There’s a lot of fresh ideas turning up this year, and I like it. Elements of ‘Into the Dalek’, 'Listen’ and 'Kill the Moon’ have all been particularly surprising, and now we get 'Flatline’, a story full of elements you’d think would have turned up in Doctor Who before now, but just haven’t.
Forever more, well after everything else has been forgotten, this will be 'the one where the Doctor walked the TARDIS with his hand like a hermit crab’. That’s an image that’s not leaving my head soon: memorable, freaky, hilarious, and tense. Which is pretty much exactly my ideal Who. It’s an excellent example of Douglas Adams’ oft-quoted line about the show:
I think that Doctor Who is at its best when the humour and the drama work together, and that however absurd a situation may be, it is actually very, very real and it has very real consequences. That’s the moment at which something that’s inherently absurd actually becomes frightening.
Even not including the hermit-crab-timeship, this story is still marvellous.[^1] Clara is once again written and performed brilliantly. Using a 'Doctor-light’ story to let her play at being the Doctor would be a great idea in any season, but in this one it’s genius, letting her explore some of the aspects of the Doctor’s character that have upset her. The script lets her become more comfortable with the Doctor’s strategies, while he gets a look at his own callousness coming out of her mouth, and it creeps him out. “You were an exceptional Doctor, Clara. Goodness had nothing to do with it.”
And I haven’t even mentioned the (literally) two-dimensional monsters, the Boneless. Functionally, they reminded me of the Weeping Angels; scary in real situations, but completely wordless with unclear motivation. I’d like to see them return, but if they did, to find a way to talk. I’m still kind of sad that Angel Bob never made a return after his successful turn as the voice of the Weepers. The whole concept was intriguingly disgusting, though: nervous systems on walls is a very cleverly PG way of dismembering and dissecting someone.
And finally, a nod to a plot resolution idea that actually made enough sense that you could almost have thought of it yourself, if you were as clever as Clara. No better way to top off your time as the Doctor than ingeniously using the monsters’ own power against them. Classic Doctor.