Day 292: Flatline Or Plimsoll Line?

The TARDIS does a soft shoe shuffle…

October 19 main

As soon as I saw the “Addams Family” moment in last night’s Doctor Who episode “Flatline” I knew what today’s Sole Of Sci-Fi pic was going to be. Besides, there’s a nice TARDISy feel to the these two-tone Fred Perry plimsolls, so it felt like a handy bit of synergy.

As I predicted last week, after penning two rapturously received episodes in a row, Jamie Mathieson is now the subject of various “make him the next showrunner!” campaigns over on Gallifrey Base. I think it’s a bit soon for that, but interestingly, Mathieson has his own sci-fi series, ALT, in development over at Channel 4, so if that gets to air in the next year or so, we’ll have a better idea of his showrunning potential. But I have been a big fan of Mathieson’s writing ever since his Being Human days, so whatever happens, I’m interested in seeing more scripts from him, for Doctor Who or otherwise.

Doctor Who flatline community workers jenna claraBecause, yeah, I largely loved “Flatline”. It’s amazing that after 51 years the show can still produce something fresh, unique and visually exciting, like nothing we’ve seen in the show before. It was also genuinely creepy; the scenes in which the police officer was sucked into the carpet and the guy from Casualty (dying for the second time on a Saturday night within the space of a month) was grabbed by a giant hand were strong stuff indeed. I’ve not felt this tense watching Doctor Who for a very long time indeed.

Jenna Coleman and Peter Capaldi were both excellent, helped by a script that gave them a lot of meaty material to work with, and a chilling exchange at the episode’s end, “You were an excellent Doctor… Goodness had nothing to do with it.”

The main problem was the cast of guest characters, who were embarrassingly underwritten and foisted with some very clumsy dialogue. Rigsy, the graffiti artists, was passable, but the rest of the community workers should have been wearing red shirts instead of luminescent jackets.

Doctor Who Flatline handleThe ending was a little, “With a wave of my magic wand”, but I can forgive that because a) it didn’t come from nowhere (the Doctor had informed us he’d found a technobabble solution way earlier in the episode), b) the actual “clever” resolution was finding a way of returning the TARDIS to normal size, and c) it gave Capaldi the chance to deliver a great Doctor-y speech which he delivered with gusto: “THIS PLANE IS PROTECTED!” (A reference back to “The Christmas Invasion” in case you hadn’t worked that out yourself.)

I’ve noticed that the episode hasn’t been quite so well-received by the faction of fandom that think Moffat is trying to make Clara the star of the show (because he invented her) at the expense of the Doctor. Good grief, that’s a conspiracy theory and a half. I have a problem with Clara, sure – I’ve mentioned it before: I find it difficult to believe that the Clara we’re seeing this series is the same “Impossible Girl” from last series. You’d have thought all her experiences through series seven would have moulded her into a different character the one we’ve seen this year.

On the other hand, I much, much, much prefer this current Clara. I believe in her so much more, and I’m finding her a lot more fun to watch.

But… taking over the show? Um, no. She’s certainly more front and centre than most companions, but what’s happening is she’s shining a new light on this new Doctor. He’s still the core of the show, because Clara’s actions are reflecting on him. It’s a logical extension of the way Russell T Davies used Rose as a way of introducing the Ninth Doctor. Moffat is exploring how travelling with the Doctor may not always has a positive effect on his companions (and not just because they die). Davros accused the Doctor of weaponising his companions (back in “Journey’s End”) and the best way to see if this is indeed the case is to watch the companion become a proto-Doctor.

Besides, Clara will leave one day (soon if rumours are true, but I’m always aware that Moffat is a master of misdirection, so I’m not banking on that) and the Doctor will be around for a long time to come. I see no harm in a showrunner shifting emphasis for a while, to keep the show from becoming stale. It never ceases to amaze me that fans always claim that one of the show’s main strengths is it versatility, and yet some of them want the show to remain obstinately the same.

So, not perfect, but “Flatline” was an extreme case of an episode where what was good in it, so totally outweighed the bad, you can forgive the Bristolian cannon fodder.

And besides, it gave me the best idea for a Sole Of Sci-Fi pic since 20 May.

See you tomorrow.

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