Doctor Who

Doctor Who: A Predictable But Fun "Time Heist"

I'm hard-pressed to think of a time when The Doctor aimed directly for the bank-heist genre of entertainment. I mean, he's definitely tackled breaking into all sorts of places before, and there are a few audios like "The Selachian Gambit" and "Grand Theft Cosmos" that sort of have that vibe, but "Time Heist" is pure The Italian Job mixed with just a hint of the Saw films.

For the most part, it's a genre that fits Peter Capaldi's Doctor very well. He's part spymaster, part rogue, and really embodies the outsider element we've been promised. Tennant could pull that off sometimes, but Capaldi sells it naturally. As he himself states, being instantly and automatically put in charge is his superpower.

This go-round he's leading a team into the most well-guarded bank in the universe. Problem is, neither he nor the rest of his companions remembers why they're doing it in the first place. All they know is that they were sent by a mysterious mastermind who has helpfully left items and clues along the way into the vaults.

The revelation of who the mastermind -- who goes by "The Architect" -- really is is a rather predictable and ham-handed affair. They all but tell you the secret halfway through the episode, and by the time of the "twist," it really couldn't have been anything else. All in all, it was a pretty weak trick to drive home the long message of the episode.

What "Time Heist" is looking at is how well we confront ourselves when forced to examine who we are. This is explored from several inventive angles, everything from a shape-shifting mutant to a clone side arc that actually was an unexpected surprise. As in "Into the Dalek" and to a lesser extent "Robot of Sherwood," the Twelfth Doctor seems to be working through a terrible fear of self-examination. He's afraid to look himself in the eyes and see what's there.

Taking this internal journey as a whole in the past five episodes, it hints at something larger. It makes me wonder if the Twelfth Doctor has lost the thrill of victory his predecessor experienced in orchestrating the events of "The Day of The Doctor" and is now wondering whether Time Lords can really be trusted to return to the universe. It's an interesting question. Hints from "Night of The Doctor" do not show much enduring love for his own people by The Doctor. Certainly, Ten remained bitter over the machinations of Rassilon to the end. Before the hunt for Gallifrey can really start, The Doctor is on his own hunt for confirmation of himself as a good man.

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All this is wonderful, of course. It's a new type of emotional journey for The Doctor, but the downside of the concentration on this overall arc is that we're still seeing some shoddy writing. Once again, I have to point out that Steven Moffat has written or co-written seven of the last eight episodes. Most shows don't do that sort of thing, to say nothing of something like Doctor Who, where the mix of writers has always been one of the keys to keeping it fresh and original.

So while I have plenty of faith in Moffat's Master Plan, his individual scripts are leaking like a sieve.

The heist plan itself is a convoluted mess that would make The Joker cringe, full of a dozen badly interlocking pieces that I have a hard time believing would succeed even with the foreknowledge of time travel. The glory of a good heist film like Die Hard With a Vengeance is that you should marvel at how the criminals outwitted an unbeatable system. In "Time Heist," all I wondered about was why the system in place was considered "unbeatable" when clearly a fairly mediocre plan could get you through it. The script even forgets its own security measures like the genetic coding trackers and measurement of respiration.

Then there's the fact that Moffat simply will not let us have any monsters. That's a long-running problem when you examine his run on the show. The terrifying new beastie that's unveiled turns out not to be all that bad. In the end it's just a slightly scarier replay of "The Doctor, The Widow and the Wardrobe," and almost identical to last season's "Hide." To be fair, that was a Neil Cross script.

"Listen" might have been nothing at all. Rusty in "Into the Dalek" was treated more like a mental patient than an antagonist, something he also did in "Asylum of the Daleks." Even his most terrifying creations, the Weeping Angels, don't usually kill you so much as throw you back in time and have you get married and have a lot of grandchildren. Where are the monsters? The unknown thing from "Midnight" or the deviant hatred of Solomon the Trader or even the egotistical malevolence of the Great Intelligence?

They seem to be on vacation. All The Doctor gets to fight these days is his own fear of himself about what is good and what is cruel.

Jef has a new story, a tale of headless strippers and The Rolling Stones, available now in Broken Mirrors, Fractured Minds. You can also connect with him on Facebook.

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Jef Rouner is a contributing writer who covers politics, pop culture, social justice, video games, and online behavior. He is often a professional annoyance to the ignorant and hurtful.
Contact: Jef Rouner