REVIEW: Doctor Who - "Time Heist"


Here and there in “Time Heist”, you can tell the writers and the director are reaching out to other, better caper material for inspiration. There’s a strong hint of Ocean’s Eleven, and maybe a bit of The Italian Job. Unfortunately, the new Who episode never captures the energy of those movies, and ends up being a fairly forgettable adventure, destined to join the list of the many so-so episodes that fill the gaps between compelling entries like last week’s “Listen”.

The plot’s pretty straightforward (and therein lies one of the problems). The Doctor (Peter Capaldi) and Clara (Jenna Coleman) find themselves tasked with robbing the most secure bank in the universe, the Bank of Karabraxos, by a mysterious “Architect”.

To avoid the bank’s core defense, a guilt-sensing alien called the Teller, the team wipes their short-term memories, and then uncovers the various stages of the plan as a form of scavenger hunt. Naturally, they must do this without getting their brains melted by the Teller, and without knowing what exactly they’re meant to steal. All in all, “Time Heist” makes for a rather by-the-book episode, and while it didn’t make many overt mistakes, it also didn’t do much to spark my interest.

Perhaps it’s just an example of the program catering to its younger demographics – for anyone familiar with the caper genre, many of the story beats will feel recycled, but the kids in the audience may be entertained for a spell.

Keeley Hawes appears as Ms. Delphox, security manager for the bank

I’ll admit I did love how suddenly we jumped into the story, what with the Doctor answering that TARDIS phone call and then, bang - waking up in a room with Clara and his fellow conspirators. And Keeley Hawes (Spooks, Ashes to Ashes) deserves a nod for her dryly funny appearance as the bank’s security manager, who reminded me of characters from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

The episode, a co-production by Steven Moffatt and Steve Thompson, is one of those stories that sets up plenty of great ideas but fails to explore them properly. The bank where the episode is set, for example, is said to be the most secure ever built, but we don’t get much proof of that. Meanwhile, the Teller feeds on thoughts (especially guilt) but it doesn’t seem to be overwhelmed when it taps into the Doctor’s mind. And an intriguing thread about cloning (including hating the sight of your clones) is raised, but dropped during the climax.

Maybe one of the most telling aspects of “Time Heist” is that it’s not a uniquely Twelfth Doctor story. Doctor Who thrives when it delves into its main character, lets us learn about the current incarnation, and maybe makes him feel a bit less alien. But in the case of this latest entry, it feels like you could swap out any of the other New Who Doctors (and maybe some of the older ones) and the story would play the same. It’s really not the best move, considering we’re only five episodes into our time with the new Doctor.

What Series 8 needs at this point is some momentum – and that’s not just because I love serialized storytelling. Let’s have some strong clues about what that Missy character is planning, or maybe reveal whether Danny Pink is as important as we’ve been led to believe. The majority of the one-shot episodes we’ve seen so far have been too self-contained to do justice to their concepts. I’m longing for a good old-fashioned two-part arc like “Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead” or “The Time of Angels/Flesh and Stone”. Here’s hoping the writing team has still got a few of those in store.

“Time Heist” gets two and a half stars out of four.

Two and a Half Stars

What did you think of the fifth episode of Series 8? Were you game for the crime caper romp, or are you getting anxious for stories with more meat on their bones? Join the discussion in the comments section, and if you liked this review, share it with your friends and followers!