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Mooning: Flatline - Patchworks

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Previous Entry Mooning: Flatline Oct. 19th, 2014 @ 12:10 pm Next Entry
This week, earth is invaded by... Flatlanders?

The episode opens with another one of my least-favorite tropes, Never Give The Captain a Straight Answer. Where a character discovers a threat and for some ungodly reason decides the best way to warn everyone else about it is to be as vague and unhelpful as possible. LaForge in Star Trek: TNG seriously did this in almost every episode.
Geordi: "Captain, we have a problem."
Picard: "Status, Mister LaForge."
Geordi: "You'd better come down here and look at this. And bring all the senior officers and a redshirt along with you."

In this case, a guy has discovered that "they" are responsible for everything and "they're all around", which provides precisely zero useful information to anyone other than the establishment of some vague threat, which then proceeds to pick the hapless guy off for not being specific enough.

After the credits, we pick right up with Clara resuming her habit of pathological unconvincing lying. This season seems to be shaping up to be the "how many pointless conflicts can we generate by making the characters unbelievably crappy at talking to each other?" season. But it at least maintains its unbroken record of still not having a single conversation either within or about Clara and Mister Pink's relationship that does not involve someone lying their ass off.

Clara goes to leave, but discovers that the exterior of the TARDIS has shrunk to about four feet tall. The Doctor gets excited about stuff happening that he doesn't understand, hoping that this episode might finally get back to that whole "discovery" and "exploration" and "learning new things" stuff that the show has gone without for so long.

Clara goes off to investigate and finds a memorial for people who have recently gone missing, along with a mural of the victims. She also runs into a graffiti artist doing community service whom she manages to say two sentences to without lying, already establishing a better relationship with him than with her apparent boyfriend.

Clara returns to the TARDIS, where it has shrunk down to the point where it is indistinguishable from commercial merchandise. The Doctor is still inside, normal-sized, which leads to a lot of funny visual gags that span the episode. He hands over his screwdriver and psychic paper to assist her in continuing her investigation outside.

Clara meets up with the graffiti artist again and immediately goes back into compulsive liar mode, because no one in this series is physically capable of being straightforward with anyone. They go investigate the house of the last person to disappear, and goes off on his habit of being unnecessarily insulting towards everyone again. At least until the graffiti artist starts providing useful information, then the Doctor wants him to stick around.

They go examine another victim's house, and the Doctor suggests that if people are disappearing inside locked rooms that they try breaking down the walls. The Doctor passes Clara a sledgehammer through the tiny TARDIS to keep her occupied while the police officer in the next room starts melting into the floor. Ohh, what a world, what a world.

Inside the room, they find a mural of the police officer's nervous system on the wall, indicating she must have had a very ticklish right kidney. The Doctor realizes that the mural on the wall in the previous house was flattened human skin, and that they're being attacked by two-dimensional creatures. He warns Clara that "they're in the walls, and if they touch you, you're dead!", leading to Clara and the graffiti artist to play an extreme sports version of "The Floor is Lava".

At this point, of course, Mister Pink calls, and Clara continues to maintain her ability to never tell him the truth about anything ever, and he continues to maintain the ability of being a completely oblivious moron who willingly buys it hook line and sinker (even when she's making what were obviously meant to sound like sexual noises over the phone. THIS IS A KIDS' SHOW!).

The Doctor finally actually calls Clara out for lying, but mostly because she lied to him about Mister Pink being okay with her staying on with him. Because, even though we had a whole episode devoted to how little the Doctor respects Mister Pink, he apparently still respects Mister Pink enough to be upset that Clara did not receive his permission to do what she wants with her life.

They return to the memorial mural and the Doctor realizes that the images in the mural are actually the people who disappeared. Or, rather, the 2D aliens disguising themselves as a mural of the people who disappeared, because there's... some logic to be had to that somewhere, I guess.

The aliens start chasing them, and Clara picks up a few extra cannon fodder characters along the way, rendering this yet another "non-sentient aliens with no motive other than 'yay, kill people' chase the heroes around until they discover the aliens' convenient off switch" episode just like every episode prior. And it had such a promising setup, but I guess all episodes eventually have to devolve into this. Every monster is exactly the same, the only differing factor is the method they use to kill you when they catch you.

They hide out in a warehouse and Clara takes control of the group of the graffiti artist, his cranky boss, and the cannon fodder. Clara tells the Doctor that the best way to keep them all alive is to do everyone's favorite thing: lying! Sorry, you've got cannon fodder in your group, there's nothing you can do to save them.

The Doctor suggests they try communicating with the creatures, because there's the possibility that the 2D creatures don't even realize they're hurting people by dragging them into two dimensions. He tries broadcasting a message, and the creatures respond with "55", which was the number off one of the cannon fodder's jumpers that they flattened. Which indicates that they can read and understand arabic numerals at least. They then send out the number one one of the still-living cannon fodder's jumpers, indicating that they can read numbers that are still in 3D-space.

The aliens flatten another cannon fodder and they run into the train tunnels, but discover that the aliens have flattened all the door handles and they can't get out. A giant hand suddenly appears and picks off the last cannon fodder as the aliens figure out how to manifest in three dimensions by rebuilding the bodies of the people they've captured.

The Doctor passes Clara a device to un-flatten the door handle, and she uses it, then they proceed to... just open the door by grabbing the frame rather than the handle, indicating they could have opened it even without the handle this entire time.

Once they pass through, Clara flattens the handle on her side of the door because somehow that'll stop them. Even though even they didn't use the handle to get through before, and these are two-dimensional creatures we're talking about that can probably just slide through the crack. It's all pointless, anyway, since the creatures have gained the ability to un-flatten stuff, too.

The Doctor tells Clara he's come up with a way to defeat the aliens, but the TARDIS is too drained of power to pull it off. The cranky supervisor then grabs the TARDIS out of Clara's bag and throws it in a pit because people do illogical things to cause conflict.

The TARDIS lands on the train track, and Clara tells the Doctor to move it out of the way "Addams Family" style by sticking his hand out the tiny door and dragging it along with his fingers. Thus we get another visual setup that's both tense and downright ridiculous at the same time (but when pulled off well, I do like these juxtapositions). He manages to pull it off the tracks, but then the TARDIS falls over onto the rails. At the last second the Doctor dives under the console and pulls a lever, putting the TARDIS into siege mode. However, he now lacks the power to turn the mode off, and life support is failing.

Clara and the others climb down to the tracks and stop the train, picking up another cannon fodder character since they've now run through their previous batch. They decide to use the train to ram the 2D creatures, and the graffiti artist, suddenly suicidal, jumps on the train to run it. Clara just attaches an elastic band to the control and drags him off the train, even though the guy just seems really, really desperate to die for some reason.

Clara finds the TARDIS, now transformed into... a tiny Pandorica, and the group hides in an office. Clara asks the Doctor for help, but since they can't communicate, decides that she needs to figure this out herself without his help.

Her plan is to have the graffiti artist paint a door, then when the two-dimensional creatures zap the door to attempt to make it three-dimensional, channel that energy into the TARDIS to restore its power. While this is a clever and effective plan of using an enemy's power against them, it still has the necessary prerequisite that the enemy be a mindless automaton with a defined, pre-programmed move-set that it cannot deviate from so the heroes can take advantage of it. Is it really a Batman Gambit if your enemy is not mentally capable of taking any other action?

The TARDIS returns to its former size, and the Doctor steps out to invoke his equally-clever plan to banish the creatures for good. ... Yeah, he just waves his screwdriver at them and they disappear.

The problem with creating a character or technology that is too overpowered is that the majority of your conflicts end up like this one: the overpowered character or device is conveniently rendered inoperable at the beginning of the episode, and the episode itself isn't so much about figuring out a way to defeat the enemy, but figuring out how to put your omnipotent character/device back into service so they can just wave their magic wand and solve everything for you. Either that or they just decide to save their ultimate weapon until the end of the episode after letting everything get sufficiently out of hand first (See: Every "Power Rangers" episode ever).

The Doctor drops everyone off, and berates the cranky supervisor for acting like his workers' lives had no value just because they were petty criminals, then immediately turns around and laments that the supervisor survived because he apparently actually does have less value. Clara keeps pestering the Doctor to praise her, and he tells her she did well, but he wouldn't consider her "good".

Meanwhile MFCP#1 stalks Clara on an iPad. It's nice to know we'll have iPads in the afterlife.

Next time: Can't see the forest for the trees.

This episode wasn't too bad, but mostly because its low points are themes that have spanned the season: the mindless automaton zombie monster defeated by exploiting a pre-programmed weak point, and the elevation of casual lying into a standard conversation practice.

I think what made this episode tolerable was that the Doctor was rendered mostly impotent at the beginning of the episode, thus his cruelty didn't have any bite. When you have a needlessly cruel character who is supposed to be on the "good guy" team, it is absolutely necessary that this character also be ineffectual in their cruelty, otherwise they're essentially a glorified bully. The problem with Twelve isn't so much that he was made much more potent, it's that his companion was not equally empowered to match him, thus we end up with an increasingly uncomfortable unbalance of power between the two characters.

However, the episode did end up squandering an interesting premise. The exterior qualities of this week's monster were original and unique, and I thought the visual effects on them were appealing, but unfortunately underneath that exterior they were just the exact same monster we've had week in week out all season. When the Doctor said it would be a "nice change of pace" if they were actually a sentient race who was just curious and didn't realize they were hurting people, YES, YES IT WOULD BE NICE. So why don't they do something like that once in a while?
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Date:October 19th, 2014 06:53 pm (UTC)
Great review, you brought out things I hadn't considered.

Overall I really liked this episode. It was original and funny and scary all at once. (and an actual scary, rather than just a stylized "we're telling you it's scary so it must be scary no matter how blandly we've filmed it.) This episode had actual "jump in the seat" moments. I really appreciated that. I liked that it let it's scares stand on their own instead of sort of "explaining" to us that it was scary. I felt more "in the story" this way, rather than the rather "stand back and take our word for it that it's scary" kind of thing we've gotten too often. Usually the only "hide behind the sofa" moments I see in the show are when I'm hiding from embarrassment.

In the Doctor/Danny/Clara relationship, I'm still annoyed that the show is apparently acting like Clara is somehow supposed to be "answerable" to the men for her life choices for some reason. It's her life and her decisions, she's not required to "answer" to them for anything, or "explain" herself to them. She's an adult woman and neither of them are her father or her husband. It's really really really irritating, especially coming from the Doctor, that the assumption seems to be that the "little woman" needs their permission or approval for some reason.

It doesn't even feel like a "jealousy" thing. Otherwise why would the Doctor even care that she was lying to Danny to stay with him?

It just feels like a big step back in this show, where women used to be able to travel with the Doctor without having to have a note from their dad.

I loved the "Adams Family" moment. I totally agree, that's the way to have humor in a tense situation. It's funny, but also adds to the tension. Unlike farting, giggling Slitheen who just undercut the tension and make it all just seem naff.

(I've noticed New Who [especially RTDs stuff] has a tendency to use humor to undercut and destroy the tension, rather than enhance it. Which sort of ruins the whole "deadly danger" aspect of a show for me. When the monsters are "oh so funny" and even the characters don't take the danger seriously, so I was really happy to see this type of humor used here. It works hundreds of times better.)

And, yes, the end. I was giving this episode the highest marks I've given an episode in a long time, for originality, for freshness, for good writing, for good use of Time Lord technology and science, for an original monster/idea/technology, and for the characters all giving it their all and being well written.

And then the end happens. The Doctor jumps out of the Tardis, gives a monologue and waves the monsters away with the sonic screwdriver.

Ugh. It was like a "take the worst examples of the 10th and 11th Doctor eras, and past them over this great and new take on the show." It was so disappointing.

And then, in the only episode this season where the Doctor has actually been tolerable and likeable. There at the very end they have to add that "I wouldn't call it good" line. And I wanted to smack his head off. And Moffats.

They manage to have one whole episode where this Doctor is actually funny, excited, joyous, and not a dick. And they have to ruin it at the last minute.

There had better be a story arc reason for this, or I will scream. (Not that I actually expect one, ending story arcs is not Moffat's strong suit.)

But, other than about three lines of dialogue, I actually liked this episode. It could be practically perfect, with only red-lining through those few lines in the script.

It was fresh, new, original, fun, funny (hilarious) and had some magnificent concepts and scifi ideas.

It was only really the story arc and character arc stuff that ruined it. Without the "lets all by lying dicks and point it out" stuff, and generic "I'm the Doctor and therefore awesome, watch me sonic" stuff, it would have been the best episode in a long time. And still manages it for the most part.

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Date:October 20th, 2014 05:12 am (UTC)
"In the Doctor/Danny/Clara relationship, I'm still annoyed that the show is apparently acting like Clara is somehow supposed to be "answerable" to the men for her life choices for some reason."

She's not supposed to be answerable. She's supposed to trust, care about and respect her friend and her boyfriend enough to be honest with them.

It irks me that people defend Clara's behavior this way. If the character were a man named Carl dating Ms. Pink and companion to a Doctor played by Emma Thompson, we'd be complaining that Carl is shady and trying to get around the women in his life.
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Date:October 20th, 2014 10:57 pm (UTC)
I'm not sure how anything we've said can be construed as defending Clara's lying. I've complained about it every week so far.

The complaint is that that show never complained about Clara's lying until she lied about getting permission from her boyfriend to keep traveling. Clara lying to Danny about what she's been up to? Haha, that makes for funny hijinks! Clara lying to the Doctor about getting permission from her man? Now that's just going too far!

The problem is that the show is only calling Clara out on certain lies rather than her habit of lying as a whole. No one's defending her lying, we're just questioning why the show only seems to have a problem with it in this one instance.
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Date:October 19th, 2014 07:50 pm (UTC)

I was actually really enjoying the villains of the episode because they felt new and less robot-esque. I didn't like  that they apparently had no reason for doing anything and made me have a hankering for the depth of character we saw with the vashta nerada.

I'm surprised you didn't mention Mr. Pink's, opening line of, "what up, Bitch" to Clara, because clearly that's healthy too. I just can't wait to see how the writers end these unhappy relationships.

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Date:October 19th, 2014 09:22 pm (UTC)
He didn't say "What up, Bitch", he said "I got our bench".

And I liked the monsters up until they just became another group of mindless zombies in rubber masks. Even at the end, the Doctor was like, "I don't know if you want to destroy us or enslave us or replace us, and I really don't care." The episode even recognized that we had no idea what the motives of these monsters were, and it also didn't care what they were beyond "Rar, kill!"

It kind of goes against the Doctor's assertion that he tried to communicate if he can't even be assed to find out what they want.
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Date:October 19th, 2014 11:43 pm (UTC)
Oh. My closed caption said, 'what up, bitch'.

Yeah, it lost me at that point. Them not even caring was too much.
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Date:October 20th, 2014 04:40 am (UTC)
I'm glad you cleared up that "bench" line, because my closed-captioning provided the "bitch" version, and I was appalled that this was the type of relationship that Clara is lying to save. Will listen for that on the rewatch.
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Date:October 20th, 2014 11:02 pm (UTC)
It's weird that it was captioned like that, though. Who does the captioning?

There's enough wrong with these episodes that there's no point getting mad over bad captioning when I'm pretty sure that's not what he said.

Unfortunately, the "lol, Clara is making sex noises over the phone" thing really was there, and that's bad enough.
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Date:October 20th, 2014 03:08 am (UTC)
I really wish you'd send these posts to TPTB. Really.
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Date:October 21st, 2014 12:28 pm (UTC)
I mostly liked this episode, since it had lots of funny moments, and the visual effects looked cool, and the Doctor wasn't in it enough to be truly annoying.

But I definitely feel it still had problems. This constant re-iterating of the idea that lying is somehow the normal default mode of living life is truly baffling. Having the Doctor tell a companion that the best way to protect people is to lie to them? And then to have the companion be like "Oh, why yes, of course, that makes so much sense!" I just don't understand what's wrong with these writers. I kind of worry about them if they actually live their lives according to that philosophy, since lying isn't the way to keep a situation under control, it's in fact, in the majority of situations, the #1 way to make things spiral out of control. I wish they'd have had an episode about THAT. But semi-educational family fun isn't what DW is about any more, I guess. (I totally agree that trying to make a sex joke out of Clara's phone call to Danny was in really poor taste. Can't we even have one TV show without that?)

It's always nice to read your reviews and get a dose of reality. I feel better knowing that I'm not alone in feeling like there's still something not quite right underneath that needs to be addressed in the show. Thanks for pinpointing it so well.
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