by Paul Kelly
When I first saw that bald, bearded bloke vanish into the border, I sighed loudly and braced myself for the worst. Was 'Flatline' destined to become this season's 'Fear Her'? Then the quality of the CGI picked up dramatically, and the whole episode was transformed into a classic Russell T. Davies-style romp to the end. Thank goodness for the inaccuracy of first impressions.
The level of consistency this year has been astounding. Yes, there's been the occasional plot-hole, but nothing that's derailed an episode completely and made me rip my Davros onesie asunder and run sobbing out the door. Not once have we hit a 'Love and Monsters' or 'Daleks in Manhattan' style nadir. The reason for this season's relative success -- for me at least -- has been Capaldi and Coleman. Despite the odd narrative blip, Clara and the Doctor have been rock-solid throughout. Their character interaction has been note-perfect all season -- and tonight was no exception.
Clara's stint as the Doctor gave the perfect insight into what it takes to be in charge. She made the exact same mistakes the Doctor always makes: from talking techno-babble out loud to confused bystanders, to dropping her companions in at the deep end. She even stooped to lying for the greater good -- which really threw into focus the Doctor's penchant for telling whoppers. The Doctor called it 'a necessary survival skill' and seemed almost proud to discover that Clara had been lying to him all along. I doubt Danny will be so forgiving. After Clara's botched phone call, the cat must surely be out of the bag?
I may be missing something obvious here, but isn't there something of a disconnect between the Doctor acknowledging that he lies to motivate people tonight, and him refusing to lie to motivate Maisie last week? Wasn't the whole point of 'Mummy on the Orient Express' to hammer home the point that the Doctor's latest incarnation is far less inclined to tell fibs -- hence him being so rude to virtually everyone he meets? Is there a line of demarcation somewhere which I'm missing?
The question we've been pondering all season is: is the Doctor a good man? Tonight's episode seemed to confirm that goodness isn't a necessary pre-requisite for being the Doctor. Obviously, there has to be a degree of rectitude there -- otherwise, why bother trying to save anyone? -- but sometimes, it's necessary to harm or even kill to save others. This has been the Doctor's dilemma since the show's inception. The question is: who has the right to decide who lives and who dies?
Tonight, the Doctor took it upon himself to banish the Boneless. He determined their guilt by assessing their actions, and judged accordingly. How did the Doctor know whether they were capable of understanding him? Guesswork, mostly. The real problem was timing. Even if the Boneless were just analysing their environment, a threshold of unacceptable losses had been reached, and despite the Doctor's instinct to protect all species, something had to be done. I loved the Doctor's final speech to the Boneless. It was powerful, full of malice and expertly delivered.
Despite almost certainly being in the doo doo with Danny, Clara had another good week. I loved her Wile E. Coyote-style dummy door fake-out. Yes, it was completely improbable, but in an episode featuring semi-rendered two-dimensional zombies, it fitted perfectly. Clara taking charge also felt much more organic than in 'Nightmare in Silver'. Instead of all that shouty, acting-like-an-army-officer malarkey, Clara took a sober, firm hand, and let her experience and intellect do the talking. I much prefer seeing her like this. It feels much less contrived.
And while we're on the subject of Clara's makeshift posse, what on earth was Fenton's problem? I kept expecting him to become a major part of the plot, but the miserable turd just grumbled from start to finish. If only Misfits hadn't been cancelled, Fenton would have made the perfect Probation Officer. Rigsy was marginally better, but the pacing of the episode didn't allow much time for secondary character development. By the time the story ground to a halt, most of them were still as two-dimensional as the foe they'd just vanquished.
Not that this affected the episode one jot. At the beginning of this season I asked my friend Tommy the question: what would Capaldi do with a bad episode? Would an actor of his calibre be able to transform a below-par episode into something decent? Of course, it didn't take long to discover the folly of the question. Even if Capaldi were capable of elevating a bad episode to the realms of the good, how would we even know? Maybe it's already happened. Not that I'm suggesting it happened tonight, but Peter and Jenna do seem to elevate the stories considerably. At this point, I'd spend the last of my savings on a DVD of them selling toilet roll.
Bits and Pieces:
-- The siege-mode TARDIS looked like a miniature Pandorica. Or Lemarchand's Box from the Hellraiser movies. Take your pick.
-- Why didn't Clara put Danny on hold when they were being attacked by the Boneless?
-- "Where are you and are you in trouble?" Oh, Danny so knows.
-- When I saw the TARDIS on the train track, I literally said out loud "Use your hand, man!" Two seconds later, the Doctor Addams Familied his way out of danger.
-- Rule #1 of being the Doctor: use your enemy's power against them. This is obviously a different set of rules to rule #1: the Doctor lies.
Doctor: "Sorry, stopped listening a while ago. Okay, same time you left, same place... ish."
Clara: "Ish? Don't give me an ish."
Doctor: "These readings are very ishy."
Doctor: "Hello, barely sentient local."
Doctor: "It takes quite a lack of imagination to beat psychic paper."
Doctor: "Okay, let's start with pi. Even in a flat world they would have circles. I don't mean edible pie, I mean circular pi. Which I realise would also mean edible pie, but... anyway."
Doctor: "Clara. do you want the good news or the bad news?"
Clara: "We're in the bad news. I'm living the bad news!"