Doctor Who does a heist movie with sci-fi and time-travel twists. What could possibly go wrong?
Well, in the opening titles for Time Heist you see that while Steven Moffat has a writing credit (Hooray!) he shares one with that other Steve, Mr Thompson (Nooooo!!!!!!!!!) of The Curse of the Black Spot and Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS fame. It leaves you thinking that maybe this won’t be anything to write home about. And I’m sorry to say that you’d be right.
It’s not all bad though. The pre-credits scene sets up the story nicely by throwing you straight into the action with barely an opportunity to pause for breath. As well as the Doctor and Clara we have Psi and Saibra, two non-entities as characters go for which I blame Thompson, and then there’s the Teller. Does the Teller look like an amazing feat of a Doctor Who monster or does he look like… something else? You decide!
To be fair to the Teller there’s a neat idea on display here. A monster that can read your thoughts and then crush your mind if it doesn’t like what it finds there? Pure Doctor Who! I know Moffat is only a co-writer of this story (it shows in the low quality) but the Teller is something I think he came up with himself. It’s just the sort of thing he likes to invent, a monster that you can’t interact with – see also Empty Children, Vashta Nerada, Silents, Weeping Angels and we’ve still yet to meet the Dream Crabs. Try to not think of something and you’ll be sure to think of it. That’s just what the Teller exists to kill you for. It’s a scary concept, and there are some moments throughout Time Heist when this idea is played with that work well. The biggest scare you’ll find here though has got to be THAT jump-out-of-your-skin moment. You’ll know it when you see it.
There are also some brilliant Doctor moments in Time Heist. Peter Capaldi is once again a force of nature proving once more that he has what it takes to become the definitive version. He gets several of those questionable morality bits that I took him to task over in my look at Into the Dalek but here they work better, maybe because he doesn’t try to make a callous joke about it. I’m talking about the scenes when the Teller is advancing upon Psi and Saibra and they decide that they’d rather die than fall victim to him.
The trouble is that their deaths lead to a twist when they’re not actually dead at all but merely teleported to safety… which we all totally saw coming and rather than generating a response along the lines of “Ooh, how did that happen?” it generates a reaction of “Eh, I saw that coming.”
That’s one of my three main issues with Time Heist: the supposed twists just don’t work. As well as that one there’s the identity of the mysterious Architect, who organised the entire heist, which turns out to be the Doctor. Which we all saw coming because we can see his face. Lazy writing, like Moffat told Thompson to have the Doctor pre-arrange the events of the story and Thompson came up with the laziest way to do this that he possibly could. Only one other writer has done “timey-wimey” as well as Moffat and that’s Toby Whithouse with Before the Flood. Thompson is not Moffat so he shouldn’t pretend to be.
Also there’s the reveal that the Teller is only doing what he does because he has a partner (Mate? Parent? Spouse? Sibling? Child? Fonfon Ru*? Your guess is as good as mine!) As expected from Thompson this is lazy and sloppy, without any reasoning or foreshadowing. It comes completely out of nowhere and removes any chance to leave the Teller with any dignity by the end. (I don’t recall ever trying to humanise a Dalek for instance, look what happened when someone last tried that and we got Dalek Sec in a story so bad that when I reviewed it it became the first time I found nothing good to say in one of my articles (and that includes my infamous Chibnall rant)).
My second problem is the villain Madame Karabraxos, an underdeveloped character cut from the same cloth that RTD went to when he wrote Foster in Partners in Crime and that Moffat went to when he wrote Kizlet in The Bells of Saint John. I don’t mind any of the three characters but it’s getting a bit samey now. Can we try something different next time? And why did you cast an excellent actress like Keeley Hawes when she does absolutely nothing the entire time? The twist (sigh) that she’s cloned herself an infinity of times to run her bank is just daft and, again, the lack of foreshadowing makes it come across lazy and sloppy.
It does at least allow the 12th Doctor’s inner Malcolm Tucker to come to the fore when they meet though. Twelve’s “Shuttity-up-up” is suspiciously similar to Tucker’s “Fuckitty-bye”, and that’s just what we all hoped for when Peter Capaldi was cast.
Ultimately though, the biggest problem with Time Heist is that it doesn’t have much substance. For all its devotion to predictable twists and unnecessary lack of forethought it is rendered devoid of anything to grab the attention of the audience. There’s a story here that could’ve been very good but it just isn’t, not in my opinion, because it falls into the trap of style over substance. The storytelling is lacking and there’s no meat to it.
It’s just a bit dull.
It is still head and shoulders above everything Thompson had written for this show before and I think the credit for that should be given to his co-writer Steven Moffat. It only highlights how much better Moffat is than his colleagues that this is one of his weakest episodes yet but at the same time his co-writer’s best.
So to conclude what should we make of Time Heist nearly two years later? Not much; it’s a dull, unexciting, uninspired, lazy, sloppy and poorly written story that fails to live up to the strength of its fascinating premise. Not one to bother with. At least it’s well acted so it does have that going for it, but it stars Peter Capaldi so we already knew that much before we’d even seen it once!
When he's not obsessing about Doctor Who whilst having I Am The Doctor play in his head, Dr. Moo can usually be found reading up on the latest in Quantum Physics. As you do when you're a physicist.