Another week, and another strong episode of Doctor Who. When the worst episodes have been those that would be above average in another show or a previous series, it’s safe to say things are going well.
While Time Heist continued the general trend in terms of quality, it progressed at a markedly quicker pace than other episodes. Almost immediately, we’re thrown into the main thrust of the story, with the Doctor and Clara waking up alongside two others, with no memory of where they are, or why they’re there. A mysterious voice gives them their mission – to rob the most secure bank in the universe. This most simple of premises is only really explained as we go along, which, in the context of the story, is great, lending the audience the same sense of confusion and surprise as our characters.
Alongside this basic concept, the ‘side story’ of the bank itself is well done. While Keeley Hawes gives a good performance as ‘Ms. Delphox’, the bank’s manager, the standout comes in the form of ‘The Teller’ – a surprisingly effective alien presence in the episode. Whilst it’s essentially a walking plot device – it detects guilty thoughts – the ‘thing’ (that seems to be the byword on the show at the moment so I’ll use it here) is pretty menacing, and provides a style of attack that’s surprising to see pre-watershed – melting the perpetrators brains to ‘soup’, so that the skin around just caves in.
When the big reveal was made towards the end, it was one that was admittedly rather predictable, yet it ticked both the necessary boxes. It made emotional sense, in that it provided good motivation and conscience to a story that, while possessing a moral backbone, was still fairly action-orientated. And equally importantly, it made sense in the narrative. The development explained every potential hole that had been made up until then, filling in the blanks if you will.
While this might seem like a requisite part of plotting – making everything make sense – the same certainly couldn’t be said for last week’s Listen, nor on numerous past occasions, with narrative logic too often giving way to a late emotional or metaphorical pay-off. Here, the two elements worked well in tandem, so hats off to writer Steve Thompson for that (Steven Moffat’s credit being due to his penning of the ongoing ‘Clara-Danny’ plots in each episode).
Clara herself took somewhat of a backseat this time to allow the other two temporary companions, Psi and Saibra, some quick-fire development – both of whom slotted in far better than previous one-off players – but we still saw a good deal of Capaldi’s Doctor. Here, he was as good as he’s been all series, but more importantly, the characterisation felt a lot more settled. Yes, it’s been said that the Twelfth will be an ‘unpredictable’ and ‘eccentric’ incarnation, but eventually the extreme changeability had to stop, and it seems this was that week. While Capaldi still portrayed that wonderful reactionary style, it was certainly less pronounced.
It might seem excessive to give Time Heist 5 stars, but it was, for me, the best episode so far this year. The episode had it all – action, emotion, and a not so subtle dig at the banking sector. Next week: the Doctor tries his hand at third-wheeling with Clara and Danny as ‘The Caretaker’.