Following on the heels of “Listen,” “Time Heist” was always going to face an uphill battle. Love it or hate it, “Listen” certainly left everyone talking. From the preview, it was clear that this episode featured yet another dramatic switch in tone. “Time Heist” is a take-off on heist films, making it another episode that is just for fun. I would have been fine with a fun episode, but what we got, well…let’s just say it wasn’t quite what I was hoping for.
The Doctor, Clara, and two others (Saibra, a multant human who can become anybody after touching them and Psi, an augmented human/hacker whose brain is partially computerized) are attempting to rob the Bank of Karabraxos, the universe’s most secure bank. They are following the instructions of the unknown architect. They have no idea what the goal of the heist is, or why they agreed to it in the first place, because they have all had their memories erased by a memory worm. This is a good thing because they have to deal with the Teller, an alien being who can detect guilt and feasts upon guilty people’s brains.
After a series of episodes that were far more character driven, this was the first real plot driven story of the season. Unfortunately, I didn’t find this plot particularly engaging. There were some interesting moments, like the idea of the teller, but nothing was really fleshed out. I never got terribly involved in the heist, so all I was left with were many seemingly interesting ideas that never got developed. The fellow members of the heist crew seemed like they could be interesting characters, but we learned very little about them, except for their “talent.” When Psi was willing to sacrifice his life for Clara, the thought that flashed through my head was “why?” There was no relationship from which to build that kind of sacrifice. The Teller was another interesting idea that went largely unexplained, as well as the villain, Karabraxos herself.
I also knew the “twist” from quite early on, so the mystery of who the architect was held very little interest for me. I couldn’t imagine the Doctor being willing to put so much trust in the hands of someone else, so I was fairly confident that he was the architect. The moment the Doctor said being a leader was his special talent gave me almost 100% certainty that he was, in fact, the architect. The fact that Clara was there also made me think that the Doctor was behind this, since Clara had almost nothing to do in this episode. Everyone else had a special talent that made them part of the plan, but Clara just seemed to be along for the ride. Why would the architect want her there? After a series full of strong episodes for Coleman, this episode pushed her into a much more traditional companion role, as she basically seemed to be there to ask questions and get into danger.
I also found the story a bit derivative of a few previous Matt Smith stories. The first was “Hide.” I know some people have complained about Steven Moffat’s tendency to make “bad guys” who aren’t really bad, but I haven’t had a big problem with it. However, the fact that the Teller wasn’t really bad and was just doing it because Karabraxos was holding the only other of his species captive, seemed an awful lot like the monster in “Hide.” I couldn’t help but think, “Every lonely monster needs a companion.” Additionally, the fact that the other members of the crew appeared to die, only to be found alive later reminded me of Thompson’s own “Curse of the Black Spot.”
I’m also not sure that I’m really enjoying the Clara/Danny romance, even though we just got a tiny glimpse of it in this episode. It’s getting a bit too sitcom-ish for my tastes, almost as if Steven Moffat has slipped back into writing for Coupling. I know some people are probably enjoying it, but I really didn’t like the scene in this episode of the two of them in the classroom. I think the character of Danny Pink is interesting, I just haven’t really bought into their relationship. I’m not really feeling a strong connection between them, so it’ll be interesting to see if next week’s episode, where their relationship appears to be front and center, can change my mind.
On the positive side, this episode did have some clever lines. I particularly liked the lines the Doctor delivered when the Teller was scanning his mind. “Big scarf, bow-tie. A bit embarrassing. What do you think of the new look? I was hoping for minimalism, but I think I came out with magician.” I would be very surprised to learn that that was not a Steven Moffat line. I will also say that I thought it was well-directed and had a few striking visuals. The Teller was an impressive creature, visually, and I enjoyed seeing him on-screen.
This episode also continued the interesting dynamic between CLara and the Doctor. While there is nothing romantic between them, I do think the Doctor is jealous of the other man in her life. I really don’t believe that the Doctor is as clueless as he seems. Most of the times he insults Clara it’s about ways she is trying to look nice for Danny. The exchange where he asks if Clara is taller, and upon learning that she is wearing heels, asks if she needs to reach a high shelf is a perfect example. Yet, in “Listen,” he parked his TARDIS in her bedroom, so he would be out of the way if her date went well. It seems to me the Doctor is quite deliberately hoping to get in the way of Clara and Danny’s budding relationship. At the end of the episode, when Clara leaves the TARDIS he quite proudly challenges her date to beat the experience she just had. He seems to be concerned that Danny will get in the way of his relationship with Clara.
Really, this episode was the best of the three scripts that Steve Thompson has written for Doctor Who. The aforementioned “The Curse of the Black Spot” was one of the low points of series 6 for me, while last series’ “Journey to the Center of the TARDIS” was one of my least favorite episodes of new Who. This held my interest and didn’t leave me hating the characters afterwards, so that was an improvement. Of course, this episode was co-written by Steven Moffat, so I’m not sure what, exactly, his contribution to the script was.
Overall, this episode wasn’t horrible, it just left me cold. It’s the kind of episode that is almost instantly forgettable. I was hoping to enjoy this one, since I do enjoy heist movies, but it never had me on the edge of my seat, the way a great heist movie can. Instead, since I was watching this one quite late, I found myself trying not to nod off during it. Ultimately, I guess it was a successful “time heist” because it stole 45 minutes from me…and left me with almost nothing in return.