Doctor Who #952: Time Heist

"How can you trust someone if they look back at you out of your own eyes?"
TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired Sep.20 2014.

The Doctor and friends stage a timey-wimey bank heist, but beware the brain-melting monster.

I'm surprised they never tried to do a proper heist episode before. Not that Time Heist is "proper" exactly. In a normal heist story, you'd see the preparation, then the action repeated with some nasty unforeseen twists. The way this episode is structured, you're not allowed to see the prep because the characters have all wiped it from their minds. So the twist is that they must figure out just what the prep WAS, who sent them to rob the bank, and rob it of what?! The direction never lets you forget its part of the heist genre though, using tons of cool, slick visual tricks which have been part of heist and con movies since at least the 60s - interesting dissolves, overhead camera angles, colorful lighting, screens within screens, smash cuts, smash zooms, and of course, a must, the smooth slow-motion walk-in by our heroes dressed in cool black suits. This more than anything makes Time Heist a fun ride, even once you know the answers.

More than a one-off genre piece, the episode also continues to explore one of the major themes of the season: Identity. The idea creeps in thanks to the character of Saibra, a shapeshifter who can't control her powers, cursed to lose herself in other identities. And what about the cyborg thief called Psi? He's wiped memories of family and friends so the authorities couldn't punish them for associating with him. Alone and without anyone to have a warm thought about, can he still be himself? Turns out both are on a quest to "find themselves". Then we have the bank's owner, Ms. Karabraxos (played by Spooks and Ashes to Ashes star Keeley Hawes, almost didn't recognize her), who serves as dual villain because she has a clone of herself in every facility, and thinks nothing of incinerating them when they fail her. That's some intense self-loathing, a feeling that will eventually (and it gets timey-wimey there) cause her enough regret that she'll contact the Doctor to undo at least one of her sins. The monstrous Teller (bad pun) that - oh my, body horror - turns potential thieves' brain into soup is no more than a slave who just wants to be left alone with its mate. And then Doctor? I guessed it before he did - did you? - he's the very "Architect" that sent them on this mission, a manipulative prick the Doctor is prone to hate. It's the self-loathing that gives it away, notably. Once again, we have the Doctor criticizing himself through someone else. Imagine, he thought up this plan, part of which was predicated on his ability to callously let his partners commit suicide (obviously, if the "shredders" were labeled as teleports, they might all have been inclined to ditch the mish).

The Danny Pink stuff is still weakest - he's far too cutesy at this stage in the game - but it does allow for some fun Doctor cluelessness, and even his competitive comment at the end, comparing the heist to a date, isn't meant as romantic triangle fodder. At this point, the Doctor must know why companions eventually leave him, and the more connections they make in their home time, the less likely they are to board the TARDIS looking for adventure. He doesn't compete with Danny, but with Clara's life. It's a sign of how dependent this newborn incarnation is on her. Loads of fun elements besides, including a montage of known rogues that includes Sensorites and Abslom Daak (DALEK KILLER!), the notion that the Doctor's power is being in charge (and I guess Clara's is making excuses for him), the whole thing with the eyebrows (a dig at Matt Smith?), and the ridiculous hypocrisy of the bank guards (they don't want to hurt you before they kill you, though the way they're put out of action is a redo of River Song's lipstick, isn't it?).

- Now this is how you do a romp! Cool direction and genre business, which respects its own rules and does things with it only Doctor Who can. Like Robot of Sherwood, it's fluff, but it goes for clever rather than silly.


Anonymous said...

Loved this episode, because I felt it nicely showcased how the Doctor is a compassionate, principled man, even if he doubts it about himself. It's nothing new for the Doctor to land in the middle of a tight spot and then to find the most constructive / least destructive way out -- that's almost every one of his adventures, really -- but to engineer the tight spot so that he can do a good deed (more than one, in fact) is a damn fine thing.

Ryan Lohner said...

I had high hopes for this one, as I love heist stories, but it ended up just fair to middling for me. Most notably, if you're going to build up your villain's identity to the point that you're pretty much shouting at the audience "You're not going to bloody believe who this is," you'd better have a good payoff ready. This episode pulls it twice, and whiffs twice. I guessed the Architect's identity about halfway through, and the clone reveal is pretty akin to the first Saw film's "The killer was the guy on the floor." It's a surprise, I'll grant you, but it still carries zero dramatic weight because there's no real impact on the story.

Also, disguising teleporters as something that kills you? Moffat is caring less and less about blatantly ripping off his predecessor, isn't he?

Siskoid said...

You just spoiled Saw for me.

But I have a hard time caring about that.

Gordon D said...

This is actually one of my favorite episodes of the season (if not my top favorite)

What I loved about it is that it integrates time travel into a regular heist caper - I honestly didn't see the Architect reveal until five minutes before it happened.

Plus, that moment where the Doctor shows compassion for the Teller in spite of Clara's protests? Proof that this is still Who.

Anonymous said...

"Plus, that moment where the Doctor shows compassion for the Teller in spite of Clara's protests? Proof that this is still Who."

And it does raise the question, what would you do to save the one person you love? It's a question some of us have to face at some point.

I am of course alluding to that episode of DS9 where Worf screwed up a covert mission because Jedzia was wounded and he couldn't leave her behind to die. Spoiler!


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