"You were an exceptional Doctor, Clara. Goodness had nothing to do with it."
IN THIS ONE... Attack of the two-dimensional aliens while the Doctor is trapped inside a shrunken TARDIS.
REVIEW: New writer Jamie Mathieson has just had two fantastic ideas produced in a row, Mummy on the Orient Express and this. No, wait, THREE fantastic ideas, because Flatline features two ideas that could have worked separately, but he combined them to make the episode even more fun and incredible to look at. I'm not one to care all that much about special effects, but these are indeed "special". On the one hand, the two-dimensional aliens who can flatten things and people (that sofa sequence was indeed worthy of being shown twice) before they learn to become graffiti zombies ("wearing the dead" is certainly a motif this season). So unusual and even painterly. The "Boneless" made for excellent enemies. The idea shares a strand of DNA with Fear Her, except it's not complete bollocks, you know? And on the OTHER hand, we have the TARDIS shell leached of its dimensions, and the Doctor trapped behind a door now too small for him - just a face in box, or a hand crawling the ship to safety - it's crazy and awesome. These two problems are almost too much for our heroes, and they keep failing, staving off destruction until the next cliffhanger moment. It's quite exciting and urgent.
But what this twin dilemma actually does is force Clara to act as the Doctor's proxy, which is what we've been moving towards for a number of episodes now. Her taking on the role, even if he can talk to her (though the solution is all her, with the help of an artist; how often does art figure into Whovian solutions, as opposed to science or, uhm, the power of love?), gives her the chance to deconstruct the Doctor for us. Sometimes it's done in fun, and she takes pleasure mocking the show's tropes. Sometimes it's dead serious, and she assumes those attributes and ways of working she identifies with the Doctor as a coping mechanism. She recruits a companion, she gives the people hope, she shuts down the one man without imagination (amusingly, Fenton can't even make psychic paper work for him) who must be how the Doctor sees almost every human, and above all, she lies her head off. The Doctor lies; Clara lies. And at the end, she sweeps the fact that people have died under the rug, because "on balance", some survived and the world was saved. It's the Doctor who's pushed into the role of companion, shocked at Fenton's callousness, and perhaps at Clara's too. Has she learned the wrong lessons? Or has she learned the right ones too well? He thinks she made an exceptional Doctor, not a "good" one, because it's not "goodness" that makes you the Doctor. Well, that's a harsh evaluation from a notorious self-loather, more a comment on himself than on the monster he might have created in Clara. We know he's wrong anyway, because where the Doctor has often inspired someone to sacrifice themselves - call it the "Doctor effect" - and Clara does the same with Rigsy, she refuses to let him go through with it. The fact there's an easier way to accomplish what he's trying to is a factor, of course, but dramatically, it's a different take.
That he can step away from who he is, or from his reflection (Clara), to comment this way is the whole point of the episode. Trapped within ourselves, we're missing that "third dimension" that would allow us to see inside. The Boneless are echoes of this idea. By allowing Clara to become him, he can observe himself and finds what he sees disturbing. Ultimately, he must step back into the role of Doctor, and he does so almost literally with a blazing speech about the Boneless playing the monsters' parts thus summoning him to play his own, their opposite number and their destroyer. If it's a role - a mantle - could it be played by someone like Clara? There's a thread running in Season 8 that seems to test the waters for a female Doctor, and if Jenna Coleman, who DOESN'T have the casting for it, can pull it off, we could see an actress cast in the part when Capaldi has done his tour of duty. In fact, I'm CONVINCED of it.
THEORIES: The Doctor hacks Clara's visual cortex in this episode so he can see through her eyes. Then we see Missy, and she's looking at what might very well be the Doctor's POV on an iPad. Has the hacker been hacked? And is this how Missy keeps tabs on the Doctor? We're just a couple of episodes away from my exploring this issue fully. But now's not quite the time.
REWATCHABILITY: High - Incredible effects and clever ideas are just cherries on the sunday. A great episode for Clara and a fine audition for the concept of a female Doctor. Funny, exciting, insightful.