“Time Heist” should have been “Ocean’s Eleven” in space — a high stakes romp with with a good villain and snappy dialogue. One out of three… isn’t all that great. If anything, this episode is the distilled version of everything that’s been wrong with the series for a while — terrific outlines that nobody bothered to fill in. It’s style over substance, and even that’s starting to look stale.
It has all the makings of a good episode — memory-eating aliens! Keeley Hawes! Bank robbers! Once more, it’s a case of good premise, shame about the plot. We spend the first two-thirds of the episode not knowing why the Doctor and Clara are there in the first place, which makes it incredibly hard to care about it. There are no stakes except “don’t get caught” and the two Temporary Companions of The Week have a lot of potential that gets completely wasted.
Since “Doctor Who” came back in 2005, it’s been littered with pop culture references and whilst these can be jarring, more often they’re enjoyable shout-outs — see River Song channelling Mrs. Robinson from “The Graduate,” or the Doctor and Rose singing the theme tune to “Ghostbusters.”
But in a genre with so many iconic films to pastiche, “Time Heist” plays it disappointingly straight. I never thought I’d say it, but I miss Russell T. Davies. He would have handled this episode masterfully, and we might have seen an end to the parade of heteronormative minor characters to boot.
Mostly, though, the problem is that it’s so slow. If you’ve ever woken up and wondered where you are and how you got there, you’ll know how long it takes to get your bearings. This is fine if you’ve woken up in a skip in Putney on a Sunday morning, but not if you’re part of the cast of a 45 minute drama.
Keeley Hawes’ turn as Ms Delphox, the ruthless — although is there any other kind? — financial femme fatale was easily the highlight of the episode, especially when it turned out that the owner of the bank had gone all “Orphan Black,” hiring and firing her clones because if you want something done properly…
Hawes is at her best when she’s camping it up, so it’s a shame that she’s only given one proper scene as Karabraxis 1.0, especially since she apparently has a change of heart on her deathbed and hires the Doctor to go back in time to fix her mistakes. It would have been nice to have been given an insight into why she repents, but once again the writing just skims the surface of a potentially juice plot.
There are some lovely moments — Psi is a terrific supporting character who I’d like to see return, Clara’s burgeoning romance might be the most interesting subplot since Moffat got bored of the ‘River Song is Amy and Rory’s daughter’ twist approximately one episode in and if anyone knows where Keeley Hawes got her glasses from, can you let me know?
Meanwhile, the credits haven’t grown on me in the slightest. They still look like a piece of steampunk fanart someone whipped up in Photoshop, and if someone had posted it on Tumblr I wouldn’t even bother to reblog it. And the Doctor’s sudden inability to understand female human behaviour was funny precisely once — now it needs to stop. He’s been through a regeneration, not a lobotomy.
I did enjoy the idea that he’d planned a whole day out for them at Brighton, although given the last time the Doctor took his companion to Brighton (in “The Leisure Hive”) the actors got married in real life (Tom Baker and Lalla Ward — it didn’t last long and apparently she took the cat when she left). So Jenna Coleman had a lucky escape.
Next week’s trailer has Clara torn between her life on Earth and her adventures with the Doctor. This might be the only time in the show’s history where the Doctor really doesn’t stand a chance.