Doctor Who - Series 8, Episode 9: Flatline

Doctor Who

We look back at Series 8 ahead of series 9 premiere with our Who guru, Steve Hendry. This week WG is full of praise as he delivers the official verdict on Flatline...

There are some Doctor Who stories that are, to enjoy them fully, best watched in the dark, and Flatline was perfectly suited to the show’s new broadcast time. It was top notch from first scene till last, with a pre-titles scene that’s the best since The Eleventh Hour’s near-miss with The Doctor’s knackers. Of course, as we know from The Christmas Invasion, he needn’t have worried and could simply have grown a fresh pair inside the fifteen hour window. No such luck for the poor chap on the phone here though, and no avenue for rescue from The Doctor and Clara. Once The Boneless have flattened you, that’s game over. They’re a truly brutal invading force, this lot. Smart too, even the TARDIS couldn’t decipher their language initially. It’s so good to see The Doctor working from a back foot stance, unfamiliar with his adversary- “Let me enjoy this moment of not knowing something, it happens so rarely!”

My favourite thing about Douglas Mackinnon is he knows he’s good. A lot of directors scurry away from Twitter after an episode, but after one of his, there’s D-Mac, retweeting and favouriting, soaking up the adulation, and quite right too. When you helm three episodes in a season and all are as impressive as each other, without looking in any way similar, you deserve mountains of praise.

Jamie Mathieson’s not made a bad start to his Who portfolio this season, has he? After last week’s space-bound murder mystery, he’s followed it with an episode that had Utopia levels of first watch impact. Inadvertently or not, he’s incorporated elements of The Time Meddler, Web of Fear and Survival; and created something that’s in parts terrifying, occasionally very funny (even I’ll concede the Danny Pink phone call was amusing), and increasingly taut throughout. The tension is almost unbearable in the second half, and builds the episode to its crescendo, which comes, for the second week running, with The Doctor stepping forward to dispatch the enemy. As it should be. Mathieson has created two highly original new villains worthy of their place in the Who pantheon of baddies in as many weeks too. See you next year Jamie, looking forward to it.

Once again this season, the compact supporting cast is ideal, with Christopher Fairbank as the vile Fenton being the pick of these. Joivan Wade’s Rigsy isn’t far behind him though, and joins Journey Blue, Perkins, Orson, Courtney, Psi and Saibra on this season’s list of could-have-been companions. Strangely, the insanely irritating one on that list featured in a second episode. I’m beginning to see a pattern there and, knowing Steven Moffat, there’ll be nothing in it at all. It’s uncomfortable viewing at times, Flatline, with bad things happening to good people, PC Forrest being possibly the most decent, intelligent police officer to ever appear in Who. What a death scene though.

There’s some subtle social commentary that Malcolm Hulke or Andrew Cartmel would have been proud of slipping in - “The police weren’t doing anything, They never do on this estate”. I love Doctor Who being set on a council estate; having grown up on one myself it feels closer to me than a to-do in Upper Leadworth. Rona Munro was first with Survival, Russell T Davies gave us the Powell Estate and Mark Gatiss hid a Tenza child in a sublet council flat in Night Terrors. Gatiss said at the time of writing that episode that Doctor Who had strayed too far from its (and his and my) working class roots. Let’s not forget, Susan Foreman was no public school girl.The Capaldi-Coleman juggernaut of brilliance rumbles on, seemingly unstoppably. But everything has its time of course, and a Christmas Day departure seems almost a certainty for Miss Oswald, though in true Moffat style, her first meeting with The Doctor is still to be properly addressed. Hinted at earlier in the season, Missy’s line at the end appears to confirm she set everything up in The Bells of Saint John.

There’s no sign of Missy in the provisional listings for next week, but I fully expect to see her. The last nine weeks have flown by, and it’s hard to believe the series only has three episodes remaining. Where is the Nethersphere? Who is Missy and why did she choose Clara? Why is there a Doctor Who poster on the side of the bus at 17 seconds of the ‘Next Time’ trailer? Why didn’t you notice that? Why do I get the feeling next week will bring down my average score of 8.3 for the series so far? Let’s hope I’m wrong, and it’s another…

Image - BBC.