October 21, 2014

Return to Form: A Review of FLATLINE

Minor spoilers and speculation. You have been warned.

To be honest, I kind of entered this viewing in a particular state of mind: a really rough week personally and professionally meant that I ended up viewing this with a group at a local venue. (To be honest, I really wanted to just view this alone, but there you go). So I half expected, given my feelings about the past few episodes, to really hate Flatline.

To my surprise, I thoroughly enjoyed Flatline, which not only has a strong premise, but also follows up on the themes of the past few episodes in a very intriguing way.

Like Neil Cross in Series 7, Jamie Mathieson was commissioned Mummy on the Orient Express on the strength of Flatline....and with this script, you can see why. It's one of the few Who stories that actually has a plausible scientific base (I think someone's been reading Flatland ), and that is reminiscent of an earlier story featuring a classic Doctor.

(And if you're curious, it's Survival .A group of us will watch it at a comic shop in December).

What makes Flatline work so well is that, like most great Who, it grounds the fantastic within the everyday. A railway station that's being painted over for graffiti becomes an invasion point for different invaders. The Doctor tries to engage this new entity....but fails to do so. There's also a nice sense of realism, even down to one character - after all is finished - not changing. (And yes, it happens in Survival too. There's also a Scottish Doctor in that story as well). Plus, there's a great end-of-episode blurb that's reminiscent of The Christmas Invasion....another episode with a Scottish Doctor (but with a fake Cockney accent).

There are also some "why-didn't-they-think-of-that-before?" moments: the gradual shrinking of the TARDIS. The "Addams Family" moment. The idea of invaders from "another universe". The Doctor acting as "coach" for Clara (which reminded me of that Leverage Season 4 episode where Hardison leads the "double prong monkey con"....and all of Nathan Ford's interactions with Parker in Series 5).

But ultimately, what makes this episode work - and redeems it in my eyes - is the acknowledgment that sometimes, in being the Doctor, "goodness doesn't come into it." We've seen Clara serve as a Doctor surrogate....and although she's good at it, she also doesn't see things in their perspective. For her, it's about balance - some people died (or as the Doctor would put it, the "wrong people died"), but for the Doctor, it's about life in general. Having this reassertion of the Doctor's morality - and the idea that the season is as much about Clara's possible corruption as it is about the Doctor's redemption - really makes this a must-watch.

Although I'm still unsure how I feel about Mathieson's Mummy on the Orient Express ...

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