Caution: This review contains spoilers on “Time Heist,” the fifth episode in series 8.
In the fifth installment of “Doctor Who,” the Doctor (Peter Capaldi) and Clara (Jenna Coleman) tackle the challenge of robbing the Bank of Karabraxos, the most secure bank in the universe. The twist is that they’ve wiped their memories, at the direction of the mysterious and hooded “Architect” (anyone get a “Star Wars” vibe there?). At first, Clara isn’t in the mood to go on an adventure with the Doctor because she’s getting ready for a second date with Danny (Samuel Anderson). The Doctor is perplexed about her use of makeup and the high heels. “What, do you have to reach a high shelf?” he asks her.
However, his phone box rings, a rare event as “Nobody in the universe has that number.” (The Doctor briefly mentions the mysterious woman in the shop who gave the number to Clara, but that’s a mystery to solve later in the series.) Answering the phone lands the two in a strange room at Karabraxos with their mission of robbing the bank with hacker Psi (Jonathan Bailey) and shapeshifter Saibra (Pippa Bennett-Warner). Be sure to check out “Doctor Who Extra,” which has an amusing segment on the memory worms. The team embarks on their mission, tailed relentlessly by head of security, Ms. Delphox (Keeley Hawes). Wiping their memories turned out to be vital in avoiding initial detection by Delphox’s ultimate weapon, a telepathic creature called “The Teller.” The alien operates by detecting your guilt and can wipe your mind clean, turning your brain into “a soup.”
As the Doctor and the others venture further into the bank, they find more cases from the Architect, with clues on how to proceed. Karabraxos is in the path of a solar storm, which leads the Doctor to realize that it’s a time heist, as the storm is the only moment that the bank is vulnerable. Unfortunately, the Teller causes problems for the team, picking off Saibra and Psi first. The two use some tubes, which they suppose are devices for committing suicide, rather than succumb to a mental death. Through the Doctor, we learn that you can avoid the soupy mess and block the Teller by keeping your mind clear, something Clara has a hard time doing. Ms. Delphox captures the Doctor and Clara, whose guards turn out to be Saibra and Psi. The tubes turned out to be teleportation devices.
Why rob Karabraxos? The vaults house materials that will help Psi regain the memories he deleted and block Saibra’s shapeshifting ability. For the Doctor and Clara, the answer is in the private vault, in which Ms. Karabraxos herself resides. She’s the head of the bank, with her dispensable clone Ms. Delphox running security. Keeley Hawes does a good job at playing both roles and conveying the icier Karabraxos. The Doctor gives her his phone number, understanding that she will call him in the future. To uncover the complete answer, he lets the Teller probe his memories, bringing us back to the phone call to the TARDIS at the beginning of the episode. An old Ms. Karabraxos is full of regrets and charges the Doctor with saving the Teller and his imprisoned mate; it’s a search and rescue mission of sorts. We also find out that the Doctor is the Architect.
It’s an episode that also offers much in the visual department with the cinematography. The cuts and transitions are rather seamless, a wonderful artistic tour de force from director Douglas MacKinnon. It pops up from the opening scene, where the spinning waves and circles of the “Doctor Who” title sequence appear (without the music and credits) accompanied by a gentle whooshing noise. One feels a sense of astonishment as it transitions to a turning gear of sorts and finally shows the Doctor’s spinning face as he peers into Clara’s dryer. Those few seconds serve in a way to color this chapter with playful tones and a lightness that is a marked difference from darker episodes, an atmosphere that is accompanied by the jauntiness and cool sort of Sixties feel of the soundtrack by Murray Gold. It’s such a nice little touch.
I’ll just mention a couple of the Doctor’s brilliant lines:
- “Calories consumed on the TARDIS have no lasting effect.” Regrettably, this statement is false! There’s always the swimming pool for a workout after finishing those take-away meals.
- “What do you think of the new look? I was hoping for minimalism, but I think I came out with magician.” The “no frills” and “100% Rebel Time Lord” look (as Capaldi characterizes it) is the creation of costume designer Howard Burden, with some input from Peter Capaldi himself. It’s difficult not to wonder if the “magician” quip stems from an interview Capaldi did with Craig Ferguson back in 2009, five years before he donned the now iconic suit of the Twelfth Doctor. Skip to 1:44 in the Youtube video below to see that the similarities in the outfits are rather striking, differing mostly with the red and pink lining.
Overall, “Time Heist” is a great episode, operating mostly as a one-off storyline. It does leave open the possibility that Saibra and Psi may return to team up with the Doctor. Bailey and Bennett-Warner were pretty decent in their performances, so it’d be interesting to see how they come back. In spite of his serious and detached demeanor, it’s ironic that the Doctor tells Clara not to be so pessimistic. His underlying positivity and playfulness (already noted in the opening sequence) also colors his elaborate orchestration of the bank robbery, from the little memory worms to his hoodie for his recordings as the Architect. It’s all wrapped up with his ingenuity and ego, as summed up at the very end in his own words, “Robbing a whole bank. Beat that for a date!” What a relief to get little gems like these, where the script and the visuals are in top form.
“Doctor Who” airs Saturday evenings at 9|8c on BBC America.