Monday, 22 September 2014

I’ll admit, I went into this week’s Doctor Who already pessimistic. It’s written by Steve Thompson, who has a track record of taking good concepts for stories and turning them into crap scripts. And, as it turns out, my fears were well founded, and Time Heist is no exception to this trend.

It’s an episode that fits within the Moffat series’ penchant for pastiching well-known movie genres, and this time, Doctor Who took on the heist movie. The high concept: the Doctor, Clara and a crack team of thieves break into the most high-security bank in the universe.

So, who made up The Doctor’s Four? Psi, an ‘augmented human’ who can hack into any computer systems and project holograms from a USB cable in his head, and Saibra, a ‘mutant human’ shapeshifter who must have failed her audition for the X-Men. No objections so far, these characters could be fun. The problem is, they never grow far from caricatures, with dialogue so poorly written that it’s difficult to care what happens to them. The villains, meanwhile – Keeley Hawes as Miss Delphox and Keeley Hawes as Miss Karabraxos – were also woefully underwritten to the point of pointlessness, with the cloning element another good idea wasted by lines such as “We’ll be fired – fired with pain.”

The other major presence in Time Heist is the Teller, a new alien. Enslaved as a search dog due to its telepathic ability to detect guilt, this big fella was a classic ‘man in a rubber suit’ job, and it did look the part. Give me rubber suits over CGI any day. But, while a guilt detector is a great concept for futuristic security, the method of escaping it – clearing your mind of any thoughts – is overly reminiscent of Deep Breath’s ‘hold your breath to avoid detection’ sequences, particularly when Clara ends up alone, pursued by the Teller through a corridor, remembering the Doctor’s advice – a far too familiar scene.

Aside from a strong set of characters, a good heist movie needs a watertight plot. Which Time Heist also didn’t have. Lots of things seemed to be leading up to the reveal that the Doctor himself was the ‘Architect’ who had set everything in motion. OK, that’s kind of cool. But how did he eventually work this out? Because he says that he ‘hates’ the architect and later remembers he also hates himself. Right. 

Firstly, even a Doctor as rude as Capaldi’s shouldn’t be off-handedly saying he hates someone he knows nothing about; it’s entirely out of character. Secondly, the idea of the Doctor’s repressed self-loathing has been explored before (2010’s magnificent Amy’s Choice comes to mind), but it’s a dark and complex character trait that frankly shouldn’t be abused in such an awkward, gimmicky manner. Plus, how did he simultaneously work out that Karabraxos hired him to plan the heist? I’m honestly not sure, and it isn’t the only part of the story that doesn’t add up.

For example…

Why was the heist plotted around the time a certain vault would be vulnerable when the thing they were after was in a different vault? Why does the bank director keep a prisoner in her office cupboard? Why was there no mention of the potential for solar storms before one deus ex machina’d the vault open? Why does the Doctor not suggest Saibra clear her mind of thoughts like Clara had done to save herself from the Teller? How bloody lucky were the gang that, when the guilt detector was unleashed upon the bank hall, they happened to be standing next to another criminal who could be caught instead of them? 

And so on…

To continue my relentless negativity, I felt the look of the episode was also poor. Despite the best efforts of director Douglas Mackinnon, who did a great job on last week’s Listen, the bank looked ironically cheap, with something distinctly fake about both the CGI buildings and the big empty corridors that made up the interiors. It’s like they wanted to make Ocean’s Eleven in space but ended up making Hustle in a power station.

Reading back over this review, I feel I’ve been rather negative so far. There were some things I liked. I liked the twist that they were not on a heist motivated by greed but a rescue mission, with the aim of re-uniting the Teller with its mate – sure, it was reminiscent of 2012’s Hide, another episode I really don’t like, but it felt more appropriate here. And, of course, Peter Capaldi continues to be a brilliant Doctor, his highlights here being his shocking ‘professional detachment’ after Saibra’s apparent death and his Malcolm Tucker-lite 'shut up' tirade.

That said, even Capaldi is not enough to save Steve Thompson’s third attempt at Who. With some great ideas for characters and a genre ripe for sci-fi pastiching, it’s one of those episodes that could have been so much better than it ended up. 

Time Heist did, however, live up to its name – it’s 45 minutes I won’t be getting back. 


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