“Time Heist” by Steve Thompson and Steven Moffatt isn’t the best episode we’ve seen in this new season, but it’s certainly the coolest. As much as I’ve enjoyed Peter Capaldi and Jenna Coleman up to this point, I came away from each of the previous four episodes wondering when the new Doctor was going to emerge. Clara Oswald has seemed like the central character so far. “Time Heist” is the first episode of this season in which I felt as though I was watching the Doctor rather than Capaldi playing the Doctor.
The Doctor and Clara answer the TARDIS phone and immediately find themselves on a strange planet suffering from amnesia, and in the company of a cybernetically-enhanced human and a shapeshifter who assumes the form of anyone she touches. It seems the four have agreed to rob the most impregnable bank in the universe, and have used memory worms to wipe their most recent memories. As an added bonus, the planetary authorities are alert to their presence, so they have just enough time to receive instructions from their principal, “The Architect,” before they have to get up and running. From this point on, the episode is a classic caper, with a dangerous psychic alien (“The Teller”) thrown in.
The strongest element of this episode, as with “Robots of Sherwood,” is its well-thought-out production. It’s basically a futuristic Mission:Impossible episode, complete with cool gadgets, a ridiculously complex security system, and stylish wardrobe. Even the music is suggestive of the “heist” movies, and the slow-motion scene when the four protagonists walk into the bank is straight out of Ocean’s Eleven. The acting doesn’t sparkle as it did in the last couple of episodes. Clara isn’t quite as central to the story as she’s been up to this point, and the characterization of the two supporting characters is a bit weak. The tradeoff is that this episode is all about the Doctor from beginning to end, and it turns out that he’s taking this enormous risk to save an alien race from extinction. That’s not a bad tradeoff in my mind.
“Time Heist” has lots of good individual scenes. The one that stands out to me the most is the one in the middle of the episode when the Teller is stalking the Doctor and company through the service corridors of the bank. The Teller’s eyestalks and the layout of the service corridors are suggestive of the Minotaur in the Labyrinth.
I wonder if anyone else noticed that; it was so obvious to me I assumed it was intentional. Despite the excellent production and the many good scenes, this episode falls a bit flat, but I can’t put my finger on just what’s wrong with it after only one viewing. Something about the plot strikes me as a little off. Perhaps this could also be a result of the weak characterization of the supporting characters — something that hasn’t been a problem up to this point.
All in all, “Time Heist” is a serviceable and thoroughly-enjoyable episode. I rate it as better than “Deep Breath,” and roughly equal with “Robots of Sherwood.” But after thinking about it for a day, I’m not sure I’ll enjoy it on the re-watch. Doctor Who thrives on stories, and while the premise is good, the effects are good, and the whole thing is just too clever not to like, this episode tells a mediocre story at best. This isn’t surprising since it’s playing with the “team of specialists pull off the crime of the century” subgenre, and as much as I enjoy movies like “The Italian Job,” “Ocean’s Eleven,” etc., those movies aren’t about originality in plotting.
Three things concern me about this latest installment.
- I didn’t see the season arc moving this week.
- We’ve had five episodes now, and three of them have worked only because they did a good job playing with well-established tropes. “Into the Dalek” is a mildly-dystopian Fantastic Voyage. “Robots of Sherwood” is Robin Hood played for laughs to make a vague point about heroes and legends. Now we’ve added a bank heist to the list. Doctor Who does this from time to time and it often works (anyone remember “A Town Called Mercy?”), but too much of it in a single season is not a good thing. For my money, we’ve reached our limit for these types of episodes for this season.
- We’re already up to episode 5 and it’s only this week that I’ve started to feel like I’m watching the Doctor as opposed to a very talented actor play the Doctor. I’m not sure the character is developing quickly enough. Episode 8 will be here before we know it.
As always, I’d love to know what you think about this episode, and my review. Have a great Monday, and join me for another installment next week.