Doctor Who: 805 “Time Heist” Review
Reviewed by Patrick Kavanagh-Sproull.
The initial four episodes of Peter Capaldi’s premiere run – a series that has followed through the promises of many and truly felt different, reinvigorated, fresh – were spent establishing the Twelfth Doctor as a spikier, more sharp-tongued character. But each week the scripts convey this differently from the previous episode. Deep Breath and Into the Dalek were fitted with a glowering, sardonic protagonist while Mark Gatiss’ medieval run-around; Robot of Sherwood had Capaldi turn the sarcasm up to eleven, nay twelve. Listen showed a noticeably thawed Doctor, undoubtedly defrosted by the warmth of his companion, Clara Oswald, and this week’s adventure, Time Heist was a combination of everything I’ve mentioned. Stephen Thompson and Steven Moffat hold joint writing duties this week and they deliver a punchy, energetic script that lives up to the pedigree of the influences Time Heist unashamedly wears on its sleeve.
Despite the opening few episodes of series 8 acting as an introduction to the Twelfth Doctor, cementing his characterisation and establishing him as one of the show’s darker, surlier incarnations, Clara got a good spot in the limelight each week. She was the cornerstone of Deep Breath from the off while the newly regenerated Doctor slumbered and helped save the day in Into the Dalek by arbitrarily pulling at a mass of pipes. Robot of Sherwood saw her utilise her charm and elfin-like appearance to woo the Sheriff of Nottingham and glean information about his plans, while Listen set her up as the architect of the Doctor’s life. Time Heist pushes her to the side – but that’s not to say she doesn’t get a few excellent, quieter moments with videogamer-cum-cyborg Psi (played splendidly by Broadchurch’s Jonathan Bailey) and shape shifter Saibra (the excellent Pippa Bennett-Warner) – and allows the Doctor to resume his position as the main character. I’m still critical of Clara’s expanded role but this was far from an issue in Time Heist.
The set-up of this week’s episode was just shy of perfection with everything tantalisingly established within a heady pre-titles sequence. Clara is dolling herself up for her second date with husky maths teacher Danny Pink (a brief appearance by Samuel Anderson) but the Doctor has an itinerary for them both, involving a trip to Brighton (surely a tip of the hat to Fourth Doctor stories, Horror of Fang Rock and The Leisure Hive?). But before you can say “my name is Madame Karabraxos”, the TARDIS receives a phone call and the next thing the Doctor and Clara know, they’re in a darkened room with a couple of strangers and a selection of wriggling memory worms. While it’s initially baffling, things start to slowly slot into place with the help of a brilliantly executed montage narrated by the sinister Architect. On that note, director Douglas Mackinnon excels himself once more after his terrific camerawork on Listen last week.
Personally, I found lots of similarities to Dinosaurs On A Spaceship, the second episode of series 7 in that they both contain a seemingly impossible mission and the establishment of two new, fleeting assistants. If you disliked Psi and Saibra then there was very little you could about that as they were as prominent as the Doctor and Clara, perhaps more so than the latter. Their individual deaths were effective although I’ve seen valid complaints that their ever-so-slightly smug reintroduction later on ruined their initial demise but this didn’t bother me too much. While I was sad they perished, it seemed a smidge too obvious that the ‘atomic shredder’s power worked in the same vein as a teleport (just glance to the first part of the series one finale, Bad Wolf to see it done better). Thompson and Moffat’s superlative script (it seems that the combination of two great minds – both have, though, delivered some dud episodes – this series has worked splendidly, here and in Into the Dalek. Steven Moffat and Gareth Roberts’ forthcoming story, The Caretaker looks set to be another cracker, playing to both writers’ strengths) gave Psi and Saibra solid back-stories but both possessed two horrible afflictions. Saibra’s handy shape-shifting has her stripped of any intimacy or human contact and Psi’s useful ability to delete memories (as Clara said, “I’ve got a few that I could lose”) meant he was forced to expunge memories of loved ones. It’s a crude attempt at fleshing out novel supporting characters but it works here, definitely.
Representing the baddies was Keeley Hawes in a dual role as Ms Delphox, the bank’s chief of security, and Madame Karabraxos, the founder and CEO. I can’t quite bring myself to say that the show wasted Hawes’ talents (previously displayed in the mind-boggling tour de force that was Line of Duty earlier this year) but they didn’t feature her enough to have any lasting impression. Madame Karabraxos, oddly, was the most memorable, I felt, of the two characters Hawes portrayed. Ms Delphox seemed to clack around her facility, using camp, arch dialogue but Karabraxos was more realistic (albeit one that referred to herself as “moi”; another reason why it was hard for the show to avail itself of Hawes’ hard, raw energy with overripe lines like that). The vault scene was sparkling, not just because of the terrific script (“Frankly, you’re a career-break for the right therapist”, “de-shut up, say it again”, “we’re getting sanity judgement from the self-burner”) but because it was a unique confrontation between the Doctor and the villain-of-the-week. Once Karabraxos had summoned her security, she was content to sit back and interact with her guests rather than whip out a pistol and hold everyone at gunpoint much like many other humanoid antagonists the show has featured.
Joining the Ms Delphox/Madame Karabraxos combo is the Teller (played through several layers of latex by Ross Mullan), the bank’s resident guilt-detector. He’s an ingenious idea, wonderfully realised with a good design and solid origins (who wasn’t even slightly touched when the two creatures strolled off into the distance?). Dressed in Guantanamo orange, the shot of him first entering the bank forecourt was an iconic scene, no least preceded by a Hustle-esque hero walk and aided by Murray Gold’s groovy, upbeat score.
Time Heist might have been a rollicking good adventure but there were still plenty of plot holes for fans to fret over. The opportune solar storm was to allow them access to the main vault but if their target, the other Teller, was in Madame Karabraxos’ private vault, why did they need to enter the first vault? For a supposedly impregnable bank they certainly installed oodles of man-sized vents? Considering it’s a bank that offers efficient, speedy deposits, there seemed to be a suspiciously large amount of unmanned maintenance floors. There are plenty of things that one could, for want of a better phrase, get their knickers twisted about but Time Heist is a breezy ride if you don’t think about it too much. Both Stephen Thompson and Steven Moffat’s joint input nicely compliments each other (as I said before, the flaws in Moffat’s scripts are ironed out by the work of his co-writer and vice versa), giving us forty-five minutes of superlative dialogue. Throw in both Peter Capaldi and Jenna Coleman, continuing to give us their finest work, and you have a truly excellent episode and a heist movie that lives up to its influences.
Next week features the return of Gareth Roberts, Coal Hill School and Danny Pink with The Caretaker. If that isn’t a giddying mash-up that has you counting down the days then I don’t know what is.