Doctor Who Series 8 Episode 5 review: Time Heist

Posted: 4 October 2014 in entertainment, television
Tags: , , , ,

Five episodes in and here’s the first truly naff adventure for Peter Capaldi’s Twelfth Doctor as Ocean’s Eleven meets Doctor Who with a generous dollop of timey-timey garnishing a turkey of a tale.

What, do you have to reach a high shelf?

Time’s a curse for the Doctor. Not so much travelling back and forth through the time vortex (though of course that always contains inherent dangers for the Time Lord) but rather the placement of “time” within a story title. Such an act generally results in unmemorable Doctor Who outings. Now that dubious tradition continues with Time Heist.

Following this “musing” on Time Heist there’s a list of the fourteen Doctor Who television stories to date containing “time” in the title. Of those only four can claim any kudos beyond being a woeful combination of poor scripting, poor acting, poor production. Those four being The Time Meddler, Time Crash, The End of Time and The Time of Angels. The other ten just don’t make the grade. Even the presence of Sontarans, the Master and Colin Baker’s “robust” acting can’t save them from ignominy.

Doctor Who - S8 E5 Time Heist

Ok, there’s fifteen if Dimensions in Time, the excrement that’s 1993’s Children in Need special is counted. But no true Doctor Who even acknowledges the existence of those 13 minutes of direness Ever. To think that this rubbish exists in the archives whilst episode three of The Web of Fear remains lost…

The genesis of Time Heist clearly lies with the Ocean’s Trilogy of heist films. A group of brilliantly cool characters undertaking complicated heists to gain access to seemingly impregnable facilities with non-linear storytelling thrown into the mix. With this Doctor’s Four the silver-haired fox leading proceedings is Peter Capaldi as opposed to George Clooney.

Come on then. Team-Not-Dead!

Nearly halfway into his debut run of episodes Peter Capaldi’s Twelfth Doctor thankfully continues to prove himself a radically different incarnation to those who’ve gone before in NuWho. The rediscovered alien nature of the Doctor is wonderfully and amusingly demonstrated by his total incomprehension of why Clara’s wearing heels and painted her face for a date with Danny Pink. No stupid sulky jealous flirting from the Doctor as would have been the case with the previous incarnation.

The Doctor’s lack of deep moralistic angst over Saibra’s decision to employ the seeming self-destructive “exit strategy” also displays the practicalities over emotions approach of this version of the Time Lord. At that point neither character was aware that the supposed suicide tools were in fact teleport devices.

Whereas Clooney’s Danny Ocean was assisted by Rusty Ryan (Brad Pitt) and Linus Caldwell (Matt Damon), Capaldi’s Doctor was handed Psi (Jonathan Bailey), an augmented human with mainframe in his brain, and Saibra (Pippa Bennett-Warner), a shapeshifter who can replicate living cells by touch. Their “superpowers” proved to be the most interesting aspect of these characters as even their supposed deaths couldn’t make them endearing in any shape or form. And instead of a grandiose money-laden vault to raid the target of the heist was the Private Vault within the seemingly-impregnable Bank of Karabraxos. Though for a facility supposedly outfitted with all the latest security devices there’s a distinct lack of CCTV around the place…

Listen, when we’re all done here, by all means, you go and find yourself a shoulder to cry on. You’ll probably need that. Till then, what you need is me!

As soon as the infiltration of the bank became a “time heist” it was obvious that the Architect, the raid’s mastermind, was the Doctor himself operating from the future. Another example of the “timey-whimey” non-linear storytelling approach that Steven Moffat (clocking up his second co-writing credit of Series 8) has instilled into 21st century Doctor Who. Though the notion of the Doctor’s actions in the future impacting upon the his present in the past was first seen in Battlefield, when the Seventh Doctor (Sylvester McCoy) discovers a note from a future incarnation.

Madame Karabraxos (Keeley Hawes, also Ms Delphox, the icy head of security), was basically Charles Foster Kane. Living out her days in the Xanadu-like environment of the Private Vault, but ultimately regretful at the end of her life of all the hurt she’d caused. Whereas Kane couldn’t reclaim his lost innocence in the shape of the sled Rosebud, Karabraxos was able to redeem herself by arranging for the freedom of the Teller and its mate at the moment the Bank of Karabraxos fell.

Doctor Who - S8 E5 Time Heist - The Teller

This wasn’t a bank heist – it never was. It was a rescue mission, for a whole species. Flesh and blood – the last currency.

The Teller had been a horrifying presence throughout Time Heist. Collapsing the craniums of the guilty minded by turning their brains into liquid, leaving them lobotomised and chained in cells. That this monster of the piece should be the raison d’être for the “time heist” was one of those clever moralistic twists that Doctor Who does so well. The Doctor’s alien nature has always permitted him to take the perspective of non-humans. He’d never agree to something so base and ordinary as stealing money, but freeing noble sentient creatures from enslavement is completely in character for the Time Lord.

Time Heist once again brought to the fore that frequent problem with NuWho: the breakneck pace of the 45 minute format. Barely has the plot come to life and some fleshing out of characters taken place than it’s time to wrap everything up. Deep Breath remains Series 8’s successful story to date due to having extra room to breath in its feature length running time. Perhaps seven feature length Doctor Who stories per annum would be better than thirteen standard length ones.

Infused with morality, sumptuous production values, and a decent attempt at intricate plotting, Time Heist should work, but it doesn’t. It lacks heart, conviction and decent supporting characters, just like The Curse of the Black Spot and Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS, the previous Doctor Who scripts by Stephen Thompson. Yet one can almost guarantee that the writer will be back for Series 9 in 2015. Along with Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss, he’s one of the writers of Sherlock and clearly in favour even if his output is unfavourable.

The 14 “time” titles

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