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New Who 8.9 Flatline

I am very happy to say that I now have my laptop back. Since several of you were kind enough to comment on my post about the original fault, and some of you got really quite into speculating about what the problem might be, I will report back that it was indeed a hardware problem. It now has a new screen and LCD back-light unit, and is fine again. Which means that I can now write reviews from the comfort of my sofa once more - yay!

So, continuing with my Doctor Who reviewing, I reach new writer Jamie Mathieson's second story - another good effort, justifying Moffat's confidence in giving him two episodes right from the off. That said, although it was solid all round in ideas, realisation, characterisation and script, and also did a very professional job of carrying forward the big themes of the series, I don't think I have anything very major or original to say about it, especially some ten days after broadcast. So just a few notes follow.

The most obvious 'hook' to this episode is that the Doctor's imprisonment in the TARDIS allows Clara to take on his usual role - something which she has progressively been doing anyway over the course of this series, but which is fully developed and articulated here. Early on, she takes possession of the sonic screwdriver, joking "Does this mean I'm you now?"; by about mid-way through the episode, she is going round saying things like "I am the one chance you've got of staying alive"; and by the time the TARDIS is in siege mode and she can no longer communicate with the Doctor, she explicitly switches from asking "What would the Doctor do?" to "What will I do?" The answer, of course, is to save the day by working out that she can use the 2D beings' power against them - though it very much deserves notice that the detail and execution of the plan falls to Rigsy, whose painting of a door provides the 'bait' needed to attract that power and recharge the TARDIS. This isn't the absolute first time that a black character has saved the world on Doctor Who - Martha did it too, and indeed took on the role of the Doctor herself while he was a shrunken puppet living in a cage. But it's still too rare, hence the need to notice it and to hope for more.

Just like The Mummy on the Orient Express, this story had a high body-count, but because this time the Clara is in the Doctor's role, balancing individual lives against the greater good, Flatline importantly gives him the opportunity to see what that sort of behaviour looks like from the outside - something which evidently unsettles him. At the end of the story, he finds Clara just a little too 'chipper' given how many people have died, and when Fenton (the community service overseer) callously declares that they were just "community pay-back scum-bags", and that the objective in a forest fire is to save the big trees by sacrificing the brushwood, he feels moved to snap, "It wasn't a fire. Those weren't trees. They were people." This is a stark contrast from his coldly scientific usage of dying people to extract information about the mummy in the previous episode, suggesting that he has actually learnt something about himself from the experience, and in the end his judgement on Clara articulates it quite clearly: "You were an exceptional Doctor, Clara. Goodness had nothing to do with it." Clara, by contrast, has perhaps learnt rather less, as she continue to lie to Danny about her activities with the Doctor like it's going out of fashion, even when it's obvious that he knows it - something which should, of course, build into a meaningful emotional confrontation in the next episode, but I already know does not. :-(

Like the previous week's episode, this one too was buzzing with Whovian intertexts. We've seen the outside of the TARDIS shrink before in Logopolis, but shouldn't forget also The Time Meddler in which the Doctor shrinks the inside of the Monk's TARDIS so that he can't get into it, or Planet of the Giants, in which its inside, outside and inhabitants all shrink to approximately the size of ants in a thimble. Post-2005 Who was also strongly in evidence. Non-corporeal beings tried to take over dead human bodies in The Unquiet Dead, the relationship between real people and 2D drawings was central to Fear Her (though to much poorer effect), and the Doctor's proclamation that "This place is protected" as he sends the 2D people back to their Universe is of course a repeat of what Ten told the Sycorax. Meanwhile, as Matthew Kilburn has pointed out, the very subject of 2D beings can be taken as a meta-reference to the entire show, which is of course (nearly) always experienced by its viewers in 2D, and at its best feels as though it is emerging into and taking over our 3D world. On the whole the effect of these is merely the simple, obvious one of reminding us that this story forms part of a much larger complex narrative which its writer is intimately familiar with, but that in itself is always pleasing.

Finally, Water-and-Breathing Watch wasn't entirely sure there was any 'significant' water this week, though obviously there was some from time to time - e.g. unexplained steam inside the TARDIS, drizzle while Clara was looking at the mural, or a water-bottle clutched in the hand of the community service bloke who told her to "Cheer up, love". More striking, though, was the fact that as the life-support system on the TARDIS began to fail, the Doctor inside was struggling to breathe - now a repeated theme this season, which I'm sure will feature in the finale.

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Comments

( 7 comments — Leave a comment )
parrot_knight
Oct. 30th, 2014 01:12 am (UTC)
I think it's moments like the Doctor's defence of the community service sentencees which made me feel Capaldi's Doctor was becoming someone more appealing to watch, compared to some of the earlier episodes. Thanks for the link, too!
strange_complex
Oct. 30th, 2014 09:46 am (UTC)
I've never found him unappealing, but agree that it's nice to see his character arc developing. I should think that by the time we get to the end of the season, if we look back to the first few episodes he will seem a quite different Doctor from the one we've come to know.
parrot_knight
Oct. 30th, 2014 01:16 pm (UTC)
I watched some of Into the Dalek last night; he's already changed a lot between then and now.

I wonder if this is very much a 'box set' series designed with an eye to be watched in longer sessions than one episode.
momentsmusicaux
Oct. 30th, 2014 10:40 pm (UTC)
I really enjoy your Doctor Who reviews :)

And really enjoyed this too. I do hope they bring Jamie Mathieson back next season for more. Shrunken TARDIS was rather fun, and Clara getting to take on the Doctor's role was very good.
strange_complex
Oct. 31st, 2014 10:37 am (UTC)
Many thanks! And I definitely agree about Jamie Mathieson. In my head, he already has a little flag next to his name with 'Future show-runner?' written on it.
momentsmusicaux
Nov. 1st, 2014 07:27 pm (UTC)
Hmmm yes... though we thought that about Moffat, and Matt Smith's 3rd season happened. Though with that I wonder whether Moffat burnt out a bit with Who + Sherlock, and has either benefited from the break last year, or has taken more of a back seat -- I have a hunch he's written fewer of the episodes this season?
strange_complex
Nov. 1st, 2014 09:55 pm (UTC)
Something has definitely changed for the better this season with Moffat, yes. Actually he's written and co-written more episodes this season than last (the best reference page I know for basic stats like that is this one). But you're right that he seems to have benefited from a slight break, and there's also a new executive producer on Doctor Who, Brian Minchin, who may be making a difference.
( 7 comments — Leave a comment )

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