Sunday, 19 October 2014

After last week’s cracking outer-space romp Mummy on the Orient Express, writer Jamie Mathieson had a second shot at Doctor Who with Flatline.

The Doctor and Clara arrive in a Bristol council estate to find something leeching off the dimensional energy of the TARDIS (science!), leaving Clara’s ride home unfortunately miniscule. With the Doctor trapped inside this tiny merchandising opportunity (there has to be a hand puppet, right?), it’s up to Clara to take the lead in an investigation which brings them into conflict with aliens from a two-dimensional universe. And, like last week, Mathieson’s script has all the right elements of a solid Doctor Who story... 

A mix of detective work and action set pieces? Check. Nicely planted clues in the weird murals, effective rise in terror as the monsters grow stronger. I'm not sure exactly what they were trying to achieve by ramming the train, though. That was a silly plan.

An edge of comedy? Check. This was funny in all the right places, mainly drawing its laughs from the Doctor's predicament – passing the sledgehammer out of the miniature TARDIS is a wonderfully slapstick moment, and that Addams family reference is just brilliant. 

A weird and scary monster? Check. The flattening of people into the walls is properly unnerving stuff, tied neatly into the graffiti-strewn estate, and the idea of a two-dimensional villain breaking into our universe is one of those "why hasn't anyone thought of that before?" ideas.

Developed supporting characters? Check. The conflict between the community service worker Rigsy and his grouchy supervisor Fenton plays throughout, and like all good Doctor Who, it’s the underdog who wins out. It could, however, have been nice to dig a little deeper into these two – could either of them have a more noticeable change over the episode? What is it that made Fenton such a grump? 

But the real lead here was, for once, Clara. Sure, the real reason the Doctor was locked in the TARDIS was that this episode was filmed simultaneously with the last one, where Clara was stuck in a carriage, but this clever way around the double-banking issue allowed the Doctor to still be present and Clara to take charge. She’s been growing from strength to strength over this series, and made a great ringleader in the Doctor’s place – clever, compassionate, tough. I also like that she’s been lying to the Doctor about Danny, adding an extra layer of complexity to their relationship and making her more active and decision-making than last week's ‘Danny’s fine with it, so I am’ reveal implied. The obligatory ‘Danny Pink on the phone’ scene, however, did feel crowbarred into this episode – it doesn’t make a lot of sense for her to be taking personal calls when there’s an alien that needs urgent escaping from. And I do get the feeling that Danny’s one-scene-per-episode is starting to make him a little dull – luckily, next episode seems to be throwing him centre stage again.

So this was a very strong episode and all my criticisms are but minor niggles – a little more depth to the supporting characters, Danny felt shoehorned in, the train-ramming idea was silly. Oh, and why does Missy have a normal iPad? They could have at least decorated it a bit to make it all sci-fi. That’ll look dated in five years (and that, dear friends, is the epitome of a minor niggle).

As I was saying, a very strong Doctor Who story. Funny and scary in equal measure; a lot packed in without feeling rushed. With this and Mummy on the Orient Express to his name, I’d definitely welcome Jamie Mathieson back for more.

1 comment:

  1. You've clearly got a very eagle eye for all the things we miss! Great post, your reviews are a real education!