Doctor Who: Time Heist

“Great books help you to understand, and they help you to feel understood.

John Green

OK. This post is over a week late. There has been a whole new Doctor Who episode since Time Heist aired. I am sorry. But life. And books.

So the premise of Time Heist (if I can remember it) is simple, elegant and promising: get the Doctor to rob the most dangerous bank in the universe. And don’t tell him why. HELL YES. WHY HAS NOBODY MADE THIS EPISODE BEFORE.

The Doctor, Clara and a couple of randomers wake up in a locked room with short-term amnesia which, in a shocking twist, they actually appear to have agreed to (via the magic of voice recording). Turns out they’re in the employ of a shady character known as the Architect, who informs them that they are currently residing in a back room of the Bank of Karabraxos, and that the bank guards are already at the door. They’re quite annoyed. They have guns. So the ka-tet had better get a move on with the whole bank-robbing thing.

The mystery slowly unravels over the course of the episode, as these things do. It’s a fairly well-written episode, despite being co-written by Stephen Moffat. (Has anyone noticed that he appears to co-write every episode now? Micro-management or what?) It’s well-paced, the stakes are appropriately high, there’s a rather cool monster (the Teller – geddit?) that can detect guilt, which is why everyone has erased their memories, apparently. (Not that this appears to make any difference when they meet the monster. They all know they’re guilty of robbing a bank at least, anyway.) And we even have an emotional reason to keep watching: “What do you want most in the universe?” asks the Doctor, after one of the Randomers asks why they would rob the bank at all, given the extremely high chance of death. “Think about what you would do to get that.”

OOOOH. What does the Doctor want, then? It’s like The Wizard of Oz but with a massive bank vault instead of a fake wizard.

So. Good set-up, perfectly watchable episode. (Capaldi is great here, by the way, a real personality. Looks like he’s finally hitting his stride as the Doctor.) I’m slightly irritated by the fact that Clara’s date outfit a) looks like nothing she would ever wear, ever, and b) conveniently matches the other characters’ outfits so they can do that thing where they walk badassily down the hall in slow motion. But Moffat gets one Unlikely Coincidence free per episode, because I’m a nice person.

And then, like so many other Moffat episodes, the whole thing collapses a little bit. A lot, actually. For a start, the thing that the Doctor wants is not actually the thing he wants most in the universe. It’s a thing that someone else wants most in the universe. Which is, you know, very noble and all that, but is not exactly the character revelation we were all looking forward to. And the identity of the Architect? Well, it’s a cool idea. Except that it makes no sense. How did he get in to plant all the equipment, given that the ka-tet are practically murdered for doing the same thing? And once he was there, why didn’t he just carry out the robbery on his own? Please, don’t trot out the whole “guilt” thing, because only knowing a bit of the plan as opposed to knowing all of it plainly doesn’t make you any less brain-dead when the Teller comes a-calling.

(SIDE NOTE: Not that this is really relevant, except in my mind, but the Teller totally reminded me of the flying monsters in Perdido Street Station.)

Umm. Where was I?

Oh, yes. Ranting.

Actually, I feel that Time Heist is one of the stronger episodes of the series so far, which just tells you how much this series has annoyed me. Mainly it’s Capaldi’s performance which carries off the episode; despite the sillinesses of the plot, he manages to carry off the “ruthless criminal with a heart of gold” arc with panache and gravitas. Keeley Hawes is also excellent as a ruthlessly efficient, secretly terrified bank manager, and Jenna Coleman’s character continues to develop. And there is promise in this episode; there are great and terrible moments as well as just terrible moments. So, on the whole, I quite liked Time Heist. Emphasis on the word “quite”. And at least it wasn’t Into the Dalek.

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