I’ve just finished watching the latest episode of “Doctor Who” – so, I thought that I’d review it.
Sorry in advance about the badly-written plot summary this week (I’m fairly tired at the moment and, as such, my plot summary really doesn’t do this excellent episode justice). Since the summary is quite long and rambling, I’ll mark where it begins and ends, in case you want to skip it.
As I say every week, I’m not sure how many episodes of this series I’ll get round to reviewing (or even how promptly I’ll be able to review them) but I’ll try to look at as many as possible.
Before I go any further, I should also point out that this review will contain MAJOR SPOILERS. You have been warned.
—Plot summary begins —-
“Flatline” begins with a man frantically calling the police to report an intruder in his house. However, before he can finish his call he is mysteriously sucked into the floor and – a few seconds later, his face appears on the wall – distorted and screaming.
Meanwhile, the Doctor and Clara are returning from another adventure when – due to some mysterious malfunction, the TARDIS ends up landing in Bristol rather than in London (yes, it’s a “Doctor Who” episode that doesn’t take place in London – what a delightful rarity!).
Not only that, Clara quickly notices that the TARDIS door is smaller than usual. They leave the TARDIS, only to find themselves standing beside an abandoned train station and a metre-tall version of the TARDIS. Puzzled by this, the Doctor asks Clara to investigate whilst he climbs back inside the TARDIS to repair it.
Clara walks away and quickly finds a memorial at the entrance to a nearby underpass. Whilst she is looking at it, some guys on community service nearby make comments about her, until one of them (a graffiti artist called Rigsy) tells them that she’s mourning and that they should leave her be. He then goes over to Clara to apologise, but is surprised when she starts asking him questions about the memorial.
He gestures towards the underpass, and the walls are lined with images of people facing away. Each one of these people has died recently under mysterious circumstances and, according to Rigsy, the police are doing nothing about it. When Clara returns to the abandoned train station to tell the Doctor about this, she can’t find the TARDIS anywhere – until she notices that it has shrunk to about six inches in height, since something is mysteriously draining power from it.
The Doctor is still his normal size though (due to the TARDIS being bigger on the inside, obviously) and he hands Clara his sonic screwdriver, psychic paper and an earpiece that allows him to both communicate with her and see what she is seeing. He also tells her that, to all intents and purposes, she is the Doctor until he can get the TARDIS back to it’s correct size. She puts the TARDIS in her handbag and keeps investigating.
A while later, Clara meets up with Rigsy again and he shows her the house of a man who recently died mysteriously, but they can’t really find anything there. A while later, Clara uses the psychic paper to enlist the help of a police officer called PC Forest (by pretending to be from MI5) and they, along with Rigsy, investistigate another house.
The Doctor theorises that whatever killed the people must be hiding in the walls and he hands Clara a sledgehammer through the TARDIS doors. By this point, PC Forest has gone into another room to investigate, when the walls start shifting and distorting strangely. She calls out for help but, a few seconds later, she starts melting into the floor. When Clara and Rigsy run into the room, she is completely gone.
A few seconds later, they notice a mysterious painting on the wall. It looks like a diagram of the human nervous system – it is then that the Doctor finally realises what is going on. The creatures that have been killing people come from another plane where things can only exist in two dimensions and that they have recently discovered our three-dimensional world.
Needless to say, a few seconds later, the creatures attack again and Clara and Rigsy barely escape from the house with their lives (and the TARDIS). They return to the underpass, where Rigsy’s miserable boss starts reading him the riot act for being late for his community service. Not only that, he isn’t fooled by Clara’s psychic paper (due to the fact that he possesses no imagination whatsoever).
He is about to call the police when one of the other community service workers in the underpass is suddenly sucked into the wall. Terrified, everyone runs into a nearby abandoned train depot and the Doctor tells Clara that she is the only one who can save these people from the two-dimensional creatures.
What follows next is a long and suspenseful chase through the underground train tunnels beneath Bristol. By this point, the creatures have also learnt how to exist in three dimensions as glitchy, distorted zombified versions of the people they’ve killed.
Along the way, everyone except Clara, The Doctor, Rigsy, Rigsy’s miserable boss and a train driver that they meet (after failing to ram the zombies with a train), is killed by the creatures.
Finally, Clara, Rigsy and The Doctor are able to find a way to trick the creatures into restoring power to the TARDIS – returning it to it’s normal size and allowing the Doctor to leave it.
Staring at the zombie-like creatures, the Doctor waves his sonic screwdriver like a magic wand, tells the creatures never to return to our plane of existence, names them (although I didn’t quite hear the name properly when I was watching the episode) and then banishes them.
—- Plot summary ends—
One of the first things I will say about “Flatline” is that I was pleasantly surprised by it.
From the trailer at the end of last week’s episode and from the plot description on the BBC website, I expected it to be a “bottle episode” of some kind. Kind of like that really crappy episode with the ‘adipose’ creatures (and guest-starring Peter Kay) from a few series ago. Wow, I couldn’t have been more wrong!
This episode is excellent!
In fact, it’s an even better horror episode than last week’s episode was. Although I haven’t really done it justice in my plot summary, this episode is genuinely creepy.
Yes, you heard me correctly – it’s an episode of “Doctor Who” that is actually scary. One of the things that makes this episode so brilliantly chilling is the fact that we never get to learn too much about the two-dimensional monsters in it.
Whilst it’s shown that they are experimenting on people (eg: by studying PC Forest’s nervous system), the Doctor initially assumes that they’re making an innocent mistake and don’t realise that we are sentient.
However, by the end of the episode, he has assumed that the monsters’ intentions are far more malevolent…. but he still isn’t sure exactly why they’re killing people, or whether they’re just exploring our dimension or trying to invade it. This ambiguity and uncertainty really adds a lot to the chilling atmosphere of the episode.
Plus, there’s the fact that we never actually get to really see the monsters’ true form. Although, thanks to some brilliant CG effects, we get to see them moving through our dimension and we also get to see their hesitant first attempts at taking human form (as both a giant hand that mysteriously grabs someone from nowhere and as a a group of genuinely creepy zombie-like creatures that look like glitchy holograms), we don’t really get to see what they actually look like. And this alone makes the episode about twice as mysterious and creepy.
In addition to all of this, the acting and writing in “Flatline” is absolutely superb. Not only is the chemistry between the Doctor and Clara a lot better than it was earlier in this series (eg: they aren’t arguing with each other every five minutes), but Clara is also absolutely brilliant when she finally has a chance to be the main character for once. The Doctor, on the other hand, makes a hilariously terrible companion though.
Still, the fact that this episode actually inverted the whole “Doctor & Companion” thing is really cool and it was refreshing to see a change in emphasis for a while.
I don’t know why, but making Clara the main character really gave the episode a totally different quality and atmosphere (eg: a slightly more “realistic” one) and it worked really well. Seriously, after this episode, Clara deserves her own spin-off series.
The set design and settings in this episode are fairly good too. Although most of it is just set in an “ordinary” version of Bristol, it’s great to finally see that the Doctor’s adventures in modern Britain can actually take place in cities that aren’t London.
Yes, it’s our capital city, but it gets boring seeing it again and again in almost every episode of the show set in modern Britain. So, I’d like to congratulate the BBC and the Doctor for finally stepping outside of the M25 for once. Well done, keep up the good work! :)
Plus, the underground train tunnels near the end of the episode are brilliantly claustrophobic, dark and creepy too. Seriously, as settings for a horror-based episode go, you can’t beat underground train tunnels. They also reminded me of a lot of a brilliantly creepy horror novel I read when I was a teenager called “Domain” by James Herbert.
All in all, this review probably hasn’t done this episode justice. As I said, I’m kind of tired at the time of writing it. But, if you want to watch a genuinely disturbing and creepy episode of “Doctor Who” (with some excellent writing, special effects and acting), then you can’t go wrong with “Flatline”. Seriously, it’s a great episode.
If I had to give “Flatline” a rating out of five, then it would get a solid five.