Doctor Who Time Heist

20/09/14 written  by Steve Thompson and Steven Moffat/ directed by Douglas McKinnon/ starring Peter Capaldi, Jenna Coleman, Keeley Hawes, Jonathan Bailey, Pippa Bennett- Warner
The bank heist is such a familiar story that it’s a wonder Doctor Who hasn’t tried it before. Presumably there has always been a feeling that it was not a suitable subject for the show given its intended audience? However this series is showing increasingly later (next week- 8.30!) in the schedules suggesting that it is not especially intended for younger viewers at all. Indeed it seems to be cutting away from even Steven Moffat’s previously established dimensions something that is paying dividends. Suddenly the environs of time and space feel a little less congested than of late with new sights and references popping up to the extent that for the first time in several years it feels like the Universe is a very, very big place indeed. As it should.


You do wonder how the audiences who know only post 2005 Doctor Who are feeling about this Doctor. By now some of his behavioural tics are becoming more familiar; this was the first episode where I wasn’t surprised to see Peter Capaldi at the console and that’s a fairly quick assimilation.  Note the way he offers only half meant encouragement or praise to people, his tendency to become easily exaggerated when the argument goes against him. Most refreshingly of all- as demonstrated more than once in this episode- is that he doesn’t have all the answers all the time. He works it out and we can see or hear him do it. He’s not as clever-clever as his predecessor and appears to work harder for results. If you want to look back to the older series this is in the tradition of Tom Baker or Patrick Troughton where we’re privy to at least some of the Doctor’s thought processes. The more this happens the more appealing a character he becomes.
Most of the best Doctor Who stories have their sources in tried and trusted ideas; the trick is to give them something fantastical to disguise this so it is no surprise to see`Time Heist` revelling in the tropes of its story type. Slow motion entrances, complex safe breaking, over egged security systems, bickering amongst the team; they’re all here. Douglas McKinnon has form in bringing stories that could be a tad ordinary to brisk life and he utilises the generously mounted locations to maximise the idea that this is a big bank. The story’s new idea of a teller that can detect guilt lurking in the minds of potential fraudsters works mainly because this creature is a big hulking proper monster. We don’t see enough of these; there should be a quota for monsters with heavy hooves and scary roars each year.

If this Doctor is in need of his own Gang,(the Paternoster bunch seem more suited to the previous Doctor), then there are two candidates right here. Siabra, the face changer is a calming presence in the story; when you think she’s been killed quite early on it’s a disappointment but it makes her reappearance all the sweeter. Pippa Bennett- Warner could have been given more to do but there’s a lot to pack in and she makes he presence felt.  Psi, an edgy augmented bank robber played by one of my choices for a future Doctor Jonathan Bailey adds a bristling presence; again had the episode more time you can imagine a couple of powerful arguments with the Doctor. Both these characters’ stories and the thread of what they have lost are interesting enough to add a lot to what might otherwise be a lot of running about in corridors. The quartet doing their bank robbing stuff is a joy to watch, it’s almost a pity when the plot twists and turns out to be something else. I like the way the premise is set up too, with the explanation as to how the team assembled left till later.
Roughly three quarters through the episode plays its full hand but can’t quite match the verve of what’s gone before especially as most people would have guessed by now the Doctor was this mysterious `Architect`. The whole caper being the Doctor’s idea shows how underneath his spiky exterior he is still a “good man” though answering his question of a few episodes ago. Other aspects don’t quite match this. Ms Delphox/
Madame Karabraxos never has enough time to establish her full credentials though Keeley Hawes gives excellent camp villainy but there’s something about the character though that fails to spark. The revelation of the teller creature being restrained by virtue of his imprisoned mate feels like the sort of thing we’ve seen a little too much of lately. Couldn’t it just be a big grumbly old creature?

These lapses – plus the incredibly rushed ending- are minor complaints in comparison to the overall thrust of what is a lively, well cast, visually arresting tale that underlines the high standard of stories so far this year. If it carries on like this it could easily be Steven Moffat’s best season yet.

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