When you read through the list of Doctor Who episodes for this season, ‘Time Heist’ doesn’t exactly inspire hope. Corniness and cringing were undoubtedly expected by many, especially with the premise of the Doctor and Clara just breaking into a bank (the Bank of Karabraxos to be precise). It all seemed like we were going to get a rather underwhelming episode that fell flat somewhere. But what we got was a surprisingly exciting, comedic, and compelling mystery heist, that while not perfect, was a most entertaining entry into season 8.
The premise is simple; they wake up minus their memories with two strangers and are forced to rob a bank in order to find the thing they desire most in the universe and to get out alive. While plain sounding it looks like this episode managed to take some excellent cues from the likes of the BBC programme Hustle – structurally, mainly. They built up a mystery from the beginning and then there is sudden realization and deconstruction of the mystery over the course of the episode, with one final revelation. Thankfully it worked wonders for the episode and was the perfect structure to get it right.
The two strangers, Psi and Saibra, added quite a bit of intrigue into the mix, more so than any other of the usual episode tagalongs, and it’d be a wonder if we could see them again like we do with the Paternoster Gang. And weirdly enough, they were effective in revealing further the darker side to Capaldi’s Doctor, especially in his willingness to let people go. Saibra’s conversation with the Doctor prior to her supposed ‘death’ showed that even after a moment with emotional poignancy Capaldi’s Doctor is no longer willing to go to any length to save anyone.
Which is most relevant when we consider this week’s monster, a genuinely original and disturbing creature whose powers stemmed from a telepathic ability to read people’s minds and to turn them ‘to soup’. Its presence demanded a tense atmosphere that was reminiscent of the Minotaur from ‘The God Complex’ and it presented an air of authentic, ruthless danger, one that could barely be reasoned with.
And while the final revelation introduced the idea of a time loop being responsible for the trouble in this week’s episode mixed in with director Karabraxos being less than memorable, the episode still managed to come out rather positively. Capaldi is truly beginning to shine in his new role, and though he did come out with ‘shuttity’ (too close to fuckity for comfort) this week, he is managing to uniquely carve his own Doctor. The only tip that could be given for this week’s entry is to ask them to please not make our eyes roll with another time loop storyline again this season. We can only hope.