In spite of one of the most exciting title and opening hook in recent Doctor Who history, Time Heist ends up being more than a little underwhelming.
That said, it’s an inevitable casualty of the episode’s creative ambitions. It tries to juggle being a time-travel adventure, a mystery thriller, a heist escapade and a classic Doctor Who story all at once. On paper this mish-mash of various genres – all equally fun in the right dosage – is genuinely compelling, but its not hard to see where it stumbles.
WARNING – SPOILERS AHEAD
Had Time Heist gone further in mimicking the structure and style of its inspirations, it could have been a tour de force for Capaldi’s talents. Had it committed to the time-travel mystery angle, it could have been an exceptional follow-up to last week’s Listen. Had it spent more time exploring the fun companions, villain and monster it threw into the mix, it could have been revival Who at its best. Sadly, the episode ends up failing to go far enough in any of these directions and the its best ideas constrained and shoehorned to fit what is expected of a traditional Who outing.
Side-characters like Psi and Saibra didn’t really get their dues. Saibra’s shapeshifting talents failed to find any real interesting applications throughout the adventure and while Psi had some nice dialogue moments with Clara, he occasionally felt like little more than a human-shaped sonic screwdriver.
On the monstrous side of things, Time Heist was a little stronger. Sure, The Teller is a little fake and goofy-looking, but then again weird and goofy looking is the bread and butter of classic Who. Though it did have a solid introductory scene, I feel like it never really got enough screentime to justify its big reveal towards the end.
Speaking of reveals, I wasn’t especially thrilled with the later one that the Doctor was The Architect. It just felt too similar to (and too soon after) the cyclical setup at the heart of last week’s Listen. I feel like it would have been much more interesting to see the Architect throw The Doctor into this situation but leave his identity unresolved as a sort of on-going mystery – perhaps as a sort of ‘Cosmic-Moriarty’ for the Doctor to occasionally cross paths with?
Thus far, two things have stood out to me about this latest series of Doctor Who. The first, is that it’s daring to tread new ground by deconstructing the psychology of the Doctor himself. The second thing is that it’s not afraid to pinch bits and pieces from previous episodes and ideas in pursuit of this goal. In regards to the latter, Time Heist rehashes a ton of classic Who tropes but fails to really bring them together into anything fresh. It’s not awful, but it’s definitely a step down from last week’s episode.
All up, Time Heist is a passably entertaining effort carried by another strong performance by Capaldi.