The Doctor goes a bit Danny Ocean in our latest instalment, but is there anything in this vault worth stealing?
“You will rob the bank of Karabraxos.”
Oh, Steve Thompson, you have redeemed yourself with this one! Yes, the man behind the awful “The Curse of the Black Spot” and the okay “Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS” finally has a Doctor Who script he can be proud of. “Time Heist” is another episode that continues the strong start to the Twelfth Doctor’s era.
The beauty of Doctor Who is that it can be a different show every week, almost. This week it was Hustle meets Ocean’s Eleven in a heist plot like no other, based on an idea that Steven Moffat has had for a while. This is a time travel heist to correct the wrongs of Karabraxos in her role as head of security. Although, the team do not know it yet. The Doctor, Clara and their fellow criminals, Psi, a half-computer human, and Saibra, a mutant, all have their memories wiped by those worms we saw in “The Snowmen,” making them utterly perplexed at their predicament. A very neat idea and one that was enjoyable to watch unravel over forty-five minutes.
The bank robbers have to overcome the inevitable obstacles. Those include Ms. Delphox, head of security at Karabraxos, who waltzes around the bank with her own weapon to unleash unto those daring enough to break into the impregnable fortress. This comes in the shape of The Teller, an impressively-designed creature who can sense guilt and turn brains into “soup.” It’s the best new alien the show has had for a while. The first scene where the creature used its powers certainly laid down the threat immediately. That sort of impact is what new aliens have lacked in recent years.
This impact is also felt due to the complete change in style this week after the tight confines of “Listen.” Douglas MacKinnon enjoys delving into the heist movie clichés the script allows. There’s even enough lens flare to make J.J. Abrams pleased. The production values have been strong all series and the CGI once again stood out as the most impressive the show has ever had. This was deliberate on writer Thompson’s part, as all the special effects budget for “Black Spot” went on the CGI Siren, so here he wanted an alien to have less need for it. The Teller, therefore, had an old-school animatronic head which was impressive to look at.
Performance-wise, it looked like the cast were having fun with their characters. Peter Capaldi seems even more confident as The Doctor. He took control of this episode after the last few all saw Clara in the starring role. Some of the best lines were left for The Doc, including “I was looking for minimalism. I think I got magician,” and, in a nod to Capaldi’s Malcolm Tucker, “Shutitty up.” His delivery is first class and the sense he could do something bad is always there. He is The Doctor. Plain and simple.
Keeley Hawes nailed Delphox wonderfully, and played it right with her reveal as Karabraxos in her prime and on her deathbed. Jonathan Bailey was the right fit for Psi, the handsome hacker who claims to be a gamer but is actually a prisoner. Pippa Bennett-Warner gave a nice understated performance for Saibra, as one would when wanting to hide their genetic weakness. The whole cast fitted together nicely. Kudos to the team for bringing in Kevan Brighting as the uncredited voice of the bank. As a gamer, this writer certainly got excited to hear The Narrator from The Stanley Parable appear in Doctor Who. The only shame was that it was just a small part in the background of all the action.
The reasons for everybody needing to rob this bank were great in terms of delving into the characters. The final reveal of The Teller’s imprisonment was effective but there was a sense of the final reveals feeling a bit flat. The “exit strategy” was probably channelling Thompson’s need for one himself. This is nitpicking at most, as would be pointing out that The Doctor was The Architect was obvious from the beginning. Also, the most unbreakable bank in the universe was very easy to crack into using many ventilation shafts. It is a problem that all plots with an vault premise have. Even with these niggles, it was a good science fiction story that served its purpose as a standalone episode.
However, that brings its own problems. This is now the third episode in succession without Missy, the mysterious woman from The Promised Land. When Psi and Saibra were seemingly sacrificing themselves to death, you would think they would be heading for “Heaven.” Of course, being a plan of The Doctor’s, they were teleported and not killed. As story arcs go, we need to see them continuing for the audience to care and, most importantly, not forget. There was a mention of the woman who gave Clara the number to the TARDIS, so maybe that is enough to excuse her absence.
“Time Heist” was a good episode of Doctor Who. A sound sci-fi heist idea with the usual tropes and character motivations we’ve come to expect in the Moffat era. Five episodes in and series 8 has been a very satisfying one so far.