[Pardon the tardiness of this review, and instead enjoy an extra helping of Doctor Who critique and discussion this weekend!]
Switching gears – yet again, like only Doctor Who can – Series 8 transitions from a spooky inspection of fear to a bank heist, or in this case, a “Time Heist.” Written by Steven Moffat and Stephen Thompson, it’s a less profound episode than last week’s but that doesn’t it make it any less interesting.
By their nature heist stories are hard to construct. They involve a lot of moving parts – a team, a set of skills, a plan, a goal, obstructions, expert timing – the list goes on! It’s a lot of story elements that must all be included, and more importantly, must all fit together to form a plausible and acceptable resolution. Oh! And on top of that, the story must be entertaining.
Managing to achieve all that while also placing your clues precisely, so as not to tip off your audience to the big payoff, is tough. Pulling one off in 47 minutes is even tougher. So it’s surprising how well “Time Heist” actually works. Sure, quite a few of the episode’s big twists only became more apparent the longer it went on, but its whole premise was a clever and included very Doctor-ish twist on the heist concept.
The Doctor, Clara, a human cyborg, and a shape shifter break in to the universe’s most impregnable bank. It’s a fun, not overly complicated setup and because of that serves the straightforward nature of the adventure. What makes it interesting are all the Doctor Who touches – especially the ominous Teller and his ability to sense and hunt down the guilty, followed by liquifying their brains into soup.
Also part of the intrigue is how our bank robbers are thrust in to their heist with little to no knowledge of what’s going on. However, needing them to figure things out on the fly is what makes it all too easy for us to figure it out as well. Like the architect’s offering of an exit strategy that is exactly that, a transport off the ship rather than a nifty, futuristic variation on a cyanide capsule. I mean, really, why would a suicide look like a transporter beam from Star Trek?
There’s also the matter of Ms. Delphox – a delightful though too small of a role for Keeley Hawes – choosing to not use the Teller to liquify The Doctor and Clara’s brains and instead be taken away by two guards… who just happen to cyborg Psi (Jonathan Baily) and shape shifter Saibra (Pippa Bennet-Warner) in disguise. ‘Cause they didn’t actually die, y’see! This felt forced and all too convenient, but aside from that bit the whole conceit of the heist comes together well.
Speaking of Psi and Saibra, these are enjoyable characters who I hope we visit with again. They do have useful skills (well, assuming that formula only suppressed Saibra’s shape shifting and didn’t remove it), and this would give the Twelfth Doctor his own recurring companions.
Unlike in “Listen” where Clara was very much moving the narrative along, almost playing the role of The Doctor in some ways, in “Time Heist” she’s basically along the ride. Jenna Coleman manages this easily enough, but its her interactions with Peter Capaldi that were her best moments. These two are really building a camaraderie that is unique and their own. It’s not quite the same feeling of “besties” we had with Ten and Donna, but removing that sense of ‘will they, won’t they’ that seem the permeate through the Eleventh’s interactions with his companions, Twelve and Clara are forming a strong bond.
Being a heist, much of this episode’s focus was on putting together the pieces and uncovering what was so valuable it needed this elaborate robbery to procure it. (And while I’m here, it’s that this heist turns out to be a rescue mission that is so wonderfully Who.) But because of this, we aren’t given any big, sweeping speeches or constant bantering from The Doctor. Yet, Capaldi did much with all the great quips, especially “Shuttity up up up,” which is likely the closest Doctor Who will ever allude to Capaldi’s Malcolm Tucker.
“Time Heist” is an enjoyable, straightforward and fun. There are no startling revelations and in the end (just about) everybody lives. This episode won’t likely be Series 8’s best or most memorable, but it’s by far not its worst.
Doctor Who airs Saturday at 9pm on BBC America.
Watch a preview of tonight’s episode – “The Caretaker”: