This week, on Doctor Who: Clara has a second date, the Doctor has a plan, and Saibra just wants a hug
After weeks of memorable episodes, series eight of Doctor Who has its first dip with “Time Heist”, which sees the Doctor and Clara embroiled in a bank heist. Despite some fun visual flourishes and production elements, the story itself is underwhelming, failing to commit to or fully explore its promising premise. A trio of new characters are introduced, but none of them manage to rise above type: the untouchable outsider who longs to feel love, the mournful man with no past, the efficient monster capable of atrocities in the name of security. Saibra and Psi are pleasant enough, but neither is used in any surprising or meaningful way, utterly wasting the characters and their abilities. Keeley Hawes is more successful, chewing scenery first as Ms Delphox and then Madame Karabraxos, but even by the end of the episode, the most memorable aspect of either Delphox or Karabraxos is Delphox’s glasses (which are slightly cooler than Karabraxos’).
Little about the episode stands out, from the bank itself to the dialogue. Much of “Time Heist” is spent with the Doctor, Clara, and Psi split up and running through identical corridors in what feels like yet another series eight nod to Classic Who, and even before that, the various parts of the bank lack specificity, from the elevator to the enormous and easily accessible air vents. The episode establishes high stakes, but then undermines them and removes all sense of danger. Even before then, the audience is asked to care about Psi’s potential death when the character doesn’t seem to care at all, sacrificing himself for a woman he’s barely met.
Once again, the episode is filled with references to earlier adventures. The Teller’s misty habitat is incredibly reminiscent of that of the 456 from Torchwood: Children of Earth, the similarity only heightened when Peter Capaldi stands next to it. When presented with the Teller, Clara must sustain that which is physically impossible to sustain—no, not holding her breath as in “Deep Breath” or keeping her eyes open as in “Blink”, but the Doctor’s instruction: “Don’t think.” The memory wipe calls to mind “The Beast Below”, with the Doctor and Clara’s decision to forget a positive rather than negative choice, Clara’s suit is a callback to Sarah Jane’s outfit when she first encountered the Third Doctor (plus of course, a well-cut suit is a requirement when robbing a bank), and the Teller, roaming the hallways of the labyrinthine lower levels of the bank is very much in keeping with the minotaur-like aliens seen in “The Horns of Nimon” and “The God Complex”.
The Teller itself is by far the highlight of the episode. The creature may reference a minotaur later, but it’s incredibly striking in its first appearance. A lot of aliens populate the corners of Doctor Who, but few have anything approaching this silhouette and the creature’s guilt ray is a neat twist on the heist staple of the unbeatable security system. The Doctor gets the line of the episode with his summation of his authoritative presence, “Basically, it’s the eyebrows,” and “Time Heist” also benefits from some nice touches by director Douglas Mackinnon. The opening washing machine-cam is neat and while the early to mid-episode slo-mo shots aren’t particularly engaging, it’s fantastic to see directors continue to experiment visually in this eighth season. Doctor Who has rarely been visually innovative, a failing that will hopefully become a thing of the past.
After his impressive work in “Listen”, Murray Gold’s score here is a bit of a letdown, finding a comfortable Bond-inspired sound without making any bold statements. Capaldi, on the other hand, continues to deliver as the Doctor and the revelation here that the Twelfth Doctor isn’t much of a runner is a surprising, but welcome, change of pace. After weeks taking center stage, Clara is back to a supporting role, though Jenna Coleman is as likable as she’s been all season. Clara’s anger over Psi’s self-sacrifice is palpable, but it’s odd to have this brought up only to be forgotten a few scenes later.
Far more disconcerting, however, is the Doctor’s end of episode pronouncement, “Beat that for a date.” Only four episodes ago, the Doctor lectured himself harshly about having treated Clara like she was his girlfriend, and now he’s back to jealous one-upmanship with the man in his Companion’s life? The Eleventh Doctor’s leery sexualization of his female Companions was his most troubling and tiring trait. It’s fantastic to see this element swept away (for now), but the Twelfth Doctor’s attempts to control Clara are not any more becoming. It would appear viewers are due for another trip on this particular merry-go-round. Hopefully it will be a brief one and by the end of the next episode, “The Caretaker,” the Doctor will have gone back to treating Clara like his trusted friend and not his pet.