“I’m an amnesiac robbing a bank, why would I be OK?” – The Doctor
Right then. Where do I start?
I could start at the beginning, but the beginning is 37 minutes into the episode. I could start at the end, but the end is before the opening titles. This is Doctor Who, and I’m sure you’re used to it.
The story of Time Heist is, without complicating the matter too much, about a heist in time. Shocking stuff, I know. The heist itself is at an intergalactic bank and the perpetrators, a mutant human, a computer-modified human, The Doctor, and Clara Oswald, none of which can remember why they agreed to rob the bank in the first place. Even more startling, it takes a detour into the needs and desires of sentient beings, and although this has been done before, the genre is completely original for Doctor Who.
Another new element of the show is Ms Delphox (and not “Mrs” as some internet forums have mistaken her – she’s a nasty enough character, that’s for sure). Presumably the namesake of the Pokemon called Delphox, and played with delicious rapture by Keeley Hawes, her character is more than showrunner Steven Moffat’s initial description of “a powerful out-of-this-world character with a dark secret.”
And we’ve never seen a mysterious and powerful Caucasian female character who wears dark, slimming costumes and holds a secret, have we?
In fact, there are loads of this archetypal character in New Who: River Song, Madame Vastra, the lady Cassandra, Blon Fel-Fotch, Dianna Goddard, Harriot Jones, Queen Victoria, Torchwood’s Yvonne from Doomsday, Jenny from Human Nature, Lucy Saxton, Miss Foster from Partners in Crime, the psychic from The Fires of Pompeii, Jenny from The Doctor’s Daughter, Agatha Christie, Rose in Turn Left, Sky from Midnight, Christina from Planet of the Dead, Adelaide Brook from The Waters of Mars, Liz 10 from The Beast Below, Rosanna from The Vampires of Venice, Restac from Cold Blood, the siren from The Curse of the Black Spot, the TARDIS from The Doctor’s Wife, Jennifer from The Rebel Flesh, Series Six’s Madame Kovarian, Miss Kizlet from The Bells of St John, Mrs Gillyflower from The Crimson Horror, Tasha Lem from The Time of the Doctor, Missy from Deep Breath, and now, Ms Delphox in Time Heist.
Fortunately for the more judgemental in the room, Ms Delphox is more deeply thought-out in Time Heist than the feeble cohort behind her. Much of this comes down to the acting. Hawes does an excellent job of portraying more than the script (which I got my mitts on a few months ago) conveys.
The acting triumphs bleed into other supporting characters, too. Jenna Coleman, who plays Clara, is on particularly top form, and the two supporting bank robbers are convincing. The most convincing of all, however, is the monster. You have to hand it to the prosthetic effects designers, because the alien we see in Time Heist trumps perhaps even the entirety of the Doctor Who alien collection so far, including those from the classic series (though that’s not necessarily much to boast about). The concept is only apt, but the execution is perfect and entirely convincing.
Similar victories include the cinematography by Suzie Lavelle, which is even better than the rest of Series Eight so far, and the colour grading, which should not be overlooked. There is a great deal of slow-motion, groovy transitions and semi-upbeat music, attempting quite bluntly to mirror other heist media such as Ocean’s 11 and the television series Hustle.
But the script is more than that. The script follows the same format as the last few episodes: create an enticing pre-title sequence, then try to fill in the blanks using the rest of the story. Only, in Time Heist, it works. Although you will need a slight amount of knowledge of recent past Doctor Who episodes, the concept is entirely new to Who and brings new boundaries to the heist genre using the techniques and plot devices of a twenty-first century sci-fi. The dialogue, too, is good, and while saying “a thing” instead of using proper words is still “a thing” in Time Heist, its overuse is drowned out by the good aspects of the episode.
Unfortunately, where the episode mirrors other heist genres, it also mirrors past Who episodes, namely The Rings of Akhaten, Hide and Deep Breath. With – I hasten to say the word – tropes from these episodes, and the age-old routine of reaching inside yourself to get out of a sticky situation (in Deep Breath Clara had to hold her breath, and there is something similar here), the episode has its losses as well as its successes.
Another minor downfall is the apparent dispensability of the extras. It’s not that they’re killed off per se, it’s that they seem like mere plot devices to keep the heist ball rolling – after all, it helps that, in a technologically advanced bank, there is a computer-enhanced human and a mutant human with abilities that suit their needs.
Despite these annoyances, Time Heist is the master of mixed-genre trickery (which we’ve seen a lot of in the past few years of Doctor Who). The best part of it is, without a doubt, that the viewer is as curious about the situation as The Doctor and co. are, leaving room for questions and suspense. It provides a great improvement over stock-standard romps like The Robots of Sherwood, has a better resolution than Into the Dalek, and a better execution than Listen, proving to be the best episode of Series Eight so far.
It may be a fictional bank being robbed, but there is one hell of a pay-off.
Time Heist airs in Australia at 7:40pm WST on ABC. You can also view it on iView.