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DOCTOR WHO Review: “Time Heist”

Doctor Who is nothing if not an excuse for writers to get to do anything they’ve always wanted to, within the bounds of the show’s central tenets, and sometimes even beyond those. Mark Gatiss clearly wanted to do a thing with the fictional depiction of Robin Hood a few weeks ago and so, why the heck not, he did. Who’s to say Doctor Who can’t be any kind of movie or TV show it wants? A heist movie, perhaps? Those are always a fun subgenre. What are all the hallmarks of those? A group of mismatched robbers, an intricate plot for the robbery, several misdirections and red herrings, and often a resolution you don’t see coming until it’s right upon you. That’s right up Steven Moffat’s alley, and Steve Thompson too, given they both write on Sherlock as well. Seems like “Time Heist” was as inevitable a thing to come to Who as the denouement to the story itself.

After an episode like “Listen,” which I (and many others, it seems) found to be brilliant and among the best of the new series’ episodes, all “Time Heist” really had to do was not aim as high and be entertaining and fun, and that’s largely what it is. Directed by the excellent Douglas Mackinnon, whose praises I could sing for a whole article, “Time Heist” was almost exactly what it said on the tin: a heist having to do with time. Peter Capaldi in an introductory video called it “Ocean’s Eleven meets 2001.” Well, he nailed the first part, but I don’t think this episode was anything like Kubrick’s Space Odyssey, and I’m glad about that. Heist movies don’t need to be deep or psychedelic, they just have to be enjoyable and make sense. That’s actually all ANY kind of movie needs to be. That it succeeded in keeping this viewer guessing and unsure was a real bonus.

Doctor Who (series 8) Episode 5

The Doctor gets a call on the TARDIS phone when he’s trying to convince Clara to go somewhere other than on her date (the Doctor’s continued obliviousness to her being a very attractive woman is funny but is starting to wear thin, just saying). However, the second he picks up the phone, he, Clara, and two strangers are sat around a table in a room clutching a memory worm. They can’t remember why they’re there or what happened at all. They each hear a recording of their own voice saying they’ve chosen to be there of their own free will. A video of a shadowy figure called The Architect tells them they are in the Bank of Karabraxos, the most secure and wealthiest in all the galaxy, and that they must break into the vault and steal from it. Easier said than done, and it isn’t even that easy to say. (“Karabraxos?”) The Architect has left several of these cases with clues or helpful aids everywhere in the bank… so why didn’t he or she just rob the bank themselves if they could so easily do this? Well, that’s part of the mystery.

The other members of the foursome of robbers are Psi (Jonathan Bailey), an augmented human who has a computer in his brain, and Saibra (Pippa Bennett-Warner), a mutant human who perfectly imitates anyone she touches. These two come in VERY handy given where they are. They each have a bit of a sob story, though; Psi wiped his own memory to save the people he loved from his life of crime and Saibra literally can’t touch anyone without shape-shifting into them, making relationships of any real sort impossible (Who wants to look into their own eyes? It’s creepy). The hard part of their task comes in the form of the head of security, the icy Ms. Delphox (Keeley Hawes) and her secret weapon, The Teller, an alien, the last of its kind, who can literally sense guilt, and can feed on the minds of the guilty, leaving them a divot-headed shell of a person. Not so fun. The group was also equipped with a suicide button, which shreds them out of existence lest they succumb to the Teller’s painful brain wipe.

So, that’s the set-up, and quite a good one I think. Along the way, the group gets picked off (or, just the non main character ones) until the Doctor finally sees why the Architect sent them there: a solar storm knocks out the auxiliary power to the bank, powering the only lock Psi’s computer brain couldn’t open. But for that to happen, the Architect would have to be from the future to know that this precise day would be the day to break into the bank. A “Time Heist,” if you will. Once in the vault, the Doctor and Clara follow the directions to the various boxes to find what everybody wanted: Psi wanted a memory-returner while Saibra wanted a serum that reverses her genetic mutation. Convenient. But what does the Doctor what? Apparently, it’s in a private vault, but they’re caught before they can get there. Ms. Delphox decides to let the Teller get some rest and just instructs the guards to dispose of the Doctor and Clara but… DUN DUN DUN… it’s actually Saibra and Psi, who haven’t died at all but were merely teleported to a ship, near the TARDIS even… cuuuuuuurious.

Doctor Who (series 8) Episode 5

As with all Doctor Who these days, though, the payoff to the mystery is almost a mystery unto itself. Inside the private vault, they find Karabraxos herself, who turns out to be the same as Ms. Delphox. Karabraxos clones herself to be her staff, because she can’t trust anyone else. The Doctor is beginning to understand; the bank is about to be destroyed because of the solar storm and Karabraxos has to leave, taking only what she can carry of her vast and enormous sum. The Doctor gives her his number along with the note “I’m a Time Traveler” which he knows will eventually lead to his getting a call from her, which began the adventure. But the Doctor still doesn’t know why he agreed to go on this mission and only does so when the Teller appears and begins to scan his brain (he mentions the scarf and the bowtie again, and that he wanted to look minimalist and instead looks like a magician). The Doctor is himself the Architect (which he figures out because he hates the Architect… poor fellow) and he created this elaborate plan in order to open the vault within the private vault, which the Teller can now open because Karabraxos is gone. It contained the most valuable thing in the galaxy: leverage. The OTHER living member of the Teller’s species, and the only reason the Teller would continue to allow itself to be used the way it did. The Doctor is victorious, and takes everybody back to where they want to be.

While parts of this episode weren’t quite as exciting or as mind-bendy as I was hoping they’d be, the ultimate payoff really worked for me and, like all great Moff scripts, the answers were all seeded throughout. There were also some fun little moments, and a little glimpse at the Doctor’s dark side again, though not too bad. He DID allow Saibra to kill herself, or at least they thought that’s what was happening, though he probably saw that as mercy. He also exhibits some of the arrogance that is a less fun aspect of any Doctor’s character. He does say “Shutitty up up up!” which I think is as close as we’ll get to a Malcolm Tucker line. Clara again was the heart of the episode, though she was more along for the ride than in the previous few eps. When Psi is downloading guilty people’s dossiers into his brain, we see flashes of lots of Doctor Who and Torchwood characters and aliens, from many different sources, which was neat. Easter eggs are a good time.

Ultimately, “Time Heist” was a very enjoyable outing, not nearly as deep or profound as “Listen,” but, again, it didn’t need to be. Solid storytelling.

Dr 12

Next time, Gareth Roberts is back for another stint with the Doctor being on Earth pretending to be normal, this time inserting himself into the Coal Hill School amid Clara trying to balance her jaunts with the Doctor and her relationship with Danny. Oh, boy, this’ll be a fun one. “The Caretaker,” co-written by Moffat and Roberts and directed by Paul Murphy. Take a looksky!

What did you think of “Time Heist?” Not brilliant, but pretty dark enjoyable, right? Talk at me below!

Images: BBC

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  1. Hatr says:

    Terrible writing, acting, production values. So far, Series 8 and PC suck  BORING! Between his wheezing out lines and JC acting like a cardboard cutout, I have to fast forward to the end to get through any ep. But hardcore fans will stick around because they have nothing else to do, except slit their wrists. Good bye no. 12. Only thing I look forward to is the next regen. Hopefully, she will be a better Doctor. F-ing right, SHE!

  2. jabariadisa says:

    What was Clara at Karabraxos for?
    Psi, Saibra and The Doctor all got pretty clear payoffs.
    What about the homegirl?

  3. Cheers for the review Nerdist! Here’s my own review of Time Heist. Really enjoyed it, especially as I’d had an operation the same day!!

  4. Rebecca says:

    ” Shutitty up up up!” Loved this glimpse of Malcolm Tucker and loving Capaldi’s Doctor all around

  5. Dan Pekich says:

    Anyone else sense a huge Torchwood Children of Men vibe with Capaldi in this? The bluish alien holding tanks were almost identical, Saibra talked to the Doctor about being a good man (John Frobisher was a good man), and there was that shot of Captain John Hart. I think the seeds have been planted to explain why 12 had two previous faces in the Whoniverse 

  6. Trace says:

    Twelve’s hoodie (as The Architect) was one of the coolest moments in an episode filled with ‘cool’.

  7. Erin says:

    what am i missing? when they opened the case, there were 6 “suicide viles/teleporters”. Saibra used one and Psi used one….that leaves 4. How were all 6 of them able to escape the vault?

    • Jon says:

      They were not one-time use. Saibra and Psi just reused the ones they had. 

    • D says:

      They were re-usable transporter nodes and not an actual vial after all they said. There was initially 6 and in the end it made perfect sense.

  8. Adzz says:

    As a side comment, I also found this was the first episode where I could actually hear Capaldi’s lines properly. In all the previous episodes its been hard to hear his whispering tones over the loud adventuring music. Let Peter’s acting shine through because its brilliant! And that’s not to take away from the excellent musical score either, its just a balance issue I think.

    • Lou Anschuetz says:

      The mix is a bit better on the intelligibility end, but still off kilter. Psi’s lines were near impossible for me to glom onto. Hate having to run the telly at 80% of volume to be able to hear dialog. Plot was good, but I had most of it by 1/4 of the way in. Good fun, but IMHO, still not as engaging as classic who plots.

  9. Baz Hood says:

    I pretty much loved it! A fairly straight forward, fun adventure with the Doctor being a manipulator AND actually solving the problems. (not Clara for a change) Keely Hawes is wasted as generic villainess in lipstick and a suit but still does enough. The two supporting characters were as good as can be expected from a 45 minute runtime and Capaldi is just AMAZING. Best series of Nu Who to date.

  10. autifon says:

    It leaned so heavily on the Ocean’s 11 heist trope (some of the shots looked like they were directly out of the movie!) that it was a bit tiresome in the beginning, but it did get better as the unexpected started unfolding.
    I also kept having flashbacks to “The God Complex” (the lovely ep w/ the minotaur in the “hotel”) as the creature lumbered thru the halls.

    The “I don’t realize Clara is pretty” schtick is wearing on me too. My theory is that after Matt Smith fawning over her so much, they felt they had to do a 180 w/ Capaldi so he didn’t come off as a lecher, what w/ the visible age difference.

  11. MaskedGuy says:

    It was not bad, but kinda predictable, at least since the beginning i knew the Doctor was the Architect, and after the last episodes this felt a little shorter for my taste.  

  12. The Insightful Panda says:

    Here’s a closer look at the episode, AND simplified version of the ‘heist’ in case something didn’t make sense.

  13. shel says:

    I think its Brilliant, Peter has brought back the William Hartnell feel to the Doctor and Moffat’s writing is excellent. Getting back to the original ‘back of the sofa viewing’ is what doctor who was all about, Well done 🙂

  14. Emily says:

    I liked this one a lot! Felt like they’re starting to figure it out tonally and I thought the “robbing a whole bank, beat that for a first date” last line tempered the whole “I don’t see Clara as an attractive female thing.” Capaldi was great and I loved that the conceit of robbing the bank was just a great redding herring for the Doctor saving an entire race. I’m slightly worried about the focus becoming Clara balancing Danny and the Doctor (a more boring version of Mickey/Rose/10) and hope it stays on 12 and episodes like Listen and this current one.  PS. And I proly nuts here, but the prisoner uniform the Teller was wearing felt like a kind of nod to the infamous astronaut suit from episodes and doctors past (orange jumpsuit/dark blue collar etc.)…proly reaching but always looking for connects I suppose! 

  15. haley_elder says:

    I thoroughly enjoyed this week’s episode! A little turn around from last week which is good, the creepiness of last week was a bit much for me. I thought at first  The Teller was going to go on one of the “most scariest monsters” for this series cause who would want their thoughts to be feasted on and brain turned to soup! 
    I’m loving Capaldi’s goofy quotes every episode (“I still don’t know why you’re in charge” “It’s the eyebrows really..”). I’m sure next week there will be some major infiltration of the Doctor in Clara/Danny’s relationship (or whatever it is right now). 

  16. Chrisbee says:

    This was far better than last week’s. Clearly the author is so smitten with Listen he feels the need to gush about it a couple times again a week later, but I disagreed then, and I disagree now.

    This week finally had a solid plot without a stupid 90 degree turn conclusion that left most of the first half of the episode hanging in the wind, and for that I am grateful

    • haley_elder says:

      I agree with ya about the 90 degree turns! sometimes when an episode ends in a couple seconds due to something seemingly unrelated yet solves the whole episode, and kinda bugs me. 

    • arleeb says:

      I agree with you Chrisbee,  that has been Moffetts problem since he took over as show runner,  solid plots, stupid series archs and and stupid buttons that make the event never happen .

    • Halster says:

      I agree completely. This is the first Capaldi episode that I actually enjoyed. It finally had the ‘Dr Who’ feel to it. I know everyone keeps going on and on about Listen, but I simply thought it sucked. So much so that I actually wrote all of thoughts on a comment to The Nerdist review of it. My comments were deleted not too long afterwards. I really like Peter Capaldi, and I am quite happy to finally see the writers giving him good material to use.

  17. cardsfanbj says:

    I’m glad we’ve got DVR now. I thought I saw James Marster’s Cpt. John Hark (Captain Jack’s former frenemy), and I was right! I suspected there were more callbacks, but I don’t feel like doing frame by frame analysis.

  18. Linnea H says:

    As a lover of both heist movies and Doctor Who I thought this was fun. I’m glad no one died. That’s a nice change.  I’m really enjoying this season so far. 

    • Kite says:

      Actually, lots of people died in the solar storm. Specifically all those poor suckers chained up, and probably any of the lower echelons who didn’t get out in time. We just didn’t see them die. And the brain soup guy who didn’t die at first? Yeah, that’s a kind of death, and he would have died in the end.