It was bound to happen: A viewer has to expect a clunker episode every now and then, and “Time Heist” landed with a thud. Ironic for an episode that relied on an intricate plan, this story seemed to have no real idea where it was going. It feels like a collection of neat ideas for scenes and a monster strung together in a very disjointed manner. I almost get the feeling that the direction was purposely muddled to try and camouflage the story’s shortcomings. It didn’t work.
Can anyone think of a more convoluted way to accomplish a very simple goal – provided you can figure out what the point of the story was; no easy task. The reveal of the Doctor’s master plan left me asking the TV screen, “That’s it? That’s what he wanted to accomplish? And he did it that way?”
Clara (Jenna Coleman) is just about to go on a date with Danny (Samuel Anderson) when the Doctor (Peter Capaldi) takes a call on the TARDIS phone. Suddenly, they find themselves in a room with memory loss, along with Psi (Jonathan Bailey), a human with cybernetic implants, and Saibra (Pippa Bennet-Warner), a mutant human shape shifter. There is a memory worm on the table and briefcase, which contains orders from a mysterious figure calling himself “the Architect” to rob the Bank of Karabraxos, the most impregnable institution in the universe. Turns out they are already in the bank – and pursued by guards. Heading to the main lobby, the team watches as the bank’s head of security, Ms. Delphox (Keeley Hawes) accuses another customer of theft. He is interrogated by the Teller (Ross Mullan), an alien in chains who detects guilt… and then turns the man’s brain into soup.
The team follows the Architect’s cryptic orders which only move them station-to-station, without revealing the plan. But along the way they keep encountering more briefcases with useful items – and six mystery devices. One leg of the trip to the main vault requires passing through the room in which the Teller is imprisoned. It detects Clara’s brainwaves. The Doctor is able to help her break its hold, but Saibra is then scanned. The Doctor tosses her one of the mystery items, telling her it’s an atomic disintegrator – a more humane way to die than having her mind destroyed. She uses it and disappears.
After the trio escape, Ms. Delphox releases the Teller to wander the halls and find them. Psi stumbles upon the creature and uses his disintegrator. The Doctor and Clara reach the main vault just as a solar storm hits the planet – and the Doctor realizes this is a time heist: the Architect is in the future and arranged for them to arrive at the exact moment of the storm – when the bank’s security would be disrupted and vault would automatically open. Inside, they find a neophyte circuit that could restore Psi’s deleted memories and a gene suppressant that could control Saibra’s shapeshifting. The Doctor and Clara next need to go to the Private Vault, but before they can, the Teller finds them and delivers them to Ms. Delphox’s office. She sends the Teller away and orders two guards to kill the intruders. Surprise: the guards are actually Psi and Saibra in disguise! The “atomic disintegrators” were actually transporters that sent them to safety. Psi leads the team to the private vault in the heart of the bank.
The private vault is really the quarters of the richest woman in the universe, Ms. Karabraxos – and Ms. Delphox is her clone. As Karabraxos packs her treasures to flee the bank, the Doctor grabs a piece of paper, on which he writes the TARDIS phone number and “I’m a time-traveler,” and gives it to her, telling her to call him sometime if she ever has any regrets. She leaves and the Teller arrives.
The Doctor convinces the Teller to use his psychic powers to recover the Doctor’s missing memories. In flashback we see an elderly and dying Ms. Karabraxos call the Doctor on the TARDIS phone and tell her his regret. Then the Doctor is seen setting up all the elements of the plan – he is the Architect. He used the memory worm because the Teller senses guilt, and not knowing the plan would reduce the chances of being caught. The ultimate plan: bring the Teller to the private vault, which he opens to reveal another of his species, imprisoned by Karabraxos to ensure the Teller’s cooperation. Realizing they have six teleporters, everyone is able to escape before the solar storm destroys the bank.
The Doctor drops the Teller creatures on a new planet, and then returns Psi and Saibra to their homes. Finally, he brings Clara back to her flat in time for her date with Danny.
So… why all the cloak-and-dagger nonsense? Why did the Doctor needlessly complicate matters by adopting a phony persona to dish out instructions and clues? I can understand making a side trip to the main vault to get rewards for Psi and Saibra, but why didn’t the Doctor tell himself that he needed to save the Teller race from extinction and come up with a plan to get the creature to the main vault?
I know the answer is, because then there would be no story, but c’mon. This whole story smacks of padding – and this episode ran 50 minutes in the UK instead of the usual 45 (but it was still edited to the normal 42 minutes required for American broadcast).
And, just to make matters worse, I had a particularly tough time following the dialogue in this episode. The actors spoke so quickly and with such thick accents that I was at a loss to understand what they were saying. That just increased my unhappiness.
On the plus side, the Teller was wonderfully designed and a great animatronic creature, though I wonder why he was dressed in orange – a recurring color throughout the season. Is that another Steven Moffat Easter egg?
This episode desperately wanted to be a dashing heist film, but it just doesn’t have what it takes. The characters on “the oddball team” are too sketchy and we have no idea what they are up to or what the stakes are. There’s no suspense if the viewers don’t know the consequences of failure. Did anyone cry when Saibra and Psi appeared to die? We didn’t know them or care about them.
I just wish Moffat hadn’t wasted our time with this heist.
For a bank that allegedly features the best security in the universe, Karabraxos had an awful lot of large ventilation grates that were easily removed.
At least Moffat is consistent with his technobabble – the fact that the TARDIS cannot be piloted properly in the wake of a solar storm was first mentioned in “The Rebel Flesh.”
Psi projects bank security images of thieves, including: a Sensorite from “The Sensorites,” the Gunslinger from “A Town Called Mercy,” a Terileptil from “The Visitation,” an Ice Warrior, a Slitheen, an Androvax, a Weevil, Abslom Daak from British comic strips, the Trickster from THE SARAH JANE ADVENTURES, and James Marsters as Capt. John Hart from TORCHWOOD. Is Daak real in the Whoniverse, or a fictional character, like… um, er… Robin Hood?
QUOTES OF THE WEEK
“Those aren’t tears, Clara. It’s soup.” – the Doctor
“Please step away from the door. We do not wish to hurt you before incineration.” – Guard