Doctor Who ‘Flatline’ Recap – Episode 08.09

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The Doctor gets trapped inside the TARDIS when something shifts its external dimensions and drains its power. Now Clara must play the Doctor and save a group of community service workers from an invasion of two dimensional creatures while finding a way to restore the TARDIS to its full size.

The Adventure

As the Doctor brings Clara home from another adventure, something pulls the TARDIS off course and gives the Doctor vague readings. As power drains from the TARDIS, they discover that the outside of the TARDIS has shrunk, leaving it looking like a child’s playhouse version. Clara explores around town while the Doctor investigates inside. Another power drain leaves the TARDIS handheld sized, leaving the Doctor trapped inside. Clara comes across a group of community service workers whitewashing local graffiti as she investigates a memorial and a mural for a number of missing people. One of the workers, a young man named Rigsy and the artist of much of the local graffiti, explains to Clara about how locals have mysteriously started to go missing.

When Clara returns to the TARDIS and finds that it has shrunk again, the Doctor hands her his sonic screwdriver, his psychic paper, and an earpiece and sends her out to investigate the source of the dimensional leaching. Clara runs into Rigsy again and has him show her the apartment of the last person to go missing. Clara scans the room and Rigsy has an idea that maybe the person is actually still inside the apartment. It gives Clara the idea that maybe the missing person shrunk like the TARDIS, which makes Rigsy think Clara is crazy. As he is about to leave, Clara makes him stay by introducing him to the Doctor inside the tiny TARDIS. Just then, something drains more power from the TARDIS, prompting them all to leave the apartment to safety.

Rigsy and Clara investigate another missing person’s apartment. PC Forrest, thinking that Clara is from MI-5, shows her around. The Doctor thinks that the missing person might be in the walls and gives Clara a mallet to smash some holes. Meanwhile, PC Forrest takes a phone call in the other room and falls victim to an invisible force that pulls her into the floor, flattening her out into nothingness. Clara and Rigsy investigate but find her missing. There is, however, a mural of a human nervous system on the wall which the Doctor thinks is probably what remains of PC Forrest. In the last apartment there was a mural of what looked like a desert, but was actually a magnified view of human skin. The missing people have been killed, dissected, and studied by a race of two dimensional creatures trying to understand the third dimension. Clara and Rigsy get trapped in the room when the door handle becomes two dimensional. As they struggle to escape the 2Ds, Clara gets a phone call from Danny and has to cover up her adventure with the Doctor, not having told Danny that she’s still travelling with him. They crash through the window and run away.

When they get back to the tunnel with the mural, Rigsy finds the other community service workers starting to paint them over. Rigsy is outraged, saying that they can’t paint over a memorial. The Doctor immediately realizes the truth – that it’s not a mural at all, but the 2Ds wearing their dead like camouflage. As Clara tries to clear everyone from the tunnel, one of the 2Ds reaches out and flattens Stan, one of the workers. The rest go running to a train depot, where Clara asserts herself as the leader of the group. The Doctor tries to communicate with the 2Ds using numbers. He transmits Pi and they transmit back the number 55 – the number on Stan’s uniform. Then they transmit 22 – the number on George’s uniform, who they then flatten also. The rest flee into a disused underground tunnel with which Rigsy is familiar.

Down in the tunnel, all the door handles are flattened. The Doctor builds a gadget to reverse the dimensional shift, which overheats and throws sparks. The 2Ds start leaching energy from the TARDIS again and are able to build themselves up to the third dimension. They reach out a giant hand and grab another worker. Clara, Rigsy, and Roscoe run away while the Doctor readjusts the gadget so that they can open the flattened doors. Once they’re through, Clara re-flattens the handle, but the 2Ds are able to reverse it back. As they run, the Doctor tells Clara that he has a way to send the 2Ds back to their own dimension but doesn’t have enough power in the TARDIS. Just then, Roscoe gets fed up with Clara and all the theoretical jargon and grabs the TARDIS out of her bag. In the struggle, it is dropped down a hole into another tunnel below. The Doctor is only able to save himself from an oncoming train by putting the TARDIS in “Siege Mode”. No way in, and no way out. There’s not enough power to change it back, so the Doctor is slowly running out of life support.

Meanwhile, Clara stops an oncoming train and tries to use it to ram the 2Ds blocking the tunnel ahead. The 2Ds just flatten the train. Clara does happen to come across a metal cube which she believes to be the TARDIS. She comes up with a plan to recharge the TARDIS. She has Rigsy paint a false door to trick the 2Ds into trying to shift the dimensions of the handle. On the other side of the wall, she places the TARDIS so that the energy the 2Ds pump into the false door actually pumps into the TARDIS. The TARDIS grows back to full size and the Doctor sends the 2Ds back to their dimension. Roscoe, Rigsy, and the train driver all go home safely. Elsewhere, Missy in the Promised Land marvels at Clara’s good work and says to herself that she “chose well” when choosing Clara.

Clara

Clara gets a taste of what it’s like to be the Doctor in this episode and comes to understand a few things about how he operates. At first it’s just a game to her, a way to poke fun at the Doctor while getting to play the mysterious traveler and savior of Earth. As the adventure becomes more dangerous and people start dying, Clara finds herself responsible for a group of people who are slowly being picked off by an alien race. The responsibility is huge. Some of the choices she has to make are terrible. She comes to understand that she doesn’t have the luxury to mourn the dead when trying to save the living, and the value of lying to protect others. She knows now the huge burden of responsibility the Doctor carries and how hard it is to do what he does, but that there really isn’t any other choice. In the end, all she wants from the Doctor is to tell her that she made a good Doctor.

It also fairly quickly comes to light that Danny doesn’t know – or at least Clara thinks he doesn’t know – that she’s still traveling with the Doctor. It becomes apparent to Danny pretty quickly that she’s having some sort of adventure and shows absolutely no surprise about the fact. The Doctor was completely taken in by Clara’s lie – probably because he wanted to be – an scolds her for her dishonesty. Clara is quickly becoming the “doctor of lies” in more ways than one. Not only was she lying to the Doctor and Danny – the two most important men in her life – but she lied all through the episode to the people she was protecting. Some were small, fun lies – about how she was the Doctor or that she worked for MI-5 – and some were big, important lies – about how she would make sure that everyone was safe. As the Doctor says, lying is a nasty habit and one on which Clara is quickly becoming reliant.

The Doctor

While Clara got to play the Doctor, the Doctor got to see what he looks and sounds like from outside himself. It started at first as a playful joke at his expense, how Clara pretended to be the Doctor and poked fun at his mysterious persona. As the danger grew, however, and Clara had to run the show, she utilized the lessons the Doctor taught her. Lie to them and tell them you will save them, don’t stop to mourn the dead at the risk of the living, and choose even when your choices are bad. At the end of the day, people died but Clara was still happy and rather pleased with herself for saving the world. “On balance” she did quite well, and the Doctor is uneasy at her cheerful pragmatism. He’s uneasy partly because of her unaffected attitude, but also because of how that reflects on him and his pragmatism. People died, but the world is safe. “On balance” that’s a win, but shouldn’t necessarily be celebrated at the expense of those who died. The Doctor tells Clara that she made an outstanding Doctor, but that “goodness” had nothing to do with it.

The Promised Land

All these little bits from the Promised Land are so vague and ominous. The Doctor is Missy’s boyfriend and Missy somehow chose Clara for some purpose. I’m sure we’ll get to the season finale and it will all come together in a forehead-slappingly obvious way, even if it’s kind of contrived (although, you can’t get much more contrived than the whole season three Professor Yana thing, so “on balance” I shouldn’t worry too much about the level of contrivance). So far the Promised Land seems to be specifically Doctor-centric rather than existing as a separate and independent organization. It wouldn’t be the first time someone did something shady in the Doctor’s name without his knowledge or approval. Is the Promised Land where all those killed-in-action people go from the Doctor’s adventures? It can’t be as simple as Paradise – especially not with a creepy character like Missy in charge – so what does Missy get out of it? And what actually happens to all those people who find themselves in this haven, drinking tea in sunny English gardens? Curiouser and curiouser.

The TARDIS

Quick note here that is neither constructive nor critical in any way: but how adorable were those tiny TARDISes? Clara definitely got a kick out of the fun size Doctor and his toy TARDIS. It really is a neat little idea to have the TARDIS shrink but without shrinking the people or the inside of the ship along with it. Although, the William Hartnell Planet of Giants serial was just as fun seeing the Doctor and his companions shrunken down to inch-sized too. In any case, it was a pretty creative idea and neatly executed. I enjoy the more science-y episodes and this one had a lot to do with dimensional relativity and what the second dimension would be like if it were a place to which we could travel – or in this case, from which creatures could travel. When I took physics in high school the idea of the second and fourth dimensions as planes of existence to which it could be possible to travel, in which creatures could live, and from which they could transcend into our third dimension, was a pretty distracting one. I mean, fourth dimensional creatures would have 3D shadows and would move through time like we move through space. How cool is that? It was pretty cool to see some of those kinds of things explored in this episode, and I particularly enjoy the return of the series to the more (pseudo)scientific. Sci-fi is best when its science-y and morally ambiguous.

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About the Author

Bethany Lewis
My cinema education started when, at three years old, Charlie Chaplin's "The Gold Rush" became my earliest memory of cinema. Since then, I've been obsessed with film and television, learning more about it, analyzing it, researching it, and experiencing different kinds of it. After getting my BA in Theater, I went on to get my MFA in Film Studies. I now spend my free time watching and writing about movies.
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