Sunday, 21 September 2014

Review of Doctor Who: Time Heist.

This review is full of spoilers, the chief among them being: if you haven't yet watched this episode of Doctor Who, then do it now! It's worth it.

I felt like a grouch, grumbling over the previous four episodes. But now I'm vindicated, because I've seen what a great new Doctor Who story can be. Time Heist could have been from a different show entirely to the previous four stories. But we must remember that television productions are a bit like time travel: before the BBC screened the first four episodes, they knew what episode number five was like. I wonder how that made them feel?

Finally we got a pure adventure. No overarching story. No mysteries from the Doctor's past. No clunky character development, introspection, or attempting to deal with the psychological trauma brought on by too long in the time-space vortex. There was the silly frame of Clara's impending date -- couldn't the Doctor have let her go out while he did his criminal mastermind groundwork, and come back to get her on the weekend? -- but I think we can allow any contortion of the plot to allow a joke like, "Why is your face all coloured in?"

There was a clever puzzle-plot that perfectly resolved itself -- and this time it made sense. A time-travel newbie might quibble over the potential paradox of how Madame Karabraxos could have known the Doctor's phone number to set off the whole chain of events that would have him deliver those dearest digits to her past. But such issues are standard fare, and far less problematic than, say, Back to the Future Part II. If anyone can track down the Doctor's phone number by other means, it's the richest person in the universe.

There were delights at every turn. A new monster, with a charming calling card: not only does he turn his victim's brains to soup (yeah yeah, we've seen that one before), but with the goop drained away, their skulls cave in. A nice touch, and his name was even better, a clever mix of a bank employee and a telepathic killer: The Teller. It could only have been better if the brains literally did turn to soup, and we'd been treated to the sight of the head of security demurely sipping at them as she issued orders.

There were two alien accomplices on the Doctor's heist team, both science-fiction cliches given an extra emotional twist. The shape-shifter who is doomed to be alone, because she freaks out everyone she touches by transforming into their facsimile. And the man with the digital brain, who in a moment of desperation deleted from his memory all of his family and friends. Most shows -- even this show -- would string three episodes out of just one of those characters.

So, with such a fantastic episode that almost (but not quite!) redeems the four that came previously, I'll allow myself one completely innocent, honest question, as a fan who may have missed something in the last decade. Is the Doctor's TARDIS now fixed? It used to be temperamental and unreliable, which was the convenient cause of so many adventures in unexpected places and times, but then would just happen to work perfectly when the Doctor needed to use it to save the day. Now it seems to work fine, all the time. Did it officially stop being unreliable? For all I know, the chameleon circuit is working, too, and the Doctor has just deactivated it for nostalgic reasons. He may even have said as much, and my memory has been wiped.

Other Doctor Who reviews:
Robot of Sherwood
The Caretaker
Kill the Moon
Mummy on the Orient Express
In the Forest of the Night
Dark Water
Death in Heaven


  1. "Is the Doctor's TARDIS now fixed?"

    It did a full rebuild in "The Eleventh Hour" ("Brand new TARDIS!" says 11) so basically yes.

    "No overarching story."

    Or at least it doesn't draw attention to itself so much (note, e.g., the hand-held camera move behind the railings at the very end of the episode: visual implication being There's Something Else In The TARDIS).

    1. Thanks -- my memory must have been wiped after all.

      Interesting take on the hand-held camera. Can't a director just be stylish any more?

    2. The TARDIS being fixed seems to depend upon the story. In Journeys end it was claimed the TARDIS was erratic because it needed several (six?) people to fly it according to 10.

      However the TARDIS is occasionally unreliable when the story requires it. e.g. in Cold War, they were headed for Las Vegas and ended up on a nuclear submarine.


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