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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

Doctor Who blogging: “Time Heist”

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[previous: “Listen”]

warning: spoilers!

I really like this episode, and I liked it even more the second time around. It’s got the sort of temporally twisty plot that a time-traveler should find himself mired in more often — just the kind that I love! Time travel here doesn’t feel like a cheat or a way to paper over inconsistencies but tells the sort of story that could only be told with time travel as an element. And it uses the time travel — and its other fascinating science-fictional ideas, like the memory wipes — to explore aspects of the Doctor’s character and create some genuinely interesting ambiguity (ie: things that aren’t just gaping plot holes or utter absurdities passing for complexity and depth).

And it gives us Saibra and Psi!

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These two instantly go on the list of Characters Who Should Be Companions. They’re cool and complicated and their Issues are wonderfully SFnal: Saibra’s problem of not being able to touch anyone is sorta similar to that of X-Men’s Rogue, though without deadly consequences, just emotional ones; Psi erasing the memories of his friends and family to protect them is heartbreaking in a way only science fiction can be. Those Issues would have also been, had they not been resolved at the episode’s end, fantastic foundations on which to build a lasting relationship with the Doctor. Even with their resolution, Psi still has skills that would make him an interesting companion for the Doctor, with his criminal bent potentially providing alternative moral approaches to whatever problems they might run in to. And Saibra could still, even with her superpower gone, have a unique sort of compassion for people who are isolated or lonely (and, of course, there are always ways around her cure: it didn’t last, or she figures out a way to turn it on and off, and so on).

Even the episodes I’ve liked recently haven’t left a lot room for the sense that we’re seeing only a tiny slice of a big confusing crazy universe with lots of amazing people in it, which is one of the things I always liked about Doctor Who. I get that here.

So, we know that the Doctor recruited Psi and Saibra by offering them “the thing [they] want most in the universe.” I think we can presume that what the Doctor also gets a taste of what he wants most at the moment: to do good things, to be the “good man” he worries he isn’t. So it’s not a heist, never was: it’s a rescue, concocted by the Doctor himself.

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And initiated in a timey wimey way by himself at the end of the loopingness of it — when he gives the Director of the bank his phone number! — because he knows something about long lives and old regrets.

We really didn’t need Saibra’s line about how he’s a “good man” — that was a bit sledgehammer-y. What we probably could use at some point is a sense of why, suddenly, the Doctor is worried about whether he’s good or not. He’s been involved in some hellish shit, but I’m not sure things have gone so badly wrong for him that he should be questioning himself. It should be the opposite, in fact: after years of tormenting himself about the destruction of Gallifrey that he believed he had caused, he learned that Gallifrey is safe, if inaccessible to him. He should feel vindication for his actions, not doubt.

This episode is so good, and leaves such room for more exploration, that I can’t help but speculate about what else could have happened here. (This is my fan-fiction gland being engaged for the first time in a while.) The Doctor is in a place where one’s guilt is blaring and obvious… at least to one intelligent being. A scene with the Teller touching on the non-bank-robbing guilt the Doctor is obviously experiencing could have been interesting.

I wonder, for instance, whether the Doctor knew from the moment his memory-wiped self saw them that the “atomic shredders” were actually teleporters. I mean, did he really believe that Saibra and then Psi were killing themselves quickly to escape a terrible death? Or did he know all along that they were going to be safe? He does act surprised to see them again… which means, maybe, that he did think they were actually killing themselves. Which means he jumped very quickly to someone else’s self-euthanasia in a tricky spot. Which means that he, as the Architect, knew he could fool his future memory-wiped self into believing that disguised teleporters were actually atomic shredders. Whether he knew at the moment he handed the “atomic shredder” to Saibra what he was really giving her, it’s pretty cold and calculating.

Maybe that’s why he wonders if he’s a “good man”…

Random thoughts on “Time Heist”:

• The Teller. At the bank. Heh.

• Tiny security flaw at the universe’s most secure bank: customers can bring guests with them. Probably not the best idea.

• This episode looks really amazing.

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Gorgeously designed and shot. Very sleek and elegant all around. Even the lighting is beautiful.

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This is the moment when I realized it:

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I’m not quite sure why. The elements are familiar yet somehow fresh. And there’s another whole big story encapsulated in this one moment that we don’t ever get the full extent of. Like, how did the Teller come to be in the bank’s “employment”? What happened to his people and his planet? Was that even his home planet at the end? These are the good sort of unanswered questions that don’t detract from the story and do add to that feeling of a big wide universe that Doctor Who used to leave me with but hasn’t much lately. Hooray for that fanfic urge!

• I swear that this dude:

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was in the cantina in Mos Eisley…

• Ah, some good old-fashioned Doctor Who corridor running:

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• Obviously the abuse of Clara’s physical appearance is going to continue. To be a Thing, even. But they could at least be consistent about it. “Why is your face all colored in?” the Doctor asks ready-for-a-date Clara. But only last week, he insulted her by suggesting that she had already taken her makeup off when she hadn’t. So which is it: Does the Doctor know what cosmetics are, or not? (Also: high heels.) Better: Just stop with this nonsense.

• When the vault opens because of the solar storm, I could almost hear Hans Gruber saying, “It’s Christmas, Theo. It’s the time of miracles, so be of good cheer…”

Great quotes:

“Dimensional shift bomb. Nice.” –the Doctor

“Shuttity up up up!” –the Doctor (so Malcolm Tucker!)

“Calories consumed on the TARDIS have no lasting effect.” –the Doctor
“What? Are you kidding?” –Clara
“Of course I’m kidding. It’s a time machine, not a miracle worker.” –the Doctor

“Robbing a bank, robbing a whole bank. Beat that for a date.” –the Doctor

[next: “The Caretaker”]


posted in:
tv buzz
  • “Beat that for a date”. I’m not going to be your boyfriend, but I am going to be the most fascinating person in the room.

  • Whutevah

    Why was Clara’s guilt so hotly implied throughout the chase scenes?

  • Dr. Rocketscience

    It’s almost like they’re implying that the Doctor has the biggest ego in the universe.

  • Froborr

    It makes sense to me that the Doctor is questioning whether or not he’s a good man. He spent much of the Eccleston and Tennant eras trying to atone, and then as Smith he gave up and decided he WASN’T a good man. He explicitly says so in “A Good Man Goes to War”: “Good men don’t need rules. Today is not the day to find out why I have so many.”
    Then he discovered he didn’t destroy Gallifrey, that they forgave him to the extent of awarding him an entire new regeneration cycle. So now he’s gone from being sure he’s not a good man to being unsure whether he is one.
    I really hate the constant appearance-based insults on Clara. I get that they’re trying to make him the grumpy old wizard whose heart of gold very, very slowly starts to shine through, but could they find some way of expressing it that isn’t so very gendered?

  • Well, she *is* trying to break into the vault…

  • Ryan

    Yeah, it’d be a bit more fine if he did that to EVERYONE (ala Strax).

  • The dimensional shift bomb was a nice piece of work, but surely it’s ultimately no more insightful or clever than reusing the sonic screwdriver? And the floor wasn’t made of wood, so presumably it could have been effective.

  • Dr. Rocketscience

    Funny thing, at the end of that scene, I turn to my kid and mention that it seems like 12 is using his screwdriver a lot less. 11 would have bust his sonic out to tricorder the drawer, let alone the bomb.

    Not 5 minutes later, the Doctor did use his screwdriver. As a screwdriver, to open up a ventilation panel.

    Yes, I did just use “tricoder” as a verb. What of it?

  • True. But it *wasn’t* the sonic screwdriver, and it has exploded, so it can’t be used again. :-)

  • bronxbee

    when did that happen? did i miss something?

  • The dimensional shift bomb exploded. Not the screwdriver.

  • bronxbee

    oh, i see. of course the bomb exploded — i missed a connection there somewhere. i knew i’d seen the sonic screwdriver a bit later on.

  • Jurgan

    Yeah, this was a fun episode. I really liked Psi and Saibra, and they were such obvious red shirts to be killed partway through the episode, so I was genuinely surprised when they turned back up near the end. The end had a very “everybody lives!” feel. Also, while the Doctor being weirdly condescending about Clara was there at the beginning, it was toned down from other episodes. What’s more, there were two other significant female characters (three if you count the Karabraxos clone) and none of them were sexualized. I’m surprised Moffat was able to resist having the scheming villainness at the end not be a sultry sex god like Tasha Lem or any of the many other iterations of that archetype. So, yeah, this was a light, fun episode. I wasn’t too fond of the quick-cut sequence at the end, spelling out everything that happened for the audience like the end of a Saw movie, but that’s a minor weakness.

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