Doctor Who: Flatline
(1 episode, s08e09, 2014)
A familiar dimension in time travel.
A bearded man calls the police with vital information about who committed a crime. As a hissing grows around him, he begins to panic. He is soon ripped from the phone and literally inserted into the trim on the wall, a two-dimensional figure screaming in silence.
On the TARDIS, Clara is packing because Danny is a bit territorial, even though the Doctor claims that she can leave anything because there is plenty of space. The TARDIS lands in roughly the time and space where Clara lives, but the door has shrunken. Once the travelers extract themselves from the capsule, they find that it is roughly half its original size.
They’re also in Bristol, not London. Shades of Sarah Jane?
The Doctor doesn’t want to travel anywhere else while the TARDIS is malfunctioning, so he asks Clara to investigate while he gathers some tools. She meets Rigsy, a graffiti artist serving community service in the care of an abusive ass. She also notes a large makeshift memorial and a tunnel full of images of people. These people are missing and the memorial is for them.
Clara returns to the TARDIS to find that it is now action figure-sized. The interior of the TARDIS (and the Doctor) are the same size, and the Doctor asks Clara to pick up the craft and follow his readings. She meets up with Rigsy again and mockingly poses as the Doctor while she investigates. Together, they go to the apartment where the caller lived.
Rigsy muses that the victim could still be in the room since he went missing while the flat was locked up. He gets a little skittish about Clara until she shows him the TARDIS and the Doctor within. Rigsy is amused until the hissing screaming sound starts up and energy is drained from inside the TARDIS.
The pair next poses as MI-5 courtesy of the psychic paper and start investigating the walls under the Doctor’s direction by breaking them apart with a sledgehammer. While they work, a local police officer who was helping them is absorbed by the mysterious being. The Doctor is cued in by a new painting of a human nervous system on the wall. The aliens are experimenting with humanity in order to understand three-dimensional life.
The door slams shut as they pursue Rigsy and Clara, and while Clara takes a call from Danny, they escape by smashing a window with a suspended chair. Danny is very skeptical about Clara’s claims that she’s left the TARDIS.
They end up back in the tunnel as the community service workers start painting over the portraits. Clara tries to use the psychic paper but the supervisor lacks enough imagination to be affected. It isn’t until the images pull one of the workers into 2D that they all run and end up in a train warehouse. Clara convinces the supervisor in a very Doctorly fashion before rallying her new team and figuring out how to communicate with the aliens.
As they learn to communicate via mathematics, another worker is taken and it seems that the humans are deliberately being targeted. The Doctor creates a device to restore elements from two dimensions into three, but it fails. As another worker is taken, it becomes apparent that the aliens have evolved, but the team is able to escape after the Doctor fixes his device. The aliens give chase as they assimilate into three dimensions, and the TARDIS is knocked from Clara’s bag in the process.
The TARDIS lands on a train line and is nearly smashed into pieces by an oncoming train, but the Doctor is able to move it with his hand and then activates siege mode. This locks down the capsule, but there’s not enough power to turn it off or sustain life support.
Meanwhile, Clara, Rigsy, and the abusive supervisor stop another train in the tunnel and use it to punch through a blockage created by the aliens. The plan fails, but Rigsy proves himself to be rather heroic in the process. Clara also spots a cube with Gallifreyan markings and presumes it to be the TARDIS.
The team, now including the train driver, takes shelter in a disused office where Clara devises a plan. Using Rigsy’s art skills and a poster, they paint a fake access door that the aliens attempt to make three-dimensional. When they do, the energy is channeled into the TARDIS and restores it to normal.
Using the enemy’s power against them, Clara proved her mettle to the Doctor, and he praises her for doing so.
Realizing that the creatures (which the Doctor calls the Boneless) have no interest in peace, he declares that this plane is protected and that they are not welcome here. With that, he sends them back to their own dimension, echoing the confrontations with both the Sycorax and the Atraxi.
The Doctor returns everyone to the railyard above ground. The Doctor is disgusted by the supervisor but is pleased with Clara’s performance in his stead. He’s also intrigued that Clara rejected a call from Danny.
Meanwhile, Missy watches Clara on a tablet. She believes that she has chosen well.
This story marks a major milestone in the Doctor/Clara relationship. I love how the Doctor is still technically in charge, but he’s forced to act through Clara. In this way, he learns about how he is seen in the universe and gains respect for his companion and “pudding brain” humans. Clara gets to exercise the understanding of this Doctor’s character that she gained last adventure.
This new role for Clara will likely take a toll, as both Davros and Rory have pointed out in the past that traveling with the Doctor can turn companions into worse people. The Doctor is obviously uncomfortable with the development.
I also like the chemistry between Clara and Rigsy. The artist has the typical everyman backstory that we associate with the Doctor’s companions, and he also seemed to catch on quickly with the role.
Looking back, this story echoes similar adventures from the past. The TARDIS was previously shrunk in Planet of Giants, Carnival of Monsters, Logopolis, Let’s Kill Hitler, and The Wedding of River Song, and we saw enemies who were able to shift targets through dimensions in both Fear Her and Mona Lisa’s Revenge.
These recycled story tropes aside, this adventure carried the day well with wonderful character development and a good balance of fear with the action and completely silent antagonist. It seems to be Jamie Mathieson‘s trademark.
Rating: 5/5 – “Fantastic!”
UP NEXT – Doctor Who: In the Forest of the Night
The Timestamps Project is an adventure through the televised universe of Doctor Who, story by story, from the beginning of the franchise. For more reviews like this one, please visit the project’s page at Creative Criticality.