Review: Doctor Who – The Flatline

Nathan Hardisty 20 October 2014

In the latest episode of Doctor Who, Flatline twists the Doctor-Clara relationship in a fresh direction whilst keeping on track with the grander questions this series of Doctor Who has been asking about itself.

Set within a Bristol estate and featuring supporting characters running about and getting sucked into walls, the Doctor is trapped inside an adorably tiny TARDIS whilst Clara runs about doing the legwork. This episode featured a lot of terrifying moments, from a human nervous system painted on to a wall to a giant hand grabbing people and pulling them to their death. However, it also had bursts of delightful nonsense involving the Doctor being relegated to the big man in a little box.

The direction of Douglas Mackinnon, who also gave us the lens-flare fest Time Heist earlier this season, imbues some generic locations with concrete character. Mathieson’s script buzzes with an understanding of the Who format by keeping dimensional threats omnipresent whilst providing some serviceable supporting characters to be chewed up by the floorboards. The heart of this episode, however, is this series’ ever wonderfully evolving Doctor-Clara relationship, with Clara’s understanding of the barebones utilitarian Doctor moving forward. Jenna Coleman gives a calm but cheeky show of her Timelord talents as Clara slots into the Doc’s position, even sending shivers down the Doctor’s spine whilst commandeering the survivors. It is in this moment that she lives through the Doctor’s calculative mentality but also its addictive heroism.  

Moffat’s last two series as showrunner appeared thematically wobbly to me, but this new minimalist effort in exploring the Doctor as a modern hero has given it a sense of purpose; without the swashbuckling and kiddish swagger of his predecessors we’re left to view the Doctor as caring but coldly calculative, with Capaldi’s gravitas and eyebrows giving a weight of seriousness to questions of the Doctor’s morality. Flatline is an exercise in balancing all elements that Who has to offer, and whilst it isn’t earth-shattering, it passes the torch forward with a few scary monsters and multi-dimensional gags.

An episode that gave Jenna Coleman a chance to shine, she really has Clara-fied this series as a golden age.