For a while now, the writing’s been on the wall for The Doctor and Clara’s relationship, and this episode draws a very clear line in that story arc. Sometimes literally.
We’re back to present day Earth, but due to a mix of a malfunctioning TARDIS and plot contrivance, several miles away from Danny, still at the other end of a phone line. We’re hoping he gets a proper appearance to show his true colours soon – through no fault in Samuel Anderson’s performance, we have to say that we’re slightly losing interest in Mr Pink.
We’ve been so busy attempting to work out the motives of Big Bad Missy and getting our heads around Cold Capaldi, it’s refreshing to realise that – like The Doctor himself – we’ve been asking the right questions, but not necessarily of the right people.
‘Flatline’ is presented and paced very much like business as usual, save for one major shift in the TARDIS dynamic, which throws up much better results than the simple sight gag that you might have expected from the preview pics.
We’re given reasons as to why The Doctor acts the way he does, and while it’s not even an inch away from what we would have guessed anyway, it’s important to hear the normally closed-off Twelfth Doctor actually state out loud something that’s very close to his mission statement – even if, as Clara realises, it’s very unlikely that they’ll save everybody from a horrible death. ‘Welcome to my world,’ The Doctor intones grimly, with all the weariness of a two-thousand year old Time Lord.
In terms of style, ‘Flatline’ is pure Hinchcliffe; real decals-to-the-wall horror mixed in with some very good jokes. It features a genuinely clever and well-realised monster who shares at least some of the DNA with the villain from ‘Fear Her’ – albeit with more lead in its pencil. It’s often been said that the success of Doctor Who lies not in offices (or, indeed, online forums), but in playgrounds. Well, it’s a reasonable bet that the nation’s playgrounds will be covered with scrawlings galore of this week’s monster.
This episode is written by Jamie Mathieson, who delivered last week’s ‘Mummy On The Orient Express’. It also features a train in a pivotal scene, but it’s clear that Mathieson has a wealth of original and sharp ideas, and proves himself very adept at capturing the complexities of Caplaldi’s take on The Doctor. He surely must be a safe bet as a returning writer next year.
But most important is what this episode does when it’s colouring in outside the lines. In a subtle way, this episode is doing something quietly audacious. Squint at the details, and somewhere around the edges, you realise that what you’re seeing is a litmus paper for the future with a female Doctor.
Obviously, we’re unable to say much more with spoiling the plot, but suffice to say that such a change in the character wouldn’t damage the style of the show one bit. In fact, it’s the obvious next step, and it’s becoming increasingly redundant to claim otherwise.
Airs at 8.25pm on Saturday 18 October 2014 on BBC One.
What are your hopes for the episode? Let us know below…