TV REVIEW: Doctor Who - Time Heist


Clara's preparing to go on a date with Danny when she is rudely interrupted by the ringing of the TARDIS phone. As very few people have that number, the Doctor is naturally intrigued. Cut very quickly to the Doctor and Clara sat around a table holding odd looking worms with two strangers, Saibra and Psi. That sounded a lot weirder than I meant it to. Anyway, it turns out the four of them have been tasked with robbing the Bank of Karabraxos, a supposedly impregnable fortress containing the universe's greatest treasures. The twist? They've all had their memories wiped and have nothing to go on but the instructions of the mysterious Architect.

As episodes go, Time Heist is not a bad one, not by any stretch of the imagination. As it has done all series so far, the script sparkles with a ready wit, gifting Capaldi and Coleman some excellent exchanges. Their chemistry has really fallen into place now and their relationship is much richer as a result of the difference in the Doctor's character. Here, we get to see that harder side to him that's been much more noticeable; he dispatches people if he thinks he can no longer help them rather than magicking a solution out of thin air and he knows he's the only person who is able to get them out of the situation. Impressive too is The Teller, a terrifying addition to the canon who feeds on a person's guilt and saps their minds away. With the practical effects work, his look is instantly iconic and provides a suitable antagonist for the characters as they tear around the place.

It's not the only aspect of the episode I liked; Keeley Hawes attacks her roles with abandon and relishes every moment she's on screen. With her having the Doctor's number I hope it's not the last we see of her. Imperious to a tee and a suitable foil to Capaldi, both Miss Delphox and Karabraxos were a lot of fun. The mugshots that Psi downloads are a great nod to characters gone by. With the very brief appearance of John Hart in there, I can't be the only one hoping for another appearance by James Marsters in the Whoniverse. The episode is full of those little nods to other things from the Hustle-like way of transitioning between scenes or Clara's Reservoir Dogs style trouser suit. It's also clear that everyone involved has a huge amount of fun, but why am I left feeling a little hollow after it?

After the slower pace of the last few episodes, I'm not surprised that this one returned to the running around manically whilst spouting out witty one liners type of episode that New Who has become synonymous with. I haven't missed these episodes; they belonged to the more enthusiastic stylings of Tennant and Smith rather than the quieter, moodier and belligerent Doctor we have with Capaldi. When dealing with something like a heist, you expect at least a little confusion until the narrative takes the time to explain to you what happened. Reservoir Dogs never even shows the main bulk of the heist and yet you understand how it goes down. The ending of Ocean's 11 worked so well because it took the time to take you through each aspect of the big casino heist and how they got away with it. 

Here, the episode's narrative was confused from the start and explained it away all too quickly in about 30 seconds of exposition rather than solved over the course of the episode. The Architect's preparation for this heist seemed to negate the idea that the bank was impregnable; it just looked like the Doctor strolled in and got everything ready with little more than a hoody and some gloves. After the meticulous nature of Listen or the outright, reverential bombast of Robot of Sherwood (another episode steeped in influences), Time Heist feels clumsy, something I thought we'd escaped so far with this series.

That being said, there's still some clever little threads running through the episode that have been fed through each and every instalment so far. Like the mirrors in Deep Breath or Robin Hood himself, there's another load of reflections, doubling or mimicking in this episode. Saibra takes on the form of the people around her and says the key clue to the episode; 'how can you truly trust someone if they look back at you with your own eyes?". This Doctor doesn't quite trust himself yet and there's something he knows he's hiding from himself. It's a much cleverer way of establishing a narrative issue to be resolved than the less subtle crack in the wall of Smith's first series and though we've had the Missy scenes, it's largely been about this Doctor getting used to himself again.

And this is where I have to disagree with Jen (and I suspect she'll like this episode more than I did); I'm loving seeing a Doctor in conflict with himself, with those around him and not having the answer to every single little thing. Why I've enjoyed this series so much so far is that it's dialled back on that mania element for something more contemplative, a chance to develop the character of this Doctor without going to angry extremes at every opportunity to convey how serious he is. Capaldi has been outstanding in all facets of the character, betraying a real sense of self-loathing at every opportunity, handily vocalised here when he works out who the Architect is (about 30 minutes, I expect, after the audience did).

To follow the sublime Listen is a somewhat thankless task and it's hardly surprising then that Time Heist falls somewhat short of the giddy heights of last week. Despite my problems with it, it's largely an entertaining episode and though it might be perhaps the least spectacular of the episodes we've seen so far, if it's the worst we get this series, we're on something of a winner.

- Becky

You can catch Jen's review of the marvellous Listen right here.

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