Next up in our countdown reviews of Doctor Who series 8 is Time Heist!
I am not the first person to point out the similarities between this episode and the TV drama Hustle. Indeed, even the cinematography and direction remind many of the con-artist based series. With time jumps, memory loss, and constant deception and re-evaluating, this episode is more than just a bank robbery.
After a mysterious phone call, the Doctor and Clara find themselves in a darkened room receiving a message from a shadowy, hooded fellow named “The Architect” (who, for the longest time, I was hoping that the Doctor had bribed). They are joined by Psi, a hacker with an augmented brain; and Saibra, a mutant humanoid with the ability to shape shift. The team are given a very difficult task; to rob the Bank of Karabraxos.
What follows is a rather enjoyable story, if a little over-complicated and silly in places. But while the story is quite twisty and turny, the characters fall a little flat. I felt like it would have benefitted from giving them more time to breathe and expand, but as it is they feel a bit cluttered and unfocused. That being said, I still found it fun for the most part; all the running about, shouting, and quirky lines were perfectly fine.
The Doctor is a delight to observe in this episode, and I think this comes down to the fact that he isn’t being overly hostile 100% of the time, as he has been before. There are moments where he shows some genuine care for the people in Team Not-Dead. Psi and Saibra were built up as very believable characters in a completely unbelievable situation and a lot of this came through their very understandable reactions and objections. They had goals, desires, and ends that were not simply in existence to serve the plot but gave us an insight into who they were as people.
Saibra, who could shape shift into the people she touches, gave us an insight into how the characters saw themselves. This was an overarching theme of the episode, with the Doctor especially hating the Architect simply because of how much he is a reflection of himself. Psi and his ability to delete his own memories puts the characters face to face with the idea of regrets, another theme that is central to the Doctor, and later to Karabraxos.
There is a very interesting twist within this episode that made me realise something about the way Moffat has been writing the Doctor. Psi criticizes the Doctor for “professional detachment”, meaning his disregard and rude nature. But when Clara tries to defend the Doctor, he comments that Clara has traveled with the Doctor for a long time. This seems to imply that the result of travelling with the Doctor is the companion taking on some his more negative nature and seeing things in his version of morality.
Back in the Russell T Davies era there was a big emphasis on how travelling with the Doctor could change someone’s life for the better. Rose Tyler put it nicely in The Parting of the Ways…
It was a better life. I don’t mean all the travelling and seeing aliens and spaceships and things. That don’t matter. The Doctor showed me a better way of living your life… You don’t just give up. You don’t just let things happen. You make a stand. You say “no.” You have the guts to do what’s right when everyone else just runs away, and I just can’t…!
However, in the Moffat version of the show, we see much more of the negative aspects. We are told all about how being with the Doctor is dangerous and it changes people, making them dangerous. Rory Williams surmises it in Vampires of Venice…
You know what it’s dangerous about you? It’s not that you make people take risks, it’s that you make them want to impress you. You make it so they don’t want to let you down. You have no idea how dangerous you make people to themselves when you’re around.
While this works as an interesting juxtaposition with the RTD era, marking Moffat’s reign as different, I do fear it has put a lot of people off. It leaves the show feeling a lot more bitter than sweet far too often; when the negatives become the focus, one forgets what the positives ever were.
Moving on to the next story…