Friday, November 28, 2014

Why You Shouldn't Be Excited About Star Wars Episode VII

I'll be the first to admit that I'm not a huge Star Wars fan. Don't get me wrong, I've seen all six films multiple times, albeit not in a few years. That being said, I don't care about it a great deal. I think Return of the Jedi is the best one, whatever that means, purely for the scenes between Luke and Darth Vader. I respect the 'Original Trilogy.' Technically, they're very impressive in terms of effects, they're well-designed, Darth Vader is a well-realised character and the twist at the end of The Empire Strikes Back is a classic film moment. I don't hate the Prequels. I was a little kid in 1999 when The Phantom Menace came out so I still have some affection for it. I thought Darth Maul was cool and never found Jar Jar sufficiently annoying to be worth worrying about. That being said, I do think the Prequels are nothing more than mediocre action films. I definitely don't like Revenge of the Sith, which I found narratively disappointing. The only decent bit is when Yoda fights the Emperor. [Update: What was I thinking when I wrote that? Yoda vs the Emperor is one of the stupidest bits in Episode III] Grievous was stupid. Anyway, my point is I'm neither here nor there when it comes to Star Wars. I get that people like them but at the same time I think they're limited.

Now that Disney owns Lucasfilm and has J.J. Abrams making a new Star Wars film a lot of people have been, I think, optimistic, because they're bringing back the original cast and because Abrams' Star Trek films show that he has a greater aptitude for space-opera action than he does for insightful sci-fi. But now the teaser is out and everyone's carrying on like it's the Second Coming. Beyond the fact that all we saw was some desert, some stormtroopers, some X-Wings and a new silly lightsaber design, all fairly calculated signifiers of what "Star Wars" is in the popular unconscious, it's ridiculous the amount of anticipation this has generated. I wish to interrogate this in the style of a hypothetical conversation with someone who is getting really hyped about this project.

Frankly, I thought it just looked like a collection of random postmodern signifiers of what people think Star Wars is: a silly hovering vehicle, the desert, a funny droid, stormtroopers, X-Wings and the Millennium Falcon. All that tells me is that the people making this are trying to cash in on people's nostalgia and expectations rather than trying to make a good film.

So because you see a bunch of digital recreations of stuff from thirty years ago, that makes you excited? Why?

True, I'm no great Star Wars fan. But I'd be curious to know how big a Star Wars fan you are as well. And if you are such a big fan, why do you care about new films made by someone else? Sure, some of the actors are the same, and George Lucas had a little involvement, but do you get this excited about fan fiction? These are sequels, they're not the same thing. They could be crap for all you know - unless of course you convince yourself that they're not crap before you even see it, which is no different to, say, writing it off as garbage before you even see it (as I'm doing). The original films were successful for their engagement with theory (especially Campbell's Monomyth) and their technical achievements. By the Prequels, that wasn't possible anymore. Bringing back Hamill, Ford and Fisher isn't going to change that.

As I've discussed elsewhere surely 'entertainment' means different things to different people. Besides, as I said in my article on the Avengers 2 teaser, there's nothing noble or admirable about wanting 'just entertainment,' about not wanting to think. These corporations want you to not think so that you'll give them more money. Hollywood is about profit, and profit is about the bottom line: what's the least we can do to make the most? And if that means tricking people into seeing a 'continuation of the beloved original films' by using a bunch of meaningless signifiers (like the original cast) then that's what they'll do. You're not a hero for wanting to shut off your brain. That's a fatuous declaration that you want greedy businesses, who, and I must emphasise this, do not know or care about you at all, to manipulate you, exploit you and treat you with utter contempt in return for a few charlatan tricks to make you think you're consuming something you aren't.

Hollywood is the McDonald's of culture. Sure, the film might be good. I doubt it very, very much, but it might be. But as I said with Avengers, these films are pieces of product, and they don't deserve your enthusiasm. Or maybe I'm just a curmudgeon with a chip on his shoulder. But I still think you ought to calm down, show a little self-respect and not give these people exactly what they want.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

"In the Forest of the Night"

With what desp'rate pleas or lies
Was this role put 'fore his eyes?
If you want a piece of speculative fiction that effectively references William Blake's The Tyger, read Watchmen, with particular reference to its fifth chapter, 'Fearful Symmetry.' But hey, New Who can do intertextuality as well, right? Its primogenitor, Doctor Who, did it all the time with regards to classical literature, the golden age of science-fiction and the infinite variety of the English canon. We even got to see some clumsy references to Eliot back in 2007's 'The Lazarus Experiment,' which despite being seven years and two Doctors ago as of my writing this hardly seems old because of how enthusiastically the show has been repeating itself, navel-gazing and treading water for the majority of the time since. So how does a New Who episode reference a pre-Romantic poem which ponders theodicy, the question of evil? Well apparently it doesn't. We begin with a red riding hood girl called Maebh (pronounced "Mave") hurtling through the woods looking for the Doctor. Appropriately enough, Capaldi's not having any of it, but she talks her way into the TARDIS anyway where she more or less reveals that she had some kind of vision or dream where Clara told her to find him. The Doctor drops some crap about being the last of his species which we know from 'The Day of the Doctor' isn't even true anymore, and then when he doubts that the TARDIS is actually in London it plays a satnav voice, which of course caused me to violently evacuate my contents with the hilarity of it all. Shut up, New Who. You suck.
To what goal did they aspire?
When did they editors fire?

We zoom out to discover that London is covered in forest, giving us an intriguing shot of the overgrown metropolis, but if you're expecting a properly post-apocalyptic 'Life After People' type scenario you're going to be disappointed. The Day of the Triffids did apocalyptic London. Why not Who? Well, maybe too many literary references would make their heads explode. Meanwhile, who knows why, Danny and Clara are supervising a very small class of school children at the "Zoological Museum," a place in London that doesn't really exist. Danny's a maths teacher and Clara's an English teacher. Why are they supervising what is surely a science excursion? What's more, why do they need two teachers for this tiny class? Well as we find out later these kids are supposedly what I believe tends to be euphemistically termed the "special class" in education systems throughout the world, although beyond Maebh I'm not sure how "special needs" any of them really are, unless at Coal Hill in 2014 "special" means "a bit annoying." Well, Bradley's first scene is annoying, and Ruby is pretty annoying, but I thought Samson was okay, mainly because he takes the piss out of Mr. Pink. As they're leaving Ruby points out a rather thick tree ring in some fairly clunky exposition. Okay, I'm sure you could justify it, but why would a tree cutting be a front-centre display at a "zoological museum," which one assumes ostensibly deals largely with animals, rather than plants?
And what meaning, and what art
Could hope to thrive in this show's heart?
There's some time wasting as an old caretaker struggles to open a door, with Danny going "No, no, no, no it moved!" in a very stagey way. Then we inexplicably cut to news reports about how the trees are appearing not just in London but all over the world. Who's watching this? Clara and Danny aren't. The Doctor isn't. Maybe Maebh's condition picks up satellite. Clara phones up the Doctor, who slags off Les Misérables. The novel? The musical? One of the many film adaptations? In any event it's of course always encouraging to see the Doctor, a man who notionally uses his brain to solve problems, anti-intellectually slagging off art. Knowing New Who's imperialist nostalgia it's probably because it's French. He does get a decent line here: "I'm a Time Lord, not a child minder," which I'm going to assume is a Star Trek reference. Clara pretends to Danny that she called the school but he swiftly susses that it was the Doctor. I know we're meant to see how irresponsible and self-centred Clara is over the course of this series so I guess this is a good thing in terms of characterisation? It kind of makes you wonder why on Earth we're meant to sympathise with her though. We also find out Maebh's on medication. Danny takes the kids on a wilderness ramble to try to get them home. Unlike Clara he doesn't give a shit about where the trees are coming from because a Taliban soldier shot his imagination during the war and they had to amputate it. The government announces their intention to use "carefully controlled fires" to clear the trees. I don't want to defend the British government in any way - I don't know a terribly large amount about them, but one assumes that like all major political parties of all Western democracies they're lazy, narrow-minded, self-righteous crony capitalist plutocrats who are only better than authoritarian states according to the lesser of two evils principle and who care more about tribalistic "us-and-them-ism" than actually governing, with a blistering contempt and disregard for the very people who elect them - but one assumes that even they would understand that cutting trees down with bulldozers or chainsaws is going to be an infinitely more efficient solution than waiting for them to burn down. So unless this was an active attempt to mock the government's incompetence, it seems like it wasn't terribly well thought through at the writing stage. They also recommend stocking up on fresh water. Are they worried the trees are going to crack the pipes or something? Maybe Frank Cottrell Boyce read Max Brooks' The Zombie Survival Guide and assumed that it applied to all apocalyptic scenarios. There's probably a deleted scene where they recommend destroying any staircases so that the trees can't follow you to high ground.
And when that heart began to beat,
What dread jokes! And what plot cheat!
Enough of my complaining. We get some indications that Maebh is psychic, and then cut to her mother freaking out about her absence. We also discover a few snippets about the student supporting cast with, needless to say, side-splitting cutaways to them being daft and poorly behaved at school which is pure sitcom, like something out of Family Guy. We learn that the trees grew overnight given that they have no rings, and the Doctor, joining the others, considers that it must be a natural event like an ice age, the Earth's history involving a "series of catastrophes." This one, however, seemingly involves messing with time, a fact the Doctor reveals after Clara muses on the way that "he pretends he's not interested," in this episode's serving of self-congratulatory self-referential pseudo-postmodern shite. Why don't they just have a bit where Moffat walks in, breaks the fourth wall and says straight to camera, "This is brilliant television and if you don't think so you must be a shithead," gives you the finger and then walks off again? Capaldi gets another amusing line, however, about an "arboreal coincidence," evocative of the "boyfriend error" of a few episodes previous. In the TARDIS, Danny finds Maebh's homework book, which is full of those stereotypical child's drawings that children never actually do, here depicting the sun and trees. Isn't she meant to be in year eight? Why does she draw like she's five years old? Anyway Capaldi starts running around like a fruit loop trying to figure out which one of the kids is Maebh who, much like Mario in 1992, is missing. We find out that Maebh hears voices, and has been taking psychiatric medication since her sister disappeared. The Doctor deduces from her drawings that a solar flare is heading for Earth. Clara complains that the sonic screwdriver isn't a magic wand, which is presumably the writers listening to criticism and ridiculing it. As the Doctor and Clara go looking for the missing small child-type person, Nelson's column collapses for no particular reason, which might actually, now that I think about it, be a reference to Shelley's Ozymandias, or even Horace Smith's Ozymandias, written in contest with Shelley, which specifically contemplates London becoming one day like Ancient Egypt.
What the pacing? How explain?
In what furnace was thy brain?
For reasons I didn't feel were entirely clear Danny hustles the kids back out of the TARDIS again, with smoke everywhere. Why did the collapsing column affect the TARDIS? Maebh's mother starts cycling through the forest yelling randomly for her. London's a pretty big place. What does she expect to happen? Unless somehow their suburban terrace is on a prime piece of real estate only a few blocks from Trafalgar Square, I can't help but feel that she might be being a bit optimistic. The Doctor and Clara find Maebh's phone, following a breadcrumb of clues, but instead of following it they veer off in an arbitrary direction. The Doctor claims that "the forest is mankind's nightmare." Is it, though? Or is that, actually, Mr. Cottrell Boyce, faux-poetic bullshit that doesn't really mean anything and is just meant to sound impressive? What about human societies that didn't develop in forested areas? Clearly New Who being Eurocentric. That's intended as sarcasm on my part, but it's actually worth thinking about in terms of New Who's tunnel-vision. I really can't help but feel that this would work more successfully as some kind of fairytale if the forest was better realised, rather than mostly looking like Peter Capaldi stumping around in a copse. The lighting doesn't help. It's just too bright and airy. I just looked up the place where the location shooting was done, the satisfyingly Welsh-sounding "Fforest Fawr Woods," and there are way more interesting looking bits than these, although I suppose they're meant to convey still being in the middle of London. Not sure where all the buildings went. The Doctor and Clara somehow find Maebh's stuff despite the fact that she's not moving in a straight line or leaving the clues in a straight line either, and they encounter some hazmat guys trying to burn the forest. This doesn't work, of course, their very "controlled" looking flamethrower failing to ignite the wood. Capaldi argues that "the whole natural order's turning against this planet." Is it? How? Against human infrastructure, maybe. He also tells off Clara for worrying about her relationship. The Doctor reveals that Maebh predicted the future in her homework book and Clara tells him that the "gifted and talented group" are actually the special kids. I think we would have been better off with Form K from Bad Education. Then some wolves start howling because the zoo's been broken open. Maebh gets menaced by the wolves but escapes through an unexpected gate, and the Doctor tells them to look big. From what I've read this would probably achieve jack shit. The wolves piss off nonetheless and he gets another good line: "Told you there were rubbish." Then the poetic references come to a head when what scared the wolves is revealed: a big stripy cereal-loving cat otherwise known as a tiger shows up looking surly, but Danny flickers a torch in its eyes and it too says "Blow this noise," and trots off, having no further relevance to the episode, not unlike the late war German heavy tank which took its name.
What the plotting? What sad cast
Dare its deadly script read past? 
The Doctor insists that they not give Maebh her medication - make of that what you will - Danny cracks out some "funny racism" when he claims that she's been "abducted by a Scotsman," and then she runs off with everyone else in pursit. "You won't find your sister out there!" Shut up Ruby. They come upon a poky-looking ring of saplings and the forest starts communicating with Maebh, although the Doctor reassures her that she wasn't responsible for it. Bradley has to shoosh at one point in this as well. The problem with the kids isn't so much that they themselves are bad as that the writing and editing is clunky and lacks timing. Somehow the Doctor "turns up" the gravity or whatever with the sonic screwdriver, and this in turn somehow causes some firefly-looking things to appear which represent the consciousness of nature or something to that effect, which claims that it's answering a call from the sun. Clara wonders why the trees want to kill them. What gave her that impression? Isn't the solar flare the thing that's going to kill them? The Doctor's toothless response is "you've been chopping them down for furniture for centuries." Were they scared of upsetting climate change deniers or something? He believes that Earth's future is going to be erased. They go back to the TARDIS, Clara tricking the Doctor into thinking that he's going to save them when actually she wants him to just save himself. She doesn't want to be the last of her species and thinks the kids will never be able to cope with the loss of everything. He declares, however, that "this is my world too," in a resolution of the issue from 'Kill the Moon.' I still don't fully understand why they assume everyone's going to die. The Doctor, however, realises that in fact the forest is filling the atmosphere with extra oxygen which will be burnt off by the solar flare. Uh... okay. Right. Well, no, it makes no sense whatsoever, but what do we expect from New Who, really? Capaldi has a few chances where he could have completely hammed it up here and he doesn't, which is all we can be grateful for these days. He compares the situation to the Tunguska event, which was a meteor strike and therefore almost totally irrelevant to the matter of oxygen and solar flares.
When these trees ate solar spears
And Moffat drank the fanboy tears
There's a minor panic when they realise that the government is planning to start defoliating. Surely, given that they know the solar flare is very soon to hit, it's unlikely that they'll be able to do enough to make a difference? Nonetheless Murray Gold's comedy music starts playing as the kids write and recite a lovely message to the world about courage and trust. The Doctor offers a trip to check out the flare in all its glory, but the kids don't give a shit about going to space and just want their parents. Danny doesn't care either, outright stating "I don't want to see more things," and arguing that "one person is more amazing than universes." So are we, as Doctor Who viewers, meant to agree with that sentiment? It's a typical false dichotomy where notionally you can't both experience new things and simultaneously appreciate them with depth. Lao Tzu said that the farther one travels, the less one knows. Then again, Sarah Jane said that travel broadened the mind. Anyway, let's not give Danny any further unnecessary airtime and join the Doctor and Clara in space where a big fire gushes harmlessly all over the Earth. Missy is watching this too for no particular reason. Back at Clara's apartment our dashing protagonists observe the trees vanishing in clouds of typical New Who all-purpose golden fairy dust, the hallmark of quality plotting. The Doctor argues that humanity's super power, among the many we've heard about this series, is forgetfulness, and that they'll put the event into "fairy stories." Spare me. He also cracks out the inexplicable remark "if you remembered how things felt you'd have stopped having wars and stopped having babies." Not even going to touch that one. Maebh and her mother go home and, clumsily, we end on a shot of a random extra playing Maebh's missing sister who appears out of a bush. Not only is the shot of this young woman whom we've never seen before totally devoid of meaning or profundity, but the music and Maebh's mother's reaction makes this one of the most embarrassing and cringeworthy moments in all of Series 8.
Did he smile his work to see?
Did he who wrote 'Blink' showrun thee?
I'm afraid to say that at least in my books "In the Forest of the Night" is probably going to go down as one of the weaker episodes of Series 8. It's lacking in structure, poorly paced for the first half and simply insubstantial. On the other hand it has some nice moments for the Doctor, some decent imagery and it's a good indicator of the fact that the show doesn't need an identifiable monster, or even the idea of one, as in 'Listen,' to at least be in some respect functional, but 'functional' is probably the highest compliment I can give it. The kids are a bit pointless but nothing worth worrying about, and the dilemma doesn't seem to be terribly well thought through, but if you like your New Who with loads of arseing about then this is the episode for you. It may seem a bit rich for me, Old Who devotee that I am, to criticise arseing about, but at least Old Who's arseing about generally involved some kind of plot. This just has lots of meandering back and forth. As an experiment it's okay, but I think if you're going to do this kind of thing it needs to have a good deal more atmosphere, which ironically this episode rather lacks, the brightly-lit forest and humdrum supporting cast making the whole thing feel like nothing more than a traipse in the woods. Maybe this is what they were going for, and maybe some people like it, but for me this didn't even function as a "fairy tale" because it was all too vague. Being the second in a hat-trick of three present day Earth stories doesn't endear it a great deal either. I took a break for about a week or more in between watching halves of this episode and I found that very telling. It's not offensive particularly in dramatic terms, although you can take your pick when it comes to matters like mental illness, but it's not exactly compelling either. Maybe you could torture parallels to Blake's poem out of it, but in my view this is less "problem of evil" and more "problem of budget."

Monday, November 3, 2014


"It's caught in the latch!"
We open with a scared beardy fellow gabbling on the phone to the police about certain disappearances which have been taking place, but of course he's mostly speaking in pure TV-boilerplate "cryptic" bullshit: "They are everywhere, we've been so blind." I wonder if people really have a propensity for speaking in cliché when they're in fear of their lives. Anyway, he gets merged with the wall like that painting 'The Ambassadors' by Hans Holbein the Younger with the skull-feather visual illusion, although since this is New Who it's less Flemish portraiture and more 'Magic Eye Book.' In the TARDIS we get some deeply weird characterisation from Clara where she contrasts her lie about Danny being "territorial" to how "you think he'd object to me travelling." Not a great showing from Clara, that she's willing to pretend that she conforms to her boyfriends' made-up jealousy. Fortunately, much like my good self, the Doctor doesn't give a toss, instead setting the plot in motion. They've landed a bit off course, which Clara complains about. Back in my day, companions expected the Doctor to land in the wrong place. The front door's small and so's the TARDIS. Instead of being interested, Clara continues to whinge about the detour. "This is annoying," Capaldi remarks, pointing the finger at her. He's channelling me at the moment. Clara goes to look around, seeing a bunch of guys cleaning up graffiti, including 'Rigsy,' who is doing so as part of his community service. They're led by some crusty fellow whose name the wiki tells me is 'Fenton,' - I didn't really pick up on that in the episode - who looks like he's a pack-a-day and undead. Back in the TARDIS Capaldi makes the console wobble in what is clearly an intentional tribute to the good old days. Just thought I'd mention it. Clara checks out a shrine and a tunnel with pictures of people on the wall. One of the council guys calls out to her and Rigsy runs up to apologise. She says she's "heard worse." There's a bit of a conflicted message about men approaching random women in the street here. Rigsy is obviously helpful, but evidently Clara's been bothered by men before. It turns out people are going missing all over the estate. If this was RTD Who we'd have had fifteen mentions of chips and reality TV by now.
"Think about it, three times the slapping!"
Back where they materialised, the TARDIS is now tiny, Clara laughing at "you and your big old face," which is a funny line. Something is "leeching the external dimensions" of the TARDIS, whatever that means. Clara sticks the ship in her bag - luckily she's carrying one of those big ones - and the Doctor remarks that the true weight of the TARDIS would fracture the earth. He then sticks his hand out of the door in a way which Clara lamely jokes is "just wrong." Why? I mean, what is she imagining it looks like? A hand coming out of something? What does that convey? Well, anyway, he hands over his New Who Travel Essentials Kit, the psychic paper and the sonic screwdriver, and we get some dodgy effects work which makes Capaldi's face look flat. Back at the buildings, Clara tells Rigsy that she's the Doctor, which is kind of funny, but then goes into typical pomo ball soup mode when she starts making self-referential remarks about how vague the Doctor is about the title and so forth. Rigsy sneaks her off to an apartment of a missing person, remarking that the police don't care about the disappearances. After a bit of stuffing around she starts scaring him off by saying the absentees might have been shrunk to tiny size before showing him the Doctor inside the TARDIS to prove she means business. There's a weird noise and we discover that something has "drained a massive amount of energy from inside the TARDIS." Of course it has.
You could have a big dipper.
The Doctor's confused because "dimensions are kind of our thing," referring to the Time Lords. Yeah, but Time moreso, right? They're not Dimension Lords. A police officer at an apartment outside the estate talks about the absent 'Mr Heath,' Clara gets a Mary Poppins moment when she pulls an entire sledgehammer out of her bag via the TARDIS, she walks up uneasily behind the police officer as if she's going to bash her skull in, and then she and Rigsy start tearing down the walls on the Doctor's advice. Speaking of walls, stuff starts running down them more quickly than any positive expression lingering on my face runs off when an episode of New Who starts, and the police officer gets merged with the floor. We already know this is going on due to the teaser; there's no mystery. There's a real 'Fear Her' vibe about all this, but slightly less shite. The Doctor figures that whoever's doing this must be from another universe and are trying to understand humans. They can flatten three-dimensional objects, thus removing the door handle and Clara and Rigsy's means of escape. Does this really make sense? Even if they're two-dimensional entities, why do they slide along defined flat surfaces? Isn't that still, really, operating in three-dimensions. Ah, who cares.
"What is on the positive y axis, my female dog?"
So Clara gets a call from Danny which the internet informs me was amusingly mis-captioned by BBC America. He says "Got our bench," but it kind of sounds a bit like he says "What up bitch?" which is what appeared on their captions. Clara and Rigsy climb onto a convenient swing chair and Danny remarks that whatever they're doing "sounds kind of active." Really? A sex joke now? Seriously though, why does Danny even need to be in this? There's a dodgy cutaway as they somehow manage to get the entire chair to fly out the window, and then Capaldi announces the existence of two-dimensional aliens: "Yes, that is a thing." Stop saying 'thing' all the time, Series 8 characters! You're not funny! The Doctor also susses out that Clara's lying about Danny, but this never really goes anywhere. Meanwhile that crusty council guy Fenton is getting his crew to paint over the murals, which Clara and the Doctor realise are actually the missing people physically merged into the walls. What a surprise. The psychic paper doesn't work on Fenton because he has "quite a lack of imagination," but fortunately, much like the guard being killed by the Mummy in front of everyone in the previous episode, community service Stan gets sucked into the wall in front of everyone. The Doctor reveals that they're "wearing the dead like camouflage." Are they? To what purpose? Everyone screams and runs off waving their hands in the air as all the murals trickle down and slide along the floor.
Aim for the head.
In a convenient nearby disused train shed, Clara has to become the leader, leaning in to menacingly tell Fenton "I'm the one chance you've got of staying alive." Somehow she's not knocked cold by the overpowering smell of stale cigarette smoke that I am arbitrarily imagining him possessing. The Doctor gets to be all dark as usual, convincing Clara to give them possibly false hope, and reveals that the TARDIS can't translate the aliens' language so they need a more primitive form of communication. He talks about a lot of bizarre alien races that sound like they're stripped straight from drafts for Moffat's 'Curse of Fatal Death,' and then sends 'pi' to them in some fashion, to which they respond with the number '55' and then '22.' These, Rigsy deduces, correspond to the numbers on their uniforms. Hang on, so these things have only just figured out sort of how to exist in a three-dimensional universe, but they know how to read Hindu-Arabic numerals? So number 22, George, gets merged with the wall optical-illusion style, and everyone runs flailing into some tunnel below the train depot, where there are more flattened door handles preventing their escape. The Doctor builds some gizmo to reverse this, but it doesn't work. He talks about how the aliens are "leeching the TARDIS" again on a different frequency, whatever that means. Fenton complains that everything they're saying "sounds important but means absolutely nothing." It's basically a one-sentence review of almost every episode of New Who ever. Suddenly one of our remaining stiffs is grabbed by a gigantic hand that reaches down from far behind them, which is probably one of the only genuinely unsettling moments in the entire episode. The aliens then proceed to reveal themselves as lurching, flickering facsimiles of the flattened people, which is far less exciting. Maybe they should have manifested as random body parts and stuff. The Doctor thinks he knows a way to send them back but the TARDIS doesn't have enough "dimensional energy," because dimensions have "energy," much like time, life and everything else in New Who. He also says something about if they "pump it out as fast as they can steal it." It's actually an important piece of foreshadowing for the resolution, but the delivery here is totally unclear. It seems he says "Apparently these things can" pump etc but without looking up the captions just now I couldn't tell despite replaying the scene multiple times.
He watches you from your TARDIS toy while you sleep
and while you engage in acts of carnal pleasure.
Fenton knocks the TARDIS down into a pit for some reason and I think this somehow damages it. Now it's on the train lines and a train is coming. Clara tells him to "move the TARDIS like Addams family." As if Clara would reference the Addams family. Somehow the Doctor's able to simply turn his hand to flip the TARDIS up even though he himself is inside it - it would have made more sense if he'd been contracting the external surface of the floor in some way - and walks it off the tracks with his fingers. He spontaneously gets a haircut as we cut back to the interior of the ship, an obvious continuity error, and starts dancing and scat singing, something I don't think we've seen the Doctor do before. But somehow despite being well out of danger the TARDIS is now closer to the tracks than it was in a shot five seconds ago and falls back down on them with the train about to hit. The Doctor pulls some big lever just before collision, which we assume does something. Meanwhile another train's bearing down on Clara and co, but they stop it and ask the driver if they can use it to ram the aliens. "I've always wanted to ram something," the driver remarks, which is nice subtle minor-characterisation, and Rigsy bizarrely attempts to sacrifice his life but Clara uses a headband instead to hold the lever down. The aliens of course just merge the train with the wall before it can harm them. Why did they think ramming would work, anyway?
So the Doctor starts rambling about the TARDIS being in "siege mode," whatever that means, and how there's "not enough power left now to turn it off." To turn off the TARDIS, or to turn off "siege mode"? It now resembles a small silver cube. Apparently it's right there by the train and Clara notices it, carrying it off. In a nearby room Clara concocts a plan for Rigsy to draw up a fake door on a poster so that the aliens feed the "dimensional energy" back into the TARDIS. Why does the energy go through the poster, rather than simply into it? Capaldi waxes lyrical about Clara making "a mighty fine Doctor," and Clara remarks that "rule number one of being the Doctor" is to "use your enemy's power against them." I don't know if that's universally true, but it's better than "the Doctor lies." So the TARDIS gets powered back up and blasts the aliens with some big green energy wave. Then we get a questionable scene of the Doctor rationalising his plan to, probably fatally, send them back to their own universe: "You are monsters, that is the role you seem determined to play." Yeah, they have killed a lot of people, but at the same time it sounds almost xenophobic, especially when he bursts out giving a horrible 'New Who' Doctor-speech, declaring "you are not welcome here, this plane is protected." Then he declares over-dramatically "I name you the Boneless!" Seriously? This is the worst part of the episode. We have no idea how he's sent them back, and time is wasted with one of these stock, cringe inducing self-aggrandizing New Who speeches they like to have the Doctor crack out once or twice a series. It's dreadful.
"I don't give a shit if I 'have the right' or not!"
Outside, everyone pisses off, the Johnny-come-lately train driver still earning himself a big hug from Clara and Fenton's survival seeming awfully reminiscent of that guy 'Rickston Slade' from 'Voyage of the Damned,' the Doctor remarking that "maybe the wrong people survived." No one bothers to question it this time because Clara's too caught up in self-love at her competence at being the Doctor, after Rigsy gives her an eyebrow-raisingly lingering hug. Then we get a bunch of characterisation crap shoehorned in at the end about how the Doctor makes decisions "largely so other people don't have to," and that "goodness had nothing to do with it," hammering away at this "good man" shite as usual. Then we see Michelle Gomez aka Missy being herself for a few seconds. Fin. 'Flatline,' despite also being written by Jamie Mathieson, writer of 'Mummy on the Orient Express,' is not exactly very riveting material, in my view. In fact on the rewatch for this review I found it terrifically boring. The thing is, most of this series has just been a collection of mash-ups of previous New Who episodes. This one is 'Fear Her' (stuff living in the walls) crossed with 'The Girl Who Waited' (The Doctor can't leave the TARDIS). The aliens (I'm not calling them 'The Boneless' because that's dreck) are kind of interesting, but the fact that they're just kill-'em-all monsters as usual limits their appeal, especially when they turn into zombies that never seem to actually do anything. If there was more like the giant hand coming out of the roof, that would have been better. The supporting cast aren't memorable. Jenna Coleman does a decent job of carrying things on her own but I find her a bit tiresome. It's a bit weird comparing her now, where she's basically just Amy with a little Tegan thrown in, to last year where she simply had no characterisation at all. The resolution is more or less unexplained, and replaced with that abominable speech that Peter Capaldi is forced to deliver. To be honest this feels like New Who on autopilot to me, a dirt-cheap-looking location-shoot runaround with no real plot and antagonists with zero motivation. It's not one I can see myself viewing again, for fear that the episode's title would be an accurate description for what my heart monitor would display by about ten minutes in.