Tonight we get the return of John Smith as the Doctor becomes the newest employee of Coal Hill school, but before that, let’s get caught up on my much delayed review of last week’s episode, shall we?
After several episodes about the Doctor more than anything else, it’s apparently quite tempting – at least based on some of the reviews out there – to look at “Time Heist” as something of a letdown. It may come as no surprise that I don’t share that opinion. Not to say that this episode doesn’t have its issues, because it does, but I’m thinking that a lot of the criticism that has been levied against this 5th episode is a touch unfair and, oddly enough, it’s criticism that is aimed at an episode that may be one of the closest to the Original Series we’ve seen in a while.
Consider this thought experiment… leave the story and almost all of the dialogue exactly the same, but replace Peter Capaldi and Jenna Coleman with Tom Baker and Elisabeth Sladen, and tell me this isn’t basically a Fourth Doctor episode. The irritable, alien Doctor who takes charge of a situation and focuses on the results at the expense of being polite or kind, and the plucky Companion who is strong yet compassionate. The budget being spent on the monster and the set, both of which are largely practical effects, with a small cast to keep other expenses down. A touch of the body-horror with the collapsed skulls, and the almost manic glee that comes when the Doctor figures out what’s going on. Even the “bow tie/scarf” jab works for Baker if you change scarf to the Third Doctor’s frilly shirts.
Of course, the Teller benefits from the larger budget the New Series has, otherwise we’d have something like the Nimon here, but still. Story structure is also very Fourth Doctor, as are the character types, and leaving aside the small references to the larger Missy arc, what we have here, Ladies and Gentlemen, is an Original Series episode. Not just an episode made to evoke the Original Series, but an episode that could have been made during the Original Series.
Now, does that mean that “Time Heist” is any good?
That’s a little tougher, although I enjoyed it, and it really depends on what you’re looking for in today’s modern Doctor Who. If you’re big on the story arcs, this one has little of that, or if you’re enjoying this season’s inward look at the Doctor, you’re also going to be disappointed. Not completely, as we get another look at the Doctor’s self-loathing through his hate of the Architect, and the one-upmanship of his final line, as well as the reference to the limited number of people who have the TARDIS’ phone number.
Certainly there are some story problems, most notably if one stares too closely at things like the solar flares that no one seems to notice until they’re too late, or the presence of just humans as the bank customers, let alone the completely insane rules of the bank’s security. That last one is particularly troubling, since the policy of straight up destroying one’s customer’s minds is far from the ideal of customer service, and I can’t see anybody saying “Yeah, sure, that sounds reasonable” when reviewing the bank policies. And then there’s the Doctor getting into pretty much the whole bank, public and private, to set the stage for the heist as the Architect… sure, he has the older Miss Karabraxos’ help, but surely the present day’s security should have noticed something.
That said? Considering the logic problems of most heist pictures (and take a moment to Google the problems with the Ocean‘s films if you haven’t already), it’s still a fun romp, with a nice, positive ending, and the introduction of a couple of fun, new characters. Who, by the way, seem set up for return, even if the production team isn’t going to. A cyborg hacker and a shapeshifter? C’mon.
Johnathan Bailey (Broadchurch) plays the first of those as Psi, and Pippa Bennet-Warner (The Smoke) as the second, Saibra. Both get to have good moments, and give us enough backstory to connect with, and are quite good. Keeley Hawes has double duty as Mrs. Delphox and her employer/source material Miss Karabraxos, and honestly I wanted more of her. If the name isn’t familiar, you still have probably seen or heard her, as she’s been the voice of Lara Croft in the video game series for years, and has been all over British television and film since the late 80’s. I could have handled more of the time we got of her sparring with the Doctor, because Hawes does that “You’re beneath me, but I suppose I can deign to speak to you if I must” thing, so very, very well.
And then there’s the continuity nods, especially the left-field, OMG-I-can’t-believe-they-did-that one. Did you catch it?
When Psi is pulling up the criminal database and distracting the Teller with his “All the criminals are HERE!!!” bit, we get an image flashing across the screen that makes a pretty big chunk of the Doctor Who comics and even some fan fiction canon: Abslom Daak… Dalek Killer.
No idea who that is? Come with me children, to the Original Series and the Wilderness Years, where Doctor Who Magazine was a huge, huge, huge thing, and people like Alan Moore were writing Doctor Who comics. Daak was the creation of Steve Moore, who was, while not related to, Alan Moore’s best friend. Mr. Hunt and I talked about the bit of a scandal around his death and the film Hercules here, and Alan Moore’s reaction to it all, but in brief, there was a time when Steve was one of the best writers in British science fiction comics. Abslom Daak… Dalek Killer was the first appearance of the character, detailing how the sociopathic Daak, convicted of just about every crime one could think of, was handed a chainsword and sent off to die fighting the Daleks. Of course he didn’t die, and had many other adventures, mostly in his own stories, but crossing over into the main Doctor Who stories from time to time, usually in the Fourth and Seventh Doctor’s run.
So not only has Moffat made the Eighth Doctor’s audio adventures canon by listing the Companions from it in “Night of the Doctor”, but he just made a huge chunk of the comics continuity canon by popping up a drawing of Abslom Daak in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it throwaway shot. Nice.
And then there are our heroes; the Doctor and Clara. Poor Clara. Nothing satisfies Doctor Who fans when it comes to Miss Oswald, does it? I was among those who thought she was as much plot device as a person last season, even though I liked her, and have been quite happy that she’s been handled much better this season. But watch out folks, here she’s getting all kinds of crap for being just there, and not driving the story forward and all kinds of other nonsense.
Look. Not every episode is going to be about Clara Oswald, thankfully. It is, after all, a show called Doctor Who. As in, about the Doctor. Some episodes are going to be great Clara episodes and some aren’t. Expecting every week to be a buddy show where the Companion gets to share the top billing is, again, a function of the New Series. There have been some benefits, such as seeing how traveling with the Doctor impacts their lives, and you can look at pretty much every Companion since Rose to see that. The downside is that if you, for example, find Rose to be irritating as all hell, then having her be so prominently featured may cause teeth-grinding and groaning every time she moons around the place. OK, that’s just me, but pick one from the return of the show, and I expect that you have one you wish would just go away. Could be Amy, or Donna, or Jack or any of them… the point is, back in the Original Series, Companions got backstories like this: “Hi! I’m Sarah-Jane Smith! I’m a journalist!” or “Hi! I’m Romana! I’m a Time Lord too!”
And then we had a story to tell. C’mon people. Leave Clara alone. We’ll have plenty of Clara/Danny stuff this season and the promise of Clara/Doctor conflicts on the horizon. Bashing Jenna Coleman for doing her job well is just silly and pointless. Clara is fine this episode, she’s just not driving the plot, and that’s OK.
Whew. Rant-y there, huh. Anyway. Peter Capaldi!
Nailed it, again. I expect the episodes to be of varying quality, and like to like some more than others, because that’s how TV works, but I have no complaints about Capaldi’s Doctor. I love the grouchy, snarky, alien-ness and the moments of rudeness and the glimpses of anger and childish behavior. And we got “Team Not Dead” and “Beat that for a date” and “It’s the eyebrows” and all the other great lines he threw at us. And the sense that we’re building to something, or somethings actually, that even an episode that will be as forgettable as “Time Heist” ultimately is has lurking around the edges, with the Doctor’s self-hatred and the brief reference to the woman in the shop… Capaldi, again, was born to play this part.
And that’s “Time Heist”. Good performances, great Doctor, nice throwback to the Original Series, and a bit forgettable in the end.
Tonight we get robot monsters and school kids (and the threat of child actors… shudder), Danny and the Doctor, and Miss Clara trapped in the middle. Should be fun.