Doctor Who Recap: “Flatline”

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Earlier this season, Clara and the Doctor got shrunk down to nano-size and explored the inside of a Dalek. Now it’s time for the TARDIS to get the Rick Moranis treatment: in “Flatline,” a mysterious energy source shrinks it to dollhouse dimensions. Call it wibbly wobbly timey wimey teenie weenie stuff.

It all starts when the Doctor misfires while trying to return Clara to school in time for lunch with Danny. They end up in Bristol, but that’s not the only surprise: the exterior of the TARDIS has been compressed, so it only comes up to about the Doctor’s chest. He sticks around to investigate this mystery—which is apparently very exciting—while Clara scopes out the neighbourhood to see if she can find any clues. Turns out there have recently been a series of disappearances, and an anonymous person has been painting a mural in tribute to the victims. Clara rushes back to tell the Doctor her findings, but he’s a little… cooped up. While investigated the inside of the TARDIS, the blue box shrunk again, trapping him inside its adorable, Playmobil-sized walls.

Meaning Clara must take ownership of this episode. She shoves the TARDIS in her purse, shoves a microphone in her ear, and leads the way in uncovering a species of two-dimensional creatures who are trying to understand three-dimensional space—by killing those who occupy it. She saves the world, but when she seeks congratulations from the Doctor, he’s not so keen to dole out praise.

As a viewer, we do want to give her a pat on the back. Several times this season, Clara has had to take charge when the Doctor was incapacitated in some way. In “Deep Breath,” he was literally asleep—and then somewhat muddled—following his regeneration. In “Listen,” she comforted a child Doctor while he cried in bed. And now, she is the one leading the mission against the 2Ds. (Or sorry, “The Boneless”—as the Doctor christens them at the end of the episode.)

Peter Capaldi’s Doctor seems more at ease with being the Doctor than previous incarnations, but Clara has been having a very complicated time. Despite the novelty of a new Doctor, it could be said that this season is more about Clara: her discovery of her own capabilities, her scramble to juggle a romantic relationship with time travel, her increasingly slippery system of values, her addiction to the buzz of TARDIS-travel. Usually, it’s the Doctor who is somewhat imbalanced. But this time, it’s his companion.

Which leads us to her conversation with the Doctor at the end of the episode. “Why can’t you say it?” she asks the Doctor, “I was the Doctor and I was good.” The Doctor tells her she was an exceptional Doctor—but that goodness had nothing to do with it. She feels proud of herself for becoming more like him. He recognizes that this is not a thing to commend. Clara’s increased sense of recklessness and danger-seeking can’t be leading anywhere positive.

And we get another quick glimpse of Missy, this time playing around with an iPad that appears to be offering a direct feed of Clara in real time. So first question: how is she getting that feed? Second question: if she’s using an iPad, does that mean she is from contemporary times? She dresses from the past but seems futuristic. With only three episodes left this season, our questions will soon be answered.