Time Heist

Posted in Episode by - February 15, 2016
Time Heist

Aired 20 September 2014

It’s taken five episode into this series of Doctor Who, but ‘Time Heist’ finally offers a story where the focus is on the Doctor, allowing him to take charge of a situation after Clara had been so very proactive and decisive in the first four episodes. Unsurprisingly, Capaldi proves adept at anchoring an episode, and he continues to refine his character as he displays a bit more anger and edge.

The exposition for the main story is effective in both emotion and pace. Clara has been going about her life and dating Danny Pink when the TARDIS suddenly lands in her house and the Doctor tries to detail his plans, stopped suddenly by the ringing of the TARDIS phone. Suddenly the two find themselves in an unknown location and joined by a shapeshifter named Saibra and an augmented human gamer named Psi, a recording explaining that they have all agreed to have their memories wiped via the return of the memory worms. And so the scene is set as an unknown voice tasks the group of four with breaking into the most secure bank ever created where every move, thought, and even breath is monitored.

The highlight of the episode is surely the introduction of the fantastic alien known as the Teller. Practically he looks amazing, more physical and less animated than many creatures, intimidating and menacing with the subtlest of movements. The reveal that he can detect guilt and intent to rob the bank- hence the reason for the memory wipe- as well as act as executioner brilliantly ties everything together. In what is overall a lighter episode, the Teller assuredly carries weight as a credible threat as he ominously goes after each of the four leads. As with many new Doctor Who villains, though, the Teller holds a backstory that explains his darker actions, and the heartbreaking reveal works very well.

As with many of the great caper tales, however, the execution of the heist doesn’t fully live up to the promise of the setup. Inevitably, many of the chase sequences are corridor scenes; although fresh camera angles and lighting choices keep the background from being too repetitive, that fact cannot be fully concealed. Likewise, the plot twist at the end that the Doctor is, in fact, the Architect who set the entire heist up is too predictable to be original or truly shocking. Fortunately, the other key twist involving Keeley Hawes’s head of security Miss Delphox is more inspired and opens up some questions going forward. Hawes is superb in this role, calmly daunting without becoming overtly threatening, playing the role with an indifferent smile overlying an aloof demeanour.

In a collaborative cast, it’s difficult to stand out, but both Jonathan Bailey’s Psi and Pippa Bennett-Warner’s Saibra instantly make an unforgettable impression with both their abilities and personalities. Psi’s challenging Clara regarding her excusing the Doctor’s brusque approach is a particular standout scene that will hopefully have some repercussions in future stories.

As expected, the reason for the heist only becomes apparent once the vault opens. A circuit and a gene suppressant are intended for Psi and Saibra, respectively, but the item meant for the Doctor is much more intriguing as it allows an unexpected chance at both redemption and preventing extinction. As the amnesiac Doctor explains, though, the events of the episode are dependent on a necessary sense of logic, and fortunately ‘Time Heist’ injects that logic in abundance. Aside from the reason for the memory wipe being necessary, the story also explains that this is the only period in history that the bank is vulnerable due to the presence of a one-time solar storm. Clever gadgets that aid in the heist are a clever nod to other caper movies and succinctly keep the narrative moving.

‘Time Heist’ may not be the most important or emotional of Doctor Who episodes, but it offers a unique take on a great genre and is brimming with clever ideas, rationality, and ultimately emotion. Bolstered by great performances and a great new alien, ‘Time Heist’ is still another strong entry in this very confident series.

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