Sunday, 19 October 2014

Doctor Who: 'Flatline' Review

Ok, so we’ve had two good episodes of Doctor Who in a row. That being a notable thing shows how far the show has fallen in quality over the last few years. We’ve had two episodes that have shown both a brilliant understanding of character and plot structure. Now before I sound like I’m in love with Jamie Mathieson I need to point out something. Mathieson is a good writer but what makes his scripts good is his understanding of basic storytelling logic and rules. If these rules had been applied to the other episodes of this series, they could all have been as good. These last two episodes have been objectively better written than the others of this series, they work where the others didn’t.

In ‘Flatline’ the Tardis is being attacked by two dimension creatures. With The Doctor trapped inside the Tardis, it’s up to Clara to fight the creatures and save the world. So I like ‘Flatline’ a fair bit, that much is obvious. What I really like about the episode is how fresh it feels. ‘Flatline’ is filled with new and exciting ideas, ideas that still feel entirely part of the long running show. The ‘Boneless’, the 2D/3D creatures are fascinating in both concept and design. We don’t know why they are there, or what they want but they work despite this. They’re definitely the best new creature added to the show since the Weeping Angels and much more can be done with the concept of them in future episodes.

The scenes with the shrinking Tardis are also very interesting, as is the introduction of the ship’s ‘Siege Mode’. Adding new enemies and mythos to a long running show like ‘Doctor Who’ is difficult. It is particularly difficult when most of the writers seem to be adapting uninspired fan fiction they wrote when they were kids. Most of the visuals effects used to create these new situations were amazing. Some of them, such as the giant hand and the train were not so great. I appreciate that the shot with the train would have been very difficult and expensive to shoot for real but I suspect that a Hornby train miniature would have looked a lot better than the shitty media student CGI we were given.

A still image can't do justice to how bad this looked moving.
Under Mathieson we have characters in ‘Doctor Who’ again. The Doctor has faults, he is a fully realised individual who can make mistakes. Clara has also been a lot better written in the last two weeks also, giving Jenna Coleman a chance to show what she can do. Although if she delivers any more lines as atrociously as she did “I’m the one chance you’ve got for staying alive, that’s who I am!” maybe that’s not a good thing. We as an audience needed to believe that she had authority over the group she was protecting; it was a vital moment in the script. They group only followed her because the script made them, that is an issue. Generally speaking however, Coleman as Clara was pretty good in this episode, or at least better than she has been since possibly her turn in ‘Asylum of the Daleks’.

Peter Capaldi yet again gave a fantastic performance. His fear for himself and the Tardis was completely believable, as was his fascination and excitement over those putting them at risk. His final speech, where he named The Boneless was amazing and showed in just a few sentences that he has an innate understanding of the character he’s portraying. 

Hans Holbein's creepy skull face in 'The Ambassadors' 1533

The real strength of ‘Flatline’ is the intelligence of the writing. Any episode of ‘Doctor Who’ that references an optical illusion from a 16th century painting in the opening moments is smart. We are given every element needed to determine the final conclusion of the episode but they are given to us in such a way as to make it interesting. Possibly this episode has a few too many interesting ideas for the running time but I’m refusing to criticise it for that, not when the overall show seems to generally have no ideas, or it does but they involve space eggs. I hope Jaime Mathieson will be back to write future episodes, but given how bad he’s making the others look; I’m not holding out much hope.  

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