Saturday, 27 September 2014

Crimey Wimey

Doctor Who
Time Heist
Series Eight, Episode Five

Ah, phooey.  Stephen Thompson again.  I tried not to roll my eyes when I found out who wrote this one, because in an ideal world you'd treat every episode as its own special little flower and forget any of the writer's baggage.  But I can't help it, grumpy old sod that I am: I didn't like his previous episodes, so I automatically want to duck and cover when a new one comes along.

Fortunately, Time Heist is pretty good.  It holds together well and there are good bits.  It's co-written by Steven Moffat, however, so I don't know who to thank.  Similarly, any problems will be indiscriminately shared out between the two of them, because I'm fair like that.

"What do you want, more than anything else?  Whatever it is, it's in this bank."
Quite a big assumption there, Doc.  You could easily be here under duress.
Time Heist scores an early point by avoiding one of the show's boring bits, aka the how-do-we-get-involved-in-the-plot bit.  This usually means plonking the TARDIS directly in the path of some trouble, or a famous person, or both.  It's just narrative housework that needs clearing away before the opening titles.  Sod that: we jump right from the Doctor picking up the TARDIS phone to a dark room later on, where he, Clara and two others have just had their memories wiped.  They have agreed to rob a bank, and they've got no choice but to go through with it, right now.  And we're away!  The story begins with a shot of adrenalin.  Big tick there.

I've seen bits of Hustle and The Real Hustle, and far too many awful Ocean's movies, so I know the drill: a bank with flashy security, a few talented individuals needed to break in, vaguely philanthropic reasons for doing so.  It's one of those pre-existing frameworks you can just drop Doctor Who into, it being a super-malleable concept and everything.  The way it's handled is suitably flashy, and it works.

The Doctor's thing is that he's clever.  Psi's thing is that he can interface with technology.  Saibra's thing is that she can look like other people.  Clara's thing is... I'm guessing, moral support?  Their actions are all more or less pre-ordained by a mysterious Architect (who is, let's face it, probably the Doctor), because there's a time travel aspect (duh), which I'm guessing was Steven Moffat's idea.  The way the story eventually folds in on itself and bounces back and forth in time is very him.  But who knows, maybe it was Other Stephen.  Either way, kudos: it's not a bad puzzle box.

As for the bank, well it's one thing to describe it as the most secure building in the universe (or whatever), and another to actually convince us of it.  Who designed this place?  Yes, there's a terrifying creature that detects and feeds on guilt, but it can only detect one guilty person at a time, and it seems to get that wrong at least once.  There's no CCTV to (for instance) monitor conversations, including (for instance) ones about robbing the bank, which our heroes never stop having.  There are easily-accessible air vents all over the place – and I mean huge ones, even by movie cliché standards.  And the main method of checking your identity seems to be a breath-scanner.  It's suggested this is a way of checking your DNA, which is puzzling in itself, but seriously, breath?  A thing that isn't the same from day to day anyway, and can be easily stolen and bottled?  Thankfully there is at least one secure lock in the building – only a perfectly-timed solar flare will throw it off.  But it should be noted, the vault on the other side of it contains thousands of boxes that aren't locked.  Capped off with a security staff numbering maybe half a dozen, the whole operation is hilariously shoddy.

Still, it makes for an exciting trip as our foursome tries to avoid the guilt-gobbling Teller, which is an alien that actually looks like it comes from another planet, and does something irreversibly horrible to its victims.  Mary Whitehouse would spin in her grave if she could see the caved-in skulls of its victims.  While it does turn out that the Teller is hoping to rescue its mate, this doesn't make a difference to the things it's done, and it doesn't suddenly change the tone like in Hide, which had a similar, much gooier revelation at the end.  The thing is only doing what it's ordered to do – it's non-evil, which gets another tick from me.  (Mind you, no prizes for guessing, as the chains are a pretty sizeable hint that it's not loving its job.)

One minute she's going to feed them to the Teller, the next... she's not?
Bloody convenient for them, but why the change of plan?
To counteract the mind-wipe, we have Shredders: devices that atomise you on the spot.  The Doctor's okayness with using these, when your only alternative is having no brain, is another little addition to the Dark Doctor Files.  Can you imagine Matt Smith doing that?  Clara's dead set against it, because she's the companion and that's her job.  In any case, it later turns out that they're actually teleporters.  For once, this came as a pleasant surprise rather than a cop-out.  It's a totally legitimate loophole; maybe I'm naive, but I didn't see it coming.  Well, do you know what a teleporter looks like?  (By which I mean the wee gizmo, not the special effect.)  Meanwhile, if Psi had actually followed Clara's advice and not used it, he'd be worse than dead.  Interestingly, this goes unaddressed.

After much corridor running (with one set humourously redressed using different lights), the penny eventually drops: the bank is run by one woman and a series of her clones, and she's holding the Teller's mate in her vault.  One day, dying old and alone, she regrets leaving both of them to die in the storm, and will call the Doctor to arrange what is really a rescue mission.  Again, not a bad timey wimey puzzle: it falls into place with a satisfying thunk.

As for the woman and the clones, Keeley Hawes plays the sort of business-minded bitch already creakily familiar in Doctor Who.  I was reminded of Miss Foster, and I wish I wasn't – it's not a gift of a role, however many times Keeley has to play it.  Psi and Saibra are likeable enough, though really little more than superpowers and sob stories on legs.  (I can't help wondering how a man who deleted his family from his memories can know he had a family to forget.)  Clara is wrong about the Shredders, and otherwise isn't much to write home about.  Capaldi is vicious, funny, endearingly sweet when he wants Clara to hang out with him, and believably cool about tragedies he's powerless to prevent.  They are teetering on the edge of overdoing it with the "doesn't find Clara attractive" gags and the eyebrow references, but as ever, he's knocking it out of the park.  I'm still waiting for his first great episode.

Time Heist is neat and tidy, and certainly the cream of the Stephen Thompson crop.  I've got no major complaints.  It's an unspectacular does-what-it-says-on-the-tin deal, but hey, I'd rather watch it again than Ocean's Twelve.

1 comment:

  1. If we're getting this right, the trouble with the puzzle box is that it's just a straightforward paradox. Madame Celebrex makes the phone call because of the Doctor's intervention, which is because of the phone call. Therefore out of bounds.