitants ending up the wrong size. A small error in calculation resulted in the TARDIS being reduced to 50% in size in Logopolis.  The Doctor flipped the script on the idea when fighting The Monk in The Time Meddler – he removed the dimensional control from The Monk’s ship, so while the outside of the ship remained the same, the interior reduced in size, so The Monk couldn’t enter it.

“It’s called the 2Dis…why do I even bother…” –  One of the things I was hoping for this series was a reduction of the use of the Sonic Screwdriver as a catch-all fix-me-up, and we’ve gotten that.  We’re back to seeing The Doctor create slapdash gadgets to achieve the results required, like The Machine That Goes “ding” When There’s Stuff.  That they don’t always work right is more logically explained by the fact that he’s usually literally built them on the run with anything he can lay his hands on.  Considering the TARDIS is able to instantly

BIG BAD WOLF REPORT – The theme from last episode carries through to this one – Lying.  The Doctor Lies all the time, and here we see Clara finding out why.

“Excellent lying, Doctor Owsald” – Clara’s lie from last episode is exposed to both people it affected – The Doctor learned that she lied about Danny being “Okay with it” them continuing to travel, and Danny has certainly been made open to suspicion that she’s not kept her feet safe on the ground.  And as a rule, lying to people doesn’t usually go well, especially in people with whom you’re in a relationship. And both gentlemen meet that description, however different those relationships may be.

Also, that’s a nice parallel to Donna Noble being referred to as “The DoctorDonna” near the end of her run on the series as she merged minds with the Meta-Crisis Doctor,  resulting in the first human Time Lord.  She got to do the swooping in at the end and saving everyone with all the switch-flipping, and Clara had to do the hard lifting of keeping everyone together and safe until a plan came together.

“Lie to them…give them hope” – The Doctor feels quite uncomfortable about how plainly his tactics are being exposed and explained to him by Clara.

“You were an exceptional Doctor, Clara…’goodness’ has nothing to do with it” – This is the mindset of The Doctor in this series and this incarnation in microcosm. Look at what she has to do – establish dominance in a panicked crowd, take no time to mourn those who die during the fight, and spend every moment puffing everyone up so they think they have a chance of surviving.  That’s been Capaldi’s job all year.  And she did it beautifully.

“My Clara…I have chosen well” – Missy is back, watching the action via an iPad that’s positively HUGE in her hands.  Now of course, this only begs the question, how does she define “chosen”?  We might suspect we’re back to thinking she’s the one who gave Clara the phone number to the TARDIS, but it might be more a case of just choosing who will be the one to help The Doctor the most.  It would be quite a frustrating turn of events if it turns out Clara was a mole all along (as well as patently contradicting her reason for existence for most of the series), so any connection would be, one would hope, non-complicit on her part.

NEXT TIME ON DOCTOR WHO – Clearly the governmental “go green” initiative has gone too far.  In The Forest Of The Night, coming this Saturday.