‘Doctor Who’: ‘Time Heist’ spoiler-free review

Bankers, eh? You know the drill. Boo, hiss, etc.

Since the real-world economic crisis (now also canon in Doctor Who thanks to ‘The End of Time’) they’ve become besuited bogeyfolk. Like The Silence, but with champagne corks. Still, after ‘Listen’ it’s not like you can keep your savings under the bed.

Callous, calculating, and ruthless, you’d think the Banks would be the perfect foe for The Doctor to sneer at. But Sherlock‘s Stephen Thompson and co-writer Steven Moffat (clearly the showrunner is keeping tighter hold on Series 8) aren’t taking jabs at financial institutions. Breaking into a bank to discover why you’re breaking into a bank is the intriguing premise of ‘Time Heist’.

Doctor Who Time Heist 1

As the title winks suggestively, this is no ordinary bank robbery jobbery. It’s Wibbly-wobbly Heisty-weisty and, at the risk of echoing something that everyone else will be saying, can best be summed up as Ocean’s 11 meets Hustle on a Doctor Who budget. ‘Who-stle’. Oh, no…that’s rubbish. No one will be saying that.

Instead of Ocean’s 11 it’d be more apt to call it ‘Twelve’s 4’ (equally rubbish but stick with me), as The Doctor is joined by a cyborg human named Psi (Broadchurch’s Jonathan Bailey), a mutant shape-changer called Saibra (Pippa Bennett-Warner), and Clara, who he’s once again quickly pushed out of her love life and into his TARDIS. It’s a plucky group, but lacks much in fun. Perhaps because this is serious business, or perhaps because Capaldi’s Doctor can be such a fun-sponge at times.

Doctor Who Time Heist 3

In a fast-moving set up, the four are tasked by a mysterious stranger with breaking into a cosmic Fort Knox: The Bank of Karabraxos. It is, apparently, the most secure storage facility for your valuables in the galaxy, though for somewhere so secure it seems alarmingly short-staffed, and happens to possess a lot of generously-sized vents that thieves can scuttle through.

Overseeing events with a lipstick smirk is Line of Duty‘s Keeley Hawes as the Chief of Security, Ms Delphox. An actress of considerable talent, Hawes deserved something more substantial than Delphox. With nothing to do but click around in high heels and be a totem to validate public ire at the financial sector, the character feels like one of the weaker creations of the RTD era. A Bitcoin Ms Foster, maybe.

Doctor Who Time Heist Keeley Hawes

Because numismatic monsters aren’t scary, there’s a proper creature, a good old-fashioned rubbery kind with a shiny new trick. The Teller stomps about the bank’s labyrinthine corridor (yes, corridor – once again Douglas Mackinnon’s direction artfully masks the limits of budget) like a gastropod Minotaur, sniffing out guilt.

And chances are you’ll have sniffed out a good deal of what’s going on before the vault door unlocks and all is explained. For a story wound so tightly around a big mystery it is incredibly procedural, plodding rather than racing toward the treasure and a resolution that is neat but not as thrilling as you may have inferred it would be. It’s an incredibly smart idea, but the payoff it gives is ever so slightly disappointing.

Still, disappointment is always a risk when you invest in something. Any banker will tell you that.


Airs at 7.30pm on Saturday 20 September 2014 on BBC One.

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  • EvilHat

    Rated the same as Listen – guess we’re in for another treat : P

    • Kevin1960

      Hey, this reviewer thought Robot of Sherwood was better than Listen. I’m getting the distinct impression that he’s a big fan of CBBC type Doctor Who.

      • Rob Smedley

        That’s true, I did! 🙂 Let’s not forget these previews are just my opinion, and the stars are just a rough guide. Best to go with the words. Loads of people liked Listen, I wasn’t so keen. No harm done. I’m a big fan of every and any flavour of DW, so long as it’s done right.

        Nothing wrong with a bit of ‘CBBC’ in a family drama now and then either. CBBC’s great. Apart from that scruffy dog puppet they have.

        • CultBox

          This reminds me, I keep meaning to make the star ratings out of 10 instead of 5!

          • Ian McArdell

            That will make it doubly difficut for me to choose one!

  • Molly

    Interesting when you compared Delphox to some of the “weaker creation of the RTD era” when you essentially described a cookie-cutter Moffat “Strong Woman”. I.E. River Song, Madame Kovarian, Irene Adler, Tasha Lem, and now Missy. The sassy, smirking woman in black with red lipstick and heals and a dark secret seams to have become an overused trope of his.

    • Margarethe

      Moffat hardly created this stereotype. Look at Sarah Lancashire in Partners in Crime and Dervla Kerwan in The Next Doctor. They probably are more cardboard cutout male fantasy creations than anything Moffat created. Sarah in particular is the complete cliche with the updo, tight pencil skirt and sensible suit, killer stilletos, red gash of lipstick and headteacher’s glasses. Yet, Davies never gets the same level if criticism when he does exactly what Moffat is constantly accused of doing but ten times worse. At least Moffat’s creations have distinct personalities. The very worst sexist creation in all of Who was of course Christina the Cat Burglar.

      Back to the point, I think the reviewer may mean that the character is cartoonish just as RTD’s era was more overblown and CBBCish than Moffat’s has been. Anyway, it is amusing that to compare any aspect of Moffat’s era to RTD’s implies criticism – just sayin’.

      • Molly

        Moffat’s women hardly have distinct personalities. I could picture Irene Adler saying any of Rivers lines, Kovarian saying any of Tasha’s, etc. They’re all the same Strong Woman ™ , the only difference is one is Evil ™ and another is Good ™. Davies gets tons of criticism, but I suspect you weren’t around in the fandom when he was in charge. People hated him. But Moffat is objectively a worse character writer. He writes 2 kinds of women, the River and the Amy. All of his women can be sorted into these categories. He’s also beginning to limit how he writes men, but that’s another story.

        Mercy in The Next Doctor, Christina De Souza, and Miss Foster were weak in terms of characterization, but they were far from having the same personality. The same can’t be said of River, Tasha, Irene, Kovarian, Missy, and Delphox. They’re all quite one dimensional, and rely on catchphrases and quirks instead of genuine personality.

        • JamesJournal

          I have no idea what Kate Stewart and Vastra have to do with Amy and River.

          Although Clara makes a good case for his limitations, especially when she was paired with Matt Smith.