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maryann johanson | #BlackLivesMatter

Doctor Who blogging: “Flatline”


[previous: “Mummy on the Orient Express”]

warning: spoilers!

Oh my god


this is so amazing


and just a little bit


adorable (sorry, Doctor!)


and scary


and hilarious:


(Doctor Who has made a thing out of things being Things, and now the Doctor himself is actually almost Thing. Thing Addams, that is. [Did Thing take the family surname?])

The levels of awesome here are… tiny.

Just when I thought I was out, Doctor Who pulls me back in.

Just as I was thinking that the really cool thing about science fiction is that you can tell almost literally any type of story and Doctor Who seemed to have forgotten this lately in favor of covering old ground or coming up with stuff that doesn’t even work in the you-can-tell-any-kind-of-story-in-science-fiction sort of way, we get this brilliant episode.

I mean: Doctor Who finally took a cue from Flatland! One of the most outrageously speculative works of weird fiction ever. How has the show managed to not do something like this sooner? “The Boneless” is sort of a terrible name for these beings, but probably any name that would be appropriate — as “Boneless” certainly is — wouldn’t be all that scary. (Flatlanders?) So that’s forgivable.

Just as the Weeping Angels and the Vashta Nerada ensured that we would never again look at statues and shadows in the same way, now we have to be terrified of graffiti:



Clearly, the “monster under the bed” motif from “Listen” was intended to have the same sort of impact, but here’s the difference: No matter how much we may have ourselves convinced that there’s something under the bed, there simply isn’t. But statues and shadows and graffiti are really real, things we see every day (well, if we live in a city, anyway). You can look under the bed all you want and you’ll never see anything but dustbunnies (“Dust Monsters! Coming next season!), but did that bit of graffiti just move? Surely that was just a trick of the light, right? No…?

This is one of the things I have enjoyed about the rebooted Doctor Who, and one of the things I’d been missing lately: its wonderfully creepy way of looking at the world. Its dark sense of wonder.

This episode was so enthralling, in fact, that it’s a perfect example of how a good story well told and populated by interesting characters makes you either overlook or not care about minor quibbles or inconsistencies. I was so busy appreciating the bit of social commentary — like how the police weren’t investigating all those missing people, how no one in authority seemed to care because they were poor and not “important” — and enjoying the company of the smart and talented Rigsy, and gasping when the tiny TARDIS went over that ledge into the abyss, that I wasn’t too bothered by how the Boneless were able to read Arabic numerals when they couldn’t appear to understand any other form of human communication, or why it automatically followed that “now they’re 3D they can restore dimensions.” It was cool enough that we could talk to the Boneless using math! Or that Clara got to be so clever, competent, and quick-thinking!

But here’s something I can’t forgive (pending how it turns out), something that soured me just a little. The Doctor says, “You were an exceptional Doctor, Clara. Goodness had nothing to do with it.” At first I thought he had reverted to be his (new) usual insulting jerk, but then Missy shows up:


And cackles, “Clara, my Clara, I have chosen well.”


Which suggests that Missy is somehow controlling Clara (and the Doctor knows it). Which suggests that Clara is not responsible for being so clever, competent, and quick-thinking. Which would really really suck.

And how does Missy have that view on Clara? I have a terrible, dreadful feeling I know what’s coming. Was that hacking-into-Clara’s-optic-nerve thing a clue? Has Missy hacked the Doctor’s brain? Or — and this is what I’m afraid of, because it sounds a lot like an idea that I had that I would have loved to develop — is she actually in the Doctor’s brain? Did the Time Lords accidentally — or deliberately — drop some other Gallifreyan consciousness into his head when they gave him a new regeneration cycle?

Random thoughts on “Flatline”:

• Oh, Clara!


If only you hadn’t answered the phone, thereby cementing yourself in the timeline as not meeting Danny in the park, you could have had the Doctor drop you back then after this was all over, and Danny would be none the wiser.

I mean, not that I condone lying in such a massive way to the guy you say you love, but c’mon: you’ve got a time machine at your disposal. You never have to be late, or miss a date, or anything. As you’ve clearly already figured out.

• Siege mode!


That would have been really useful at certain moments in the past, probably, if the Doctor hadn’t, erm, forgotten it existed or something.

(Looks kinda like the Pandorica…)

Oh, and I guess the TARDIS is only this small because its dimensions have been messed with, but speaking of that: If the Time Lords were masters of dimensional technology, couldn’t they have engineered into each TARDIS an option to shrink its external appearance down to something that you could shrink down and put in your pocket (or purse)? As far as we can see in this episode, there was no negative impact on the TARDIS because the door had shrunk — it only impeded getting in and out. Did they just not think of it? Or were there reasons why it wasn’t feasible? (See? A good episode activates the fanfiction section of my brain!)

• This was a really nice shot:


We see the traffic light change from green to red only in the reflection of the driver’s cabin. Clever.

Though this does make me wonder precisely how Clara knew how to use the sonic screwdriver to make the light change. The device has seemed like a magic wand in the Doctor’s hand, but we could at least wave away objections by telling ourselves that he is intimately acquainted with it, knows all its settings and so on. But we cannot presume that Clara was somehow prepared for this particular eventuality.

Oh. Right. Somehow, it wasn’t actually Clara doing all the cool stuff here. Crap. *sigh*

[next: “In the Forest of the Night”]

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