Review: DOCTOR WHO S8E05, TIME HEIST (Or, The Doctor Finds The Time To Rob A Bank)
On the surface, there's so much about "Time Heist" that should be loads of fun.
Doctor Who and time travelling bank robbery shenanigans seems like such a perfect fit that it had me wondering if the show's taken on this concept before. Maybe it has and maybe it hasn't, but there's ultimately too much that's familiar in this uninspired episode. It's as if writers Stephen Thomson and Steven Moffat felt so pleased with themselves for coming up with the premise that they didn't bother to come up with a story to go with it.
After its more serious episodes, Doctor Who always goes for something more lighthearted and throwaway. As long as its assured enough in both modes, it can continue to be the rare series that is able to switch between these tones without it feeling completely jarring.
It's disappointing to see so little creativity on display in "Time Heist", though, where we meet interesting bank robbing cohorts only for them to get the most basic character details (to some extent salvaged by strong performances) and where almost every heist cliché imaginable is offered up. The writers spend so much time paying homage to heist movies that they forget to form an episode of Doctor Who too. While there is a time travel explanation added to the conclusion, it is (once again) about as obvious as possible.
There's a really strange and interesting monster at the heart of this bank heist story, but it doesn't feel like we get to know a whole lot about it. With such a distinctive look, you'd bet on this being one of Who's most memorable creatures, but after this debut I doubt many will instantly recall much beyond its vaguely-defined telepathic abilities.
It could just be that the narrative device of temporary memory loss instantly strikes me as cheap, but this could have been interesting and it isn't. I feel like the notion of these people thrown together without any idea why (and with no suggestion of what they're meant to be stealing or who they're stealing it for) could be so much more compelling than it is. It's an idea that is touched on and dismissed almost as quickly as it arrives, with an instant trust developing between the would-be robbers merely because the plot demands it.
Sure, this episode does have its fair share of fun weird stuff, such as the slimy memory-wiping worms that kick the whole thing off. But, for all the potential, there's an inescapable feeling that we've seen this before, whether on this show, in a heist movie or some other sci-fi take on the heist plotline. It's interesting that while I'm really positive about Series 8 so far (and especially about last week's brilliant episode), the more lighthearted offerings like this and "Robot of Sherwood" are the ones that haven't sat quite as well with me. It might be that this new darker Doctor doesn't seem to fit in these traditionally fun-focused episodes, whereas his brusque demeanour shines through in the more mature instalments.
In the end, "Time Heist" just doesn't convey the excitement or the pacing that are needed to make a heist truly exciting. It's inert, a forgettable and inoffensive episode in what has been shaping up to be a strong series of Doctor Who.