Once a week, we have an unapologetic Doctor Who geek-out here to discuss the latest episode. I’ve just finished watching the 8th episode of the 8th season of the rebooted Doctor Who called Flatline (<—that’s a recap from BBC America’s Anglophenia.)
Fair warning now: this is not a summary, just an off-the-top-of-my-head response, and it does contain spoilers. Of course it does – we have to talk about this stuff! So let’s begin, Whovians…
First things first – let’s just go ahead and add graffiti to our List of Regular Things of Which Doctor Who Has Made Us Terrified….right behind shadows and statues and dreams of things under your bed.
This episode might be a game-changer for me. It had a lot of my favourite elements of Doctor Who, not the least of which is my beloved Doctor’s reappearance of compassion, complex resolutions, a respect for life, a terrifying threat, sympathetic companions, moral dilemmas, and A MONOLOGUE.
Oh, I love me some stirring and operatic Doctor monologues.
I cannot even believe how consistently brilliant every episode of this season has been. I mean, I’m a Tenth Doctor girl to the marrow and yet I cringe to recall at least two episodes per season – witness Fear Her and Love and Monsters. *shudder* And yet this season, even as I grapple with the Doctor himself, the consistently good episodes beg for rewatching. This is an incredible run of episodes – notwithstanding the hatred some have for the silly outing in Sherwood forest, which I liked.
The concept of the “killer graffiti” was brilliant, right? And like most effective monsters, the very nature of the fear is the invisibility and the inversion of what we trust. Usually we trust doors and walls and floors to protect us – and the Doctor! – but that was stripped away and so now we’re left with Clara and crew of community service workers.
Can I just take a moment of silence to respect how far our special effects have come on our beloved show? When I recall the rubber suited and farting Slitheen of the Aliens of London compared to the terrifying zombie march of the two-dimensional monsters taking form at last in the dark tunnels? Oh, my, how far we have come.
So our monsters for this episode were ominous and yet we are left to wonder about their motives for a good part of the show. The Doctor’s response to their “invasion” is core Doctor Who to me – and one of the great strengths of the show. The first instinct isn’t to wipe them off the planet but to find out who they are and what they want, to assign positive intent until the facts are clear. And of course, that went sideways this time but I love that the starting point is a respect for life and an unrestrained glee at discovering something NEW to learn.
It was so GOOD to see the Doctor moved by compassion again. Any part of my jury that remained out over whether or not I was prepared to love the Twelfth Doctor might have been resolved with that passionate speech before flinging open the doors of the restored TARDIS and declaring that this planet is protected. “You are monsters! That is the role you seem determined to play, so it seems that I must play mine – The man that stops the monsters.”
YES, YOU ARE.
Yet again, Clara is climbing the Companion Charts in my heart. One of my favourite aspects of Clara’s character to develop over time is her cheeky irreverence with the Doctor – plainly, I like that she teases him even when it baffles him. Clever and conflicted, she did so well as the Doctor, didn’t she? Her idea there at the end to have Rigsby paint a false door to trick the monsters into restoring the TARDIS was a thing of beauty. It was her independence here that won me – she finally stopped wondering what the Doctor would do and had to figure out what SHE would do. And it worked.
Her ability to handle the community service workers – especially that particularly despicable one – was brave and sang of the Eleventh Doctor’s influence in her life. When she quietly said, “I’m the best chance you have of survival” to that bloke, I cheered. Get it, girl. The group needs a leader, the Doctor has to lead. You know how this works.
However, we see the Doctor’s conflicted response to HOW well she did – she had to make the same no-good-answers decisions that he did. She has learned to lie as a survival mechanism, to give hope in the face of despair just to make people “better.” Her lack of compassion for the ones who were lost because of the “high” of the win was telling. Even when she lies, he’s not fussed – he sees it as a survival skill and a bad habit. Which is going to come back to bite both of them, I imagine.
Devastating line of the day was right there at the end. She is trying to wring a compliment back out of the Doctor, teasing him and having a bit of fun, not seeing how bothered he is by her elation. She wants him to admit that she “was good.” And then he slowly says, yes, – “you were an extraordinary Doctor. Goodness had nothing to do with it.”
This brings us square back to his personal crisis of this entire season – am I good man? And if Clara is taking on the skills and persona of the Doctor, he can look at her and say, no, she wasn’t good in the classic sense of goodness but she is extraordinary – she survived, she saved as many as she could, she made hard decisions, she weighed the good of the many against the loss of a few. Even how she saved at least Rigsby from his noble attempt at self-sacrifice has to be weighed against her elation at “winning” even after so many have been lost. Clara is usually his “care-er” so maybe that’s the reason why he cares more in this episode – she was the Doctor, so someone simply had to care.
The big takeaway from this episode for me: we understand the Doctor better. We understand now how incredibly hard it is to be the Doctor and we understand that he is wrestling with his goodness and his extraordinariness in equal measure.
And finally: MISSY! There you are! Her lines here just served to confirm to me that she was the “woman in the shop” who gave Clara the number to the TARDIS. She keeps throwing them together. How far back are they going to take her influence? Because Clara was “born to save the Doctor” in all his incarnations so, we could really have some fun with this. I’m guessing…. Time Lord of some sort?
Couple of asides:
No, Clara, Rule #1 is not “use your enemy’s power against them.” It’s “The Doctor lies.” River told us so! Argument could be made that the original Rule #1 was “Don’t wander off” but I think he gave up on that one long ago.
Addams Family. Hilarious.
Did anyone else think that the tiny TARDIS in siege mode (great term, right?) actually resembled the Pandorica?
One thing I loved about our time with Rose was how she was a working class girl – same with Donna.Heroes came from all walks of life and post codes. Doctor Who saw regular life on the estate as worth an alien invasion. Doctor Who in the reboot has always been a bit populist that way – even part of the joke with the War Doctor was the “posh grand-dad” voice. So it was nice to be in a regular sort of place like Bristol with regular sorts of folks while still quietly exploring a bit of class issue like how the police don’t care about the disappearances of working class folks from the estate. No wonder Clara was given unbelievable access to the apartments – people were just thrilled to hear that someone cared about them.
Now what do you think? Did you like the episode? Any theories or ideas or highlights? Have at it – I love your comments and can’t wait to get the conversation going.
(And as a note, I did finish the Beginner’s Guide to Doctor Who – here’s hoping it’s useful to you as you try to convert your friends and family to your own Who-addiction.)