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Robbed A Bank. Robbed A Whole Bank. Doctor Who: “Time Heist”

You’ve gotta have a heist episode, right?

It’s sort of remarkable that Who has avoided the heist play for this long, but perhaps you just need the right sort of Doctor for it. So, how does a robbery go when time travel is involved?

Summary

Clara is preparing to go on a date with Danny, but the Doctor wants her to spend a day with him. She’s about to leave when the TARDIS phone rings. The Doctor answers it, and he and Clara suddenly wake up with two other people inside the highest security bank in the universe, Karabraxos. Their new companions are Psi and Saibra, a modified hacker with a brain full of computer chips and a mutant who can turn into anyone if she comes into contact with their DNA. They are given a message from “The Architect,” who instructs them on the bank and tells them they all agreed to have their memories wiped for the sake of a heist.

The bank manager, Ms. Delphox, sics a Teller (a powerful psychic alien, the last of its kind) on the guilty party. Unfortunately, the Teller hones in on another person with illegal intent, and turns him to soup, destroying his brain. The Doctor and crew make their way into the passages beneath the bank using information that the Architect keeps leaving them along the way. One of the cases left below the bank contains six vials that are meant to be used for a quick death in case any of them gets captured. Clara finds out that Psi has no memory of the important people in his life because he deleted them to protect them while being interrogated in a prison. Saibra hates her abilities because they occur any time she touches someone.

The four of them wind up where the Teller is being kept in forced hibernation. It latches on to Clara’s thoughts, and as they’re trying to escape, Saibra gets stuck in the Teller’s scan. She opts to use the vial and end her life. The Doctor and Clara try to confuse the Teller by splitting up as Psi works on breaking the bank’s locks, but Clara gets caught by the Teller. Psi breaks down the locks and calls the Teller to him before it can get Clara, opting to use the vial as well. The Doctor can’t figure out how to break the last lock that will open the Doctor, but a solar storm occurs that fries the bank’s systems; it’s also why they couldn’t bring the TARDIS—solar storms make it impossible to navigate. The Doctor realizes that the Architect is likely from the future, which is how he knew about the solar storm.

Doctor Who, Time Heist

He and Clara head into the vault and pick up the items that were intended for Saibra and Psi as payment for their help in the heist. Before they can hit the private vault and find out what awaits them, they are found by Ms. Delphox. She orders their destruction, and leaves them with two guards. Those two guards turn out to be Saibra and Psi—the vials were actually teleportation devices that took them to an outlying ship where the TARDIS is being housed. The quartet head down to the private vault and find that it is the home and collection of Karabraxos, the woman who owns her the bank. Ms. Delphox is her clone; she has one running each branch of her bank, and kills them when they fail at their jobs.

The solar storm has gotten worse and is about to destroy the bank entirely. Karabraxos makes to leave when the Doctor realizes that he must be the Architect of the heist, employed by Karabraxos herself… in the future. He advises her to call him when regret catches up to her. The Teller comes down to destroy them, but the Doctor lets the Teller scan him so he can get his memories back and find out what the heist was for. It turns out that they were their to rescue the Teller and its mate, who Karabraxos was keeping locked up. The Doctor deposits them on a peaceful, empty world, drops off Psi and Saibra, and takes Clara home.

Commentary

Overall, I love this episode. A lot. It just happens to combine a lot of things that hit my favorite Who buttons. It’s plenty spotty, but it’s also a helluva lot of fun. There is more than one interesting female character in it. Continued diversity in the casting is a thing. And for the extra special finale, something near and dear to my heart—monsters who are not really monsters at all.

Brief shout out to Clara wearing a date outfit that happens to seamlessly double as a great bank heist look. (Minus the stilettos.) File that one under how to know you’re doing dating right—“Let’s get dinner! Or we could rob this casino! What sounds good to you tonight?”

Doctor Who, Time Heist

There are a lot of really cool ideas in this episode, particularly bound up in Saibra and Psi—who I really hope we’ll see again. (This is how you introduce good characters who can come back later on, instead of insisting, ‘oh, the Doctor’s always known these people, we’ve just never seen them!’ ala “A Good Man Goes to War.”) Saibra had an interesting Mystique/Rogue combo mutation going on there, but uses holograms to change her clothes, because let’s be honest, it was always kind of hard to buy Mystique shapeshifting herself new clothes, so this is better. It’s particularly hilarious and telling about future in the Whoniverse that Psi initially tries to pass himself off as a “gamer.” Just so everyone knows where their WoW obsession is headed.

Keeley Hawes (who you might recognize as Alex from Ashes to Ashes) is expertly cast as both Delphox and Karabraxos. It would have been better to get into the clone abuse a bit more there, I think, particularly to have had the Doctor care a bit more for Delphox’s fate. On the other hand, Karabraxos’ reveal as the head of the bank—when many people were undoubtedly expecting a man to be in charge—and the complexity of both her and her clone were a refreshing turn. Neither were simply evil women with catch phrases and lipstick and nasty smiles. What’s more, Karabraxos gets away everything. She kills her clone, leaves her business behind (one assumes the bank had lots of insurance, or she’d be in a bit more trouble for that), and gets off scot free. Though the episode undoubtedly ends on a happy note, it’s nice that not everything is so perfectly wrapped up with a bow.

Doctor Who, Time Heist

We are still answering the question that the Doctor posed to Clara—Am I a good man? Saibra insists that he is before she appears to take her life; when the Doctor tells that though he hates the Architect, he can’t promise that he’ll kill the man when he meets him. This seems an affirmation, but it loses its punch when we learn that the Architect was him along. Instead, that answer comes from a different place in the episode. The Doctor informs everyone that the heist ends with all of them getting whatever they want most, or they wouldn’t have agreed to come along. Psi gets his memories back, Saibra can cast aside her mutation. The Doctor gets to save a species. That’s what he wants most. He keeps answering his own question and failing to recognize it.

All the same, we can’t let him get away with everything. One of the best points in the episode was undoubtedly Psi calling Clara on her loyalty—he tells her that he can see she’s traveled with the Doctor for a long time because she’s good at making excuses for him. And that’s what companions do, isn’t it? They excuse his behavior over and over, tell everyone in the room “You’re right, he’s awful half the time, but he’s also brilliant, so just let him do his thing.” It’s often not excuse enough, and it’s good to see someone call a companion on letting him get away with any and everything.

There are quite a few unfortunate holes in the episode that might strain suspension of disbelief. The use of the teleport vials are hard to buy—shouldn’t the bank have shielding against exactly that kind of thing? And if it doesn’t, why didn’t they just use them to get to the lower levels of the bank and bypass the opening section of the heist entirely? It would make sense if the solar storm messes with the shielding, but the teleport devices seem to work just fine before that happens. Perhaps that bank doesn’t have shielding to prevent teleportation from the inside, but then the audience needs to know that.

In addition, the teller being able to unearth the Doctor’s wiped memories is confusing. There was no indication that the wipe was not deep and permanent. If that’s the case, the Teller should not be able to bring up those memories. Again, all that’s needed is a small throwaway line—oh, the memory worms just erase information from your conscious memory, so you can’t recall it and the Teller can’t sense your guilt over it—to make it work. Without some explanation it’s just plain old deus ex machina.

Doctor Who, Time Heist

Also, the security systems of the bank go haywire, but the Doctor and Clara get relatively a million years to go through the vault and find their items. Because no one was sent down there immediately to check on the vault, I guess. It’s kind of hard to believe that there are little safes containing just the things that Psi and Saibra need. Why would those items be sealed up in a high security bank anyhow? They seem more like objects you could buy for a lot of money on the black market… money that you might get from, I don’t know, a bank heist. It’s just a little too neat.

Oh dear, that final line. I do appreciate that the Doctor is jealous of Clara and Danny’s relationship (of Clara just dating in general really). Not because he’s still trying to date her, but because the Doctor’s primary personality aspect in every incarnation can basically be boiled down to “Look at me, but look at me, I’m so amazing looooooooooooook.” It makes sense that he would always be trying to outdo what he perceives as (invisible) competition. He’s going to need a good telling off soon, methinks.

Here were the fun asides for the week:

  • The memory worms are back, after their first appearance in “The Snowmen.”
  • When the Teller is going through the Doctor’s memories, he mentions his old scarf and bow tie, nods to the Fourth and Eleventh Doctors.
  • When Psi is projecting his bevy of criminals to the Teller, the people who he’s ripped skills and knowledge from, we see a Slitheen, the gunslinger from “A Town Called Mercy,” Abslom Daak from the Who comics, and Captain John Hart from Torchwood.
  • HE SAID IT. Okay, it was “shuttity up” instead of “fuckity bye,” which is probably the closest to Malcolm Tucker that he’s allowed to get on family television. But it was such a beautiful gift.

Emily Asher-Perrin is probably going to say shuttity up a lot now. You can bug her on Twitter and read more of her work here and elsewhere.

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