2nd Opinion: Flatline
David Selby and John Hussey both give their own verdict on the 9th episode of Series 8.
Flatline is only the epitome of Series Eight’s new direction, typifying recent storytelling and character-analysis techniques, for instance the crossing over between Doctor and companion, and the moral corruption of the protagonists.
Unfortunately, this aforementioned moral corruption is damaging my relationship with the show. With the Doctor as a cold, heartless and often patronising alien, it’s Clara who’s been the audience surrogate and more relatable focus this series. Sadly, upon choosing to continue travelling with the Doctor, she’s had to lie to Danny, who’s perhaps the loveliest and wisest character since Wilfred Mott (speaking of which, on a tangent: why did the Doctor never openly critique Wilf for his soldier-days?). In doing so, she’s lost my trust and support, as I’m beginning to wonder who I should actually be rooting for: Samuel Anderson’s Danny and Sheila Reid’s ‘Nan’ are the only two characters in the show at present that I have any time for.
Furthermore, Flatline managed to secure its mediocrity by providing a sub-par resolution which, whilst thematically admirable, was abysmal in terms of ingenuity. It compromises the overall plot and, worse still, is followed up by a scene of awkward goodbyes which offer nothing new to the story. Fenton is a one-dimensional rehash of Rickston from Voyage of the Damned, and Casualty actor Matt Bardock is brutally underused. The only character worth mentioning here is Rigsy, whose almost-sacrifice is by far the episode’s defining moment. The Boneless are a fascinating and well-released antagonist, and I’d be more than encouraging if they were to return at a later date.
Sadly, Series Eight is in a poor position where it’s keeping me engrossed through intriguing plot developments and arc mysteries, but is failing to give me reasons why I should care about key characters. My interest is beginning to decline, and I’m feeling that these creative decisions were perhaps a step too far. Somehow, the show is starting to lose its magic, and its essential charm, by taking bold and unsubtle risks. I miss the days when Doctor Who was simple but quaint with relatable characters and a lovable Doctor, and I infinitely envy those who have been enjoying the new setup. All I can do for now is hope that next week’s script offers a refreshing change by a writer with a new perspective, and that Moffat’s finale is testament to the fact that he has learnt from the mistakes of the past. But, as I’ve been warned on here before, expectations can be a dangerous thing.
Unfortunately it comes to that point every year when you come across your least favourite episode. Maybe not because they are totally dreadful, like in most of my cases, but just aren’t fully up to your tastes as a Doctor Who story, or that they simply didn’t engage you that much. ‘Flatline’ for me holds this position currently in Series Eight.
For a while ‘Into the Dalek’ took my spot for least engaging story but now ‘Flatline’ has taken over due to its boring setting, non-interesting characters and lack of threat; proving a disappointment after Jamie Mathieson’ superb ‘Mummy on the Orient Express’ last week. I’m not a big fan of Earth-bound stories as it is, unless it’s a UNIT story like in the good old Jon Pertwee era, and this episode proved to contain a dull environment to set up the story. A council estate will never get me interested, especially since they have the bad stereotype of being rough neighbourhoods. Probably why I disliked some of the settings in the Russell T Davies era and also later didn’t fully engage to ‘Night Terrors’. A setting is just as important as the story and characters and these three factors must come together, for if one lacks then you begin to lose the best possible result out of your audience’s enjoyment.
Then there’s the characters. I’ll happily admit ‘Flatline’ perhaps had some of the worst line-up of characters within the show’s history, bordering on ‘Love & Monsters’ bad. Fenton was a miserable old git and brought absolutely nothing to the story. He wasn’t likeable and quite frankly I wanted to see him killed by the Boneless, but sure enough he lived whilst people with good souls were taken in cruel circumstances (as the Doctor becomes disgusted by at the end). The rest of the supporting characters pretty much were there for the simple reason of dying, essentially giving the Boneless victims in order to give some form of threat value. The only supporting character that didn’t die was the train driver and he simply stood in the background like a spare end, bringing absolutely nothing to the story like Fenton and the other supporting cast.
Rigsy was the only character to hold a proper voice or even a sense of a character but even that drew from short characteristics. He was likable in some senses, but like the school children this season, he was given a stereotypical style of voice that portrayed that type of person. His role was to be Clara’s companion and occasionally be helpful, pointing out interesting points in order to help the plot move along but his story ends there. Even when he attempted to commit the heroic act of self-sacrifice I was left feeling there would be no emotional loss because I just didn’t care. His death would’ve been meaningless just as the story became.
Finally the lack of threat. Threat has been a troublesome part of New Who because writers are very quick to jump to the idea of a simple story. Not necessarily in the sense that the story is simple in its writing or plot, but simple in the sense of what happens. I’ve seen it many times, most recently in ‘The Caretaker’, where an enemy will be portrayed as a massive threat that can potentially destroy the Earth or universe but this factor is destroyed by how the creature is portrayed, usually only attacking a small band of characters and being unthreatening in the large scheme. The Boneless has this same potential. They could’ve been in any wall around the world and through this implication had the power to kill us all. But all we saw was them chasing after boring characters (not including Clara) through boring settings. Had the story been set in an isolated environment I think I could’ve understood the use for a small cast of characters but when you know you’re in a large settlement you expect a larger threat.
Maybe the Boneless could’ve attacked all of Bristol thereby making Clara’s task of being the Doctor all the more dangerous, but alas this didn’t happen, thus making the Boneless a wasted opportunity sadly. I grow annoyed when a threat is wasted by boring outcomes such as this because it makes the episode less engaging because you can’t take it seriously. It makes itself appear as a small-scale episode that was just there for the sake of it whilst bigger stories like ‘Listen’, ‘Time Heist’ and ‘Mummy on the Orient Express’ take the mantelpiece of great storytelling.
I won’t be totally negative because I did enjoy the sub-plot of Clara being the Doctor whilst he remained trapped in his shrunken TARDIS. This side of the story was handled well I thought and showcased to Clara just what the Doctor has to go through on a day-to-day basis and I believe she is finally coming to understand him more as a person. It was also interesting to see the Doctor pushed out of the action, though to be honest I prefer him in the action but hey-ho I’m not a big fan of Doctor-lite stories, and seeing how he must adjust to being a simple mentor in the background whilst Clara faces the bulk of the action by herself.
You also had some absolutely funny scenarios taking place like the TARDIS being carried around in a handbag, the Doctor passing things through the tiny doors from the inside and even a nice little Addams Family reference when the Doctor attempted to rescue himself from an oncoming train. There was also the dark idea that the Doctor has become worried over Clara due to his traits rubbing off on her and perhaps changing her for the worst. That is why in my eyes he avoided calling her a ‘good Doctor’ because in his eyes she wasn’t good. He himself has been questioning the topic all this series and knows in his heart he isn’t fully a good man and fears Clara, if not careful, will fall into his trap due to her addiction to his lifestyle.