TV Episode Review: “Doctor Who” “Time Heist” (08.05, 2014)

Written by Steve Thompson and Steven Moffat

Directed by Douglas MacKinnon

This episode has an interesting teaser. The Doctor gets a call on the TARDIS’s external phone and after he remarks that hardly anyone has the number, he and Clara suddenly awaken in a dark room with two others, the Doctor holding a memory worm and throwing it away so unobtrusively that it could easily be missed. They hear a message that begins with their own voices saying that they have agreed to a memory wipe. That’s followed by a heavily altered voice telling them about a nigh-impregnable bank, the largest and richest in the universe, that this team will now rob.

It’s a tense, interesting premise that really has some promise for the episode. It’s a shame that the episode doesn’t fully deliver on that promise.

Once you’ve set up a bank heist, you either have to be much smarter than the audience or use the history of heist films/shows for comic effect. This episode does neither. The basic reversal of the heist itself is that eventually we discover that the Doctor was chosen for this mission because it is a time-travel heist, which he comments that he was stupid not to figure out earlier. He’s right. And then we get a second reversal with the reveal that the heist isn’t actually a heist but a rescue, but that rescue was telegraphed by the repeated discussions of family and people who care about you and presenting the Teller as this important figure while also keeping him at least somewhat sympathetic with the Doctor commenting about how “loud” it must be inside his head.

There is still some fun to be had in the episode, with the Doctor nonplused by Clara’s date preparations, the strong opening, and a nice guest performance from Keeley Hawes, who manages to come across as two very different characters in her two roles. However, it’s just a dull, unmemorable episode in general, clearly the weakest of this season so far.

One thing that’s interesting is that the closing seems to suggest that the Doctor is attempting to get in the way of Clara’s dating. Since we’ve all heard about Capaldi’s “no romance” dictum, that suggests that he’s just trying to prevent Clara from leaving, which is not unheard-of from the Doctor. However, Clara being the control freak that she is makes it difficult to imagine his plan sitting well with her. The preview for next week made it clear that we have a “Doctor gets in the way of real life” episode coming up, and I can’t help but wonder if we are actually getting the groundwork laid for Clara’s departure soon. This series does not tend to hide its secrets very well, and there have been rumors that the next Christmas special will be Clara’s swan song (The BBC, for its part, only said that she will be in that special, saying nothing about her future beyond then.), so it wouldn’t exactly be a shock. That would give Clara one and a half seasons and three specials, roughly a season less than Amy Pond.

Douglas MacKinnon has only been directing Doctor Who episodes for the last couple of seasons, having previously worked with Moffat on Jekyll. However, even though he had not worked on that series, his Doctor Who episodes have been notable visually for how much they look like Moffat’s Sherlock series. The kinetic cutting, the lack of camera movement, the cold lighting, the muted colors, and even the unusual uses of text on screen are all things Sherlock has used repeatedly that suddenly started appearing on Doctor Who recently, particularly with McKinnon’s episodes.

Notes

  • Does anyone else find the halfway-on tie that Clara was wearing weird? And I couldn’t tell how the Doctor was supposed to be able to tell she was getting ready for a date, really–I was nearly as bewildered as he was.
  • It’s funny how new Clara still feels new. By midway through her first season, Amy Pond felt like (a) the star of the show and (b) she had been there for a long time. Clara still just feels like she’s popped in from somewhere else and we don’t know her yet. I don’t know what exactly has caused it, but I suspect that Coleman’s performance is a big part of it.
  • I really don’t want to watch any more of Clara and Pink. Those scenes are repeatedly boring and uninteresting.
  • Only Doctor Who can make the name “John Smith” exciting.
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6 thoughts on “TV Episode Review: “Doctor Who” “Time Heist” (08.05, 2014)

  1. I keep forgetting to check the schedule for “Gotham,” because I’m interested, being the weird Frank Miller fan that I am.* I’m also going to watch “Selfie,” but I’m probably not going to be reviewing it, because I don’t like to review comedies and because the pilot was awful. I just can’t skip a show starring Karen Gillan. (Yes, I know I have a problem.) I won’t be able to review it as it happens (HBO @$!@$#), but I’m excited to see “Silicon Valley” as well, because that’s a world I just find endlessly fascinating.

    *I see it just debuted this week, so I will get to it as soon as I have a chance. I have a feeling I’m just going to say, “:( It’s not ‘Year One!” but maybe not.

    • I’ve been watching “Wizard Wars” and “Penn & Teller: Fool Us” (which I already watched a while ago in its original British form) as well, in the “non-review” category. I don’t really understand when people other than Lisa de Moraes review competition shows like that, and I’m not her.

    • I probably won’t watch Selfie, although we’ll see. I’m trying not to add new shows to my queue, but I might give it a shot.

      Gotham was okay, although I wasn’t as impressed with it as most reviewers. But I think judging shows based on the pilot is pretty tough.

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