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Monday, 20 October 2014

Doctor Who S34E9: Flatline.

It's weird not having Bravely Default around. I played so much of it over a period of, like, two weeks that I've now forgotten what it was I did with my time before it.

Doctor Who
Series 34, Episode 9

Right, let's get the admin stuff out of the way first. Here's last week's bingo:

Moving on to this episode, this is the second episode by Jamie Mathieson this series, and one of only five episodes this series not written in part or in its entirety by Steven Moffat, although I'd argue that his hand has been heavy even on the episodes that he hasn't written. The last Mathieson episode was last week's Mummy on the Orient Express, which as you'll recall I said was tied with Time Heist for the best episode of the series, and was only really dragged down by the inclusion of the godawful Clara-hates-the-Doctor-but-she-just-can't-keep-away-from-him subplot, that I wish would die already.

Looking back on that episode now, I wonder if Clara was even meant to be in it, or if it was a diktat from on high - whether that be Moffat or somebody above him. I say that partly because Clara was given almost nothing to do in that episode, just shunted off to the side; partly because she wasn't on any promotional materials including the official cast list; and partly because if she hadn't been in that episode, these two Mathieson episodes would have formed a pretty complete arc. The Doctor travels on his own for a while before the shrinking TARDIS problem forces him to find Clara, who is then compelled to step into his shoes, leading to a greater understanding of both of their positions that makes Clara want to journey with him again.

It's just a theory, and we'll likely never know.

On the bright side, tiny TARDIS! There's a tinier TARDIS which
I believe may actually be a TARDIS alarm clock from Argos.

Anyway. Flatline takes us back to modern day Earth, where Clara and the Doctor land in Bristol, rather than London as originally planned. There, they find that people on the estate are being abducted, and the culprits appear to be a set of entirely two-dimensional aliens who want to understand us and/or kill us. 

This episode is what's colloquially known as 'the cheap one', the episode that comes every series where the BBC strains to eke out an episode on as horrifically low a budget as possible in order to conserve funding for the explosive finales. Previous cheap ones have included Closing Time, The Lodger and Midnight. Mathieson definitely uses his limited means well, following a small cast as they attempt to flee from, in essence, photoshop blur effects and hasty wall paintings which still manage to be quite intimidating.

Part of that is that there's a lot of great ideas here. Clara stepping into the Doctor's shoes: Great idea, and pulled off very well with excellent performances from both Jenna Coleman and Peter Capaldi. Man everyone wants to die not dying: Great idea, and I think everyone who watched really hated Christopher Fairbank's character. Two dimensional aliens who are mysterious and bizarre and unknowable, and who can only perceive us through our impressions on two dimensional objects: Great! Easily one of my favourite New Who monsters. 

(On an unrelated note, Matt Bardock, who plays Al, had literally just left Casualty when this episode aired. It's like his character died and was reincarnated high-vis jacket and all in another BBC show.)

Another part of that is that it's a very tightly written script. A lot of the interactions between the Doctor and Clara are hilarious ("What are you a doctor of?" says Rigsy, "Of lies," the Doctor hisses while Clara remarks that she thinks she just picked the title to sound impressive), the script is well-paced and slick - I don't have many complaints.

Funny glasses!

I do have some. 

Our old friend Unfortunate Implications returns, as the Doctor makes an offhand remark about Rigsy, a young black man, being 'barely sentient.' Obviously, it's meant to be a reference to his being human, rather than his race, but in a series where we've had the Doctor make similar remarks at two other black characters - and by remarks, I mean a sustained campaign of insults about his intelligence at Danny, and several snide remarks at Courtney about her being criminal and stupid - it comes off as more than a little skeevy.

Again, I will note, these episodes do not exist in a vacuum. There is not only an unfortunate pattern set by previous episodes to take into account, but also a wider cultural context in which black people are characterised as being stupid or criminal constantly. One case of unfortunate implications was uncomfortable. Three in a series is making me squirm in my seat, and these incidents should be getting caught by someone at the BBC. This is your flagship series, Beeb, there is absolutely no excuse for not catching these. 

My other complaint is that our old friend the interminably awful Clara-Doctor-Danny Subplot returns. It's in a small way, but it's there, in her phonecall to Danny and Doctor's subsequent conversation with her about how she lied to him about that. Just - go away, subplot. Nobody likes you. You are cliche and tired and you've been sapping the life out of every single episode. You are the writing equivalent of a guy with an acoustic guitar and a t-shirt saying 'If found, return to pub.' 

Here's Clara judging you, subplot.

But apart from those things? I really liked this episode. It's knocked both Time Heist and Mummy on the Orient Express off the top spot and has now seized the position of best episode this series. Come pick up your Golden Dalek, Flatline. Mathieson, come pick up your prize for most consistently tolerable writer this series. Your competition was not steep. 

Let's take a look at this week's updated bingo:

This week's crosses are in 'eggshell salmon'

It's exactly the same as it was before this episode. I only have two slots to cross off, so that's not all that surprising, but still, this is the first episode since I started this bingo that I've not been able to cross at least one square. Even if I was working with an entirely blank bingo, I probably wouldn't be able to cross off many squares at all. 

Next week, we have another episode with Clara and Danny both involved, as London is replaced with a vast forest filled with wolves and tigers, two animals who generally don't live in the same places, but also who don't exist in Britain anyway (that one part of Scotland where they've reintroduced wolves does not count), so I'll definitely let it pass. 

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