Saturday, October 25, 2014

The Female Doctor: An Overanalysis of "Flatline"

First thing's first, you should make sure you're checking out my new Podcast, Mile High Who-cast, and our latest episode, "Do I Have the Ebolas?"  I might also have another new Doctor Who fan project coming in the near future, but no guarantees until everything's ready.  Now, to continue...

In a deleted moment from the latest episode of my new Podcast, I talked about one of the few things I was missing this season was one of those big, cocky speeches the Doctor gives to the villain about how he's going to defeat them.  My co-podcasters suggested that that might just have been a Matt Smith thing, but I argued that it's also a David Tennant thing ("You just killed someone I liked. That is not a safe place to stand. I'm the Doctor, and you're in the biggest library in the universe. Look me up!") and even a Christopher Eccleston thing:

The 12th Doctor hadn't had a nice speech like that until this episode.  (I don't count his banter with The Half-Faced Man in "Deep Breath," because that was less of a big cocky speech and more of the Doctor wrestling with his own conscience.)  I think part of the reason is that, since the new Doctor's tenure started, the show hasn't dealt with a lot of villains that were pure evil.  Most of the villains have been sympathetic in some way.  That's good, and that's an important part of Doctor Who.  There always should be a good number of episodes like "The Beast Below," "Hungry Earth," and "Listen" that don't have a true and clear "villain."  But those episodes, as wonderful and necessary as they are, need to be interspersed with some more purely fun episodes that are just good ol' fashioned good vs evil.  This episode even went so far as to make us think it might be going down that route, as the Doctor thought that possibly it was all a misunderstanding.  But, even given that out, new Who writer Jamie Mathieson decided not to take it, and gave us perhaps the first truly, purely evil villain we've had all season.  And boy was it satisfying!

This is the second episode to be written by Jamie Mathieson, his first episode being...well, last week's.  I thought that was a little strange.  It was only last year that we started getting more than one episode in the same season written by the same writer.  Before that, it had never happened in any season (not counting two-part episodes).  Mathieson, for some reason, got to do his first two episodes of the show back to back.  And, while I wasn't particularly thrilled by "Mummy on the Orient Express," I felt like this episode was just one of the best of the season.

The concept of a two-dimensional Universe is not something I expect out of popular science fiction.  I expect something like that to only come out of literary science fiction.  In fact, it has, as probably the most famous exploration of the topic is the novel Flatland, written by Edwin Abbott Abbott (the son of clearly unimaginative parents, judging by his name).  The only time I can think of it being mentioned in any sort of popular science-fiction before is when Futurama visited a 2-dimensional universe in the episode "2-D Blacktop."  While that was pretty adventurous of them, I feel like, as a comedy, going there is a little bit safer than it is on a more dramatic science fiction show.  It struck me as a bit of a risk for Doctor Who to cover this topic.  It's not necessarily easy to show visually, at least in a way that's actually compelling or scary.  It's also not necessarily the easiest concept for the imagination to grasp.  There was good reason to fear that an episode like this might--please forgive the pun--fall flat.  But Mathieson took the risk and it paid off, and somehow he managed to really make the 2-D monsters truly terrifying.

Although, in fairness, this is goddamn terrifying as well!
This has been somewhat referred to online as a Doctor-lite episode, but I feel like that's a bit of a misconception.  "Doctor-lite" episodes are those episodes where the Doctor just makes a few brief appearances, most notably the univerally despised "Love and Monsters," the really creative "Turn Left," and the universally acclaimed "Blink."  We haven't seen a Doctor-lite episode in a while, not since the 10th Doctor era, really.  But I didn't feel like Flatline felt like a Doctor-lite episode.  The Doctor is in the episode throughout everything, he's just stuck inside the TARDIS for the whole thing.  That's not "lite."  The Doctor-lite episodes were really introduced to save time and money, as you could shoot one while shooting another regular episode simultaneously.  I doubt that this saved as much time or money as the three episodes I mentioned earlier.

This is Clara's defining moment in this episode in many ways.  I think my favorite Clara moment in this is when she's staring at the TARDIS (which has now somehow been transformed into a Time Lord hypercube?) and says "Doctor, what would you do.  No, what will I do."  That was a great reminder that, when it comes down to it, what Clara brings to the table in this show is her own imagination, not simply the ability to replicate the Doctor's actions.  Her solution was perfect, with such a perfectly logical ending.  My favorite episodes of Doctor Who are ones where the solution comes from the internal logic of the episode in a way that--to quote an old screenwriting professor of mine about what makes for the best endings of any script--surprising, yet inevitable.  Moffat has a particular talent for this (sometimes, not always), in pulling out a solution that makes you say "I didn't think of that the entire time, but now I can't believe I never thought of it because it looks so obvious."  I don't feel like we've had a surprising-yet-inevitable ending as satisfying as this since back in my favorite episode ever, "The Impossible Astronaut"/"Day of the Moon."

The one downside is that the Doctor kind of swoops in and steals Clara's victory because, after Clara does all of the hard work, he comes in and saves the day with one wave of the sonic screwdriver (once again moving dangerously into the territory of the sonic being used as a weapon, which I don't think it should be used for).  It seemed, the first time I watched this, like that should have been an easy thing for Clara to do since she had the sonic anyway.  On my second viewing, I could the line just before Clara loses the TARDIS where he tells her he's figured out a way to send the creatures back to their own dimension, but only if the TARDIS gets recharged.  Presumably, then, whatever he does with the sonic was something that could only be done once the TARDIS was recharged and the sonic and the TARDIS could work together, which makes sense since the TARDIS did seem to create this version of the sonic screwdriver all on its own so it makes sense that they could work together in that way.  Still, I think it blunted the ending a little bit by taking a little of Clara's accomplishment away from her and handing it to the Doctor.  It's a metaphor for the history of the modern world:  white males always love to take credit for the things that were done by others.

Now, does that make me a hypocrite for loving the Doctor's big cocky speech, even though I still think he shouldn't have taken the credit away from Clara?  I prefer to think it makes me complex.

The last scene showed us, almost beyond a shadow of a doubt, that Missy was the "woman in the shop" who first gave Clara the Doctor's phone number, uniting the two of them.  So why did she choose Clara?  We're still in this bizarre limbo where we're not actually sure if Missy is actually good or evil.  She seems sinister, but whatever her ultimate purpose, uniting Clara and the Doctor saved the Doctor's life...a million times over.

I think the next episode should give us a little bit of an idea of what's going to happen next with Clara and Danny's relationship.  She's lied to him, and now the cat's out of the bag, and into central London (wow, that one was bad).  He seems to be very present in this upcoming episode, and I am quite curious to see what's going to happen between them now.  I like Danny Pink, but I've been disappointed that he hasn't really been a "companion" like we were made to believe.  I'd like to see him more at the forefront of the show, and get a little more involved in the adventures.  I hope I won't be disappointed.

No comments:

Post a Comment