Season 8, Episode 5—“Time Heist”
Let’s face it, this was basically the TV equivalent of all those magician movies that were being pushed on audiences a year back, except it had less of Jesse Eisenberg’s punchable face (always a bonus!). Unfortunately, this was a Monet of an episode: great from far away, but a big ‘ol mess as soon as you start to look closer. So what happened this episode that was so “meh”?
To the recap!
“Time Heist” started off with the Doctor staring into Clara’s washing machine like a confused corgi. Unfortunately, Clara has no time (ha!) to play with her time lord pet because she’s got a hot date to go on, and a sexy suit to wear (complete with perfectly floppy lady-tie). She also does not have enough patience to explain to her friend the purpose of heels (to make it harder for women to get away). Over the course of the past two episodes, the Doctor has displayed a lot of confusion over normal aspects of human life such as cosmetics and shoes—what’s happening here? Did he have a stroke?
Just as Clara starts to head out the door, she and the Doctor are startled by the ringing of the TARDIS phone. This is a particularly interesting development, as few people other than the “woman in the shop” have the number (the Doctor doesn’t give out his digits to just any Tinder match).
Upon answering the phone, the Doctor and Clara find themselves on the old set of Swordfish with their short-term memories wiped by worms (most often used to erase any trace of you ever telling anyone about that sex dream you had about your high school physics teacher). Also in the room are Black Lady Gaga/Rogue Knock-Off/Saibra, a woman whose genetic makeup allows her to morph into anyone whose cells she touches, and a hacker named Cyborg Lad/Psi. Side note: there is a 6000% chance Cyborg Lad uses his downloading powers to watch porn in his head; it’s the logical evolution to the Google Glass.
A shadowy figure named “The Architect” (Illuminati? Scientologist? Stone Cutter?) then informs the group that they agreed to the mind wipe and accepted an assignment to break into the Bank of Karabraxos, a fortress for the super rich. Apparently the Bank takes security so seriously that they won’t hesitate to incinerate any intruders. This measure seems a tad over the top, no? If anything it’s going to seriously piss off the poor maintenance crew who have to clean up dead people ashes.
Once the group realizes that there must be something important on the line for each of them, the mission begins. Conveniently, Black Lady Gaga is able to sneak the group inside the Bank by morphing into a client whose cells had been collected by The Architect. In the lobby, Bank Manager Ms. Delphox walks in with a chained hammerhead shark alien (The Teller) who can telepathically scan minds for traces of criminal intent. When the two corner a potentially ill-intentioned client, the alien om nom noms the man’s mind, and the client’s next of kin are said to also be incarcerated as a warning to any future robbers (Jesus, who approved these draconian banking laws?). Later on, we find out that the victim wasn’t actually trying to rob the bank, meaning that The Teller is about as accurate as Theresa Caputo. I mean seriously, what if the dude was just feeling guilty for jaywalking? Or what if his criminal intent was just that he was going to go to a space brothel full of three boobed aliens? When she hears about the fuck up, Ms. Delphox states that they must find the true intruders otherwise she’ll be “fired with pain” (contender for possibly the WORST line in Who history).
After escaping The Teller’s scrutiny (the memory worms came in handy!), the gang goes into a vault and finds a present from The Architect consisting of a bomb. Luckily, the device is a dimensional time shift bomb that merely hoovers particles instead of blowing things to smithereens.
Underneath the vault, the gang finds another case, this time one that contains what appear to be six suicide vials. While Black Lady Gaga and the Doctor go off to find another clue, the others have a heart-to-heart. During the discussion, we find out that Cyborg Lad erased his own memories in prison so that his enemies would never find out the identities of his loved ones. Black Lady Gaga also shares her sad story: she can’t have a relationship with anyone because she’ll turn into her partner, which is super creepy. Guys, I’ve seen this sob story on X-Men and on Pushing Daisies. The answer to life’s problems is saran wrap. Well, that or a gimp suit.
Stumbling upon the hammerhead alien’s hibernation chamber, the gang tries to make a quick exit through the vents (why are the vents of an insanely secure bank human sized?). Unfortunately, the alien wakes up and locks onto Black Lady Gaga’s mind, tasting her secrets and preparing to make a nice soup out of her brain (I hear that goes nice with Chianti). Not wanting to live life as a brainless victim, Black Lady Gaga opens up one of the suicide vials and seemingly kills herself. It’s at this point in the episode that I wonder whether Steven Moffat was trying to make some sort of assisted-suicide social statement (nahh).
Cyborg Lad then balks at the Doctor’s ability to focus after witnessing a friend’s death and criticizes Clara for excusing the Doctor’s behaviour. As much as I liked Psi as a character, this segment was a complete redux of Blue’s criticism from “Into the Dalek”. Although this episode was set inside a bank, the elements of the two scenes were the same: character dies during a harebrained scheme, Doctor pushes through to find a way out of the problem, new character moans about insensitivity, Clara brushes off Doctor’s pragmatism as a quirk. We get it—the Doctor is not the Batman the universe deserves, but the practical, cold-hearted one it needs. As much as I admire weaving a theme analyzing companions’ sacrifices through the season, there are less heavy-handed ways to do this. Stop trying to be Christopher Nolan, Steven Moffat.
Within the depths of the bank, the gang finds another gift from The Architect: data that Cyborg Lad can use to open the institution’s 24 sets of locks. While the security system is compromised, the Doctor and Clara disobey the first rule of horror movies and split up in order to distract The Teller. Clara attempts to keep her mind clear in order to evade the enemy, but she gets glomped onto. Heartened by the fact that Clara still has loved ones to remember, Cyborg Lad sacrifices himself for his new friend by luring the alien to his juicy prison secrets.
Brain: A new flavour from Campbell’s
Unable to open the last set of locks even with the Sonic Screwdriver, the remaining team members despair. Luckily, a solar storm interferes with the security system, opening the last latch. The coincidence of the phenomenon draws the Doctor to the conclusion that they’ve been sent back in time to this exact moment because this is when the vault is most vulnerable. Apparently the unnavigable storm explains why the team couldn’t use the TARDIS…except it doesn’t. As we later learn in the episode, the Doctor was the one who left The Architect’s “presents” behind the locked doors. This means that the locks are completely pointless, because the TARDIS can easily bypass them. So why create an elaborate mission to do something so simple? What was the point of this entire episode?????????
Behind the vault’s door, Clara finds more gifts: a neophyte circuit that could reboot memories for Psi and a gene suppressant for Saibra. On their way to the private vault the team is caught by Delphox, who alludes to the fact that The Teller is being blackmailed into eating people’s minds. For some inexplicable reason, Delphox leaves the Doctor and Clara with her cronies, shouting “No mind wipe for you, criminals who almost took down my institution! That’s reserved for the innocent client who I basically racially profiled for being suspicious while black!”
Surprise! The cronies were Psi and Saibra that whole time guys! Those suicide vials were transporters! Yes, the Doctor totally made people want to kill themselves and risked them not “killing” themselves (and consequently getting their mind wiped by The Teller) all so he could teach an old lady about regret or something. Seriously, what the fuck was this?
In the private vault the newly united team finds Dr. Karabraxos, who looks exactly like Ms. Delphox. Apparently the bank owner decided to put clones of herself in her businesses’ managerial positions. The idea of a character using and disposing her clones so easily is an incredibly lazy plot twist to throw at audiences. Why turn the baddie into a full on psycho if you’re not going to explore the horrifying implications of her detachment in a meaningful way?
Another plot twist near the end is finding out that oh look, The Doctor pretended to be The Architect that whole time so that he could rescue The Teller and his friend and cause Karabraxos to regret her decision to imprison them on her deathbed. This would have been an interesting twist had we not established that the Doctor could have used the TARDIS to rescue both aliens before the solar storm. None of this was necessary! AHHHHHHH.
Overall opinion: During my initial viewing of this episode, I thought “oh how delightful! A mystery for both the Doctor and the audience to solve!” Unfortunately, the more I thought about this episode, the more incoherent I found it. What was the point of the caper? The Doctor endangered his friends for absolutely no reason! He’s supposed to be smarter than this! BAH!
Doctor: “Big Scarf. Bow Tie. I was hoping for minimalism, but I think I ended up with magician”
Doctor: “Calories consumed on the TARDIS have no lasting effect” / Clara: “What? Are you kidding?” / Doctor: “Of course I’m kidding. It’s a time machine, not a miracle worker.”