[Spoilers all the way down this week]
Now that was more like it… Flatline was proper scary Doctor Who, the kind of Who that gives its youngest viewers nightmares and leaves older viewers thrilled and delighted.
You could say the basic premise is that two-dimensional creatures are wreaking havoc on Earth by experimenting with the three dimensions they are now encountering. But, you could equally say that the basic premise of Flatline was to make Clara walk in the Doctor’s shoes for an episode…
Either way, Jamie Mathieson has done an excellent job (even better than last week’s Mummy on the Orient Express). As have the lighting crews, SFX and CGI teams, and director – Flatline looks amazing, in particular the creepy scenes in the houses and the subway murals coming to life.
The best Doctor Who says important things in throwaway lines too – from Nine’s suggestion that he’d ‘dance’ with Captain Jack if he was bought a drink first to Twelve’s acknowledgement that the people who walk away alive with you aren’t always the ones that you would choose to survive. Guardian-reading vegetarian that I am, it warmed my cockles to see a story where the young, black, hoodie-wearing grafitti artist is a decent human being from the beginning. Rigsy didn’t need to learn anything (except perhaps how useful a good hairband can be) to be a hero. Conversely, his community service supervisor, Fenton, walks away from his adventure as bitter, cynical and unpleasant as he began it. It was a nice touch that Fenton’s utter lack of imagination made him immune to the psychic paper, too.
I loved the fun that they had with the smaller Tardises too – everything about this was great, but my favourite moments were the Mary-Poppins like sledgehammer from the handbag and the Thing from The Addams Family impersonation as the Doctor got himself off the train tracks (which makes up for the fact that I don’t believe a train wouldn’t have at least six inches clearance beneath it).
But it’s the two serious threads of story that are the meat of this story, and while the Boneless are brilliantly scary and believable, it’s the deconstruction of the Doctor’s methods and Clara’s unflinching use of them which I enjoyed (while hoping it will truly stop her whinging for good). She does make an exceptional Doctor, and I like that the Doctor makes the point that ‘goodness’ had nothing to do with it.
It’s a pity Missy had to turn up at the very end to muddy the waters, but I’d like to end on a happier note, so let’s give Matt Bardock an honourable mention here too – if only for dying on our screens twice in a fortnight (and in a green uniform both times, poor sod).
It’s a shame this series got off to such a poor start, but thanks to Jamie Mathieson we seem to have turned a corner. Let’s hope the last three episodes are as good as this one.