TV REVIEW: Doctor Who, S8, E5: Time Heist

Stephen Thompson (writer of Curse of the Black Spot and Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS) joins forces with Steven Moffat to bring us Time Heist. The writer has said that he watched plenty of heist films as research to produce the ultimate Doctor Who flavoured heist. Does this episode fulfil that promise and is this Doctor’s Eleven? Read on for my opinion.

 

 

The Doctor turns bank robber when he is given a task he cannot refuse: steal from the most dangerous bank in the cosmos. With the help of a beautiful shape-shifter and cyber-augmented gamer, the Doctor and Clara must fight their way past deadly security and come face to face with the fearsome Teller, a creature of terrifying power that can detect guilt.

I have to say, I really liked the pre-title sequence this week. Partly this was because of the dynamic between Peter Capaldi and Jenna Coleman, but also the sudden jump from Clara’s flat to an unknown location, the mind-wiping worms and our characters receiving messages from themselves assuring them that all is well … that’s a great way to begin, adding an air of mystery to the proceedings from the outset.

The big question of the episode is why our Time Lord (and indeed his associates) are attempting to break into the most dangerous bank. All we know from the outset is that a team has been assembled (The Doctor, Clara, a Shape changer and a cyborg) in order to do so. The mysterious Architect sends them on their way and the team must work through the bank to the vault to steal … well, who knows?

To be honest, I was expecting far more action than was evident here. This being Doctor Who and about a heist of “the most dangerous bank in the cosmos”, I expected there to be an almost futuristic Indiana Jones / Lara Croft vibe with laser gates and other fun death traps. Instead, this bank appears to rely on an armed security force and the “Teller”. This is the eye-stalked creature that featured prominently in the trailer and the concept is ideal for the situation. This being can sense guilt (and other emotions) in its victims and suck the minds out of them. A handy deterrent that can stop a crime before it’s committed. Provided the perpetrator feels guilty!

The Teller provides the story’s excuse for mind-wiping our protagonists. The idea being if you don’t know the heist’s plan or the end goal, then how can you feel guilty? Personally, I thought this was a bit absurd. If I was mind-wiped then told I was about to rob a bank, I think both my anxiety and guilt levels would go through the roof! This lack of knowledge of the plan also means that the four hand-picked individuals are essentially blundering their way from room to corridor to room, led only by cases left by the “Architect” that will lead them to the next stage of the heist. While this may have been intended to add tension to the proceedings, I found it quite tedious. Part of the fun of a heist is the planning – the more complex the better. Removing this element entirely seems counter-productive if your intention is to produce a great heist story.

I thought the motivations, and final revelations in the episode were well handled and the scene at the end of the heist when The Doctor worked out the background of the heist was excellent. This is for the most part due to another prime performance from Capaldi as he moved around the scene – you could almost see the cogs clicking into place in his mind.

While I found the chain of events somewhat disappointing, I have to say that I was impressed with the quality of the guest cast. I’ve been a fan of Keeley Hawes since the first series of Spooks and she manages to quite successfully present the prim, proper and efficient bank manager here. The other two major cast members, Pippa Bennett-Warner playing the shape-changer Saibra, and Jonathan Bailey as the cybernetically enhanced Psi also performed well in the episode. While neither character was developed much beyond the broad strokes of the character, the writing and acting was enough that the different types of loneliness each character was experiencing came over and both characters were likable enough to want to see them again. Their motivations made sense, once revealed.

Overall, this was the most forgettable episode so far this series. I think it is a story that failed to hit its intended goal. It can be argued that Robot of Sherwood was less coherent but at least it hit its target – a fun romp featuring a swashbuckling legend. While aiming to be Doctor Hustle, I’m afraid Time Heist just doesn’t hit the mark. For me there was no stand out scene that really redeemed this failure either, although it was nice to see The Doctor figure everything out rather than Clara this week.

Rating: 2.5/5
Reviewer: WedgeDoc

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