22 Sep 2014

[Review] - Doctor Who, Series 8 Episode 5, "Time Heist"

Courtesy of the BBC.
I feel so bad for Stephen Thompson. When anyone mentions Sherlock, they make mention of Moffat and Gatiss in the same breath, but rarely does Thompson get his due. This despite having been responsible for a full third of the output of the acclaimed adaptation since the beginning, including writing the series two finale which saw Sherlock plummet to his apparent doom.

His work here got a co-credit from Moffat, whose contribution was likely the Clara stuff that bookended the episode. Beyond that though, the episode is ambitious, and starts wonderfully, but never quite lives up to it's own potential. Maybe it's just that we've been spoiled with four fairly strong episodes before this (especially last week). Or maybe it's suffering from the same issues as his first Sherlock episode, The Blind Banker. It is promising, and has wonderful moments, but if too full of half realized ideas and never really becomes anything in it's own right. And then suffers from the quality surrounding it.

Hit the jump for the review, which includes spoilers that may have accidentally ended up at "magician."

The best thing this episode was the fantastic prosthetic work done on the Teller. Yet another quality creature for the series catalogue, and wonderfully realized in complete reality. Anyone who says CG achieves better results then something built by hand can be pointed to this, then slapped against the back of the head. And as a creature of the week, the script at least avoided the temptation of over complicating it's motives. A lot about the Teller put me in mind of the Nimon from a few series back, and how it too was kept simple and tragic.

Keeley Hawes, I feel could have really been something here. And she seemed to be having fun, with those glasses and that hair, but despite a quality twist (one of two the episode tries, and the only one it pulls off) she ultimately doesn't get to be what she could. Again, I was put in mind of past performances by Sarah Lancashire and Celia Imrie, and maybe the biggest issue I had with this episode was just how derivative it was to what has already been done. It takes what should have been a clever and original plot device - I don't think the Doctor has ever robbed a bank before - and filled it with ideas after ideas that just remind us of things already done. And not the fun kind of call-back, like the Doctor, mid brain suck ragging on his former selves' fashion sense (though his getting boastful about the amount of memories in his noddle overwhelming a brain sucker again took me back to when Matt Smith yelled at a space pumpkin).

Clara took on a more conventional role for a companion in this episode, the first time she didn't feel in charge this season. She was as by-the-books as a companion can get, adding the emotional human element while also allowing the Doctor to explain things and for the camera to go off in two directions at once. Her relationship with Danny Pink is interesting, and kudos to Moffat (if he is the one writing those bits) for structuring a realistic build-up towards a relationship between the two. What I buy less, considering how much time they gave to Twelve not being flirty or huggy or human, is the apparent jealousy or one-up-man-ship that he revealed at the end. This Doctor isn't Clara's boyfriend, so why the thread of competitiveness? Is he just desperate to keep Clara in the TARDIS? Is that the answer to what kind of man the Doctor is, petty?

The rest of the episode was too flighty and not focused enough to work on any kind of successful level. The identity of the Architect was obvious from the go, and while the opening moments of the episode, which strangers having their memories sucked by those worms, threatened intrigue and interest, ultimately it lead to too much, and not enough all at once. It was a little bit Satellite 5 and a little bit Into The Dalek. I though for such that Psy or Saibra might end up having tea with Missy at episode's end, but instead it was an "everybody lives" kind of episode.

And as much as the series, certainly the new series, is built on the foundation of the Doctor just running through various corridors until "a thing happens," it's usually build around a larger idea. That's all this was, in the end. They ran around until Twelve got winded, then a thing would happen, and they'd run some more. Eventually, things stopped happening, they stopped running, and everyone went home. There was no challenge, at least nothing that wasn't self imposed. It all just kind of happened. Even the episode didn't know it was over, lingering on the Doctor alone in the TARDIS for just a couple seconds longer than it should have.

It was bound to happen sooner or later, but I feel we have our weak knee of the series. Not as weak as the episodes we got last year, just lacking the punch that I've once again come to expect from the series. I known what Thompson is capable of from looking at his work on Sherlock. But his work on Doctor Who (which includes Curse of the Black Spot and Journey to the Inside of the TARDIS) do not match that quality. Perhaps he is setting himself too high an expectation. Perhaps if he streamlined his ideas he'd have better luck. Just because he's a two thousand year old time traveler form another planet, it doesn't mean that every episode has to be a Gordian knot. Sometimes, a slip knot will do.

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