How small can the TARDIS get exactly? Channel Surfing: Doctor Who – Flatline

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I’ve been waiting all week to find out what the Doctor and Clara are up to! Last week, the episode ended with Clara telling the Doctor that Danny was okay with her traveling with him, which was a lie. How long can she keep up the double life? Let’s find out!

The episode begins with a man on a phone. He looks like a teacher or professor. He’s talking to someone on the phone in an agitated whisper. He says he knows who was behind ‘it’, and that they were all wrong. He won’t tell the other person, though, because he says ‘they’ might be listening. He suddenly screams and is yanked downward out of frame. I guess ‘they’ were listening, whoever ‘they’ are. The voice on the other end of the line wants to know if he’s still there. Does he need help?

The camera pans around the suddenly empty room. There’s nothing here but furniture. The camera focuses on a long, thin peach-colored smudge running along the wall. As the angle changes, it resolves into the face of the man, painted on the wall and stretched out like a reflection in a fun-house mirror. His face is contorted in agonized grimace, and his mouth is frozen open in a silent scream.

I think he’s past any help you could give, Voice-on-the-Phone.

The scene switches to the TARDIS landing in an industrial section of town. The Doctor is dropping Clara off in exactly the same place and the same time…ish that she left. The Doctor is confused by the readings. Something is wrong with this location. Not only that, but the door to the TARDIS seems to be malfunctioning. It’s shrunk down to shoulder height. They exit the TARDIS to see what’s going on. The Doctor has to contort himself to get out of the small opening, like he’s trying to get out of a dog house. Clara just breezes on through. The TARDIS has shrunk to be just about as tall as Clara. What’s more, they didn’t appear at Clara’s place, they’re in Bristol!  What could be causing this?  The Doctor and Clara are pretty sure they know who’s to blame: Aliens.  This is Doctor Who, after all—it usually turns out to be aliens. Clara heads out to see if she can find any clues to what is going on, and the Doctor heads back into the TARDIS to see if he can fix it.

We’re introduced a group of people doing community service, specifically by painting over graffiti One of them is a young man named Rigsy, who seems to be serving his time for painting the graffiti. The boss of the community service (I honestly did not catch his name. He reminds me of Filch from Harry Potter, so Filch he will be.) is a very cranky and bitter old man. Filch taunts Rigsy, making him destroy the artwork he had put up on the wall.

Meanwhile, the Doctor is tearing into consoles in the TARDIS, looking for answers. The TARDIS starts to shake and rumble ominously, then subsides. The Doctor looks around and spots something. “That’s not good.”

Clara runs into Rigsy and the rest of the community service group. Near where they are working, Clara finds a pedestrian tunnel painted with life-size portraits of people, all facing away, with their backs to the viewer. Rigsy comes over and introduces himself, wondering if Clara was here for missing friend or family. Clara asks him what has been going on. People have been going missing, and the mural of people represents those who have disappeared.

Doctor-Who-Flatline2Clara heads back to the TARDIS and phones the Doctor on her way, telling him about the missing people. What could be doing it? Most likely aliens. Clara is confused as she nears where she left the TARDIS. Where is it? The Doctor tells her that he hasn’t gone anywhere, he should still be there. Clara takes a quick look at some of the debris around her, and finds the TARDIS! One problem, though: The TARDIS is now not much bigger than a hand. The inside of the TARDIS still the same size, but something is leaching away most of the TARDIS’ external dimensions, shrinking the outside of the TARDIS. Unfortunately, the Doctor is now trapped inside the TARDIS. He can fit his hand through the door, but that’s it. Clara will have to investigate by herself. Well, not quite by herself. The Doctor passes equipment to Clara through the teeny-tiny door. He hands her the psychic paper and the sonic screwdriver. He also gives her a little ear-bud that hijacks her optic nerve, allowing the Doctor to see what she sees on a monitor inside the TARDIS. The Doctor tells Clara to pick up the tiny TARDIS and put it in her handbag.

Clara retraces her steps and bumps into Rigsy again, She introduces herself as…the Doctor! Doctor Oswald, to be precise. The Doctor is not amused. She’s able to convince Rigsy that she’s there to help, and he takes her to the home of the latest disappearance.

It’s your classic locked room mystery: the victim disappeared from a house that was locked from the inside. Where did they go? Rigsy and Clara examine the house, looking around for clues. The house is filled with furniture, but no other people. There is a mural painted on one wall, though. It looks like a close-up of desert sand or maybe scales. This city sure likes random art, doesn’t it? Clara has a theory: maybe a shrink ray is to blame. The TARDIS has shrunk, so maybe the people who disappeared are still there, just incredibly small! She begins looking around for tiny people, much to Rigsy’s discomfort. He thinks she’s nuts. Luckily, Clara has proof right at hand, er, handbag. She pulls out the tiny TARDIS and has the Doctor open the door so Rigsy can see him. Rigsy takes the sight of the Doctor in a tiny blue box rather well. Suddenly ‘shrink ray’ doesn’t sound all that outlandish, does it?

They move on to another missing person’s house. A policewoman lets them in after Clara flashes the psychic paper, making her think that Clara is with MI5 (the United Kingdom’s counter-intelligence agency). The Doctor tells her he may have another idea: the people may not be shrunken, they might be in the walls. He passes a sledgehammer through the TARDIS door and out Clara’s handbag so they can break open a few walls and check. While they do so, the policewoman, PC Forrester, steps into another room. It;s a cozy little room, with a pod chair hung from the ceiling. She has to take a call from her superior at the police station, who wants to know: what is MI5 doing there? She’s not quite certain herself. As she talks, though, something moves on the wall behind her, a quick impression of scales moving snake-like down the wall. I think we’ve found our alien! Forrester hears something, and asks her supervisor if she can call them back. It’s too late, though. The floor is crawling with aliens, surrounding her. They look like large flat, transparent worms. It’s like watching someone get mobbed by streaks of water, all moving over one another. Forrester’s legs begin melting into the mass of flat aliens. She starts screaming, but vanishes into the swarm like she’s in quicksand. By the time Clara and Rigsy get there, there is nothing left but her flashlight. They look around, but there is no sign of her. There is a new mural on the wall, though, all briars and tangled vines, draw in red on the wall. The Doctor identifies it as a human nervous system, flattened out into two dimensions. He looks back at the photo of the other mural, and realizes that it’s a close up of human skin. The aliens are dissecting people, trying to learn about them. The Doctor tells Clara that they must be two-dimensional aliens from a two-dimensional universe, trying to understand three dimensions. The murals aren’t murals, they’re bits of the people who have been abducted, transformed into two-dimensional objects. Wait, so that’s a real nervous system on the wall? Ewww….

Doctor Who Series 8 (episode 9)The aliens begin swarming onto the floor, heading for Clara and Rigsy. They flatten the door, making it impossible for Clara and Rigsy to escape. You can’t turn a handle if there isn’t any thickness to it! A couch is turned into a flat two-dimensional version of itself as the aliens writhe across it. Clara and Rigsy better move before the aliens touch them! They leap into the pod chair, which is suspended from the ceiling by a chain, nothing connected to the floor for the aliens to crawl up. Unfortunately, the aliens change tactics and start moving up the walls, heading for the hook holding the chain that’s keeping the pod chair off the ground. I’m guessing that a flattened hook won’t hold that chair. Clara and Rigsy start rocking the chair, getting it swinging and aiming for the window. It’s tense, a race against time—so, of course Danny calls Clara, wondering what she’s up to.

Clara lies and says it’s just the same old stuff, but Danny can hear Rigsy screaming in the background. Danny isn’t snowed by Clara’s patter, especially after he hears the sound of breaking glass as the pod chair breaks free of the ceiling and hurdles through the window. Luckily, they were on the 1st floor, so both of them are all right. Danny wants to know if Clara is in danger. Clara brushes him off cheerily and hangs up, running away from the house with Rigsy. That seems like a jerk thing to do.

The Doctor has been listening in on everything through the ear-bud. He’s upset with Clara because Clara lied to him. If Danny was okay with her traveling with him like she told him at the end of last week’s episode, then she wouldn’t have lied to Danny about what’s going on. Clara has been lying to both the Doctor and Danny, and neither of them are going to be happy with her.

Rigsy and Clara go back to the community service group and find them about to paint over the pedestrian walkway, the one with all the paintings of people looking away. The Doctor sees the paintings through the monitor and tells Clara that everyone needs to get out of there now: Those aren’t paintings of the missing people, those are the missing people. Clara flashes the psychic paper at Filch Whatshisname, telling him she’s with the Department of Health and Safety, but he says it’s blank. Apparently psychic paper doesn’t work on people with no imagination. Oops. One of the other community service people starts to paint the wall, but is suddenly sucked into it by the 2D aliens. To make matters worse, the portraits begin turning around, slowly, menacingly. The pictures begin to melt, like paint dribbling away from a painting. The 2D aliens have been wearing the shapes of the taken people like camouflage.

Now everyone believes it’s unsafe here. It’s time to run! The group flees to a nearby warehouse. The Doctor tells Clara that a leader is going to emerge from the group, and she must make sure it’s her. This is what the Doctor does: assume leadership in a crisis, whether it makes sense or not. Clara does so, having one of the group stand watch for the aliens, and taking stock of their surroundings. ‘Filch’ isn’t happy about having a stranger come in and take over his authority, but Clara tells him that she’s the only chance he has to survive, and gives him a Doctor-level stare. She’s doing a pretty good job of channeling the Doctor!

There is a doorway out of the warehouse. Rigsy says it leads to a disused subway tunnel. Clara says that will be their fallback position. The Doctor tells Clara that they need to communicate with the aliens: maybe they don’t realize they’re hurting people. Clara and the Doctor manage to relay a signal from the TARDIS out through the sonic screwdriver into the PA system of the warehouse. Sound is just a series of vibrations, so even 2D aliens would be able to sense them. The aliens reply through the PA system…I’m not sure how. The Doctor translates the message through the TARDIS console: 55. Well, at least it wasn’t 42. After some possible meanings, Rigsy comes up with the answer. All the community service people have numbers on their jackets. 55 was the number on Stan’s jacket, who was the last person to be taken. The alien transmit another message: 22.

22 is the number on the jacket of George (Jorge? It’s not like they spell out the names for you on-screen We’ll stick with George), one of the people who hasn’t been taken…yet. No, wait, he’s staring off into space like a statue. Or maybe a painting…Clara moves to a slightly different angle. Yep, he’s been flattened. The aliens are here! Time for more running! Onward, to the tunnel!

They escape into the tunnels, but find that the way out has been blocked. The 2D aliens are getting smarter: They’ve flattened the handle of the door. The Doctor has a solution, however. While he’s been trapped in the TARDIS, he’s constructed a small device that should restore three-dimensionality to things. He calls it a 2dis. Clara tries it out on the handle, and it shoots out pulses of green light. Also smoke. Lots of smoke. And then it sparks and dies. I’m thinking that’s a bug, not a feature. Clara hands it back to the Doctor through the tiny TARDIS door.

Well, what now? Before they can think of anything, one of the community service people is grabbed and yanked backwards by giant hand…a three-dimensional hand. Shapes begin rising from the ground…the aliens have discovered how to bring themselves into the third dimension. But since their natural form is two-dimensional, they are wearing the forms of the people they taken. They lurch and stagger towards the group, bits of themselves flickering from 3D to 2D. So we went from a teleporting invisible mummy vampire last week to dimensional alien zombie-creatures this week? What’s next? Frankenstein’s Wolfman from the Black Lagoon? Actually, that’d be pretty awesome. That really needs to be a thing.

The Doctor hands the 2dis back to Clara, having fixed it. With the TARDIS in her handbag, it’s like a sci-fi Bag of Holding. It’s pretty funny. The 2dis works this time, restoring three-dimensionality to the door handle. They open the door and shut it behind themselves. Before fleeing further into the tunnels, though, Clara wants to try something. She sets the 2dis to reverse (It’s Doctor Who. EVERYTHING has a reverse!) and flattens the handle, blocking the alien zombies. Unfortunately, the aliens shoot energy from their hands and restore the handle. Now that they’re 3D they can add dimensions, too. I wonder what would happen if they did that to a 3D object?

The group flees the alien zombies, but as they run across a walkway over a deeper section of tunnels, Filch knocks the TARDIS out of Clara’s handbag, sending it sailing down into the darkness. It slams into the ground, knocking out the last of the shields on the TARDIS. The aliens have been draining the TARDIS’s dimensional energy and it’s running out of power. The Doctor peers out of the TARDIS door. He tells Clara that he’s landed on some train tracks…and there’s a train coming.

Clara wants to know if he can move the TARDIS. The Doctor says there’s not enough power left. That’s not what Clara meant. Can he move the TARDIS? With his hand? If it’s light enough to carry around in a handbag, it should work. The Doctor sticks his hand out the tiny TARDIS door and bracing himself against the wall, manages to get a grip on the ground, pulling the TARDIS bit by bit to safety. He makes it over to the side of the tracks and celebrates, doing a goofy little dance. Too soon, as it turns out, for the vibrations of the oncoming train knock the TARDIS over with the top of the TARDIS resting on top of part of the railroad tracks. The train is almost on top of it, and the Doctor dives for the TARDIS console, pulling a lever down and sending the TARDIS into Siege Mode. It’ll protect the TARDIS, but the Doctor doesn’t have enough power to turn it off.

Clara loses contact with the Doctor. All she’s getting through the ear-bud is static. The group makes their way down to the train tunnel, but the aliens seem to be blocking the exit. The end of the tunnel is filled with white light, which may be the light from outside shining into the tunnel, or might be a barrier the aliens are using to wall off the group—it’s not quite clear. Clara uses the sonic screwdriver to stop the train, which is empty except for the conductor. Fewer people to worry about, thankfully. Clara passes herself off as MI5 again, and wants to know if the conductor can ram the aliens. The conductor is delighted, he’s always wanted to ram something. That’s not an attitude I’d like in the person running my transportation, personally. The problem is that whoever is going to drive the train will be at the front, right in the impact zone. Someone will have to sacrifice themselves…wait, where’s Rigsy?

The train begins moving away from Clara and the conductor. Luckily, trains aren’t known for their high acceleration, so Clara is able to get on board and find Rigsy at the controls. Rigsy wants to sacrifice himself; someone has to stop the aliens, and this is the only way! Clara has a better idea, and she uses a hairband to tie the train’s throttle open. Problem solved! They run out the back of the train, and jump onto the tracks. The expected crash doesn’t occur, however. Instead, they see the train flattened into the tunnel wall. Well, so much for that idea. Once again, time to flee! As they begin to race away, Clara spots a blue cube about the size of her palm, inscribed with circles on the sides. She thinks it might be the TARDIS.

They find refuge in an abandoned office. Clara is trying to think of a way to defeat the aliens. The Doctor could use the TARDIS to defeat the aliens, but the aliens have been draining all the TARDIS’ dimensional energy, leaving it powerless. They need a way to get dimensional energy back into the TARDIS.

Oh, looks like an idea just occurred to Clara. She rummages around the office and finds a very large poster and a can of spray paint, and lays them down on the table. She has a commission for Rigsy: he has to paint a masterpiece. Okay…I’m not sure where this is going or how it’s going to help.

The scene changes, and we see the aliens lurching and flickering toward a flattened door. It’s not going to stop them for long. They raise their hands and send energy arcing out to restore the door to normal. It doesn’t seem to be working, though. The scene shifts sideways and we see that the ‘door’ is actually a painting, and behind it is the TARDIS cube. The aliens can’t bring the door to three-dimensionality because it already is. That’s a pretty clever trick: The aliens probably aren’t familiar enough with the third dimension to understand the difference between ‘really flat 3D’ and ‘two-dimensional’. The energy streams through the painting and earths itself on the TARDIS cube. Clara is tricking the aliens into giving back all the dimensional energy they stole!

Inside the TARDIS, the lights come back on and the machinery starts humming with power. Outside, the TARDIS starts to lift off, and begins flying around, coming out of the cube mode and growing back to its original size. It slams into the ground, throwing off a green pulse that blows the aliens back and traps them behind a force-field. The Doctor has tried to communicate with them, tried to reason with them, but they ignored him. They simply don’t seem to care about humanity. If they’re going to be monsters, then the Doctor will have to be the monster hunter. He storms out of the TARDIS full of righteous fury. Clara tosses him the sonic screwdriver. He tells the aliens that he’s sending them back to their 2D universe. If they’re lucky, some of them might even survive. Those that do must spread the word: This plane is protected. The Doctor uses the sonic screwdriver and sends out a pulse that banishes the aliens, melting them back into the ground.

After the battle, the TARDIS lands back in the industrial section. The few survivors file out of the TARDIS, amazed by what they experienced. There’s the usual amount of good-bye hugs, and everyone goes their own separate ways, leaving the Doctor and Clara alone. Clara wants the Doctor to say that she made a good Doctor. Danny calls, most likely trying to find out if she’s alive, but Clara ignores the call and sends him an automatic ‘I’m in a meeting’ text. Rude! Well, at least Danny knows she’s alive. It’s not much of a consolation, though. The Doctor finally tells her that she was an exceptional Doctor, but that good has nothing to do with it. I think that’s a callback to the “Am I a good man?” conversation earlier in the season.

screen-shot-2014-10-19-at-12-22-54-pmThe scene switches to a view of Clara on a hand-held video screen, held by—Missy? She’s back! Wait, has she been watching the whole time? Is what we’ve been seeing what she’s been watching?

Every time she shows up I just have more and more questions! She seems…proud? Happy? Slightly crazy? I’ll stick with that last one. It’s usually a safe bet. She calls her “my Clara”, and says that she chose well when she picked her. Keep in mind, though, that she also calls the Doctor her boyfriend, and I don’t think that’s true. One of these days, Missy better provide answers instead of more questions when she shows up! Quit teasing me, show!

The episode is quite entertaining. The humor of the Doctor trapped in a tiny TARDIS was well done, Clara stepping into the Doctor’s role was an interesting look at how she perceives the Doctor, and the aliens were quite creepy. Clara’s constant decisions to try to live a double life is frustrating, though. Why is she spending so much time lying to both Danny and the Doctor when she could just bring Danny into her TARDIS life and make the Doctor confront his ‘soldier’ blind spot/hypocrisy? She seems to want her cake and be able to eat it too, but Clara, people aren’t cake. Don’t treat them like things! This is going to end badly.

Next week, we have another mystery on our hands: The forests are taking back the cities. How? Why? Clara, Danny, and the Doctor are trying to figure that out. I expect lots of sparks to fly…

See you next week!

~ K.L. Davis ~

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