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.
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.
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.
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!