*WARNING – contains spoilers*
This week’s episode of Doctor Who was a contained story featuring just The Doctor and Clara in a high adrenaline adventure. Time Heist is a great tale that has all the traits of an edge-of-your-seat Doctor Who episode and reminded me of the brilliant ’42’ from series three during David Tennant’s run.
The Doctor is back to a darker and harder manner, similar to that of his first episode. The character is really coming through just as I, and many others, expected it would this series. Capaldi has found his feet and the grounding for the character arc has truly been established. The dialogue and soliloquies are similar to those very dark moments of Matt Smith’s run where he did not care for feelings or consequences, just surviving.
The episode starts with a return of the exterior TARDIS’ phone ringing in Clara’s flat. It seems this phone is going to grow in importance in future episodes. Then, all of a sudden, we are in a sealed room with the Doctor, Clara and two other characters; Psi – a cyborg ‘video-gaming’ hacker, previously arrested for bank heists, and a shape-shifting human who goes by the name of Saibra, or whoever she is at that moment in time. It is then revealed that they have had their memories wiped by a mysterious figure called ‘the Architect’ and they are currently in a back room at the largest and most secure bank in the universe. Their choice is to rob the bank or be killed by the bank’s security team. So, not really much of a choice.
Then we kick off with Dr Who’s sci-fi interpretation of the classic caper movie full of characters, gadgets, action and plot twists and it does it with style and panache. Full of strange creatures and technology the episode had the feel of Labyrinth (1986) meets Oceans Eleven (2001) and was really fun and fast paced, giving no time for you to pause and work things out.
TThe cinematography and production completely changes in this episode to give a more frenzied, energetic mood. The slick and glossy look is mostly abandoned for a grittier, realer feel to the interior of the bank which works in the context of what is going on.
So, the gang agrees they must rob the bank and off they go. The security is so high it reads DNA, so they need someone who can get past this. Introducing Saibra who transforms into a posh gentleman who has an account with the bank and whose DNA is handily contained on the stick given to them at the start of the mission. Once they’re in the lobby they meet The Teller, a cool Minotaur style creature with tentacle eyes who reads the minds of its victims to search for guilt. If guilt is found, they are then wiped out by literally destroying their brain. This disturbing treatment is a sight to behold and seems to affect Clara quite badly. But it is quite obvious to the gang now why their minds were wiped – for protection. If they have any guilty thoughts – they don’t want the Teller to see them.
They then open up the vault of the gentleman Saibra is impersonating. Inside his safe is another suitcase containing a bomb, according to the Doctor. The Doctor insists on putting it on the floor to get out of their predicament in the elevator, with much protest from the others. But, with no choice, they go ahead and place it on the floor. It turns out it is a dimension bomb; it sends matter to a different plane and so nobody was hurt. They end up in the service tunnels and find another suitcase which raises the question – how did the suitcases get there? Well, the ‘architect’ must have broken in previously to place them in certain locations. But how has he done it and why? Also, why get someone else to rob the bank afterwards?
In the case are 6 vials. The Doctor claims he doesn’t know what’s in the vials but he secretly thinks they are suicide devices. He doesn’t want anyone to use them, for obvious reasons. They end up sneaking though a panel into the room where the Teller is kept in forced hibernation. They accidentally wake him up and although they try to keep their minds blank, Saibra gets caught in his psychic gaze and so uses one of the suicide pens to escape. Before she goes, she asks the Doctor to kill this architect when they get out – to which he replies ‘I hate him too, but I can’t promise that’. So, although the Doctor is darker and angrier – he still hates violence and killing and war (see the soldiers in episode 2).
They then end up outside the main vault after lots of corridor running. Another case is waiting containing information relating to the vault’s locks. There are 29 of them so Psi gets to work, but it’s going to take time. Doesn’t it always. The head of security – Miss Delphox – has released the Teller into the tunnels to find the Doctor and Co. so they split up to try to keep the beast away. It catches Clara however with all the thoughts and travels with the Doctor running through her head. In comes Psi, who opens up the databanks in his head to every criminal ever known to pick the Teller’s scent. He exclaims that not knowing his friends and family, due to a previous memory wipe when captured, have left him alone in the universe and that Clara has something to live for – quite a poignant moment. He then uses the ‘suicide’ device to disappear into nothingness.
The Doctor and Clara arrive outside the vault, but there is still one lock remaining. It didn’t unlock in time, meaning that Psi died for nothing. Or did he? All of a sudden a solar storm arrives, compromising the security of the bank and allowing them into the vault. The Doctor ponders – whoever the ‘architect’ is must be from the future and must know what is coming ahead to be able to plan so accurately. You can probably see where this is going…
In the vault, Clara pulls out the piece of paper from the previous suitcase revealing the destination of the items they are here to claim. The one thing they all wanted the most in the universe . Psi’s loot was a memory retriever, allowing him to bring back previously destroyed thoughts. Saibra’s was an injection that would remove here ability to transform, allowing her to touch other humans and develop relationships. But what were the dynamic duo here for? Well, that of course was in the private vault.
Before they can get there however, they get captured and taken to Miss Delphox. The Telller is present with two masked security guards. After a short conversation about how the creature is being abused and the head of security must feel trapped and guilty in her position, she orders their execution and leaves. Only then is it revealed that the security guards are Psi and Saibra. The two devices weren’t to kill them – they were teleporters to a spaceship in the atmosphere just outside the planet.
They decide to go after the final loot in the private vault by climbing through the supply tunnels down to the vault – there is somebody living with their treasure down there. Once they arrive there they meet…Miss Delphox? No, it’s the head of the bank, Madame Karabraxos and it is revealed that the head of security is her clone. The Doctor then realises the truth – he is the architect (like you hadn’t guessed that yet.) This is a time heist planned years in the future. He gives the lady his phone number to set the future course and she runs off before the bank planet is destroyed by the storm. He still doesn’t understand why they are here though and allows the teller to break into his mind to find the reason why. It transpires that this isn’t a heist, it’s a rescue mission: to free the Teller and the only other remaining being of his kind, who has been locked away in the vault as a bargaining chip to make him co-operate with the bank. They are here to save a species.
The episode is a great episode but it is a little obvious – you could guess most of the details early in the episode and the middle of the episode is slow and uneventful in reality. There are some good reflections on political issues and some great commentary on the modern banking system and the crash of recent years with its noting that greed is not good.
There is also the use of another classic Moffat trope of turning a basic human feeling into something to be used against them – just like blinking with the weeping angels, the fear in the hotel episode and memory with the Silence. These kind of enemies are always the best and have far more effect than other baddies. Keeley Hawes as Miss Delphox is also superb and there is the possibility of using her again in future episodes with introduction of the clone idea and the fact she herself escapes – could there be more to come?
Full of fun and action, great gadgets and ideas from the future the sci-fi series’ attempt at a heist episode is successful and could work again in the future. A great episode for the week but there was no plot development in terms of the story arc; no Missy again and no Danny Pink reference apart from a slight nod at the beginning, but with next week’s episode being based in the school it was probably best to keep him away this week. The character of the Doctor is developing though – professional and ruthless – and it’s a hell of a lot of fun.
By David Roberts