JON KANEKO-JAMES says the Doctor’s co-stars in ‘Time Heist’ make this episode of Doctor Who worth watching
Time Heist, co-written between Moff and previous collaborator Stephen Thompson (Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS and three episodes of Sherlock) is another fairly serious season eight episode, following on the heels of the atmospheric (but in hindsight, slightly disappointing) ‘Listen’.
The basic premise is that just as the Doctor answers a phone call from some mysterious person who has the Tardis’ phone number (which we’re now told is rare, although quite a number of people seem to have had it in previous episodes), he and Clara ‘wake up’ in a room with two others: the cyborg Psi, and the shapeshifting mutant Saibra.
All three have had their memories wiped, yet each of them has recorded a sound file of themselves ostensibly agreeing to the wipe.
For a moment I thought we were going to have a tiresome ‘everyone-loses-their-memory-and-so-we-now-all-have-to-re-establish-their-personalities’ episode, possibly with the even more hackneyed ‘memory-wiped-people-establish-relationship-that-can-never-survive-once-they-remember-who-they-are’ sub-plot, but we didn’t.
Instead, the only thing that the protagonists forgot was precisely what has happened between them agreeing to rob a bank (as they’re told in a video by the mysterious ‘Architect’) and their waking up inside a room, in the bank.
Throughout the building there are packages left by this ‘Architect’ (who they think is either paying or blackmailing them to rob said bank).
It turns out they are set to rob the most secure bank in the world, run by the sinister ‘Director Karabraxos’ and his head of security. Ms. Delphox. They have a thought-eating creature called ‘The Teller’, who can sense guilt and devour brains, hence the Doctor and Co. having parts of their memory wiped.
This is where Time Heist differs from a standard heist movie (and it IS a heist movie). In most heist movies, the worst thing that can happen to the protagonists is either being shot by the police, or put in jail.
Time Heist manages to come up with something worse. Anyone caught by the teller has their brains drained and turned to soup, leaving them a drooling shell with a dent in their skull. It sounds less horrible than it is.
After showing us in graphic detail that the price of failure is to be a drooling zombie on public display, the Doctor is given six devices that we are told are ‘atomic shredders’, a suicide device.
Then the Heist can begin in earnest: we know the stakes, and we know that the Doctor and his gang are after something in the vault. Each of them will get what they desire most.
I felt that the tension worked: we see the price of failure, and the main protagonsts each have a strong enough central motivation (beyond, “I’m stuck in this bank”) that the audience can sympathise with their reasons for driving forward.
The Teller is a fairly effective monster (I hesitate to call him a villain), with Ms. Delphox managing to put your teeth on edge without being hammy. Not only that, but the writing establishes that the bank is evil without going into the tired ‘bankers are evil’ politics I was worried about (yes, bankers are evil, but it’s been done to death.)
If I had one criticism, it would be that putting the Doctor in a team with more colourful and skilled companions is a really bad move if you have to write Clara.
Next to Psi and Saibra, Clara isn’t just less use to further the plot, but she’s a much less interesting character (in fact, The Doctor’s Further Adventures With Psi the Cyborg would be an awesome show).
Make no mistake, Jenna Coleman’s performance is still good, and Clara is as well written here as she has been in every other episode so far, but… Psi the mindwiped cybernetic hacker is more interesting.
It isn’t just even that characters like Psi and Saibra have novelty value, they both have more interesting dynamics with the Doctor.
Psi has the same disdain for the Capaldi Doctor’s detachment as Clara, but his youthfulness is a sort of burned out, cynical hate that you could imagine Capaldi’s character teaching him out of. It’s the cynicism of the street kid who hasn’t seen enough of the world to know that not everyone is as horrible as he thinks.
Saibra thinks the Doctor is a good man and worships him for a reason. She hasn’t just seen him save some people from a space-monster that she doesn’t understand: in her first ever meeting with him the Doctor permanently changed her life for the better. I cannot currently think of a single assistant/companion with as strong a reason for loyalty to the Doctor.
Either character would be a great sidekick. We could have the two things Doctor Who has been really crying out for: a proactive supporting character who can interact with plots, and some interesting character development.
Not only that, but Jonathan Bailey (Psi) and Pippa Bennett-Warner (Saibra) are both very charismatic actors, and I very much hope their characters pop up as allies in a future series.
In fact, in my fantasy/parallel universe version of the Doctor Who series both actors would be signed up as main cast members and travel with the Doctor.
Given the chemistry they had with Capaldi, that would be a version of the show where I could happily just sit and watch 45 minutes of them ordering from the bargain menu at a branch of Wetherspoons.
JON KANEKO-JAMES of Boo Tours, which runs ghost and supernatural tours around London, including talks about human skin covered books. Check out Boo Tours website is www.bootours.com.