Doctor Who, Season 8, Episode 9, “Flatline”
Written by Jamie Mathieson
Directed by Douglas Mackinnon
Airs Saturdays at 9pm ET on BBC America
These weeks, on Doctor Who: Clara gets comfortable lying, the Doctor enjoys not knowing, and it’s a bad time to be a red shirt
In their reviews of “The Caretaker” and “Mummy on the Orient Express”, the fantastic Tom and Lorenzo postulated that Clara has become addicted to traveling with the Doctor, showing many of the signs of addiction. While this is absolutely the case, and could certainly be part of where showrunner Steven Moffat is planning to take the rest of the season, with “Flatline”, another aspect of Clara and the Doctor’s arcs this season finally becomes clear—Clara is becoming more like the shifty, callous late Eleventh and now Twelfth Doctors, and the Doctor is none too happy about it.
Colin Baker, who played the Sixth Doctor, was a fan of the series when he joined the cast and looked forward to outlasting Tom Baker in the role. His Doctor was introduced memorably (he goes mad and tries to kill his Companion Peri, choking her) and the plan was for his off-putting, pompous Doctor to mellow over time, growing during his tenure and realizing the error of his ways, rather than being another in the long line of immediately likable and nonthreatening Doctors. Issues behind the scenes at the BBC wound up disrupting this and Baker never got the chance to do with the role what he’d intended (on screen, at least—the numerous Sixth Doctor audio dramas are generally well-regarded). It would seem, however, that viewers are finally getting a version of this storyline with the Twelfth Doctor’s* more controlling and deceitful nature.
*The Twelfth Doctor hasn’t been consistently disconnected. The murder/suicide that ends “Deep Breath” is certainly dark, but the Doctor’s interactions with Clara in the first several episodes of the season are surprisingly honest and vulnerable. It’s only post-“Time Heist” that he returns to the Eleventh Doctor’s habit of lying to and disrespecting his Companion.
Some of Jenna Coleman’s best moments as Clara have been her most relatable: her fear in “Cold War”, her uncertainty in “Hide”, her anger in “Kill the Moon”; Clara’s been kind and thought of others first, counterpointing the Doctor’s growing detachment. In “Flatline”, she takes on the role of Doctor and does quite well, but while this gives her a glimpse into the pressures the Doctor takes on every time they step outside the TARDIS, it also shows the Doctor what he’s been modeling for his pupil. The Doctor isn’t concerned with her choices during the crisis, but her chipper attitude afterward. Unlike in previous series, season eight has been chock full of innocent victims. The people targeted by the Foretold and the Boneless don’t reconstitute, they stay dead, having died horribly, yet Clara’s reaction is no different than it was after their hijinks with Robin Hood.
The Twelfth Doctor (and post-Amy Eleventh before him) has been curt and disinterested in the pudding-brains he’s encountered, a far cry from the Doctor who said, “in 900 years of time and space I’ve never met anyone who wasn’t important”. Clara has tried to ground him, but he didn’t care enough to listen and only now, as his Companion takes on some of his worst traits, does he finally see how much he’s changed, and how negative an influence he’s had on Clara. She’s lied to Danny, she’s lied to the Doctor, comrades in arms have died around her, and she’s giddy. Tom and Lorenzo are right—she’s in the process of destroying her life and she can’t even see it. This is a fascinating direction for Moffat to take the series, though it remains to be seen whether he will commit to it and truly allow Clara to unravel or whether “Flatline” will be enough of a warning for the Doctor to snap himself out of it and reconnect himself and Clara to the world.
On a purely aesthetic level, both “Mummy on the Orient Express” and “Flatline” are lovely. The period touches in “Mummy” are gorgeous and Coleman looks fabulous in her flapper attire and adorable bob. “Flatline” doesn’t have the glamour of “Mummy”, but Clara being thrust into the role of Doctor, a level of responsibility that traumatized her in “Kill the Moon”, more than makes up for this and the CGI for the Boneless works well. They’re a strong new addition to NuWho’s monster gallery and the design for the Foretold is even better, making it an evocative and memorable baddie. Both episodes are surprisingly comedic and light-hearted, with great touches throughout like the Doctor’s cigarette case of Jelly Babies and Clara’s familiarity with The Addams Family saving the day, and until the final moments of “Flatline”, the tedious finale teases from earlier in the season are absent. The pacing is energetic and the guest characters engaging. These are entertaining, if not transcendent episodes and ones that will hopefully improve with time, provided Moffat and co. stick the landing with Clara.