"Life is interesting at last, I've been so f***ing bored the last two years."
Maybe I'm losing whatever semblance of an edge I once had, maybe I'm on a Fresher's week high, but this is another review I'm not sure how to tackle. It is not, however, similar to the problem I had taking on Listen. It's more I don't have a great deal I feel like I can give a thorough critique as I would normally try to. Time Heist is... it's okay. There's not much about it which it spectacularly screws up, but also not much I can hail as being the best thing I've ever seen. Which is fine.
I'll skip past the bit at the start because it's all domestic and boring and go straight to the part where- OMG, Memory Worms! The Doctor, Clara, a shapeshifting mutant called Saibra, and a swoon-worthy cyborg called Psi have all agreed to rob a bank. No one knows why, only that they're acting on the orders of some hooded prat with a child's voice modulator called the Architect.
"YOU. WILL. ROB. THE-BANK-OF-KARABRAXOS." the Architect tells them. Sure enough, they try and break through each level of security, pursued at every turn by Ms Delphox and the Teller: A (sort of) terrifying creature who can detect guilt and turn one's brain into - as The Doctor continues to describe using obscure food metaphors - soup! The Teller is a very well-realised villain and manages to sustain a consistent and imposing threat throughout the story. The last minute twist regarding it's motivation does nothing to dampen its sense of danger, unlike a certain Series 7 story.
There's plenty of neat little concepts introduced throughout Act 1 of the story. Among other things, we see the Teller in action, Saibra making good use of her shapeshifting, and the use of clever little bombs which displace (and can handily replace) bits of floor. Nothing ground-breaking (lol), but all well-executed and put together.
We take a dark turn when the Teller is let loose in the bowels of the bank to hunt the crew down. The team have been given Atomic Shredders for a painless, instant death should they be caught, and everything gets a bit final run as the Teller picks off the supporting cast. This is what Steve Thompson excels at: Both Psi and Saibra's deaths exist to make an impact, both in the sense of building drama but also to illustrate The Doctor's personality - Saibra even directly referencing the "good man" motif which follows Twelve. But while Thompson can do dramatic set pieces, it falls into a similar trap as The Reichenbach Fall: at times feeling more like a dot-to-dot than fully realised story.
After a hand-wave to explain why the TARDIS couldn't be used to break into the vault (the problems with solar flares and what-have-you have at least been alluded to), The Doctor and Clara break into the vaults and find Psi and Saibra's respective incentives.
Then BAM, the Teller catches them. But, instead of killing them like it was doing to the others, they're taken to Ms Delphox.
This is the moment where the delivery starts to get a bit rubbish.The atomic shredders, as it turns out, were teleporters instead! This a bit of an ass-pull in itself, but not to a distracting degree. What is a bit glaring in its lack of explanation, however, is how Saibra and Psi managed to disguise themselves as bank security and get to Ms Delphox's office so easily. While the plot becomes far more interesting from this point - as it starts to become clear who the Architect is, why the heist is taking place, and who Karabraxos is - it does feel as though they tossed aside the elements that make the first half of the story work too easily. The team have no trouble getting down to Karabraxos's private vault, for example.
Furthermore, the sense of danger and urgency is lost. Partly down to said simplicity, but a few odd conveniences like Delphox leaving The Doctor and Clara in the hands of the guards rather than using the Teller to dispose of them herself. This is especially odd given how clearly scared she was of being fired; you would think she'd want to finish the job.
A word on the direction, because I'm excited to talk about it - this is the most stylish episode of the series so far. The Bank of Karabraxos is stunning (well... the corridors down below are a bit repetitive but whatever, that's Doctor Who) and the Teller is one of the best looking creatures the series has ever had. The music is pounding and a bit retro, and transitions and cuts are very creatively handled. All together, they create an atmosphere which lends itself to "snappy" rather than "rushed". As such, the aforementioned problems I had with the convenience of the second half doesn't bother me as much as I would have expected.
It feels like what Series 7 should have been: Big, dramatic, and movie-like, but without cramming in so many ideas into 45-50 minutes that they all lose their gravity.
The supporting cast are very strong. Fellow bank-robbers Psi and Saibra were relatively fleshed out and interesting character. While I didn't feel like we fully got to know them, we got plenty of hints of what they are like and given the circumstances of the story, that is fair enough! I'd be very pleased if we got to see them again, actually - I'd compare their addition to Nerfertiti and Riddell from Dinosaurs on a Spaceship... except well-executed and it makes sense... So not like that at all. However, and this usually happens with team-y stories, Clara is left with very little to do. In fact, I don't think she contributes anything to the heist at all.
Keeley Hawes looked like she thoroughly enjoyed the deliciously nasty Ms Delphox. Playing a pitch somewhere between Matron Cofelia from Partners in Crime and Miss Kizlet (Celia Imrie x) from Bells of Saint John. At heart, she's just a stock villain, following the same archetype that's become shorthand by this point. Her time as Director Karabraxos was cut a bit short, which is sad because there's more potential for a conflicted character than was explored.
I enjoyed Time-Heist a great deal. It's by no means perfect, but it was an exciting and at times intriguing adventure and in a series which has been very dark (and is likely to continue in such a direction), it was a nice change of pace. Of the first five stories, it's the one I can most easily see finding itself in my list of stories I regularly re-watch.
As for the score, I'm tentative of giving it a 7 and placing it (most relevantly) above Deep Breath, but I think that's what it deserves.