Doctor Who: Time Heist
(1 episode, s08e05, 2014)
Doctor Who goes Ocean’s Eleven with the Architect’s Four.
The Doctor is trying to convince Clara to take another trip with him, tempting her with the Satanic Nebula and the Lagoon of Lost Stars. Unfortunately for him, she has a date planned with Danny Pink. In fact, the most that he’s noticed is that she’s taller due to high heels. Clara tries to leave but the TARDIS phone rings. This perplexes the Doctor since very few people have that number, but when he answers it, he and Clara are transported to a table with two other people, all of them victims of a memory worm.
According to vocal recordings, the others are an augmented human named Psi and a mutant human named Saibra, and all of them agreed to the memory wipes of their own free will. A case opens on the table revealing plans by “the Architect” that instruct the quartet to rob the Bank of Karabraxos, the most impregnable bank in the universe. They can’t back out because they’re already in the bank and the guards are aware of their presence.
Psi downloads the plans into his memory before the quartet runs. The guards are stopped when they handle the memory worms, leading the bank’s head of security, Ms. Delphox, to dispatch the Teller, an alien bloodhound that hunts guilt.
After a round of introductions, we learn that Psi was in prison for bank robbery and Saibra can change shape based on contact with biological matter. As the quartet makes its way through the bank, Clara and the Doctor question where the TARDIS is located. As they enter a populated area, Ms. Delphox uses the Teller to sniff out a random person’s guilt in front of them. The man’s brain is turned into soup as a result.
The quartet enters a vault and secures a bomb. They use the schematic to blow a hole in the floor and access the service corridors below. The bomb is a phase-shifting device, so the hole is sealed when they pass through and the guards are unable to follow.
The Architect’s plan leads the team to a series of cases, each with useful items as they get closer to the vault. One of those cases contains six items that the Doctor claims not to recognize. Saibra calls his bluff and he admits that they are the exit strategy while Psi and Clara discuss the latter’s ability to delete his memories.
The team ends up near the Teller’s hibernation chamber and the bloodhound detect’s Clara’s brainwaves. The Doctor breaks her free but Saibra is caught in the scan. She uses one of the exit strategy devices, an atomic shredder, as a more humane way to die and vanishes in the process.
The remaining three carry on as Psi aggressively questions the Doctor’s motives. Psi is able to hack into the vault’s security systems as Ms. Delphox releases the Teller to hunt them down. The Doctor and Clara split up to distract the Teller as Psi works. Psi is found when he saves Clara’s life and opts to use the atomic shredder device to avoid the Teller.
Psi’s work was mostly successful, but the vault remains closed due to one last lock. The Doctor and Clara are prepared to meet the Teller when a solar storm arrives, disrupting the bank’s systems and breaking the final lock. The Doctor then realizes that the Architect must be located in the future, making this robbery a time heist.
*ding* There’s the title!
The storm would also prevent the TARDIS from traveling to this time and place. Convenient plot device, that one.
The Doctor and Clara follow the clues to a safe deposit box where a neophyte circuit resides. They also find a gene suppressant before being found by the Teller. They are taken to Ms. Delphox with the knowledge that these items were Psi and Saibra’s fees for the heist. Ms. Delphox leaves to put the Teller back into hibernation to protect him from the solar storm, ordering her guards to kill the intruders. The guards end up being Saibra and Psi, revealing that the disintegrators were really teleporters linked to a ship in orbit. The Doctor gives them the items from the vault but also needs to find the remaining private vault, so Psi leads them into the depths of the bank.
The private vault turns out to be the residence of Ms. Karabraxos, who is identical to Ms. Delphox because the security chief is a clone. In fact, Karabraxos has a clone in charge of security in every one of her facilities and burns them alive when they fail her. Ms. Karabraxos sentences Ms. Delphox to that fate after ordering the Teller to the vault. The Doctor, meanwhile, puts the clues together and realizes that Ms. Karabraxos is behind the heist and gives her his phone number to use in case of an emergency.
See, this solar storm wipes out the bank, and Ms. Karabraxos gathers a few possessions before departing. The Teller arrives soon after and the Doctor submits to its powers in order to find the memories that were blocked by the worms. A dying and regretful Ms. Karabraxos was on the other end of the TARDIS phone, and she asked the Doctor to prepare a plan to fix the past. As the architect, he assembled the crew and the plan.
With this knowledge, the Teller is free of Karabraxos and Delphox and uses its power to free its mate. The heist was a rescue mission to save the last two of the Teller’s species, and the Doctor takes them to an isolated planet far from the universe’s telepathic noise. He then returns Psi and Saibra to their homes before dropping Clara back at her flat in time for her date.
The Doctor muses that robbing a bank is unbeatable for a date.
On the plus side, this episode meets the goal of being a tribute to the classic heist film. It assembles a team of experts with the mission of breaking into a super secure vault to retrieve a valuable whatsit. (I almost called it a MacGuffin, but that particular Hitchcockian plot device is of trivial value.) The story even has a few twists and turns that add personal value to each treasure and complicate motivations.
The plot is a fun conceit, but elements of feel rushed including the use of convenient loot boxes that act as signposts along the path. The ending where everyone is returned home in a triumphant montage also feels tacked on and really steals momentum from the climax. All of this is understandable since the classic heist film runs between 90 to 120 minutes, but this story has to be compressed into an hour-long block.
The biggest downside is how this episode exercises the Black Dude Dies First trope, which is overused in science fiction and “slasher”-style stories. The first two victims of the Teller are people of color, and even though one of those deaths is subverted later, it still stings. The trope stems from the history of cinema where black actors purposely kept clear of leading roles. As times changed and more actors of color were cast in bigger roles, they were treated as token actors and their characters were often killed off first.
Note that this 2014 production doesn’t have any explicit racist intent, but the history behind the trope makes people question it when the plot gives the appearance.
Swinging back to series mythology, this tale is packed with references. The computer databank has files on a Sensorite, Androvax, Kahler-Tek, a Terileptil, John Hart, Abslom Daak (a character from the novels and comics!), an Ice Warrior, the Slitheen family, a Weevil, and the Trickster. The Doctor makes direct reference to his previous and Fourth incarnations, and the disintegrators-turned-teleporters also call back to Bad Wolf.
Overall, not a terrible story, but the time compression and unfortunate narrative choices work against an otherwise intriguing tribute. I came in around a 3.5 score but rounded up.
Rating: 4/5 – “Would you care for a jelly baby?”
UP NEXT – Doctor Who: The Caretaker
The Timestamps Project is an adventure through the televised universe of Doctor Who, story by story, from the beginning of the franchise. For more reviews like this one, please visit the project’s page at Creative Criticality.