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Flatline

Review by Paul Bowler

[Contains Spoilers]

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Strange alien creatures from another dimension, unknown even to the Doctor, are stalking a Bristol council estate and horrifically flattening their victims into the walls. When the TARDIS begins to shrink, trapping the Doctor inside, Clara must continue investigating without him. Separated from the Doctor, Clara uncovers a terrifying menace from a 2D dimension, entities that are breaking through into our reality. But how can you hide from a multi-dimensional enemy when even the walls cannot protect you? With people depending on her and the Doctor trapped, Clara must face a horror that exists beyond all human perception…

Flatline, the ninth episode of series eight, is written by Jamie Matheson (who also wrote Mummy on the Orient Express) and Directed by Line of Duty’s Douglas Mackinnon (Listen & Time Heist). This dark, menacing, and visually imaginative episode sees the Doctor and Clara confronted with the most uncanny aliens they’ve ever faced. Flatline really challenges the Doctor, he’s never encountered anything like this before, while Clara must take charge of the situation and find a way to deal with the multi-dimensional entities terrorising the estate – and the Doctor’s dimensionally transcendental predicament means he can’t help her.

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Instead of returning Clara home the Doctor finds the TARDIS has materialised in Bristol. When forces begin leaching at external dimensions of the TARDIS, causing the time machine to shrink with the Doctor still inside, Clara has to take over. Using a special earpiece so the Doctor can follow events via her optic nerve, Clara essentially becomes the Doctor’s eyes and ears, with the TARDIS in her handbag, the psychic paper, and the sonic screwdriver at her disposal. Clara befriends graffiti artist Rigsy (Big School’s Joivan Wade), who is doing community service in the area, and learns about the mural in a pedestrian tunnel for the people that have gone missing.

Peter Capaldi is on fine form as the 12th Doctor in Flatline. It always makes for an interesting story when the Doctor is slightly in the dark about what’s going on, and with the Time Lord stuck inside the TARDIS for the majority of the episode he becomes completely reliant on Clara’s “Doctor Oswald” – which leads to some great banter between them when their roles effectively become reversed for the duration of this adventure. Jenna Coleman is also excellent in this episode as Clara, who is teamed with Joivan Wade‘s graffiti artist Rigsy in Flatline, and they both prove their worth against the dimensionally transcendental foes.

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In a brilliantly spooky scene, Clara and Rigsy visit the home of Mr Heath, the first reported disappearance, where PC Forest (Jessica Hayles) becomes the entities next victim. Trapped in the same room where PC Forest’s nervous system is now imprinted on the wall, things are complicated even further when Clara receives an impromptu phone call from Danny (Samuel Anderson) as she’s trying to escape with Rigsy before the creatures can reach them. It also become apparent to the Doctor that Clara has been lying to him about Danny being ok with her continued adventures in the TARDIS, something the Time Lord is quick to point out to her.

The Doctor believes the forces dragging people into the walls are conducting experiments on their victims, testing, and dissecting them in order to better understand the three dimensions of our reality. When the entities start emerging from the mural in the pedestrian tunnel, wearing grotesque images of the people they’ve killed as camouflage, Clara, Rigsy, and the survivors from the council work party, Fenton (Auf Wiedersehen, Pet star Christopher Fairbank), Al (former Casualty actor Matt Bardock), and George (Raj Bajaj), flee to a train repair yard where the Doctor attempts to communicate with the aliens, but they are attacked again and forced to use the old disused Brunswick Line to escape.

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This isn’t the first time the TARDIS has been affected by strange dimensional forces. In the 1964 story, Planet of the Giants, the 1st Doctor and his companions, along with the TARDIS, were all miniaturised to the size of an inch. The 2nd Doctor and Jamie had to evacuate the TARDIS in The Wheel in Space (1968) when a malfunction in the fluid link forced the Doctor to remove the Time Vector Generator, a special rod that makes the TARDIS dimensionally transcendental, which then caused the TARDIS interior to shrink rapidly. Mirroring the 12th Doctor’s predicament in Flatline, the TARDIS also shrank with the 4th Doctor still inside it in Logopolis (1981), when the calculations to fix the Chameleon Circuit were maliciously altered by the Master.

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The monsters in Flatline are the Boneless, creatures that exist beyond the normal range of human perception, they are also able to shrink the exterior dimensions of the TARDIS and drain the time machines energy supplies. These bizarre multi-dimensional beings, so strange they even confuse the TARDIS, exist in the walls and can turn somehow humans into static two dimensional images, which they then use to emerge into our reality as horrifying three dimensional caricatures of their victims. I thought the special effects used here for the Boneless were utterly superb, the way the creatures moved was so inhuman, and I really liked how the story didn’t reveal everything about them – ensuring they remain chillingly mysterious and unexplained.

Finding their escape routes in the train tunnels have been flattened into two dimensions, things don’t look good for Clara and the others, especially when the creatures become three dimensional beings and begin hunting them down. The Doctor manages to provide Clara and her companions with a device to restore dimensions to get past one of the flattened doors, but in the confusion the miniature TARDIS gets accidentally knocked down a shaft, where it lands on another railway line. Using a brilliant “Adams Family” style plan to get the TARDIS clear of the oncoming train, the Doctor places the TARDIS into siege mode. After stopping the train and using it to ram the entities to buy them some more time, Clara and her friends, now joined by train driver Bill (James Quinn), must find a way to defeat this intangible menace. But with the Boneless closing in and life support failing inside the TARDIS, time is running out for them and the Doctor.

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I really liked how Clara devised a plan with Rigsy to strike back at the Boneless by using his artwork, she manages to turn their enemies energies against them while also providing the TARDIS the energy it needs to return to its normal size. Peter Capaldi is superb during the final confrontation between the Doctor and the Boneless, Capaldi’s speech as he deals with these monsters is absolutely riveting, and sends shivers down the spine.

Flatline is another great story from Jamie Matheson, and he creates a really intriguing and highly original menace for this exciting episode. Even though Flatline is a Doctor-lite episode, Matheson has cleverly structured the plot around this, and the result, with Clara taking on the Doctor’s role, works really well. There are some very intense and scary scenes in Flatline, especially when the killer graffiti comes to life, and the impeccable Direction by Douglas Mackinnon keeps the action and suspense building at a cracking pace. With his innovative style, excellent pacing, and superb use of special effects, Douglas Mackinnon’s work on this eighth series of Doctor Who has been exceptional, and I sincerely hope he Directs more episodes in the future.

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Flatline was a really, tense, and exciting episode. Featuring excellent performances from Peter Capaldi and Jenna Coleman, together with a good supporting cast of characters, and frightening monsters, Flatline is a real highlight of the eighth series. The stories conclusion was a little bit rushed, but overall I found Flatline to be a highly enjoyable adventure, and the coda with the mysterious Missy (Michelle Gomez) hinted that she’s has been keeping a very close eye on Clara indeed…

Images Belong BBC