“Flatline” — Doctor Who episode review

It’s Thursday; I’ve never left a review of an episode this late before. But I’ve been working on a lot of important college deadlines, and I’m in my half term now, so I’ve got free time. Going by other blogs I follow, I appear to not be the only one. It’s not that I don’t know what I think of this episode, cause I do – I liked it.

Flatline” is a Doctor-lite episode, which features the Doctor in a reduced role due to scheduling issues. The TARDIS Data Core wiki defines an episode to only be Doctor-lite if the Doctor’s reduced role is specifically due to necessity, rather than just creative reasons. We haven’t had any from the Steven Moffat period, which is probably because he doesn’t like them. Without diverging too much, Moffat volunteered to write the necessary Doctor-lite episode of Series 3, and didn’t expect it to be very good because the Doctor wasn’t in it. Plus, the only other Doctor-lite episode at that point was Russell T. Davies’ “Love & Monsters“, the worst thing he ever wrote.

But Jamie Mathieson, when asked to rewrite “Flatline” to be Doctor-lite, was very clever with it. He realised that just because Peter Capaldi needed a reduced presence, that didn’t mean the Doctor did. And so, he replaced Capaldi with the actor directly beneath him on the cast list, arranged by importance – Jenna Coleman. He gave us the most interesting addition to the Doctor/Companion relationship so far: what are they actually for? Clearly, Mathieson has some sort of idea. Last week, Oswald was only present for a final trip before they departed ways, and this week she’s covering for him. “Unfortunately, the Doctor cannot be here today, so Clara Oswald’s covering for him”. It’s fitting that she’s a teacher. That was probably a coincidence, but it doesn’t mean I can’t imagine that it wasn’t because of the relevance it will have to the finale, blah blah blah. He must have a list of reasons for the companion to be there, and writes to justify their inclusion in the first place. What’s the show without a companion? Given the choice, I prefer seeing the Doctor travel with someone else, rather than just talking aloud for an episode. And Mathieson seems to be writing episodes to justify each of the reasons he’s come up with. Last week’s was the obvious “to travel with the Doctor”, this week’s was “to be the Doctor when he’s not there”. Oswald calling herself the Doctor has greater significance than the episode gives it, as it’s one of, for me, the defining moments of the show: “the Doctor” is just a name, and it’s a name that anyone can take. It’s like “V For Vendetta“. Apart from other things, it’s a chance for social justice warriors to start talking about how “this is why the Doctor should be a woman next”, blah blah blah, forgetting that the whole point of this episode is that the companion is there for that very purpose. There are also those who’ll complain about how much focus Oswald’s getting this season, but they too miss the point. The fact that she’s  becoming so plot-centric is a happy accident, with writers choosing to focus on her to counter her disappointing introductory season last year. Not to mention that she isn’t a permanent character. She’ll be going soon. Probably next year if she survives this one. Within fifty years of plot, one companion present for only two so far is not a big deal. Course, I only say all this because I think it’s an interesting point the episode raised.

So Oswald gets to be a Supply Time Lord for the day, and we get more insight into what it takes to be the Doctor, which is basically a psychopath. Huh. Figures of Nerd Love can transform things upon touching them. Christopher Nolan turns everything he touches into awesome. J.J. Abrams turns everything he touches into lens flare. And Steven Moffat turns everything he touches into psychopathy. Even Sherlock Holmes, who isn’t actually a psychopath. But anyway.

We also get a companion’s companion, in the form of Rigsy, a character that’s probably really interesting, with an actor’s who probably really good, were I to actually remember any of him. That’s the problem with this show right now – it’s wasting its actors.

Yet by far the most interesting aspect of the episode is the shrunken TARDIS, achieved through a consumer prop available from Character Options. When asked to give the Doctor a reduced role, Mathieson must have taken that seriously and literally reduced the TARDIS in size. Not only is that a genius move, but it also allows for experimentation with how far it will go. First, there’s the half-TARDIS, then the pocket TARDIS, before we get Siege Mode, something I thought was wonderful. One day, I hope we can see a full size Siege Mode TARDIS. Or is that it? If Siege Mode makes the TARDIS inaccessible, it makes sense for it to make it tiny, cause it’s harder to break into. It probably is that size normally, since it happens when there’s no power left, which would create the problem of mass. The Doctor said that, if the TARDIS ever landed with its true weight, it would shatter the surface of the Earth. Let’s assume he can control how much gravity affects the TARDIS, since mass and weight aren’t the same thing, but in a way I don’t fully understand. So yes, Siege Mode really does make the TARDIS shrink to not need power to control its weight, since Siege Mode’s instigated by so much power loss anyway. That’s not really important, but that’s what I like about this episode – it’s conceptual, so there are many questions to ask about it. Like how the villain  is a concept – 2D creatures that we can’t actually perceive. It’s not that we can’t see them, it’s that we can’t perceive them. They were excellently rendered in the climax, and it perfectly brought-across the weirdness that two-dimensional beings would be confused by our existence. They can’t perceive us, either.

This is a weird note to end on, but you can always judge the quality of an episode when a conceptual enemy destroys the sofa…

Flatine” – clever concept with precise execution. 8/10

And here’s this week’s vlog of the episode:


Author: alexsigsworth

Basically... run.

4 thoughts on ““Flatline” — Doctor Who episode review”

  1. Really enjoyed your insights on how adroitly Mathieson handled the Doctor-lite episode. This may have been my least favorite of the season… but that’s not saying much, as I really enjoyed it anyway, and would probably prefer it to much of the late Matt Smith-era show output …


  2. I really like the way you review things. It’s almost as if you go off on tangents, but it comes around to your original train of thought in the end, like something you say snaps you back to the review. It’s actually really entertaining. Kudos. And yes, totally agree about the couch.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Well THANK YOU! (Just imagine me sort of pushing at your shoulder effeminately.) Often, when I review things, I might not necessarily focus on the whole episode, and instead write about its context of elements of it that relate to current “fantalk”. Generally, so long as I go through all the points I want to make, I’ll take as many tangents as necessary.

      Liked by 1 person

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