Stephen Thompson and Steven Moffat
Spoilers Sweetie – watch the episode before reading on.
Anyone would think that being friends with a Time Lord would enable better time management in one’s own life. You could theoretically, and quite reasonably ask him to return in twenty-four hours in a minute’s time. Not today. The Doctor’s timing is appalling – he’s arrived ten minutes before Clara’s second date with Danny Pink, and he’s thinking of something to do – or so we’re being led to think.
His first words, “The Satanic Nebula!” inspired by Clara’s washing, “Or… the lagoon of lost stars…” inspired by her fish-tank, “Or we could go to Brighton. I’ve got a whole day worked out” are all suggestions that fall upon deaf ears.
Methinks this Doctor might be a little hung up on our Clara – or is it a case of he doesn’t want her but doesn’t want anyone else to have her either? With all the insults he flings are her, anyone would think he really likes her but his inner man-child is yelling, “Girls! Yuck!!” in protest.
“Are you taller?”
“What, do you have to reach a high shelf?”
Clara and Danny’s relationship montage shuffle continues along, to ska-like, snake charming spy music, interspersed with Clara’s pre-date chat to the Doctor. Their goofy awkwardness contrasts with the muzak’s slick grooviness, Danny inelegantly arranges a time for a date, and Clara reacts with girlish glee. While ten minutes before her date, the Doctor is casting disparaging remarks about her make-up and shoes and trying to talk her into going somewhere else.
The couple-to-be seem to have little to do with one another beyond school, or is it that they spend so much time at school they have little else of anything left?
Danny reminds me a little of the Steadfast Tin Soldier, a children’s story written by Hans Christian Anderson, in the story the tin soldier with one leg falls in love with a ballerina, who is on one leg too. Through the evil workings of a goblin, the tin soldier is cast away, goes on several adventures designed to bring him back to his lady love, and fatedly eventually finds his way back to her via the innards of a fish. He is cast upon the fire and she inexplicably lands in there with him, and all that remains after they burn away is her spangle, and his remains melted into the shape of a heart. I’ll be watching this relationship play out over the course of the season with great interest.
As Clara is about to leave, the TARDIS phone rings and a visibly alarmed Doctor reminds us that hardly anyone has the number (yet), and Clara got it off the mystery woman in the shop. The Doctor answers the phone and boom, They’re in what appears to be a locked filing cabinet, with two other life forms, holding memory worms around a table!
His voice pipes up through a playback of a recording, going around the circle, introducing everyone. This hook makes it clear that they are there and they intentionally agreed to do this and is very effective for audience engagement.
During Clara’s declaration of free choice, we overhear the doctor ordering her to change her shoes. This gives us a little authenticity to indicate that they weren’t being negatively coerced into agreement.
The device of meeting the story at the memory wipe is tense and it places the viewer at the same level as the characters, giving no time to contemplate navels. Unless you’ve watched a million Heist shows (which I haven’t) this is a solid and effective story telling technique with many surprises.
We meet their companions, Psi (Jonathan Bailey) who is our complex augmented human, and Saibra (Pippa Bennett-Warner), a mutant human that can replicate herself into the cells she touches. What an awesome combination of special talents, don’t you think? A human integrated with a human is an idea still in development.
Here is a TED video of Neil Harbisson who is completely colour-blind, but with the help of a device – an extension of his brain, audible frequencies are created by the colours he’s surrounded by – through bone conduction. Instead of seeing a world in grayscale, Harbisson can hear a symphony of colour, listen to faces and experience art on a more audible level.
Do yourself a favour, this guy’s good…
We still don’t know who was on the phone (red herring being the woman in the shop) and we don’t really know their motivation for being here, now. We don’t even know if they can trust the mutant human and the human-integrated computer man.
The recorded message from the Architect in an undulating weird American-like accent informs them that they are at the Bank of Karabraxos, the most secure bank in the galaxy, a fortress for the super-rich. It looks like a delicious mash-up of Napoleon’s tomb and the Louvre, and I’m certain that the aforementioned dictator would have loved the incinerator.
All you need to know about the Bank is conveyed by the “Architect”, the bank is impregnable, access is restricted by protocols, movement monitored, air consumption regulated, DNA authenticated and most importantly, intruders are incinerated (painlessly).
So pretty much, like every other high security bank that doesn’t exist in the real world.
Each atomically sealed vault with an unbreakable lock with scrambled atoms is buried deep in the earth, and is accessed by a drop slot at the planet’s surface. They are informed that their presence of the planet is unauthorised and a team on their way to terminate them. Planet security (though they connect directly with Ms Delphox) arrive on cue, to dispose humanely away with them while they luckily still have some time to finish listening to the recording.
“Your survival depends on following my instructions.”
So armed with resistance to Stockholm syndrome, distrust, and all this other information illustrating the degree to which we don’t know what’s going on, the levels of impossibility we’re facing, and expecting a heist genre story we’re being promised, we head off on our own little romp into the world accompanying Doctor’s Three.
As far as story introductions go, it’s pacey and engaging. It’s something we’re familiar with if we’ve watched Ocean’s Eleven or the Italian Job, or one of the Fastest and the most Furious movie series… a fun to watch, yet well-established staple in the Bro-flick plethora.
Reliant on an unknown source of information to keep them safe, Saibra finds a convenient escape route. Leaving memory worms behind, they ensure the security staff will have memories wiped – buying them a little extra time. Well planned. However, the tracks to, by whom, are successfully covered over.
Augmented human Psi plugs into the first suitcase and downloads information while they are informed by the Architect’s voiceover that they will “Rob the Bank of Karabraxos”
On that auspicious note, we cut to the ice-queen Ms Delphox (Keeley Hawes) in her chamber of blue light, white walls, and classically angular objects of symmetry.
The objects of the non-white variety are more personal to her, the pen and holder in gold and black, her desk name badge in a warm toned metal, yet give little away about her deeper nature. They convey subtle details of her character, attesting to her efficiency and the vitriolic ruthlessness of her sharply defined character.
Ms Delphox is quietly enraged when she discovers that the intruders have evaded capture. Stalking out of her ice palace, we find her silhouetted on blue cooing over a manacled monster, that we later learn is called the Teller, behind thick glass.
For the serious technology geeks, Time Heist offers a treasure trove of futuristic gadgetry, useful for so much more than bank robbery, but perhaps proving the point that technology can be used for good or for ill.
There’s the Augmented human – a nod to the transhumanist supporters that believe our evolution and longevity reside in integrating our consciousness with technology. I’m still firmly on the fence facing the other side. An augmented human such as Psi would be useful in a bank robbery for interfacing with computer systems.
Saibra wears a hologram shell so that her clothes change along with her appearance, and uses a DNA sample of human cells to replicate into a middle-aged man, a customer.
Not that it matters, I’m just not entirely sure where they entered the planet, I assumed they were already in the bank because they had Ms Delphox’ security after them, but they seem to have come out in front of the big building, about to enter the banking hall with a classic slo-mo stride.
The bank hall locks down and in steps the Teller. Cyber wild west music lends an eerie atmosphere to the alien beast. The Teller is reminiscent of the legendary Minotaur (half man – half bull – pretty messed up story). Instead of killing men for their sustenance, this humanoid creature with eyestalks on either side of his head is capable of sucking out all memories before liquefying the brain. They never mention the species by name.
The Teller finds the guiltiest customer in the bank while Ms Delphox coldly informs him that he’s guilty and they’ll ascertain how later. Kill first ask questions later. Clara wonders why the Teller can’t hear their guilt and the Doctor explains that the other customer is drowning out. The motivation for the memory wipe starts to come clear.
“Your next of kin will be informed, and incarcerated as further inducement to honest financial transactions” – Ooh Ms Delphox, you are so cold you make your empty office seem like a cosy pub. The customer stops talking and his head is sucked in. He’s taken away for his “Close up” – the new age equivalent of his head on a spike, serving as a reminder to everyone else to remain honest in their financial transactions.
They get into a lift and middle-aged man Saibra blows DNA into a latch before transforming back into herself, they’re informed that their valuables will be transported up from the vault (authentication successful). Psi resents being ordered around, he doesn’t take kindly to this eye-brow wielding doctor and refuses to trust his leadership at first, calling him a lunatic at one point. Clara expresses concerns and the Doctor tells her to stop being pessimistic.
To punctuate the direness of their situation, we discover that Ms Delphox has learned the man they captured was the wrong one, that four unauthorised people have entered the vault, and if she doesn’t sort it out bad things will happen. At this point, we don’t know her relationship to the Director, we only know that it’s contentious if things go wrong. This is why this bank doesn’t need CCTV and drones. Catch points round up criminals with intent, and they’re dealt with in a way that ensures they’ll never be fraudulent in their bank transactions again.
The Doctor is clearly impatient that he has to clarify something so obvious as the good reason there must exist for them to rob the most impregnable bank in history. Mollified somewhat, Psi comments that he still doesn’t understand why the Doctor’s in charge.
The Doctor sets up the device, they take to the corners for cover, afraid of what to expect. After the beeping stops, there’s a non-explosion and they turn to look down at the floor below – a service level. It’s another useful gadget, a Dimensional Shift Bomb – it sends particles to another plane, replacing them again once the previously solid surface is perfectly replaced. A useful gadget to have if you’ve left your house keys indoors and you need to easily remove a part of your door to get in, and a highly useful gadget for burglaries. Unless you can whip one up on a 3-D printer, I doubt you’re ever going to see these for sale at Maplin.
The Time Heisters in the service access area of the bank – backlighting is primary colours, yellow and blues, red is used later… the foreground contrast is almost silhouetted which gives the darker shots a brighter quality and a bit of a graphic novel feel. I prefer this approach to other grunge grey styles where everything is brown, black, and grey backlit by sludge.
Some great tension continues to build as Psi opens the next suitcase before giving it to the doctor. There are six spaces, but only five things that the Doctor calls Atomic Shredders (they later turn out to be teleporters).
Just as the Doctor suggests Psi plug into the interface for a while to charge because there’s no immediate threat, the alarm blares and “Warning. Intruders detected” message comes over the tannoy. He gets Clara to stay with Psi and takes Saibra with him to investigate.
Clara and Psi have a chat, she’s curious about his ability to delete his memories and comments that she has a few she wishes she could lose. I’m not feeling a close connection between these two yet, as this is the first conversation we’ve seen them have, and it’s over so quickly. However having said that, there’s a bond formed during group situations that is difficult to impart through dialogue. Considering what Psi does to save Clara, it might have been useful to draw this out a little more to build a little more empathy.
He admitted that he deleted his memories of everyone who ever loved him, to protect them from harm during an interrogation. Since we’ve already learned that the guilty customer from earlier would have his whole family incarcerated because of his guilt, we know that bank security in the universe doesn’t take kindly to robbery.
I think the moment between the Doctor and Saibra having the heart-to-heart about looking into your own eyes is more emotive than the scene with Clara and Psi. It’s quite unusual to watch the Doctor getting along with anyone.
They find their way into the Teller’s cocoon, and the Doctor peers in and then terrified by an eyestalk, steps back.
In the first episode Clara had to stop breathing, in this episode Clara must stop thinking. They run off and the creature latches onto Saibra from behind its glass cage. The Doctor and Saibra have a final conversation and the Doctor gives Saibra the Atomic shredder.
They kick through another vent – they never seem to put the unhinged ones back again, leaving an easy trail for the security guards to follow.
“A good man… I left it late to meet one of those.” – Saibra’s last words answering the Doctor’s question asked in Into the Dalek, before she’s zapped – atomic shredder, bye-bye. The Teller roars in frustration from its manacles and cage.
“No, I’m an amnesiac robbing a bank. Why would I be okay?”
Doctor doesn’t seem to care about Saibra’s death right at that moment – he bites out something about priorities, something Psi picks on by accusing the Doctor of professional detachment. It’s a great moment because it provides a clue to what’s going on inside the Time Lord, producing perhaps my favourite quote of the episode.
Which is inarguably true – if the team were being led by Psi, they probably would have had a lot more trouble to deal with, as despite all his augmentation and memory additions, he’s quite irrational with all his deeper emotional turmoil. By contrast, the Doctor is leashed, strong, and powerful, despite his current preoccupations.
Clara apologises for the Doctor saying he’s not always like that, and Psi points out that it’s obvious they’ve been together a while because she’s good at the excuses. It is the truth, however he’s not likely to change much. I think we’ve got to make peace with who he’s become even if we’re not comfortable with it. There is a deeper story here and I think it’ll be revealed in the fullness of time. Steven Moffat has admitted that he’s already written the next season’s cliff-hanger – so we know there’s a plan, we know that a master story-teller is steering that plan and with all the guessing in the world, we’re unlikely to guess exactly right, what the plan is likely to entail. I’ve found this to be true of the previous seasons, which always improve when watched concurrently in retrospect.
Tension brewing to a confusing pitch, as we still don’t know whom the Architect is and what they’re doing here. Psi plugs into the suitcase and uploads the information he requires to open the vault. The Doctor points out they need to split up and hands an atomic shredder to Psi. Clara says No and he explains that he wants the choice, doesn’t want his head sucked in. They run off in different directions to misdirect the Teller while Psi gets to work on unlocking the vault.
Another corridor, this time in blue, the Doctor and Clara separate going off in two directions. Clara runs down the red corridor and the Teller is trawling through the labyrinthine Bank. Psi gets the lock to initiate opening, and joins the other two in distracting the Teller for long enough.
Clara is confronted by the Teller and closes her eyes trying to keep her mind blank. Unable to take any more, she runs off and it catches her holding on with its eyestalk brainwave tractor beams. Psi who probably cares about her more than anyone now (because he has nobody else), calls the Teller to him. He reveals that every famous burglar and their in history is hiding in the bank at that moment.
I noticed that there were some old Doctor Who villains in his memory banks, but I didn’t stop to identify individuals – see how many you can spot!
He screams and then is heard no more, which is unfortunate because the vault unlocking he initiated, fails at the last lock – the 24th (opening 23 – I was reminded about Danny Pink’s 23 wells) and with no Psi they’re in a bit of a pickle. Clara is devastated because she believes that he died, and that it was for nothing. The Doctor whips out the sonic screwdriver and discovers that the atomic seal is unbreakable, and stops to think about why the Architect would send him there. The answer is presented in a solar storm, the one that destroys the impregnable bank, it’s the reason why they picked this time to travel to.
The doctor realises that whoever planned this was doing it from the future and picked this time when the bank was most vulnerable. Thankfully, a big solar pulse hits and the vault unlocks. They enter a golden room filled with boxes.
Clara brings out the piece of paper with three box numbers, and they find and retrieve the objects that Saibra and Psi agreed to do this bank job for. There are only three codes, so presumably Clara didn’t get a choice – her reward was the opportunity to be there.
Psi was doing this for a neophyte circuit – for replacing lost data, to remember the people who loved him. Saibra came for gene suppressant so that she could be “normal” – the doctor thought she had a special gift but Saibra felt that her “gift” was one that made her lonely and isolated – something the Doctor can definitely relate to.
They realise they need to head for the Private Vault just before the Teller rounds the corner and finds them. Instead of sucking their heads out – because the last two it tried to do left just after it’s scary preliminary memory scan, they end up shivering in the icy waves of Ms Delphox’s bespectacled glare.
The Doctor mentally connects with the Teller, tries to understand how painful it might be to live with the mental chatter of every brain it’s ever drained. This is the first sign that the “villain” may bot strictly be the true villain.
Ms Delphox admits that she’s terrified because she has personal knowledge of Karabraxos. She leaves them to be incinerated by the security people who we discover to be none other than Psi and Saibra.
I must admit that I had no idea that they were there, I was so drawn in by the technology, the Doctor and the Teller’s similarities, Ms Delphox and their fate in her hands – still fixated on when we were going to get to the events between picking up the telephone and holding onto a memory worm, that I was delighted to see security guard with face morph back into Saibra. Psi points out that they needed to think they were dead, even though it proved to be irrelevant because the Teller caught them anyway.
I’m still curious as to why the Teller didn’t take the Doctor and Clara’s memories in the vault, like he attempted with the others, but I think he had instructions from Ms Delphox not to, maybe also because it could see into the memory blocks that Psi and Saibra revealed before being teleported (in what we originally thought were Atomic shredders) to an escape ship (and TARDIS) in orbit… perhaps somehow it knew.
The answers unravel slowly, meticulously, in the most effective order although I still wanted to chew through the leather sofa cushion to get to the most important answer of all.
The Doctor gives Saibra her reward – a gene suppressant (the Doctor already voiced that he thought Saibra’s need to be “normal” was a weakness, when they were in the vaults) and Psi – all his yesterdays. Mission resumes and they head toward the private vault which they discover has a water supply. We still don’t know what they have has come here for.
Strains of Mozart come ringing through the air vent into which they enter a room filled with the greatest treasures in the universe. Karabraxos turns around and they’re stunned to see she looks just like Ms Delphox. The find out that Ms Delphox is just a clone to Karabraxos, and rather shocked to discover that she kills her own clones with little regard.
The Doctor is pacing around, looking for the next clue (Something to happen as he puts it earlier, something Clara said right at the beginning of the episode before he picked up the phone) and after realising that Karabraxos would burn her own clone points out…
“Frankly, you’re a career break for the right therapist.”
Then it occurs to him as he’s looking at her, but we still haven’t the foggiest notion what’s happening. He’s trying to understand what’s happening, because he can’t remember. He says three shut ups followed by a “Shutetty up up up!” which may be over the top of you’ve never seen Peter Capaldi as Malcolm Tucker from In the Loop using his catch phrase, “Fuckity bye”
The Doctor prompts Saibra for what she said about not being able to trust someone with the same eyes looking back at you, he then dances around and announces he hates the Architect – they’ve made three subtle jibes about hating the Architect so far. Since I think the Architect has been rather helpful, I don’t share their sentiment, though there is still the risk that they’re about to walk into a trap.
The Doctor gives Karabraxos his telephone number and announces he’s a time traveller, and that the planet is about to burn.
Hang on! Hang on! Last week our own sun gave off a huge CME that took a few days to hit Earth, surely Madame Karabraxos would have seen this coming and prepared. Or perhaps everyone knew, but nobody wanted to tell her. Either way, she should have seen this coming – but she didn’t.
“You’ll be old and full of regret for the things you can’t change.” The Doctor plants the seed in her mind just before she leaves, still having not answered the questions we’re all wondering about the Architect. Clara asks the question that we’re all desperate for answers to, “What is it? What are you understanding?”
The Doctor realises that the only way he’s going to get his memory back, luckily Karabraxos sent for the Teller who can help. He allows the Teller to grab hold of his mind, feeding him memories. This reminds me of Rings of Akhaten where the Doctor offers his memories up to the awakening sun, causing it to explode.
He allows the Teller to access all of his memories without fighting it, and the Teller is sentient enough to be reasonable and reveals his blocked memories in much the same way our memories come flooding back to us – in rapid flashes.
We’re back in Clara’s pre-date flat and the Doctor answers the phone, it’s Madame Karabraxos, old and wizened – her conscience finally won out (which just goes to demonstrate how even the most corrupt of souls have to face their own mortality one day), and then his plan kicks into action. We then find out through an almost flashcard like montage, all the information we need in order to close the gaps in our own understanding (filling in our own story memories), there is so much in it, and it’s well told and highly engaging.
“Clara I need worms.”
we discover that the Architect is none other than the Doctor who organises memory worms, interviews Saibra and Psi, arranges the tech, places it everywhere, records the Architect’s voice (his own), gets Clara to change her shoes, grabs a handful of memory worms – that all but Psi use because he can manually delete memories, and follow a tech-suitcase trail around the impregnable bank. We discover how cleverly the plan was conceived and laid out – by him.
It’s not clear to me how the Doctor could have placed the bags without alerting the security team the first time around – unless he used the TARDIS. I suppose he couldn’t open the vault on his own though. We know there was another little hidden agenda that he was playing out (his own personal one to keep Clara from wandering too far off the beaten track with Danny Pink), perhaps the long way around was the most entertaining one.
We understand that he was the Architect all along, that the voice of the Architect was his own – disguised. He still needed to get the vault open and without Psi and the solar storm, wouldn’t have been able to do it.
He conveys all in his mind to the Teller and points out why they chose to forget – because they wouldn’t have been able to do it with their memories in tact. We find out that he remembers the big scarf, bow-tie, bit embarrassing… he asks what the Teller thinks of his new look, said he was going for minimalism, and instead got magician.
“But she’s gone now. They’ve ALL gone.”
Clara is very quiet, just watching as the Teller opens a vault, he knew the code because it was linked to Karabraxos. We discover that this isn’t a bank robbery but a rescue mission, the Teller’s mate has been locked away and we realise the full extent of Madame Karabraxos’s depravity. The pay off here is they rescue the Teller before the two are resigned to a lifetime buried under the rubble of the Bank.
The Doctor summarises the situation well, changing their understanding from this being a Time Heist, to this being a rescue operation for a whole species. “Flesh and Blood – the last currency”
“So much mental traffic in the universe, Solitude is the only peace.”
After giving away the TARDIS phone number, I suppose figuring out that it’s the only way he’s likely to move forward on the woman in the shop identity he says goodbye to Psi, reminds him to call sometime, and while saying goodbye to Saibra, it’s unusual but this Doctor doesn’t seem to protest as much when she hugs him, though his stiff arms indicate his lack of comfort with the familiarity.
The companionship between the four is now evident – it’s interesting how much fuller empathy becomes when the full context has been shown (just a writer’s observation). What didn’t make sense at the time Psi diverted the Teller’s attention and his caring for Clara, is now clearer providing a nice little head bender to wrap your lobes around.
Finally, the Doctor gets Clara back to her timeline, two minutes after they left and she doubts she’d be able to eat anything having just eaten a meal and he jokes that calories consumed on the TARDIS have no effect.
He tells her not to do anything he wouldn’t do – jealous much? Then she turns and tells him not to rob any banks – and adds, without her… and after she’s left, he says to the silence.
There is something of the Architect in that final statement, to me it lends itself well to explaining why he chose the methods he did when he could arguably have used the TARDIS to travel around the vault – like he may have done when he planted the suitcases.
“Time Heist” is the fifth episode of the eighth series of the British science fiction television programme Doctor Who, written by Stephen Thompson and Steven Moffat, and directed by Douglas Mackinnon. The episode stars Peter Capaldi and Jenna Coleman, with Keeley Hawes guest starring.
Time Heist was a glorious, visually appealing and mentally engaging romp off-world, with futuristic humans and enough imaginative gadgetry to keep the mind occupied for a while. The relationship between Clara and the Doctor has somewhat settled and we get the sense that the Doctor wants to involve himself more than necessary, without sharing with Clara (or anyone else) the motivation for doing so. Each episode I’ve analysed, I’ve looked at this dynamic along with repeating themes and I’m still waiting to see how this foreshadows an anticipated event.
The physical mirrors were missing in this episode, though the characters provide the canvas against which the Doctor reflects himself. Saibra has a talent that he admires, and considers her need to rid herself of it a weakness, yet still provides her with the method to do so – her payment.
I am most curious still about the woman in the shop that gave Clara her number, though now that the Doctor has handed his number out to Madame Karabraxos, Saibra and Psi, it seems he’s more likely to have more people to be around him helping him to avoid the isolated darkness that seems to be the one thing that frightens him.
The music was different to previous episodes – some really nice atmospheric nuances. Compared with the minimalistic soundtrack of Listen that consisted mainly of sound effects, this was more relaxing and enabled the story to flow. I don’t really have much more critique than the emotive quality of Clara and Psi’s relationship could have been enhanced, but it’s a minor detail in the scheme. Time Heist is a big story, has a lot to say about materialism and values, mortality and greed and it does so in an inspiring and entertaining way.
© Screen grabs courtesy of the BBC
© Nicki Ki, All Rights Reserved