“Flatline” Review

Look, let’s get my one gripe out of the way. A class 117 DMU in 2014? I mean, this is supposed to be present day, modern Bristol, smart phones… And not only do we get a DMU that last saw mainline service 20 years ago, but which is in the green livery of 1960s BR it would have first appeared in following its manufacture around the start of that decade. Surely, any viewer would have been thrown out of the story by this extraordinary anomaly?

But, that is my one and only gripe1.

This was another utterly, utterly fantastic episode.

My favourite episode – several of my favourite episodes – are the Doctor-lite. Here’s another brilliant one. I’ll admit, when I saw the next time trailer last week, I feared Fear Her for just a flickering moment, but this expunges all memories of that terrible 2D episode.

It seems to be a hallmark of the Jamie Mathieson era to explore the role of the Doctor. Last week we were presented with a Doctor who had the detachment and apparent callousness of the current incarnation combined with the magnificent intelligence and selflessness of all his selves, someone so brave and smart he could not only throw himself to the monster but completely disarm it in under 66 seconds. This week, it’s through Clara playing the role that we get to examine what the Doctor does. Apparently this was borne out of the fact the first draft of the script required the Doctor’s presence and the re-writes were to make it Doctor-lite – but it fits perfectly with the development of Clara through the last few episodes, from revulsion at the Doctor’s manipulation (pushing her too hard or too early?) in Kill the Moon through her denial/growing understanding last week, and into taking his mantle this week. Meanwhile, it develops the Doctor’s concerns from Into the Dalek over whether he is a good man, as he sees from another perspective the actions he would normally be taking, and witnesses Clara corrupting her own principles she articulated to him so angrily, so recently. It has nothing to do with goodness.

I loved the railway locations: Barry (the station and the shed) and Winchcombe on the Gloucester and Warwickshire (the tunnels).

I loved the flatland concept. I enjoyed how the boneless gradually developed ways of manipulating 3D space just as it takes some hard work and conceptual adjustments to start exploring n-dimensional vector spaces when you start studying linear algebra, but quickly you become able to manipulate and work with them confidently. I liked the way the boneless were realised so crudely in 3D, just like early 3D computer games limited by the number of polygons the processor could render. I liked Clara getting a companion of her own, and hooking him in by showing him the TARDIS. I liked the way Christopher Fairbank’s character went unreformed, unrepentant and his ugly sentiments (“The objective is to save the great trees, not the brushwood”) unpunished (but not unchallenged). An unpleasant character who never even knows how awful he is, like people I (and no doubt you) know in real life. And I love it when the psychic paper fails because it relies on imagination.

Russell T. Davies decided not to commission Jamie Mathieson for the 2005 series of Doctor Who. His stories have been worth waiting 9 years for. Hope he’s back for series 35…


  1. apart from some abrupt editing 

About Simon Wood

E-learning officer, lapsed mathematician, Doctor Who fan and garden railway builder. See simonwood.info for more…

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