Recap: ‘Doctor Who’ – ‘Flatline’ turns the audience into a surrogate Time Lord

10.18.14 3 years ago


When we last left the Doctor and Clara, the former had shown his willingness to sacrifice the one to save the majority while the latter had proved the Doctor isn”t the only one who lies. Determined to keep up her double life, Clara”s playing a dangerous game with both Twelve and Danny.

But who was behind the computerized voice of Gus? Or does it even matter? Will “Flatline” continue the trend of the Monster-Of-The-Week (MOTW) or will the threads of this season start to coalesce? Time to find out!


Either we”re in the 1970s or this balding hipster hasn”t updated his decor since then. He”s whispering into a corded wall phone – truly an archaic device – to the police. He knows who did “it” and they”re everywhere. Whoever “they” are prove the hipster”s paranoid delusions are true by instantly murdering him.

Godspeed, sir. You make delightfully eccentric wallpaper.

In the TARDIS, Clara is haphazardly throwing her stuff into a bag. Ostensibly because Danny doesn”t like her leaving things behind, but in reality because Danny can”t find out she didn”t break up with the Doctor. Twelve is suspicious of a boyfriend being cool with time and space travel, but not with Clara leaving her toothbrush around. However, he doesn”t pick up on Clara being adamant in making sure they”ve returned to the EXACT same time and place they left from earlier.

Unrelated to anything, Clara”s jacket is amazing.

Ms. Oswald lies straight to Twelve”s face and turns to leave. But there is a problem. The TARDIS door is significantly smaller than it should be. It”s never done this before so of course the Doctor is intrigued. They both squeeze through (which is a hilarious visual) and OH MY GLOB. Sexy is so cute and adorable! But also, this probably spells certain doom, or at least a Scooby-Doo mystery to solve. 

The Doctor is excited. Clara is pissed because they definitely didn”t land back in her apartment.  “Let me enjoy this moment of not knowing something. It happens so rarely,” Twelve opines. Quite frankly,  it”s refreshing to see this return to a Doctor who revels in not knowing instead of bluffing that he knows everything. Clara agrees with Twelve and wanders off to see if anything strange is in the area while the Doctor tries to figure out why the TARDIS is suddenly way, way smaller on the outside.

Nearby, graffiti artist Rigsy is suffering the indignity of doing community service…by painting over his own work. His supervisor is the instantly deplorable Fenton, a man who exhibits the kind of casual cruelty that makes you instantly hope he”s slated for death by monster. 

A quick cut back to inside the TARDIS, where the Doctor is doing science with steampunk googles – hell yea! – when Sexy starts shaking like a Polaroid picture. That can”t be good.

Wandering around near the Bristol train station, Clara stumbles upon a memorial of some sort. Photos and candles and teddy bears are gathered against a wall. Further off underneath the bridge are murals of people, all with their backs facing the viewer. 


One of the community service guys cat calls her and Rigsy is like “Dude, what the hell? It”s a MEMORIAL,” and abandons his civic duty to perform the sacred right of spewing exposition at a main character. He tells her about all the people who have gone missing, including the most recent person. I assume he”s talking about poor Balding Hipster. Finally, a clue!

Clara quickly returns to where she left the TARDIS but it”s nowhere in sight…until she looks down. Sexy is now a Teacup TARDIS. The Doctor explains something is leeching the external dimensions but he”s still the same size. Then he proves it by sticking his hand out of the tiny door and my brain is not happy about what it”s looking at but I have no words to describe this emotion.

Twelve instructs Clara to put the TARDIS in her bag, explaining he futzed with the weight and pointing out if the TARDIS didn”t displace her weight all the time, her true size would fracture the surface of the Earth. Huh, never really thought about that. 

Before getting into her purse, the Doctor hands Clara the tools she”ll need to defeat whatever is out there. The psychic paper, the sonic screwdriver, and a nanotech optic nerve implant so Twelve can see what she sees. 

Our artist Rigsy catches back up and asks Clara who she is. With an evil grin, Clara declares herself to be the Doctor. “Doctor Oswald,” to be precise. Inside the TARDIS, Twelve bristles, so of course she twists the knife by adding she”s not really a Doctor, she just picked the title because it makes her sound important.

With her local guide in tow, Rigsy and Doctor Oswald head to the latest crime scene. And it”s definitely not Balding Hipster”s house. Rigsy says when the victim disappeared, there was no sign of a struggle. The spookiest thing though? The doors were locked…from the inside. Great. We”re inside a fireside ghost story. 

Side note: I assume that cracked desertscape one the wall is important, since the camera lingers on it.

Talking to the Doctor, who Rigsy can”t see or hear, Clara is coming off as slightly bonkers. Her declaration that perhaps the victim fell prey to a shrink ray, before getting down to start looking under furniture, is the last straw. Doctor or not, Rigsy can smell crazy and he is out of here. In a moment of desperation to keep her local guide, Clara busts out the Teacup TARDIS and introduces him to the Doctor. 

Somehow this soothes Rigsy and he is back on board. A tiny person in a miniature police box is cool, I guess? Maybe Rigsy was a fan of “The Indian in the Cupboard” as a child. 

But opening the TARDIS doors has let whatever was leeching the external dimensions steal the INTERNAL dimensions! I don”t know what that means but sounds bad! Clara agrees and closes the door while the Doctor paces near the chalkboard which is still housing the unknown equation that been around all season. WHAT DOES IT MEAN?

To the next crime scene! Okay, THIS is definitely Balding Hipster”s house. His commitment to the decorating schemes of the 1970s is admirably, if misguided. Clara has convinced a local police officer – via psychic paper – that she”s here to take over. At Twelve”s direction, she starts sledgehammering the walls. Sadly, there are no wolves inside them.

While Rigsy pumps Clara for information about how she got her “job,” the police officer steps into another room to talk to her superior on the phone. Which means it”s time for her to die. Oh look, the walls are melting! Either that”s the monster or we”ve all got a contact high from being in this house.

By the way, cool suspended egg chair.

Nope, it was the monster and definitely NOT drugs. The officer dies screaming as whatever it is sucks her right into the ground. By the time Clara and Rigsy arrive, there”s nothing left but her flashlight. Looking through Clara”s eyes, the Doctor finally realizes what is going on. The mural on the wall isn”t a spooky forest, but a flattened nervous system. The cracked desert was human skin. Whatever the MOTW is, it”s from a universe with only two dimensions.

And it”s vivisecting humans to try and figure out the third one.

On cue – because all monsters are born with a flair for the dramatic – Clara realizes the door handle has flattened and the walls are melting. Her and Rigsy climb into the egg chair as the floor becomes more deadly than hot lava. So obviously this is the best time for Danny to call. He just wants to know if they”re still on for lunch. Clara tries to lie about her circumstances and ends up sounding like she”s having rigorous sex with someone who isn”t her boyfriend as she swings the egg chair out the window and to relative safety.

Luckily, Danny isn”t an idiot and takes the shattering of glass for what it is: Clara is adventuring. She hangs up on him.

From the Teacup TARDIS, the Doctor calls Clara out for lying to him. He seems surprised at how good she was at it. But hey, being a good liar is a necessary survival skill. At this point, two things happen at once: the nanotech starts to break up, and Rigsy realizes Fenton is about to paint over the memorial mural. In case you needed more reasons to hate this guy.

Clara tries to put a stop to it, but Fenton is such a hateful Scrooge he lacks the imagination needed to see psychic paper. If this show had fairies in it, one would”ve just died from lack of belief. 

But before Fenton can get a straight answer out of Clara, the murals come to life. In what is a great special effect, they ominously turn around and climb right out of the walls. Everyone tables the argument for later, opting to run like hell from the killer graffiti. 

Inside the train station, the Doctor tells Clara she needs to become the leader before anyone else. Of course Fenton is hesitant to take orders from anyone, but Ms. Oswald shuts that shit right down with a “I”m the once chance you”ve got of staying alive, that”s who I am.” With everyone sufficiently cowed, she gives them busy work and wanders off to talk to the Doctor about options.

Clara is terrified she”s going to get them killed but knows she needs to lie to them to give them hope. “Hopeful people run faster,” the Doctor offers helpfully. I am really enjoying how this episode is shaking out. Putting Clara – and through her, the audience – into the role of the Doctor goes a long way towards humanizing his occasional bizarre behavior.

In what I consider a lapse of common sense, the Doctor questions if the killer graffiti knows it is hurting us. Perhaps this is just a miscommunication? The humans are dubious and I don”t blame them but Twelve points out several species that we”d consider hostile merely have customs that are deadly to us. So Clara rigs a speaker to try and talk to the monster.

It ends poorly. Basically the killer graffiti points out one of the Red Shirts™ and makes the “you”re next” gesture before immediately following through.

Run away!

Down in the subterranean subway tunnels, all the door handles have been flattened. Clearly they”re being herded somewhere. This doesn”t sit well with Clara or the Doctor, so the latter quickly rigs together a de-flattener he punnily dubs the 2DIS. As a prototype model, it shorts out before it can return the handle to three dimensions…and on top of that, the monsters have evolved and are sucking more energy from inside the TARDIS.

Suddenly, the giant hand from Super Mario Bros. snatches a Red Shirt to his doom!

With a few emergency tweaks, the 2DIS works and we”re through the door and running again. I”m just going to take a moment to appreciate the look of these monsters. They look like what would happen if Slenderman and Poltergeist had a baby and it”s terrifying and I love it.

Our heroes get into a bit of a tussle over what do to next. And by “our heroes,” I mean Clara and that asshole Fenton. In the struggle, the Teacup TARDIS flies out of Clara”s grip and falls who knows how far. Thanks jerk, now we dropped the Time Lord. THOSE ARE FRAGILE.

To the surprise of no one, dropping the TARDIS does some serious damage. The shields are gone, communications are iffy, and structural integrity is failing. Sexy is dead in the water on the subway tracks and a train is headed right for her. The Doctor starts telling Clara good-bye and she”s like “Snail crawl your ass to safety with your hand, idiot!” so he does. But the ensuing victory dance tips the TARDIS right back onto the tracks and we cut away as Twelve dives for a mystery lever.

P.S. They totally blew their VFX budget on the monsters and not on the train. Good call.

Back with our merry band of Clara and the Canon Fodder, the Slendergeists are coming from one end of the tunnel and the train is barreling at them from the other. Clara flags the train down.

Meanwhile, the Doctor is leaving a final message for Clara. The TARDIS is in siege mode…nothing goes in and nothing goes out and there”s not enough power to reverse the process. He”ll die in here once the life support fails. 

Back on the subway tracks, Clara gets the conductor to agree to ram the Slendergeists. Why she thinks this will work is a mystery to me. Everyone seems game but there”s one problem. Someone has to be pushing the figurative gas pedal. Without warning, Rigsy jumps in and starts driving, willing to sacrifice himself to save Clara…without her even asking. Clara is shocked by how this stranger would give his life for her and seems very uncomfortable with the idea.


They opt to use Clara”s headband to hold down the “gas” pedal instead and make a running jump from the train. Which is a good thing since it instantly becomes 2D when it rams the Slendergeist blockage.

So we”re running again. And Clara spots the TARDIS which looks like a holocron cube in siege mode. Or like a tiny version of the prison they built for Eleven a few seasons back. Well, file that under “Things that make you go Hmmmmm.”

In a tiny service station, Doctor Oswald is pacing and talking to herself as the remaining humans look on. In true Doctor fashion, she starts formulating a plan without telling anyone what it is. Only that Rigsy needs to draw something because they have to find a way to get power to the TARDIS.

And here come the Slendergeists. Inside the Teacup Siege TARDIS, life support is failing. The Doctor declares Clara made a mighty fine Doctor and resigns himself to his fate. Outside, Clara places the TARDIS somewhere and stands back. As the Slendergeists try to break through the door, they are instead shoving their energy into a DRAWING of a door. With no real handle to bring into three dimensions, the energy goes through the wall…and straight into Sexy!

Restored to her original size, Twelve steps forth in triumph. He says he tried to be nice but if the Slendergeists want to play the villain, he will play the man that stops the monsters. For the first time all season, we get a glimmer of the old Doctor as he tells the flickering creatures “This plane is protected!” and banishes them back from whence they came.

He also names them…the Boneless. Pffft, whatever. Slendergeists is way better.

We wrap up with the survivors exiting the TARDIS back above ground. Clara is beaming because three of her Red Shirts™ lived. Take the victories where you can get them. The moment is marred as Fenton continues his unbroken streak of being a terrible person, basically saying only the trash died so who cares? 

“Maybe the wrong people survived,” the Doctor states. But he rallies to tell Rigsy he looks forward to his future work since his last painting saved the world. This episode has just been NAILING IT with a lot of the intricacies of being a Time Lord.

Case in point. As Clara and Twelve go to leave, she wants him to say it. To say she was a good Doctor. What Twelve says seems to rock her to her core: “You were an exceptional Doctor…goodness had nothing to do with it.”

We end with a non sequitur to “God” in “Heaven” as she watches this exchange on a tablet. She ominously says she”s chosen well with Clara and cackles as we fade to black.

Well, what did you guys think? Did you like the Boneless? How much did you want to punch Fenton? How will all these plot threads tie back to Heaven by the end of the season?

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