"Oh, wow. This is an honor. Does this mean I'm you now?"
For this season of Doctor Who, Ross Miller and Kwame Opam will be sounding off on each episode in a series of emails we'll be publishing on the site. This week it's "Flatline" (warning: spoilers ahead). Check out our previous recaps: "Deep Breath," "Into the Dalek," "Robots of Sherwood," "Listen," "Time Heist," "The Caretaker," "Kill the Moon," and "Mummy on the Orient Express."
Ross: So... missy uses an iPad. Cool.
I'm getting ahead of myself. "Flatline" is basically a retelling of the 1884 story Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions. Except there isn't a romance and we don't really see the two-dimensional beings' side. Also, they're emotionally one dimensional — meaning, they're just monsters out to kill or conquer or invade or something. So there's really no connection to Flatland so never mind.
But that is the monster — two-dimensional beings that shrink the exterior of the TARDIS to Polly Pocket size while also killing and dissecting humans, so that they can ultimately turn into flashy claymation monsters. As the Doctor put it rather succinctly in his soliloquy, we tried to talk to them and they clearly just wanted to kill so he kind of ruthlessly sent them back to two dimensions without a safety belt on.
The push of this episode, however, was giving Clara a chance to play Doctor for the episode, as he was trapped in a shrinking TARDIS. It was a fun "see the world through my eyes" episode, although Clara wasn't faced with the same kind of "save an innocent or save a civilization" moment — it was more investigate, run, investigate, run, let the Doctor clean up the pieces. In some ways, I wish this structure had the emotionally painful choice of "Kill the Moon," as it could've thematically fit better here.
Again, the connection to the Promised Land arc is minimal at best — a final, unrelated scene wherein Missy watches Clara from an iPad. Somehow. Maybe she's watching the show from BBC iPlayer? But in portrait mode? At any rate, the Big Story reveal is that Missy is, more than likely, the one who gave Clara the phone number so long ago. ("Clara, Clara. I have chosen well")
"Addams Family" is a weird reference for both of them to understand so quickly. Maybe there was a Doctor-Clara movie night episode we didn't see? Where nothing out of the ordinary happened they just sat on a couch and watched Addams Family?
Kwame: What a roller coaster ride this season has been. I feel like for every episode or characterization I dislike there's another I like that somehow justifies what came before. But that also means there's an arc here, and however schizophrenic is can be, it seems like it's leading to something. I have no idea what that something is, but that's not such a bad thing. Longterm philosophical examinations of character isn't something Who fans are accustomed to.
I had fun with this one. Yes, the monsters were woefully two-dimensional. Yes, Danny was missing again. No, I have no clue why there were evil surveillance tablets. But here we've got an episode featuring Clara in really solid form as she not only takes on the Doctor's classic role but also a little bit of his present persona. She was darker and more dismissive, but still her. (Kudos to Jenna Coleman for pulling off that balancing act.) I was really glad to see Twelve's perpetually surprised face as she carried herself so well throughout. She even got a companion in the deal. But that last line — Goodness had nothing to do with it — was powerful. It's a theme we've explored at length this year, and that Clara's now being pulled out of the Doctor's shadow and into his darkness is exceptional.
Baby steps, though. She got it wrong two episodes ago, but this time around she got things really right, despite the stakes feeling a little lower. (I know, saving the world from being 2D-ized out is pretty significant, but it didn't feel as epic as the Moon being an egg.) With this kind of progression, I think we're being told that Clara will get the big decisions right on her own, and she will have to face that kind of decision sooner or later. We just have to wonder what that means for her life, her relationship with Danny as she's clearly lying to him about her adventures, and humanity at large.
Random observation: did you notice how Peter Capaldi's hair seemed less bouncy when the TARDIS went into siege mode? What was up with that?
Ross: Maybe it was a lack of air? I don't know.
If I was to try and connect the monster to the theme, I think the "goodness" line shows it. This is a new dimension to Clara — you're right about her chance to witness the darkness / weight of responsibility 12 has.
Is Missy evil? She's saving lives, in a sense. Or at least care taking the recently dead. She just seems evil. It's probably the hair. Or maybe the laugh. Or maybe [spoiler]. Or I don't know.
Three more episodes. The next one is Danny. The last two are both written by Moffat. Two-part midseason finale?
Kwame: You know, I was just about to say, "Oh yeah dude she's totally evil," but now, given the show's treatment of how gray things can get, I'm not so sure. I mean, wearing black and smirking knowingly at the dead are telltale signs that there's something off about you. Still. Maybe her supervillain vibe is an affectation. Who is she then? Is she God? Again, I'm not entirely sure what to expect going forward anymore.