Critiquing Capaldi: “Flatline”

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Question: What is Doctor Who?

Such a simple question isn’t it? One which the answer seems painfully obvious. It can be, in fairness. Factually, Doctor Who is a British television show which started on the 23rd November 1963. Though that’s not really what I was asking. Perhaps I should have phrased my question in a different manner. The question I was intending to ask is: what is Doctor Who to you?

As I have mentioned before, Doctor Who has taken so many different styles and genres throughout its history, that it’s probably quite hard to define, because it’s almost certainly at least somewhat subjective. To some, Doctor Who is the base under siege style adventures of the Troughton era. To some, Doctor Who is the gothic horror and classic sci-fi style adventures of the mid-70s. To some, Doctor Who is the domesticated, almost slightly soapy, approach in RTD’s run. There are many different definitions, which makes being in this fandom so rewarding, as you always have something to talk about due to the wide range of opinion. For me, I can describe what Doctor Who is to me in two simple words. Jamie Mathieson.

Okay, Jamie Mathieson isn’t literally Doctor Who. But, he does seem to share a very similar view of the programme to myself, as like his last outing, Flatline contains all of the ingredients that make this show fantastic. To me, Mathieson really gets why the show works, why it is a success, and why I fell in love with it in the first place. Throw all of these handy ingredients together, with a few extra spices, such as McKinnon’s fabulous direction, the amazing visual effects, and the wonderful guest cast, and you have one of my favourite episodes of the show. I simply love it.

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So, if Flatline to me is more or less Doctor Who in a nutshell, what do I love about Doctor Who? Why is this show my favourite? Firstly, to be blunt, there’s not really another show like it. It’s not always a hundred percent original, some of the best stories in the show’s history did more or less steal from classic films and literature, but I always appreciate it when the show really thinks outside the box. And here, it certainly does. Here, Mathieson provides us with one of the most interesting and original concepts the revival has seen, and it’s engaging throughout. The concept of dimensions coming from one universe to another, and the shrinking Tardis, is so brilliantly quirky. Quirky being the word I’d probably use to describe the show if I had to pick just one. Notice quirky and not silly. Doctor Who doesn’t always take itself seriously, yes, it’s entertainment at the end of the day, but episodes like Flatline add intelligence to the mix of entertainment. It’s intelligently insane, and it’s brilliant ideas like this, which no other piece if media can dream of reproducing, which forms part of the reason why I come back every week to watch the next episode.

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Another strength of Doctor Who, particularly the revival, is character. Character being one of Mathieson’s strongest points, particularly his detailed understanding of our two leads, so much that he is arguably the best writer for the 12/Clara relationship to date. Whereas Mummy was sort of 12’s time to shine, this time it is Clara’s, and combined with a stunning (as usual though I must add) performance from the phenomenal Jenna Coleman, this is probably my favourite episode of Clara’s to date. While it has been hinting throughout the series Clara is becoming more like the Doctor, here it explicitly mentions it, with Clara finally getting a chance to play the lead role. And let’s face it, she’s absolutely exceptional.

It’s clear Mathieson really gets both our leads, as Mathieson manages to combine both of them into one character pretty much flawlessly. The traits of the Doctor, such as the attempted goodness, the clever wit, and the thinking outside the box, as well as the negative traits such as the dishonesty and the arrogance are all present. If Clara wasn’t the Doctor’s equal before, she certainly is now. Though Clara is still herself, it’s not like she’s suddenly had a personality transplant, one the foreshadowing was totally there, and two, she’s still Clara. She almost jumps to fully becoming the Doctor, whereas in a lot of ways she is still the magician’s apprentice, shows the recklessness of the character, something we will get to see more a lot later.

Jenna’s having a lot of fun with the role too, giving a brilliantly enthusiastic performance, which is a reason to give this episode points as much as any other. She can also carry it. She really is Capaldi’s equal, similarly as Clara is Twelves, and she arguably gives her best performance to date and reminds me why she is one of my absolute favourite actresses.

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This episode also uses humour really well. The dialogue is absolutely hilarious, and it’s pretty obvious to tell from the writing that Mathieson was once a stand-up comedian. He really gives Peter and Jenna, two naturally comedic people, a chance to bounce off each other and use each other to their own strengths, in a way we haven’t really had a chance to see since bits of The Caretaker. It’s episodes like this which I mean when I say that these two are my favourite Tardis team. Additionally to the complexity of their characters, it’s clear as day they get on extremely well in real life from their performance.

Mathieson also provides us with a decent guest cast. Rigsy’s loveable, with a very energetic performance from Jovian Wade, and its nice to see a graffiti artist in a positive role. The others are okay, nothing special, but all of the cast look pleased to be there. The score and direction are superb, and the settings are fun too.

If I had to criticise it for something, Twelve’s speech is possibly a bit too Eleveny, and it’s maybe just a fraction too slow at times, but nitpicks.

Overall: Doctor Who in 45 minutes. Absolutely wonderful.

Previous Score: 10
New Score: 10

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