If there’s one thing that has defined Doctor Who over its fifty plus history, it is its ability to constantly shift and change, tackling any genre. You never knew exactly what to expect, meaning if this week’s episode is not to your liking, just wait until next week for something completely different. Unfortunately, this ability to constantly adapt and change seems is slowly disappearing. “Time Heist” marks the fifth episode in a row that is an amalgam of ideas that have been used since the show’s reboot in 2005. I forgave this misstep for the past four episodes because I was glad to have Doctor Who back on television and there’s nothing inherently wrong with revisiting old ideas–if they’re good ones and if there’s a new twist or perspective on it. With “Time Heist”, it’s starting to get a bit old.
It’s one thing to revisit ideas from the Russell T. Davis era. Some of those episodes are almost ten years old and are ready for a new take, but “Time Heist” isn’t reaching that far back. The most recent idea it reuses is from “Into the Dalek”, a mere three episodes ago. This time, instead of breaking into a Dalek for no apparent reason, they’re breaking into a bank for no apparent reason, which of course is totally different. Both escapades are highly dangerous and will result in certain death, and as an added bonus provide no logical reason for risking the lives of the crew. We also see the return of a memory/soul/dream stealing monster, just like The Wire back in series two and the Spoon-Heads from “The Bells of St. John”.
And it’s not just the recycling of old ideas; its the poor and, in many instances, laughable execution of the old ideas. The sequence after the opening titles is great, just like a fast-paced action thriller: tilted camera angles, unusual perspectives and a highly stylized image. There’s also a great villain in Keeley Hawes’ Ms. Delphax, who is criminally underused. It’s slick and cool; just what a bank heist calls for, but it’s all downhill from there. After a promising opening, the episode devolves into unidentifiable soup. It’s no longer a thriller. I’m not quite sure what it is, but it’s not anything identifiable as the show I know and love.
The guest characters that round out The Doctor and Clara’s gang of bank robbers are stereotypes at best, and completely boring and unmemorable at their worst. Both of their deaths are welcome even if they are cop outs and become even bigger cop outs when they turn out to not be dead after all. (The idea that everybody lives was great in “The Doctor Dances” and “The Forest of the Dead”, but enough all ready.) Director Douglas Mackinnon also dispenses with the cool stylistic choices from the opening of the episode, favouring instead a bland run of the mill direction that every police procedural on the planet uses.
And if bland characters and lack of any discernible direction aren’t enough, the final nail in the coffin of “Time Heist” is that there are no stakes. All the members of The Doctor’s party have had their memories wiped and therefore can’t remember why they are breaking into the bank in the first place. It may be a fantasy, but there needs to be at least the tiniest bit of logic to ground the thing. They are attempting to break into the most secure bank in the universe, which incidentally appears to not be that secure. There needs to be a reasonable explanation for them risking their lives instead of blindly following the unseen and unknown Architect. There are too many unanswered questions that get in the way of any enjoyment there could be from the episode. Looming over everything is the question WHY ARE THEY THERE? Just because Clara keeps asking the same questions I have onscreen, doesn’t excuse the massive plot holes and lack of narrative purpose. If The Architect can break into the bank on his own, why does he need The Doctor and crew? Even when the questions are answered, nothing adds up. It’s all very frustrating.
There is also a matter of the characterization of The Doctor. While Clara has now been figured out and is becoming more and more solid as a companion, The 12th Doctor still hasn’t come into his own. We are well past the point when he should be mirroring his past incarnation, but a lot of his lines are still reminiscent of the 11th. Sure Capaldi delivers them in a completely different way than Matt Smith would, but it just proves that Steven Moffat really only had one Doctor in him. He is truly out of ideas. It’s not just the stories he’s recycling; it’s also The Doctor’s personalities. I have always defended Moffat against the haters. I think he has done great things for Doctor Who, but his time has past. It’s time for a new showrunner. Unfortunately he’s already confirmed for series nine. I just hope he doesn’t hold on so long that the show becomes so tired that people stop watching.