Now, what would happen if two Doctor Who writers decided “we want to make a Doctor Who episode as if it was directed by Quinten Tarantino and written by Christopher McQuarrie channeling Ocean’s 11 (and if you say the George Clooney one again you are dead to me)? You get the episode Time Heist and by the TARDIS is that a good thing!
We open with Clara preparing for date number two with Danny, it would appear after last week’s closing snog they were able to find mutual ground for giving things another chance. We have the Doctor continuing his clueless lack of understanding about basic human behaviour to the point of thinking high heels were to reach a high shelf and being unable to understand why Clara’s face was “coloured in”. With any other actor this might start to wear thin but with Capaldi he makes it work.
We also see a recurring technique of the flash back being used to describe the dual nature of Clara’s life, it flashes back to Danny asking her out on the second date which may seem annoying but in many ways I think it’s not just lazy directing but a deliberate decision. Throughout this season and during this first scene Clara is the reluctant companion trying to juggle her real life with her play life and the two are conflicting more and more. With the “next week” portion at the end of that episode I feel this is going to come to a head but we will explore that more in a weeks time.
Now we have another staple of the British Heist movie (or at least the ones from the 70s forward) a delicious ska backbeat playing in the background and the stage is set for the mystery to begin. The Doctor is trying hard to entice Clara to join him for an adventure, there’s a lonely desperation to the Doctor’s attempts to get her to play with him but in the same way a five year old may want the attention of his favourite teacher, and she’s having none of it. Clara’s about to leave when the phone rings which is disconcerting as Clara is the only person with that number (which is a bit of a fudge in continuity because Winston Churchill has called a few times unless he’s had it changed due to being tired of Winnie drunk dialing him or something) so it is with great trepidation the Doctor answers the phone which leads to one of the best smash cuts in the series and we cut to the Doctor holding a memory worm like a telephone. GROSS!
And here we go with the next Heist trope, the unwilling compatriots, a regular staple of the heist is a group of criminals or regular people working together to get a “big score” often at cross purposes. In The Italian Job you had Benny Hill’s computer expert (replaced by Seth Green in the remake) who had a thing for “big girls” which seemed to be his only real motivator, in Oceans 11 remake (which I kid is actually really good) you had Linus trying to prove himself, and in the Bank Job you had Statham’s character just trying to get out. These four are given recorded evidence that they are in this by their own free will before a mysterious brief case opens letting out a golden light… hello Pulp Fiction reference. Did I mention, this is all before the credits?
After the credits we have a rushed scene with this unlikely crew (or unusual suspects… sorry I had to) being told by the mysterious Architect that they will be robbing the bank of Karabraxos the most impenetrable bank in the universe, a bank that has never been broken in to before, just as security gets to the door and starts banging. We are shown a great montage (another staple of the Heist movie tradition) laying out the perils including flame throwers and security guards. One take away from this is everyone in this future dresses like they had Amy Winehouse’s taste in makeup and the wardrobe department of the Fifth Element. This is probably not the most expensive Doctor Who episode, the sets are small and recycled in many cases and the clothes are for the most part sort of contemporary (and in the case of the security recycled from the Church of the Mainframe’s soldiery) but they make amazingly effective use of a discount episode that uses style to make up for what in many ways is a small episode.
After gathering up their tools and making a run for it we find out a little more about our new companions, Psi (Jonathan Bailey) is an augmented human (cyborg in non-Whoniverse terms) with a “mainframe in his brain” this lets him download bank schematics and information from the brief case while Saibra (Pippa Bennett) is a Mutant Human, her ability is to mimic the form of any person she touches down to the DNA. Her clothing is holographic allowing her to mimic their clothes as well (call back to the Christmas special there). At this time in a brief moment of comedy we cut to Ms. Delphox (Keeley Hawes just oozing menace), the next heist movie tradition, the big bad nemesis, she’s the security head for the bank and is out to get our crew before they can make off with any booty. Hawes is a brunette (and the new Lara Croft) but is done up as a red head for this episode, I’m starting to think this is deliberate. Kavorian a red head, Missy has a redish tint to her hair and now Delphox… is there something Mr. Moffat is trying to tell us about redheads?
We cut to the next Heist trope the scope and walk, really, look at any crime/heist movie and you have this scene. This is the scene where the crew scope out the “joint” and makes the “walk” the walk consisting of a slow motion walk abreast usually featuring a dramatic turn. Basically this:
And oh my god does it work here! This scene sent a shiver up my spine, I’m a pretty typical type of proto-male archetype. I like Bond movie s (another fine British tradition), I like heist movies (because we all dream of the big score), I like Indiana Jones (because he’s as smart as he is handsome), I like dumb comedies (because if we can’t laugh we die) and I like Doctor Who (because despite it all I’m a romantic at heart). This has simultaneously stroked every want/need I have in geekdom and it’s a full bore bat out of hell adventure from here. This is one of those delicious treats in multi-generational programming, a Who that the dads (and probably quite a few moms) will love watching with their kids. Now during “The Walk” we’re also given our next Heist tradition, “The Wrinkle” you always have it, that one thing that goes sideways and makes things tricky for the anti-heroes. This could be a short window of opportunity, the cops catching on or a Chinese acrobat breaking his arm. In this case it’s “where’s the TARDIS”. Think about it, you want to rob a bank? Just drop in, I mean if you’re just taking stuff get in and get out before the “man” figures it out.
The walk takes us through the lobby of the bank and we see some great fashion, again like The Fifth Element it’s a mix of modern elegance with a future spin and a cute call out. This is probably the most Easter Egg heavy episode in some time. The first that I spotted was the lobby had a Matt Smith wanabe down to the flood pants, brown boots, big watch and bow tie helping a little old lady. This could be me seeing patterns in the noise but I find it hard to believe this wasn’t a deliberate gag on the part of the creators. At the same time we see all this we are shown the next Heist tradition the “Consequence” there’s always something bad if the heist goes wrong. It could be jail but that’s too pedestrian, usually it’s something a bit more elaborate like getting killed or something happening to your family. In this case though we are introduced properly to The Teller (briefly seen earlier in the episode), this is one of the neatest monster designs in a while, truly alien it looks like a weird cross of a hammer head shark and a Jadoon.
Ms. Delphox leads the creature out in chains identifying it as the Teller to a shifty looking character in the lobby (immediately next to the crew). The Teller feeds on guilt using its mental powers it scans the brain of this fellow and then in punishment melts it feeding on his brain which somehow collapsed his skull, that was kind of silly but like the worms scene some things are for the kids. There’s also the double down when Ms. Delphox explains that the crook’s accounts will be frozen and his family will be imprisoned as an example to ensure “good banking”. Given the crooked nature of British banks I would be hard pressed to not see some double meaning in this little scene but regardless of social commentary it’s a brilliant set up to your big bad.
Here they come across a second brief case which raises the question, where are they coming from? Breaking in to a bank to put tools in to break in to the bank? How would this person do this and why? We have another moment of levity which again I think will play better to the kids. When Psi is stressed his batteries drain and he starts stuttering. This seemed like an off distraction but the makers again are remembering this is not just a show for adults but something for kids and this keeps the tone light but also serves a secondary purpose. While Clara helps Psi charge his batteries the Doctor and Saibra explore the surrounding area ready to make their next move and here we have the next Heist tradition the “Motivation” each heist as mentioned a character has a different motivator, in Psi’s case we find out he lost the memory of everyone he loves. While in prison (for bank robbery) he was being interrogated and rather than risk the people he loves he wiped all memories of them from his brain and it haunts him. Who did he loose? Saibra tells the Doctor that she could tell he was lying about not knowing what the contents of the brief case were a few minutes ago because she’s had so many faces she can read them well, he said that was a gift, she called it a curse never being able to touch another person because “would you trust someone who looked out of your own eyes”, hold on to that last bit for later.
The crew move deeper in to the bank when they stumble upon the Teller’s cage, the Teller is kept locked up in a forced hibernation which is somewhat disconcerting. If he’s really the bad guy why is he locked up? Alarms go off and Clara accidentally attracts the attention of the Teller who awakes from his slumber, Saibra accidentally goes to exit via the wrong conveniently people sized grate. (Seriously if you are making an impenetrable bank why does every room have people sized air ducts at floor level?!) The crew get to the exit but Saibra gets caught, she looks at the Doctor and asks for the “escape plan” the Doctor hands her one of the devices from the briefcase which she uses to kill herself but only after asking the Doctor to get the Architect over her death. He says he hates the Architect but can’t make promises he can’t keep. Before she goes she tells him he’s a good man and she wished there were more like him.
Psi, Clara and the Doctor find themselves at the vault still rattled from Saibra’s death. The Doctor does his same old trick of just trying to stoically keep it together so that there are fewer deaths to which Psi responds with a crack about “professional detachment” which stings the Doctor much deeper than he lets on. Clara tries to cover for him which Psi astutely observes that she must have been with him a long time because she seems to easily manufacture excuses. They become aware the Teller is roaming the halls so they split up leaving Psi with an “exit strategy” should the Teller find him and lead the teller away from Psi going in different directions while Psi does the most stage typing fake finger movements as he hacks the cryptography on the locks of the vault. Clara is generally pretty strong but she does play a bit of damsel in distress this episode getting cornered a second time by the monster. Trying to follow the Doctor’s prior instruction to not think of anything (and Psi’s observation that is pretty darn hard) she gets caught. They hear her scream and Psi who has just finished cracking the code is the one who saves the day using the most deliberate Easter Egg of the episode giving us flashes of Doctor Who crooks from the past including Torchwood and crazy deep cuts from the Doctor Who comics including John Hart, a Sensorite, Androvax, the Gunslinger, a Terileptil, Abslom Daak, Skaldak, the Slitheen family, a Weevil and The Trickster. Old School Whovians like me squeed at this.
Distracted from Clara’s little guilt by a big fat juicy ball of all the criminal masterminds in the universe the Teller goes after Psi who kills himself before he can be mind wiped. The Doctor and Clara return to the vault to find it still locked, one more lock stuck in place. They think this is all for naught even the sonic screw driver can’t get it unlocked. One thing I noticed here is the sonic is much less prevalent. In prior seasons it was practically a magic wand but since Capaldi’s run it has been dialed down. It’s role as a convenient Deus Ex Machina may be getting put in check, as the Doctor and Clara stare in frustration the planet shakes and we cut to a security team member calling Ms. Delphox to let her know that a solar storm is taking place and knocking out systems. Ms. Delphox starts an evacuation but continues her search for the intruders. Just as the storm hits the Doctor (like the last tumbler on the lock of the vault) starts to click. This isn’t a simple heist this is a TIME heist, whoever this Architect was they knew this solar storm would hit so they must be from the future how else would he be leaving these brief cases just where they need them? Faster than you can say abracadabra the vault opens. Clara looks at the card from the latest brief case and it has safety deposit boxes, in these boxes are a cure for Saibra’s condition and a device that would restore the memory of Psi the only thing left is to go to the Private Vault and find whatever it is that the Doctor and Clara were looking for only when they turn around the Teller is waiting for them.
Going to the private vault the storm continues to rage when they confront Karabraxos who it turns out is Ms. Delphox… sort of. Marabraxos is so distrusting of others she cloned herself with a clone leading security at each of her bank’s locations. The thing is (tying back to the recurring “Fired” comment that Ms. Delphox made earlier) if a clone fails her she kills them and puts them in to the incinerator, this is one bad ass bad guy and the Doctor and he starts seeing it. Telling everyone to shut up and then Saibra to un-shut up and the last tumbler clicks in to place…
“Would you trust someone who looked at you out of your own eyes?”
“I hate the Architect…”
Scribbling a note that says “I’m a time traveller” and a phone number (unseen though it’d be cool if we could I’d dial long distance to get the Doctor’s answering machine) he says goodby to Madame Karabraxos who he says one day she will be dying and she’ll have regrets (again the theme of this season). The crew are confused, what’s he doing and what are they there for? The Doctor says the only way to find out is “soup” (a reference to what the Teller does to his victim’s brains). The Teller arrives and we have, once again, the heist trope of the montage. This one shows how it all came together, the Doctor receiving a phone call from a dying Madame Karabraxos who has one regret she can’t go to her grave carrying, the Doctor assembling the perfect team of ne’re do wells, placing the brief cases and of course recording the video of the Architect because who does the Doctor hate more than himself?
We end with a montage of the Doctor bringing the Teller and his loved one to a planet where they can have some solitude (the promised land?) Next we get the most “Dad joke” of “Dad jokes” from the Doctor about the leaning tower of Pisa while they eat space noodles. We see Clara, the Doctor, Psi and Saibra laughing and having fun and being a gang. Dropping Psi off he tells the Doctor to give him a call if he ever needs to rob a bank again, Clara says “that’s not really his thing” to which the Doctor makes the “call me” sign behind her back. Saibra is dropped off and gives him a huge hug and then he drops Clara off with a closing line basically challenging Danny to try and top that for a date which shows, in the end, the Doctor is still that five year old boy competing for Teacher’s attention.
This was a brilliant episode, two episodes in a row we get fun stories that touch on the themes without being overly heavy and from two entirely opposite directions. Last week was a horror story, this week was a heist, and both were amazing. We had a ton of Easter Eggs and we had recurring gags, the “face coloured in” and the “eyebrows”, the scarf and looking like a magician make the show feel irreverent while not being bogged down in overly navel gazing self-awareness and the set up for next week we see the return of John Smith and the tipping of the Danny hand. I suspect these last two episodes and next week’s episode will be nice little palette cleansers before we dip in to the big mystery that is Missy but oh what a fun spoon of yogurt has this been clearing away the curry before we tuck in to the meal proper.