Posts Tagged With: flatline

Have I Got Whos For You (Interlude)

All is not well in Planet Who, folks. There is discontent over the absence of a trailer, anticipatiion fatigue over the BBC’s continuing refusal to name a date, and a general sense of ambivalence about whether it’s going to be any good considering the writers they’ve got on board for next series. And over in a Viking village, Edgar’s let his sneeze get the better of him again.

I spent half an hour yesterday trying to interpolate footage from this year’s John Lewis advert into footage of explosions and disintegrating snowmen and the cracking of ice. It did not go well. My heart simply wasn’t in it, which is never a good beginning. So I cleaned the bathroom instead. There’s no video this week, but at least the house smells fragrant. We’ve done John Lewis before – more than once – and that comparative post I did back in 2016 really is due a revamp. Maybe next year. Maybe.

There was a pile of good things. Georgia Tennant posted a photo on Instagram of her new baby’s induction into the world of Doctor Who, although there was some concern over the episode that she was watching.

“HUNGRY,” said one FB user I occasionally interact with, to which the response from me was “Wrong episode.”

“Close, though, right?”

“Five years out. So in the grand scheme of things…”

If we’re talking series 12, of course, you have to work with what you’ve got. For example, a few weeks back we became aware of a suspected leaked image from an upcoming sequel to ‘Flatline’, although there was immediate speculation as to whether or not it was fake.

It’s not fake, surely? I mean it’s got lighting and everything.

One thing that definitely isn’t fake is the Dalek redesign, which was recently spotted on Clifton Suspension Bridge during a closed ‘maintenance’ slot which was actually booked for the BBC. There was immediate uproar over the apparent redesign, which served no purpose except to highlight the double standards inherent in the assessment of such things, because the Cybermen have been going for almost as long as the Daleks and the new ones are basically unrecognisable, whereas the Daleks have hardly changed at all over the years and the moment they do there’s wailing and crying and gnashing of teeth. Maybe that’s the whole problem. Perhaps a general evolution would have made the removal of the sink plunger an acceptable thing. Perhaps they’ve signed up to a twenty-four hour callout service and there’s no longer any need to do it themselves.

Anyway, it turns out there’s a reason for it.

I’ve been struggling a little bit with Thomas’s school this week, who have been perhaps less than understanding about some of his additional needs, even though they usually do a good job. We have explained to him that while copying out the question before you add the answer does seem rather pointless, you sometimes simply have to toe the line and pick your battles. We live in a system of assessments and targets and indecipherable lingo, and with four kids at four schools it really can be a bit of a minefield.

Anyway, Thomas is basically happy, but I do wish he’d read more. It’s Ripley’s Believe it or Not or a Beano annual or something in the Big Nate range, and while I’m not a reading snob of any sort there’s a wealth of great stuff out there he’s missing out on simply because he can’t be bothered. Occasionally – just occasionally – you can find something that’ll interest him, like we did when we found a Derren Brown book about hypnotism and the power of suggestion. He’d developed something of an interest in the man after regular visits to Thorpe Park this year where we all got rather attached to the Derren Brown ghost train – a ride I’m not allowed to spoil, because they ask you not to. Then this book showed up in a charity shop and he was riveted. It’s the sort of thing that makes me shudder, just faintly, because whether it’s genuine psychic ability or a simple confidence trick Brown is a piggin’ genius and the thought of Thomas going down that road makes me wonder what the consequences would be. It’s like giving the supersoldier serum to Red Skull. “No man should have that kind of power.”

I was trying to find something for him the other week when I stumbled upon this hideously inappropriate Doctor Who novel. I could still let him read it; the joke would probably sail over his head.

Audiobook available soon from all good streaming services.

Star Wars updates now – and cometh the man, cometh the Mandalorian.

It’s not just me, is it? Tell me it’s not just me.

I am trying to put my finger on the moment I lost interest in the Star Wars franchise. It might have been the Clone Wars movie. It might actually have been Shadows of the Empire, Lucas’ 1997 foray into episode 5.5 territory that tried several approaches, none of which really worked. The book was particularly disastrous. Years down the line and we’re bombarded with spin-offs no one asked for and comparatively few people watched and now there’s a TV series about a masked bounty hunter who may or may not be Boba Fett (is he Boba Fett? I haven’t bothered to find out) and oh look, George Lucas has changed the Greedo death AGAIN. If I’m grouchy about this it’s because Disney has announced this week that they’re pulling the Lego Star Wars exhibit from Legoland Windsor because for some unfathomable reason the sight of tiny brick men in a dimly-lit walkthrough will be enough to prevent people going to their own Star Wars-themed parks, most of which are in another country. I am one of the few people who objected to Disney buying the thing a few years back – as far as I was concerned they couldn’t come up with a bigger mess than Attack of the Clones, and thus far I’ve been proved right – but this annoys me. Next time I might just take the kids to a museum instead.

I mean honestly.

We conclude with politics, and Kay Burley has an empty chair in her studio.

I had a conversation with Trevor Baxendale about this: he’d said it didn’t work for him because the Silence wasn’t actually invisible (a mistake many Who fans seem to make when they’re making jokes about them online), so surely she’d be able to see it? We were back and forth for a bit, with me explaining myself and the two of us eventually agreeing that the actual concept of the Silence was so vague there is wiggle room. Better yet that we should concentrate on episodes of Doctor Who that actually work. Like ‘Heaven Sent’, for example, seeing as we seem to be on a bit of a series 9 kick this morning. I had cause to rewatch ‘Heaven Sent’ this week – for reasons that will become apparent another time – and one thing that strikes me is how meticulously constructed the whole thing is; aside from certain questions about where the first set of dry clothes came from it really hangs together quite well.


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Out and about in Haworth

By the time this little missive turns up on the feeds, I will be in Swansea. I trust your week is going well. I will probably be shouting at the kids. One of these days I really must take them down to Cardiff and do a proper location tour, rather than simply strolling along Roald Dahl Plass and giggling at the Ianto shrine. I need to go and check out that cemetery, for example, and re-enact bits from ‘The Girl Who Waited’ in Dyffryn Gardens. So many power stations, so little time.

As I write this it’s late July, we’re still in the middle of a heatwave and it’s almost impossible to think remember a time when it wasn’t insufferably humid. But the last holiday we had – and one I’ve unfortunately neglected to write about until now – was back in February, when we visited Haworth in Yorkshire, under a couple of feet of snow. Home of the Brontë sisters (and their wayward black sheep), Haworth is hilly, picturesque and overly tourist-driven, particularly in the old village, but it’s not a bad place to spend a week, and the moors are right on your doorstep – providing you can cope with the mud.

Still, you don’t want to see my holiday slides. Well, you do; just not all of them. What possible interest could the BoM audience have with seven shots of us rolling an enormous head up a 1:3 slope? (I knew I didn’t think that one through.) Or panoramic views of the Peaks? You can go to Shutterstock for that sort of thing and you’ll probably find the lighting is better. Still, we did go to Cliffe Castle Museum, in the heart of Keighley (pronounced Keith Lee, for some unknown reason, although I live in a country where Godmanchester is pronounced ‘Gumster’ by the locals, so clearly it’s not worth turning over that particular stone). And this was on the top floor.

Cliffe Castle is home to a dazzling array of…stuff, from ancient Egyptian artifacts to nineteenth century tea bricks (Google it). There are ornate chandeliers in the Victorian parlour, contemporary paintings around the balcony, and there’s an impressive taxidermy collection near the geology exhibition. You walk through one room that deals with farming traditions into an ornate summary of the formation of the Earth, from magma through to Cretaceous, in an impressive inner sanctum with black walls that make the colours stand out. Sod local history: I’m going to look at rocks.

Speaking of stuffed animals, we did find this during our wanderings.

It’s hard to miss it, really, isn’t it? Apparently this really was a genuine sheep, born of ewe and graced with two heads; by the looks of it the poor thing didn’t live very long. It is in here because we think it resembles a Smiler.

My family and I visited an awful lot of museums on this trip – one of my favourites was the Bradford Industrial Museum, which has an impressive array of classic cars, printing presses and just about every loom that rolled off the production line, and if you’re not well versed in the history of weaving when you go in, it’s a dead cert by the time you leave. There are live demonstrations and workshops and a temporary exhibit near the gift shop – and that was where we found this.

I mean. it’s Peter Cushing, isn’t it? He’s changed his hair but I’m sure I can spot Roy Castle in the back somewhere.

One thing this neighbourhood is famous for is its art – or one artist in particular. David Hockney (you know, the swimming pool guy) was born in Bradford, and don’t they know it. Nowhere is this more prevalent, perhaps, than Saltaire – a model village (in the aspirational, as opposed to physical sense) that’s now a World Heritage Site since the mill closed its doors, before re-opening them to reveal a bookshop and hipster cafe. The mill’s enormous ground level is now a spacious, almost cathedral-like exhibit dedicated to Hockney (and a number of other artists): vast murals dominate the walls and ethereal music is piped through the speakers. It’s an almost religious experience, and I say that as a lifelong churchgoer.

We went to Saltaire, but just down the road from the Industrial Museum there’s a smallish gallery called Cartwright Hall, which doesn’t have any incense, but which does have a prototype for Colin Baker’s Sixth Doctor costume in the Hockney exhibition upstairs.

Hockney’s a permanent fixture at Cartwright Hall, but the stuff downstairs is shaken up every couple of months. When we went there was a room dedicated to old circus posters, which was far more interesting than it sounds, and an entire wall of Abzorbaloff victims.

Meanwhile, spotted in a Bradford underpass: the DWSR team that never made it back from the ‘Flatline’ shoot.

Admit it, you’re secretly pleased.

What were we doing in Bradford? Amazingly, we weren’t there for Indian food (which Bradford does very well). We were visiting the National Science and Media Museum: five floors of old cameras, magic lanterns and a nice little exhibition about the history of the internet. (There’s also an IMAX cinema, for those who can afford that sort of thing.) If you troop past the walls displaying old cartoons (which are frankly a little unsettling) you will find the penguin jewel heist from The Wrong Trousers – the only set that Aardman didn’t lose in the fire that hit their studios several years back. There’s also an old arcade full of slot machines and consoles from the 70s, 80s and 90s, where we spent a happy half hour revisiting Asteroids, Gauntlet and Sonic The Hedgehog, and where I swiftly remembered that I was never any good at Street Fighter II.

No idea what this is, though. Apologies.


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God is in the detail (part xx)

This week we’re looking at ‘Flatline’, an episode high on visual content and rife with clues pointing to VERY IMPORTANT THINGS THAT WILL HAVE SIGNIFICANCE LATER ON.

As is customary, I’ll be jumping around, rather than going through chronologically. We’ll start at the halfway point, and you’ll observe, in this shot, the arrival of Clara and her new friends at the train depot.

Flatline Detail (2)

The first character on the side of the carriage is partially obscured, but we’ll assume that it’s an incomplete letter ‘Q’. Let’s deal with 8503 first – a number which refers to an Australian visa condition requiring the holder to depart the country in order to apply for another visa. This is a CLEAR AND UNAMBIGUOUS reference to Tegan Jovanka, who had to leave the series (at the end of ‘Time Flight’) in order to return to it, and to whom we referred extensively in a previous entry in this series.

However, this is a double-barrelled clue: 8503 also applies to an oil rig, currently in the Gulf of Mexico. The Third Doctor and Jo spend lengthy periods on an oil rig in Alistair Reynolds’ Harvest of Time, which also features the Master. The ‘Q’ is thus a link to Qatar, a country rich in oil and the host of the 2022 World Cup, and from this we conclude that series nine will feature the Doctor and Tegan visiting Qatar and witnessing an earlier incarnation (the Eleventh Doctor, obviously) scoring the winning goal in the last minute of extra time, releasing a hundred tiny aliens into the stratosphere in the process.

While we’re on the subject of trains, have a look here.

Flatline Detail Trains

113 refers, significantly, to ‘The Dancing Floor’, episode three of ‘The Celestial Toymaker’, whose IMMINENT RETURN is foreshadowed by the animated floors present in this week’s installment. Decoding the second train is a little trickier, as it refers not to episode 65, but rather episode 65 in the Second Doctor’s run, to which the ‘2’ alludes. This turns out to be part two of ‘Fury From The Deep’, a story with which Matt West seems to be quietly obsessed. It was also Deborah Watling’s last story. UNTIL NOW.

Deep within the tunnels, we can see a sign on the door.

Flatline Detail (7)


Except it’s not that simple.

‘W D’ is, instead, an obvious reference to Willem Dafoe, who is thus pegged to be the 17th Doctor. Except, of course, Dafoe’s not getting any younger, and we’re still on Doctor no.12, so either Moffat is planning on casting an ageing Doctor, or he’s going to bring in some wibbly wobbly trick and cast him in a year or two as a future incarnation travelling back along his own timeline. It’s been a while since we had a Valeyard conspiracy, so perhaps that’s where we’re headed.

Or is it?

Let’s see what happens when we mix up that text a little.

Flatline Detail chalk)

The last time the Doctor had mail, it turned out to be a psychic container from another Time Lord – a long-dead Time Lord, as it turned out, but this is CLEARLY a sign that there are others out there. Iris Wildthyme must be due a TV appearance by now. Does anyone have Katy Manning’s number? Not that it matters, as she seems to have the Doctor’s.

Moving on, when is a door not a door?

Flatline Detail (3)

When its handle gets flattened, that’s when, but ignore the door and look at the cryptic numbers to its left. 26038 ostensibly refers to a particular type of diesel locomotive, but that’s only part of the story: it’s also the zip code for Glen Dale, a city in West Virginia and home to country singer Brad Paisley. The connections to Doctor Who seem slim at best, until we recall this scene from ‘Victory of the Daleks’:

DOCTOR: All right, Prof. Now, the PM’s been filling me in. Amazing things, these Ironsides of yours. Amazing. You must be very proud of them.

BRACEWELL: Just doing my bit.

AMY: Not bad for a Paisley boy.

BRACEWELL: Yes, I thought I detected a familiar cadence, my dear.

And I think we all know what this means, don’t we…?

Next: a flat.

Flatline Detail (1)

Notice the two horses, which refer to the Black and White Guardians, as encountered by the Fourth and Fifth Doctors. The clock on the mantelpiece reads 12:44 pm, which in itself does not seem significant until we examine this:


(Retrieved from here.)

Valdore is a Romulan Admiral in assorted Star Trek: Enterprise stories, played by Brian Thompson, who significantly played the Alien Bounty Hunter in The X-Files. CLEARLY a Mulder and Scully investigation of the Doctor’s activities, along with a crossover with UNIT, cannot be far away. (In fanfiction terms, of course, it’s already a distant memory.)

Meanwhile, back in the train yard:

Flatline Detail (4)

2055 marks the year after the Martian expedition that took centre stage in ‘The Waters of Mars’, so it’s CLEARLY A YEAR OF GREAT SIGNIFICANCE.

Of course:


You can read more about this (including the various arguments rebuffing it) in a reddit comment thread I discovered last night. I mean, honestly. These people are the same sorts of people who think you can predict the apocalypse by adding up ages in the Bible.

It’s a good thing we’re not so silly here, isn’t it?

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Review: ‘Flatline’

In many ways, it’s a pain in the arse when Doctor Who is good. It makes it harder to write about it. I seem to do all my best work when I’m criticising an episode for lacklustre pacing, inconsistent or non-existent characterisation or lousy dialogue. This is mostly down to habit. I’ve spent so long wallowing through second-rate stories that the ability to dissect them has become almost second nature, so when something enjoyable comes along, I become well and truly stumped.

‘Flatline’ is one of those stories that probably caused major headaches at the readthrough, because so much of it is visual. From the outset, where a bearded, nameless chap makes a cryptic phone call before vanishing into the floor, the ‘show, don’t tell’ mantra is working non-stop. Despondent-looking murals hang on subway walls. Furnishings bleed and melt into wooden floorboards. Doorknobs flatten and then pop back into existence. The BBC’s audio description unit must have filed for overtime.

It’s telling that the last time we had an episode in which paintings come to life, it was an absolute disaster. It featured a troubled estate, a talented young black artist and a bunch of council workers. It also ended with ball bearings and the Olympic torch, both of which ‘Flatline’ mercifully lacks. Instead we are graced with a tedious exchange about the nature of goodness. In my laundry list of poor episode traits in that opening paragraph, I mentioned lousy dialogue, and it’s a shame to report that ‘Flatline’ has it in spades. It manages when the science takes centre stage, but anything human – and there is, once again, far too much riffing about Danny and Clara – is frankly painful. Based on his performance this week and last, Jamie Mathieson is capable of decent gags but stumbles when it comes to getting two people (human or otherwise) to have a conversation that doesn’t sound like a first draft of a spec script – which, for all we know, is exactly what this was.


But whereas ‘Mummy on the Orient Express’ had nothing to fall back upon save some pleasant surroundings and an overused monster, ‘Flatline’ has its central premise: people disappearing into the walls. The disappearances on what is presumably a lower-class council estate are largely ignored by the local authorities (this week’s bit of social commentary couldn’t be more overstated if you gave it a fluorescent sandwich board and made it stand on a street corner) and derided by the unpleasant Fenton, a sneering jobsworth who refreshingly lives to the end scene with his nastiness entirely intact. Fenton is there chiefly to give Clara someone to rub up against, but his obvious shallowness is easy to overlook in the wake of an entertaining performance by Christopher Fairbank, famous for Auf Wiedersehn, Pet and for being dangled over the edge of a roof by Michael Keaton.

While all this is going on, the Doctor is trapped inside a shrinking TARDIS – the ‘Logopolis’ / ‘Planet of Giants’ parallels come to an abrupt halt once you realise that it’s only the TARDIS shrinking, and not the Doctor himself. This is basically an excuse for some amusing sight gags, most notably the image of Capaldi’s head pressed up against the undersized door, staring through the fourth wall as if daring you to laugh at his predicament. It echoes the end of episode four of ‘Miracle Day’, in which an unpleasant politician meets an untimely un-end in a car crusher, but this tendency to stare mid-episode would arguably be more effective if (at least in the UK) we weren’t presented with that same pre-episode continuity interruption EVERY SINGLE WEEK. (Those of you watching elsewhere, or on iPlayer, will have no idea what I’m talking about, but anyone who recorded it will be nodding right about now.) The image of the Doctor facing the camera, talking to some unseen adversary (or ally) has been a common sight since the show switched to the single-camera format in 2005, but rarely has any Doctor stared at the audience (as opposed to just past it) as much as Capaldi seems to. He’s probably anxious to show off his eyebrows.


Splitting the two time travellers up works quite well, as it turns out. Whereas ‘The Lodger’ (operating on much the same premise) minimised Amy’s role so that the Doctor could banter with James Corden, ‘Flatline’ subverts things by having Clara ostensibly assume centre stage while Capaldi shouts down a radio mic like Danny Glover in Bat 21. Let no one fool you with this ‘Clara is the Doctor’ rubbish. She’s not. Capaldi is the Doctor, and never allows us to forget it, whether he’s pursing his lips with wide eyes when she says something that sounds vaguely Doctorish, or passing out in the TARDIS when it’s turned into an exact replica of the collectible Pandorica cube you could buy with the series five action figures. The Doctor never allows confinement to stop him being the centre of attention, as is epitomised in the scene where he trundles off a railway line, away from the path of an approaching train, using his fingers. It’s a tense but deeply comical moment, simply by virtue of being so utterly ridiculous, and to his credit Mathieson gets the Addams Family gag out of the way before we even have a chance to think of it.



In terms of narrative and setting, this week’s episode pays obvious homage to the satirical Flatland, or at the very least one of the subsequent film adaptations, and the relatively foggy explanation of the unnamed alien race’s origins or motivations leaves the story open-ended for a Twelfth Doctor novel at some point (in TV terms it’s a one-story idea, and I have a feeling Big Finish won’t touch it with a barge pole, even if they can get the rights). We know as little about the Killer Graffiti by the end as we did when they claimed their first (on-screen) victim, but the Doctor’s futile attempts to communicate with them before he ultimately destroys them echo, strangely enough, the moral appeasement of Bill Pullman halfway through Independence Day, when a mental link with the invading aliens leaves him with the knowledge that “they’re like parasites”, and the moral justification to launch all out war. When the Doctor steps forth from his rejuvenated TARDIS into the tunnel it’s a powerful moment, unfortunately undermined by some quite unnecessary monologuing, but it wouldn’t be Doctor Who without The Big Speech. Even McCoy had his share.

Besides, those aliens are downright creepy. They look like TV distortion – for a moment I thought tonight’s low atmospheric pressure had knackered the signal, but a glance online tells me that no, it’s a deliberate design feature. They are wordless, relentless, and almost featureless. Stylistically they vaguely resemble the scramble suits used in A Scanner Darkly, but in science fiction it seems there is nothing new under the sun, and I’m prepared to let that go. And they presumably had a generation of children glancing uneasily at the pictures on their wall tonight, waiting perhaps for the eyes to move like in Scooby Doo, and perhaps that’s as it should be.


It’s ironic: an episode of Doctor Who that deals with life in two dimensions, and that manages to be somehow more solid and substantial than almost anything else we’ve seen this series. Oh, there was moralistic whinging about whether victory ought to be celebrated in the wake of so much death, a conversation that was presumably there for the kids. There was the Clara and Danny thing. And there was the unnecessary inclusion of Missy, who cannot possibly be interesting, whoever she turns out to be. And if you step back from the visuals and examine what was going on the whole thing really was a little bit pointless. But when a story is as fast-paced, visually appealing and downright fun as ‘Flatline’ was, you find that the superficial stuff actually matters far less than perhaps it ought to. The other week I said that you could either write a decent domestic drama or an outright scary story. Both Mathieson and Moffat still have some way to go to come up with anything about the Clara / Danny / Doctor triangle that’s going to make me interested. But they came up trumps with the monster this week, and delivered something that was elegantly directed, decently performed, and supremely entertaining. And for that, I’m very grateful.



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