With the fifth episode of season eight, “Time Heist,” we are watching the Time Lord version of “Ocean’s Eleven.” Not that that’s a bad thing—but it may definitely have you wondering why the Doctor is trying to get his George Clooney on—although c’mon, who can replicate that style? Clooney admiration aside, this episode was pretty straightforward: the Doctor, Clara and two misfit strangers must rob a bank. But not just any bank—the most secure bank in the universe. And they must do it under the direction of a mysterious “Architect” whose identity is unknown.
At the start of the episode, Clara is getting dressed up for her date with Danny. The Doctor shows up, aiming to whisk her away on their next adventure, but is confused by the prospect of her having a social life—a recurring theme this season. Also, for an alien who has been hanging around with humans and taking trips through time and space for thousands of years, he’s surprisingly clueless about makeup, heels and the concept of dating in general. I mean, did he forget that he’s had numerous female companions in the past? Either way, it did make for some funny bits of dialogue: “Why’s your face all colored in?” “Are you taller? Do you need to reach a high shelf or something?”
Just as Clara’s about to head out, the Tardis phone rings—but this time it isn’t a confused Clara on the line (by the way, did we ever figure out who the mysterious shop woman was who gave Clara the Tardis’ number? What happened to that whole mystery?). As soon as the Doctor picks up, they’re transported to another location, where they meet Psi, a hacker with a half-computer brain, and Saibra, a shapeshifting mutant who can mimic the appearance and DNA of anyone she touches. They’re holding memory worms, which, in addition to looking absurdly grody, erase your memory. But they find out that they must follow the plan of the “Architect” to rob the famous bank because they had previously agreed to do so—even though they can’t remember—and because the Architect has something each of them wants.
So the foursome follows the plan and strolls into the high-security bank in a scene that could be taken out of a Bond movie or one of the aforementioned “Ocean” flicks (well, if either contained mutants, cyborged-out hackers and time traveling aliens). But they immediately get a look at the infamous security measure: an alien called the Teller (get it, like a bank teller!) who can sense guilt, scan your brain for information and then melt your brain into, as the Doctor so eloquently put it, “soup.”
Fortunately for them, the Teller is distracted by another man, who doesn’t even have a chance to defend himself before his brains become the Hale and Hearty special of the day. Interesting side note: Tears fall down the man’s face as his brain is getting soupified, and Clara points that out, to which the Doctor responds that those aren’t tears; they’re brain soup. So brain soup is clear, apparently? Also, that’s super gross. TMI, Doctor, TMI.
So the group uses teamwork (e.g., the Doctor’s brains and leadership, Psi’s special tech hacking skills, Saibra’s DNA replication) to make their way through the underbelly of the bank while getting instructions—and what appears to be some kind of poison to take in case they fail in the mission—from the Architect along the way. We discover that Psi and Saibra are sympathetic characters with their own sob stories. During a criminal interrogation, Psi deleted his friends and family from his memory to protect them, but now he’s alone. And Saibra can’t touch or be touched by anyone, making intimacy a problem. Another side note: Anyone else notice how Saibra is basically a mix between Rogue and Mystique? The shapeshifting, the emo I-can’t-touch-anyone-and-am-super-alone-and-that’s-why-I-no-longer-want-to-be-a-mutant thing—I’m just saying, this feels like some “Doctor Who” and “X-Men” cross fan fic right now … that takes place in the “Ocean’s Eleven” universe.
The Teller chases them down and traps Saibra, who uses the “exit strategy,” aka the needle of mysterious liquid, to kill herself before her brain can be turned into soup.
The group continues on, but not before Psi criticizes the Doctor for being heartless and blasé about Saibra’s death—but of course by this point we know that the Doctor’s an asshole, so no big surprise. They get to the vault and Psi hacks into the system, breaking down the code for entry. Meanwhile, Clara gets cornered by the Teller, but Psi sacrifices himself for her sake, also taking the serum before the Teller can actually melt his brain.
Clara and the Doctor go back to the vault only to discover that Psi’s hacking wasn’t enough to undo all the locks on the vault. Just that moment, a solar flare occurs, weakening the security systems of the bank, and allowing the vault to open. The Doctor then realizes that this was also part of the Architect’s plan, and that in order for the Architect to have known about the solar flare in advance, he must be from the future (::gasp::), meaning that they’re not doing an ordinary bank heist, but a time heist (::double gasp::, followed by a wink from the writers, who must enjoy these moments of revelation alluding to the simple, straightforward episode titles)! Oh, and if you haven’t guessed who the Architect is by now, then god help you, because it’s pretty friggin obvious.
The Doctor and Clara get into the vault, find the treasures Psi and Saibra wanted so badly (nanobots to restore Psi’s memory, a mutant gene suppressant for Saibra), but get captured before they can continue. However, the guards reveal themselves to actually be Psi and Saibra in disguise (::triple gasp::), as what we assumed was a poison was actually a serum to transport them to the ship, because this episode has more twists in it than an M. Night Shyamalan movie.
They get to the private vault and meet the bank director, who’s a greedy, sadistic psycho who has been hiring her own clones to run the facilities and kills them when they make a mistake.
The Doctor has one of his Doctor moments, wherein he figures everything out all at once (but not before demanding multiple times that everyone in the room “shut up! shut up! shut up!”). The Doctor puts two and two together, figuring that the Architect is a time traveler, is controlling, manipulative and exceedingly clever—all of which leads the Doctor to say he hates him, leading him to the conclusion that he is in fact the Architect (totally called it).
It turns out that the whole mission isn’t a bank heist or even a time heist—but a rescue mission (::quadruple gasp::). While on her deathbed in the future, the bank director, full of regret, calls the Doctor to ask for a favor. The Doctor speaks to the Teller, and figures out that he was simply a prisoner of the bank director and that he wasn’t the last one of his species; in the vault is another member of his species, who the Doctor releases. The Doctor had planned the whole thing to help free the Teller and its fellow alien, but then wiped his own memory and the memories of his comrades to make sure they wouldn’t get immediately caught. The bank blows up, but everyone escapes, and the Doctor drops everyone home—but not before we see a scene of him aboard the Tardis eating Chinese food with Clara, Psi and Saibra, and get this: He even tells a joke!
Clara then goes off to her date with Danny, with whom the Doctor seems oddly competitive, despite his not actually having met him (well, at least not adult Danny): “Robbing a bank, robbing a whole bank. Beat that for a date.”
Whovians who may have been expecting that same degree of depth, introspection and emotional resonance as last week’s “Listen” were probably a bit let down with “Time Heist,” but all the same, I liked the episode a lot. No, it wasn’t nearly as subtle or meaningful (but hey, if we check the track record for this show, most episodes don’t strive for the same depths as “Listen” did), but there was steady action, an interesting plot and fun, sympathetic, new characters who are along for the ride. It felt like a typical “Doctor Who” episode.
I really liked the characters in this one: not only were Psi and Saibra charming and sympathetic; even the Teller was a sympathetic figure by the end. It’s definitely not the first time we’ve seen an antagonist revealed as more than it seems. In fact, this recalled the minotaur in “The God Complex” and the monster in “Hide,” among others, and once again, the “monster” of the episode serves as a handy metaphor for the Doctor, who is usually as alone, tormented, lost, misunderstood and morally ambiguous to us as the actual perceived antagonist.
Speaking of the Doctor’s emo-ness, remember how I said this episode didn’t have the depth of last week’s episode? Well, that’s true, but we did still get some more emotional insight into the Doctor. When Saibra dies—or so we think—Psi criticizes the Doctor for his indifference. He seems right in his observation, as we’ve seen the Doctor react in the same manner when people around him have died this season, but the subsequent shot—the simple shot of the Doctor looking forward with his signature furrowed brow—is just the visual hint we need to verify that the Doctor is, in fact, affected. We see this again when Psi and Saibra reveal themselves to still be alive later in the episode, when they were already assumed dead. The Doctor is flabbergasted—something we don’t often see—and is actually in shock, repeatedly asking, “You’re alive?” even though the proof is right in front of him. It’s a brief but nonetheless important moment that reminds us that the harsh outward demeanor of this Doctor belies a fear and vulnerability that we learned about in the first episode of the season (when the eleventh Doctor called Clara and asked her to stay with his next incarnation) but may have forgotten until last week’s episode.
Those moments were two of many in the episode that proved “Time Heist” strictly belongs to the twelfth Doctor. Sure, any of the other Doctors could have found himself in the same situation, but the dialogue and reactions could have only come from this Doctor. The best example is the running theme of self-hate prevalent in the episode. Saibra brings it up as an obstacle to intimacy, saying she can’t touch anyone because how can you trust someone who looks just like you? Then there’s crazy bank director lady, who’s just cranking out clones of herself and killing them. And the Doctor finally figures out the Architect is him because he recognizes how much he hates the Architect—as much as he hates himself. We know the Doctor has some issues sometimes, worrying about descending into the dark side, but hate is a heavy word, and this revelation felt really sad to me. Not only is the Doctor unable to recognize his own handiwork until he registers his self-hatred, but he says it without giving much thought to the emotional weight of that revelation. It’s a personal thought that’s dug up for the convenience of solving the mystery of the episode, and is just as quickly buried under the next bit of action in the plot. Point is, someone needs to get the Doctor some Chicken Soup for the Time Lord’s Soul or a copy of The Secret to fix that shit up right quick.
Despite the emo-ness of the Doctor’s revelation, this episode still had just the right amount of funny dialogue to balance it out, and we even see the Doctor make a joke! It seems this Doctor has a sense of humor after all, especially when everyone in the episode gets out alive and well (I mean, except for that one guy whose brain was soupified in the beginning of the episode. But who’s counting?).
Let me also take a moment right now to point out my one major issue with the episode: If the Doctor is the Architect, and he went to stake out the bank beforehand and set up everything, how did he get in the first time? If it was so easy for him, why didn’t he just finish the mission then? Well, I did say this was a typical “Doctor Who” episode, and what is “Doctor Who” without a few plot holes, failed logic and unanswered questions?
This was another week without Missy and Paradise (not really complaining, but I am curious about where all this is leading), and I’m not sure if we’re going to see any of that in the next episode, which will take a deeper look into Clara’s double life as a time traveler and a normal person who’s just trying to have a normal social life. The Doctor has been oddly invasive and competitive when it has come to Clara’s social life, especially since she’s been dating Danny. Looks like the next episode may be when they finally meet, when the Doctor goes undercover at Clara’s school as the caretaker John Smith (yes, because the Doctor can never come up with a better name, or just likes to mess with stupid humans) while Clara tries to juggle the two men in her life.
Check back in for my review of episode six, “The Caretaker.”