TV REVIEW: Doctor Who - Flatline

Jamie Mathieson's adventure is one of the better episodes of this series so far (it's going to take a lot to beat Listen for me) and messing with the usual dynamic caps off a thread that has been occurring throughout. Clara and the Doctor may be back on good terms at the end of Mummy on the Orient Express, but there is still the sense that she doesn't quite understand his methods, or agree with them. So how do we solve a problem like that? Stick Clara in the Doctor's shoes, arm her with the sonic screwdriver and see how she does. It's a bold move for an episode, even in a series that has delighted in messing with the Doctor-Companion dynamic and it proves to be an interesting one. 

We've got used to seeing Clara take the lead a little more here and it's given Jenna Coleman a lot more to do. She's handled it brilliantly and her slightly offbeat, slightly antagonistic chemistry with Peter Capaldi has been nicely removed from the mooning and flirting of previous years. Here, she gets to take on the role of the Doctor entirely, even saying cool things that the Doctor would say. I know some people will likely grumble at the Doctor being relegated to a supporting role in his own show, but Capaldi's screen presence is such that the fact he was in one location for much of the episode barely registered. He's still a fantastic Doctor and got to fire off one liners with ease. 

Keeping him in the TARDIS, the one to be rescued, is a further exploration of the idea of playing roles. When the Doctor is guiding Clara through becoming the leader in the group running away from the episode's monsters, the pair discuss the best way to keep them on side; give them hope, they'll run faster, play the hero, they'll believe you can help. There's a lot in here about adopting the name (Clara becomes the Doctor) and playing up to a performance that people have come to expect. By the end of the episode, the Doctor's back with a full size TARDIS and triumphantly becomes 'the man who stops the monsters', which he then of course does.

However, with all this switching, role playing and name changes, there's a sense that the carefully built up identity of the Doctor is fracturing slightly. It's a thread that's run right through the series; this is a man questioning his identity and his actions in this universe and I'm still not sure the Doctor likes what he sees. Even though he's grown in confidence as the series has gone on and picked up hi own recognisable traits, there's a sense of doubt in there. With the Doctor's final parting comments about 'goodness', we're back full circle to his initial question to Clara back in Deep Breath; 'am I a good man?' How far is the Doctor accountable for the deaths and tragedies that occur under his watch and, by extension, is Clara?

In amongst all of this, the actual mystery to be solved at the centre of Flatlines is a rather good one, a locked room mystery with added 'the floor is lava' potential. There have been some creepy foes so far (the Mummy was horrible) and the monsters here continue that run, especially in the creepy stop-motion like animation that created them as they hit three dimensions. It's also refreshing that the Doctor just got rid of them at the end; there wasn't a coda that revealed they were just trying to be nice all along. No, they killed people and threatened others so the Doctor sent them back to where they came from without any fuss at all.

This brings us nicely to the final moments. In characteristic fashion, it appears that one massive revelation has been dropped on us with that last, brief line. If Clara has been chosen by Missy to be the Companion, surely that makes her the woman in the shop who gave her the number for the TARDIS? Given the effect that Clara has had on all aspects of the Doctor's life, this revelation has the potential to be huge. But then, it didn't really reveal all that much and the original questions remain; just who is Missy and how did she get that number? The Missy teases have been handled really well this series, nothing that overshadows the episode's proceedings and just enough to hint at the wider plan. Michelle Gomez may not have been in it all that much just yet, but she's cast a long shadow over the proceedings and I can't wait to see her in action properly. 

- Becky

You can read Jen's review of Mummy on the Orient Express here.

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