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.

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