Sunday, 21 September 2014

Review: Doctor Who 8.5: Time Heist

The four leads stand outside the Bank (although I can't
remember this shot from the episode...)
From The BBC
This script had everything. Well-developed side characters, an interesting sci-fi twist, and a Doctor who is an asshole, but in a fairly enjoyable way. For the final time this series, the leaked script was far better than the episode as it appeared, although due to shoddy editing more than anything else. Time Heist attempted to take a Hustle-style story and drop it into a futuristic, sci-fi setting, but the result was less Oceans Eleven and more Bottle Rocket. This particular brand of good-idea-poor-execution is a particular favourite of writer Steve Thompson; it's a perfect descriptor for all three of his episodes thus far. Spoilers, as always, follow.
     The Doctor, Clara, and two unknowns awaken in the Bank of something-or-other, with no memory of how they got there other than a blurry message from "The Architect"(resulting in the episode feeling a little Paradise Towers) telling them that this is the most inpenetrable bank in the Universe, and that they have to rob it. Over time we discover that the two unknowns, Psi and Saibra, are respectively a cyborg who wiped his own memory to save his family, and a mutant with the power to replicate anyone whose DNA she's come into contact with. The four are stalked by The Teller, an alien who telepathically senses guilt, who is itself a creature controlled forcibly by Ms Delphox (guest star Keeley Hawes, of Ashes To Ashes fame). After several escapades, we discover the establishment's owner set up this heist in the future, using The Doctor to break into the bank for one last good deed - releasing The Teller, and its mate, the last two of their species.
     On paper everything worked - the idea of a heist orchestrated using Time Travel and amnesia is an interesting one, and on most counts the episode makes it work, bringing in some character development for the four main leads. The problem with that development is that the script (and the episode) rushes by too quickly to allow any of it to mean anything, and thus the attempt at depth is lost. We learn about Psi and Saibra, and their story is resolved five minutes later. Ms. Delphox literally repeats a scene and says exactly the same thing, and then is killed off by the real villain, who then spends a minute or so on screen through very rushed exposition and leaves. The episode is so busy explaining its concept that we never get any chance to soak it all in. Now, this is an accusation that can be thrown at many of the stories in the New Series, but this episode was longer than usual. Making a longer episode feel rushed takes effort.
Twelve finds Psi's memories, and then Psi stops being
a character for his remaining runtime.
From The BBC
     And that effort is in the editing of the episode. Fast cuts and blurry shots are combined with a strangely colour-based cinematography, leading to often confusing sequences in which it's either hard to process what's going on or just hard to take it seriously. The design for the mind-scrambling Teller is quite good and I liked the fact we had an alien-looking-alien for once, but it wasn't a very scary design and it just looked goofy at the end when it walked off into the sunset, casually chatting with its mate (who the episode was quick to identify as a female, because of course the episode had to turn a completely alien being into a damsel in distress.) The cheesiness of that ending, and the fact we saw it happen only last season, led to the episode's impotence - it ran at the mouth with exposition and then did nothing to give us any closure.
     Favourite line of the episode? "Unbreakable lock - the atoms have been scrambled." The pure silliness of that line by itself sums up how much wasted potential this episode delivered. It had some really good ideas under its belt, and a lot of them worked, but like Into The Dalek the script chose to tell us what was going on instead of showing it, leading to an episode which is confusing as it is frustrating. The amnesia subplot, instead of making things intriguing, seems to be there as a gimmick and gets discarded because The Doctor "works it out" and then waits 10 minutes to tell us. A good idea is not just a pile of exposition - it must be woven into the narrative, and that was not done here.


NEXT WEEK: "Quirky" shenanigans in the most-likely cringe-worthy The Caretaker. (Cue Voyager references...)

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