Sunday 21 September 2014

Reviews in Time & Space: Time Heist

Doctor who s08e05 - Time Heist

Doctor Who seems to be trying as much variety as possible this season. So far we've had horror, a back-to-basics Dalek story, a comedy romp and horror without a monster. So this week writers Stephen Thompson and Steven Moffat turn their attention towards big scale crime capers with Time Heist. Clara's second date with Danny is put slightly on hold when she and the Doctor are roped in by the mysterious Architect to rob the Bank of Karabraxos - the most impenetrable bank in the universe. They won't be on their own though, as their little team of thieves is filled out by augmented cyborg hacker Psi and shafeshifting mutant Saibra. The only problem is all four agreed to a memory wipe after accepting the job, so all are entering without any knowledge of why they're actually doing this.

At the Bank of Karabraxos, they find themselves on the run from fiendish manager Ms Delphox and the Teller - an alien creature able to detect any guilt inside a person's brain and then feed on it. As they delve deeper into the vaults they not only learn the secrets of the bank, but also who exactly the Architect is and why they've agreed to this.

The Doctor and Clara with Psi and a disguised Saibra
Doctor Who does Oceans' Eleven

Despite the genre generally giving off a lighter tone more akin to the camp of Robot of Sherwood, Time Heist forgoes a lot of this to let the Twelfth Doctor's personality stretch out a bit more. We see that he's still considerably cold when it comes to the deaths of those around him, quickly offering quick suicide out as an alternative to a painful death while previous Doctor's would have stumbled (and probably failed) around finding a way out of an impossible situation. Straight afterwards he's telling the rest of his team to unpleasantly "get over" their comrades' death. Clara may be quick to say that "underneath it all he really isn't like that", but who is it that's she's reassuring? Also creeping up are hints of a much more manipulative side of the Time Lord akin to the Seventh Doctor, particularly in the wake of the Architect's true identity.

Ms Delphox, who may or may not be named after a Pokemon

After Clara focus reached an all-time high in last week's Listen, it was good to see her importance scaled back a bit here in favour of our side-characters of the week. One thing I miss about the modern series is the big TARDIS outings, which is one of the reasons I loved season seven's Dinosaurs on a Spaceship. There's no TARDIS around for most of the episode, but by the end of it I was a little disappointed Psi and Saibra wouldn't be coming along for the ride. Their backstories were no see and lots of tell (and in Saibra's case, a little too X-Men), but them being there really made the dynamic work and it often seemed as if they were just regular companions. Keeley Hawes also brings in a great performance as Ms Delphox - a role that struck me as a classier version of the Nanny from the season four episode Partners in Crime.

The Teller makes his first appearance
The Teller will see you now

Time Heist does a great job of keeping its secrets close to its chest, revealing little pieces of the puzzle as it trundles along so that the audience can speculate on the bigger picture along with the characters. Its use of time travel is also something that should be commended, with it giving enough insight into events but not being used simply as a means of giving something a do-over either. The ending is a little too close to last season's Hide to be truly standout, but the revelations that come along with it help to make it a much better spin on it. The Teller himself is also a pretty effective monster, a wonderful piece of BBC costume-work complete with a power that leaves a rather chilling (if rather silly-looking) effect. There's also nothing quite like the characters running down a long corridor away from a monster to remind you that you're watching Doctor Who either.

Ablsom Daak and co.
How many did you spot?

Keen Who fans will also notice a fair bit of referencing in this episode. The reappearance of the memory worms from The Snowmen are the most obvious thing, but Psi's rundown of all the "worst criminals of the cosmos" also features a bunch of familiar faces. Among the blink and you'll miss it cameos are a Slitheen, a Sensorite, a Tetrepil, Androvax and the Trickster from The Sarah Jane Adventures, Captain John from Torchwood and my personal favourite - chainsaw-weilding Dalek killer Abslom Daak from the Doctor Who comic strips. Does this make him canon now? Any chance we could see him cropping up in the series any time soon? Probably not, but it's good to dream.

Time Heist isn't going to go down as one of the all time greats but nevertheless still manages to be a solid episode and do the genre justice. The final twist is all a bit familiar, but until then manages to keep you guessing even when you think you have all the answers worked out. If this and Into the Dalek have proved anything, it's that maybe more co-written Steven Moffat episodes are exactly what we need.

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