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Recap / Doctor Who S34 E9 "Flatline"

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"I tried to talk, I want you to remember that. I tried to reach out, I tried to understand you, but I think that you understand us perfectly. And I think that you just don't care! And I don't know whether you are here to invade, infiltrate or just replace us. I don't suppose it really matters now, you are monsters! That is the role you seem determined to play, so it seems that I must play mine! The man that stops the monsters!"
The Doctor

The one where the Doctor joins The Addams Family.

Written by Jamie Mathieson, this is the annual Doctor-lite episode, although less Doctor-lite than previous examples.

Once again, things appear to be back to normal. After coming close to leaving the TARDIS for good, Clara's decided to stick around after all, and it seems like she and the Doctor are back into the adventuring groove.

Even better, it seems that Danny's OK with his girlfriend running around and saving the universe, too - although he won't let her leave her stuff on the TARDIS, which seems a bit weird, but frankly their relationship's far too human for the Doctor to be bothered probing into it. So while Clara gathers her bags and calls up Danny, the Doctor gets on with dropping her off home. Rather, homeish. Once again, he's dropped her a bit far out – actually, they're in Bristol, in what seems like a council estate.

There's a bigger problem. The TARDIS is now about four feet tall, and the Doctor has to stoop to get out. Something's sucking on the outer dimensions, forcing the TARDIS smaller and smaller like a worn-down gobstopper in somebody's cheek.

By the time the Doctor's figured that out, he's gone back inside and got stuck. With the TARDIS now about the size of an action figure one more problem's shown up – people have been vanishing, all over the estate. There are creatures in the walls – creatures that live in two dimensions, that can flatten you down and wear your skin. Maybe they think they're being kind, or maybe they just feel like it. The Doctor isn't sure yet.

Either way, with the Time Lord out of the picture, the role of "the Doctor" needs to be filled, and fast. There's even a nice-but-dim graffiti artist and his curmudgeonly parole officer to serve as her impromptu companions...

Step forward Doctor Clara Oswald!


  • Abstract Eater: The Boneless are bizarre creatures which eat dimensions; shrinking items or turning them into images for sustenance.
  • Always Chaotic Evil: Lampshaded. In his Kirk Summation to the Boneless, the Doctor notes that he doesn't know what motive might direct their actions, nor does it actually matter; for whatever reason, they've decided to play the role of monsters. Which means he has to play his role of stopping said monsters.
  • And I Must Scream: The Doctor believes the murals representing the missing people are the missing people themselves trapped in the walls. This theory is disproven pretty quickly: it's the Boneless using the images of their victims as a disguise.
  • Arc Welding:
    • It's first hinted that it was Missy who gave Clara the Doctor's phone number all the way back in "The Bells of Saint John", with her saying she "chose" her, although it won't be fully revealed until "Death in Heaven".
    • After some subtle hints going all the way back to Series 7, this is the first episode to explicitly show Clara beginning to think and act like the Doctor.
  • Armor-Piercing Response: At the end of the episode, Clara claims that she was "good" as the Doctor for the episode. The Doctor responds by agreeing that she was an exceptional Doctor... before adding that "Goodness had nothing to do with it."
  • Artistic Licence - Biology: What the Doctor calls a human nervous system flattened on a wall looks like a mash-up of the nervous and circulatory systems. The central line with branches off to its sides does match the structure of the spinal cord. On the other hand, it has dense networks in the region of liver and kidneys, which fits circulation, but not nerves. The central line forks like a superior vena cava rather than extending cranially to the brainstem. And the brain itself is much too small and simplified to be a neural map.
  • Asshole Victim: Defied; Fenton, the Jerkass works crew supervisor, survives, while several likeable characters are killed. The Doctor lampshades that "maybe the wrong people lived."
  • Badass Boast: When the Doctor gets the TARDIS back in working order, he gets one very similar to the one Eleven had in "The Eleventh Hour". It consists of scolding the Boneless, telling them who he is, that the Earth is under his protection, and then banishing them.
  • Bag of Holding: Played with. After the TARDIS has shrunk down to travel size, Clara sticks it in her handbag. From then on, the Doctor occasionally shoves things through the door for her to use, including a sledgehammer at one point.
  • Big Bad: The Boneless.
  • Bigger on the Inside: The dimension leaching affects the TARDIS, upping the ante to a truly silly extent. The TARDIS is shrunk to the point that the phone box exterior can be held in one hand, while the interior dimensions remain at the correct size, trapping the Doctor within. It's even lampshaded when this Phrase Catch is mentioned, and the Doctor quips, "I don't think that statement's ever been truer."
  • Blatant Lies:
    • Clara on her mobile phone, trying to convince Danny she's fine and nothing untoward is happening. In the background, he can hear the sounds of breaking glass — and screaming.
    • Averted in regards to Clara's lie to the Doctor that Danny is OK with her travelling with him; Danny knows nothing about it, and Clara was able to look the Doctor straight in the eye and lie. He praises her for this, as lying convincingly is an important survival skill.
  • Body Horror: What the Boneless do to Roscoe and PC Forrest is truly gruesome, dissecting both. Roscoe's remains are stretched out like spaghetti on the moldings of his flat, while a flake of his skin is stripped off and blown up on another wall. Forrest fares even worse, with the Boneless ripping her entire nervous system out and stringing it up like a blueprint. Not to mention the Boneless themselves, who are hideous distortions of the human form.
  • Boring, but Practical: When Rigsy tries to pull an Heroic Sacrifice by holding the deadman handle so a train can ram the encroaching Boneless, Clara just slips a hairband around it so they can both run away.
    I really liked that hairband, too.
  • Borrowed Catchphrase: Clara tries this from the Doctor by borrowing many of his phrases; "I'm the Doctor", "RUN!" and saying she's the only chance the work gang has of staying alive.
  • Brick Joke: Someone asks if they're being chased by killer graffiti, and the Doctor says they can't call them that because the name is "Rubbish". When the Doctor banishes the beings back to their own world, he boasts, "I am the Doctor, and I name you THE BONELESS!"
  • Call-Back: Clara is forced to admit that Danny didn't so much say he was ok with her going with the Doctor as much as she never told him at all.
  • Chekhov's Skill: Rigsy is present doing community service because of graffiti art, and he ultimately paints a mock-up of a "flattened" door on a tunnel wall, thus tricking the Boneless into trying to un-flatten it so they'll unwittingly restore the siege-mode TARDIS' dimensions.
  • Construction Catcalls: Referenced when Clara says she's had a lot worse comments from men yelling at her while she's walking.
  • Continuity Nod:
    • The Doctor's comment about how a lot of people died and the wrong people survived, referencing the end of "Voyage of the Damned".
      • Clara's statement about her being the only hope of the men staying alive also harks back to some of the Doctor's statements in "Voyage of the Damned".
    • The Doctor's concern about Clara being a little too effective at becoming him. Previously, Davros called out the Tenth Doctor for turning his companions into weapons, and Rory scolded the Doctor for "turning me into you".
    • The Doctor's response to Clara, "Goodness had nothing to do with it," evokes the ongoing question of whether he's "a good man". The Eighth Doctor believed he was, before the Time War; the Eleventh did not; the Twelfth was previously unsure.
    • The Doctor is stuck in the TARDIS due to unforeseen circumstances and must act as Mission Control to his companion, using technology to see what they see, à la "The Girl Who Waited".
  • Dead Guy on Display: Whenever the Boneless compact someone, they (or part of them) end up patterned on a nearby wall. The murals in the tunnel are thought to be this by the Doctor, until he realizes the creatures inhabit them now.
  • Depth Deception: The Boneless frequently use these, from small items like a door handle, to larger stuff such as people or a train. Roscoe ends up becoming one of these in the wallpaper of the room he was in, and poor George suffers the same fate later.
  • Destination Defenestration: Clara and Rigsy escape when trapped in the room when Clara breaks the window with the sonic screwdriver and swings the ball chair out as the chain comes loose from the roof.
  • Disconnected by Death: The victim in The Teaser is on the phone to the police when he is killed by the Boneless.
  • Distaff Counterpart: Clara has to be the Doctor in this episode, because he's stuck in the TARDIS.
  • Double-Meaning Title: Referring to when someone's heart flatlines, and the two-dimensional nature of the Boneless.
  • Earth-Shattering Kaboom: According to the Doctor, this would be the result if the TARDIS were to ever put its real weight on the Earth's surface.
  • Evil Gloating: The Doctor hopes that the Boneless are just Obliviously Evil, but when they mockingly send the number on the jacket of the man they killed, and then the man they're about to, it's clear they're completely aware of the damage they're doing.
  • Failsafe Failure: The Doctor uses the TARDIS siege mode to safeguard himself from an oncoming train. However, the power drain is such that there isn't enough power to turn it off, and other vital systems like life support are running low.
  • First-Contact Math: Considering the possibility that the 2D entities might be just bemused by the 3D world rather than consciously evil, the Doctor tries to communicate with them by initially sending the digits of pi. They respond with numbers indicating the community service worker they just killed... and the one they're about to.
  • Fog of Doom: The Doctor knows of a race made of sentient gas who throw fireballs as a friendly wave.
  • Foreshadowing: The theme of Clara becoming more like the Doctor continues, with her outright taking up the sonic screwdriver and pretending to be him when he's stuck in the shrunken TARDIS.
  • Giant Hands of Doom: One of the workers is grabbed with one as the 2D beings learn to become 3D.
  • Glamour Failure: Fenton the overseer is such a unimaginative Jerkass that psychic paper doesn't work on him. The Doctor is mildly impressed.
  • Good News, Bad News: Clara and the work gang are fleeing the aliens when the Doctor gives this trope.
    The 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!
  • Hammerspace: Used as a visual gag; Clara produces a sledgehammer in one scene from the shrunken TARDIS in her purse.
  • Hate Sink: Fenton the community service supervisor is an unmitigated jerkass with no redeeming qualities, thinking the worst of the people working under him and the aliens, causing Clara to drop the TARDIS down a shaft when he tries to snatch it, and saying the estate people who died were scum no one will miss just because they live on a council estate.
  • Hell Is That Noise: The sinister buzzing noise that the Boneless make as they slither around in viscous 2-D streaks, dissolving any 3-D objects they touch.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Gleefully deconstructed by Clara. She stops Rigsy from driving a train into the Boneless by just strapping the dead man's handle stuck with an elastic headband, preventing him from making a Stupid Sacrifice.
  • He's Back!: The Doctor spends most of the episode trapped in the TARDIS. When he eventually manages to leave, it's not the sort of thing you'd miss.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: As Clara says: first rule of being the Doctor, use your enemy's power against them. Clara tricks the Boneless into using their energy to recharge the TARDIS.
  • Hope Bringer: Clara tells the Doctor that her plan to deal with the civilians is "lie to them. Give them hope." The Doctor agrees with her plan; hopeful people run faster than despairing people.
  • Humanoid Abomination: The Boneless, once they assume three-dimensional form, take on the appearance of those they killed. However, they can't make a perfect replica, resulting in definitionless mockeries that shamble like zombies, flicker like a poorly recorded VHS, and can't properly maintain a stable exterior.
  • Invincible Boogeymen: "The Boneless." They will kill anyone they come across by turning them 2D as well and dissecting them. Due to the bizarre nature of their anatomy, they cannot be fought at all and the only defence against them is to run.
  • It's a Long Story: Clara to Danny after he hears her jump throw a window.
    The Doctor: And what long story are you going to tell Danny, huh? Or haven't you made it up yet?
  • Jerkass: Fenton, who finishes the episode by claiming that everyone who died deserved it because they were "community payback scumbags".
  • Jerkass Has a Point: While the Doctor and Clara are trying to communicate with the Boneless, the aliens start announcing numbers from the jackets of the workers — first the one they had recently killed, and then another one who's still alive. While Clara and the Doctor would rather suppose the aliens are just trying to communicate, Fenton cynically recognises that the aliens are taunting and threatening them — which turns out to be correct when they kill the worker with the second number.
  • Just Train Wrong: The story is set in the present day, but, because it was filmed on a heritage railway, it uses a class 117 train, the last examples of which ran in 2000 (and this one has been restored to its original 1960s condition). It is explained and thus justified, however, as the train is explicitly marked as Out of Service.
  • Karma Houdini: Fenton survives, and he says the other people weren't really worth much because they were scum. The Doctor muses perhaps the wrong people survived.
  • Kinda Busy Here: Danny calls Clara right in the middle of a crisis, and Clara is so fixated on keeping up the façade she answers the phone. What he hears doesn't reassure Danny at all.
  • Kissing the Ground: The train driver does this after the TARDIS takes them to safety outside.
  • Kirk Summation: The Doctor delivers one to the aliens before defeating them:
    The Doctor: I tried to talk, I want you to remember that. I tried to reach out, I tried to understand you, but I think that you understand us perfectly. And I think that you just don't care! And I don't know whether you are here to invade, infiltrate or just replace us. I don't suppose it really matters now, you are monsters! That is the role you seem determined to play, so it seems that I must play mine! The man that stops the monsters! I'm sending you back to your own dimension. Who knows? Some of you may even survive the trip, and if you do, remember this: you are not welcome here! This plane is protected! I am the Doctor! [catches his screwdriver] And I name you... the Boneless!
  • Lockdown: The TARDIS "siege mode", in which it becomes a metal cube with no visible entrance. It even looks eerily like another device that keeps what's in in and what's out out.
  • Locked Room Mystery: The death at the beginning happened in a place where a conventional attacker shouldn't have been able to get to them; it turns out they were in the walls. The trope is referenced by name by both the Doctor and Rigsy.
  • Locking MacGyver in the Store Cupboard: Clara has no difficulty finding spray paint and other supplies for her plan in the office where everyone is hiding from the Boneless. It's also fair to assume that Rigsy happened to have more cans of spray paint in his bag, as he is a graffiti artist.
  • Loveable Rogue: The "making-of" feature describes Rigsy as one. For a graffiti artist doing community service, he's a pretty Nice Guy.
  • Magical Security Cam: Missy somehow gets a real-time image of Clara at the same angle as the camera had previously been pointed, right over the Doctor's shoulder.
  • Meaningful Echo: The Doctor says, "This plane is protected", while banishing a hostile alien, as per Ten's "This planet is protected".
  • Mission Control: Trapped in the TARDIS, the Doctor is forced into the role of providing Clara with intel and supplies rather than doing it himself.
  • New Powers as the Plot Demands: The TARDIS siege mode has never been seen before, not even when bad guys were trying to break in. Seeing that using this mode puts the TARDIS occupants in life-threatening peril, it makes sense why the Doctor would only use it if not doing so would be outright fatal, such as being crushed by an ongoing train.
  • Non-Malicious Monster: Subverted. The Doctor's hopeful speculations that the aliens don't realize they're hurting people is shown to be mistaken almost immediately.
  • No-Sell: It turns out that the psychic paper needs imagination to work on someone, which Fenton lacks.
  • Not Helping Your Case: The Doctor realises Rigsy might be valuable after all, so urges Clara not to scare him off. Clara starts talking about a Shrink Ray and crawls around the floor looking for tiny people, causing Rigsy to edge towards the door.
  • Nothing Is Scarier: The motives of the Boneless are never revealed because they don't speak, leaving the Doctor to guess them, and come up with the conclusion they're killing people For the Evulz. Jamie Mathieson gave them no dialogue to purposefully exploit audience fears of the unknown.
  • Obliviously Evil: Subverted. The Doctor says it's very possible the Boneless are just as confused by the situation as their 3-D counterparts. He tries to use First-Contact Math to communicate. They respond with Evil Gloating.
  • Obscured Special Effects: Clara busts up a wall using a sledgehammer — only the wall is just out-of-shot and we never see any actual damage.
  • Obstructive Bureaucrat: Fenton despises the men he's supervising, doesn't mourn their deaths, and is sufficiently unimaginative that the psychic paper doesn't work on him.
  • Off-the-Shelf FX: The miniature TARDIS shown is just a Flight Control TARDIS made by Character Options.
  • Ooh, Me Accent's Slipping: PC Forrest's accent tends to drift from West Country to Estuary and back.
  • Police Are Useless: This is according to PC Forrest, herself one of the police, who says that they have no leads or suspects and that she believes her superiors are just hoping the problem goes away on its own.
  • Power Limiter: The TARDIS has a voluntary one in that the Doctor can wilfully manipulate its relative gravity to adjust its weight. According to the Doctor, the TARDIS never puts its actual weight on whatever surface it is currently resting on, as its mass alone would otherwise destroy the planet.
  • Punny Name: The Doctor creates a dimensional shifter (to turn things from the 2D plane 3D and vice versa) and dubs it the 2-Dis.
  • Ramming Always Works: Averted; trying to ram the Boneless with a train only annoys them.
  • Real Life Writes the Plot: The shrunken TARDIS was added to the script rather late in the writing process to turn this into the Series 8 Doctor-lite episode, allowing Capaldi to film all his scenes stuck inside the TARDIS separately from everything else.
  • Shout-Out:
    • Stan, one of the people who gets flattened to death, is named as a shout-out to Flat Stanley.
    • The train reporting number on the first of the trains is A113, which is an Easter Egg in animated films by people who graduated the California Institute of the Arts, and is most commonly known from Pixar movies (real train reporting numbers start with a digit, not a letter).
    • When Clara drops the TARDIS in a scuffle, the Doctor has to move the TARDIS out of the way of an oncoming train but he has no power. Clara suggests he moves it like The Addams Family, referring to Thing, the hand without a body, and his mode of locomotion by crawling around on his fingers. The Doctor then does a brief imitation of Uncle Fester's shuffle.
    • Rigsy, the graffiti artist, has a similar name to Banksy.
    • When trying to pronounce the 2Dis, Clara at one point calls it a 2DS.
    • The Doctor says a universe of only two dimensions has been theorised about for a long time. This could be a reference to Flatland, a satire written in 1884.
  • Similar Squad: Clara playing the Doctor, while Rigsy has the companion role.
  • Snark-to-Snark Combat: The Doctor and Clara engage in a bickering contest while dealing with the Boneless.
  • Spooky Painting: The graffiti, which is really the victims of the Boneless. Which then come back to life...
  • Starfish Aliens: Beings from a 2D dimension are attacking Earth.
  • Starfish Language:
    • The TARDIS can't translate the Boneless' language because beings with no concept of a third dimension are too alien for those who do have one to comprehend. The Doctor gets around this with First-Contact Math.
    • The Doctor also mentions a race of gaseous creature that throw fireballs as a friendly greeting and a race with 64 stomachs that disembowel each other to say hello.
  • Stealth Pun: The Boneless have very simple motives, to the point that the most unimaginative person in the room gets it almost immediately, while the Doctor and Clara both have a hard time grasping it, and continually try to ascribe more complex roles to them. The Boneless are literally two-dimensional.
  • Talking Is a Free Action: Clara has time to ramble on a bit about her "favorite hair band" before using it to hold the dead-man's switch on the train. She and Rigsy jump to safety just in time... and now that we see the train from the outside, we see that no more than a second or two could have passed while she was talking.
  • This Is the Part Where...:
    • Clara tells Rigsy that this is the part where they run.
    • After the Boneless first attack the painters, the Doctor informs Clara that this is the part where the group is unfocused and a leader emerges, so she has to make sure that leader is her.
  • Trailers Always Spoil: The trailers made it clear that the villains of the episode were 2D entities bent on invading our dimension and dissecting its inhabitants (and that the murals of the disappeared people were not all they seemed). Additional promotional material also featured the shrunken TARDIS with the Doctor trapped inside.
  • Welcome to My World: Spoken by the Doctor when Clara has to figure out how to keep her companions alive.
  • Wham Line:
    Missy: Clara... My Clara... I have chosen well. [cue Evil Laugh]
  • Written-In Absence: The season's "Doctor-lite" episode. Apart from the opening and closing scenes, all of Peter Capaldi's scenes are him alone in the console room talking to the camera.
  • Wrong Genre Savvy:
    • Due to the TARDIS shrinking and the locked room mystery, Clara thinks the man might have been shrunken. She's wrong.
    • The Doctor initially assumes the Boneless might be Obliviously Evil and just trying to communicate with them. It quickly turns out they are very much aware of the damage they do.
  • You Monster!: The Doctor declares the Boneless to be monsters because of what they do to humans and how they scorn attempts to communicate and understand.
  • You Remind Me of X: Clara reminding the Doctor of himself. At first it's a compliment, but when pressed the Doctor admits he finds it disturbing.
  • Zombie Gait: The Boneless manifesting in 3D shuffle around this way. They're even wearing the appearance of their dead victims.

Clara: Come on, why can't you say it? I was the Doctor and I was good.
The Doctor: You were an exceptional Doctor, Clara.
Clara: Thank you.
The Doctor: Goodness had nothing to do with it.