Jamie Mathieson has proved himself the most interesting writer of the Capaldi era so far – though there have only been four of them. Only in Mathieson’s hands has Clara’a Mary Sue-ism seemed present to serve a larger purpose – though to be fair that purpose was surely laid out by Steven Moffat. She’s still annoying when she’s playing the role of Ms. Perfect, but at least here we get the sense that there’s a deeper reason behind it.
“Flatline” was not as riveting and brilliant as “Mummy on the Orient Express”, Mathieson’s episode of last week, either in terms of its stand-along horror plotline or its commentary on the nature of the Doctor (and of his relationships with his companions). But it more than held its own in both respects, giving us an elegantly simple monster of the week scenario and a situation new to the series – which was, in a way, the logical landing point for the leap the series has been making all season with Clara.
What Mathieson has done here is to (almost) literally make Clara the Doctor – helped along by a plot twist that sees the external dimensions of the TARDIS shrink while he’s inside it. As a result she has to assume his usual role – snooping, sonic-ing, lying to keep the spirits of the muggles up, making the hard choices about who lives or dies. Since Clara has been to some extent usurping the lead role all season this episode is enough to almost convince me that it was on-purpose – that there’s a Missy-related point behind all of it, soon to be revealed.
Thing is, though, I like Doctor Who better when the Doctor is the one playing the Doctor – and the more Peter Capaldi has to do in an episode, the better the episode generally is. So whatever Moffat’s reasoning is I hope we’re coming to the end of the line with this thread, and the Doctor is going to reassert his place at the center of the narrative where he belongs. The hints have been dropped heavily that this relationship with Clara can’t go on forever, and the fact that she’s been lying to him about having Danny’s permission to travel in the TARDIS (I don’t quite understand why she should need it) suggests all is not well on that score.
As for the story itself, among the highlights where the Doctor inventing the “2DIS” – a device to turn 2D objects back into 3D objects – and using his hand to do an impression of Thing from The Addams Family (I guess both 30 year-old Brits and 2000 year-old Gallifreyans know 60’s American TV) with the Tardis on its back. I also rather liked that the abject douchebag survived when everyone surely assumed he’d bite it – and even the Doctor commented on the wrong person having lived. It was good stuff, both in its own terms and where it takes the season, and I hope we see much more of Mathieson writing for Who in the future.