Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Review: Doctor Who Season 8 Episode 5: Time Heist

The Doctor wants to take Clara on an adventure, but she's getting ready for a date. On one hand, I like a Doctor who loves experiencing all the wonders the universe has to offer and wants to share them with his Companions. On the other, I hate that he seems to have retained Matt Smith's trait of being unable to comprehend perfectly normal human behaviors. ("Why is your face all colored in?" "Are you taller?")

The Doctor is a nearly omniscient time traveler with intimate knowledge of the etiquette and mores of every culture that has ever, or will ever exist, except, apparently, for those of contemporary earth.

A lot of human behavior doesn't make sense outside of the context of its society, but is perfectly logical, and indeed, sometimes compulsory within that society.

Whovian Feminism had a great piece on the subject. It was in reference to the (a)sexuality of the Doctor, but I think it applies in the broader sense, in that it's possible to understand something without being interested in pursuing it. I have friends who are sports fans/vegetarians/attracted to men, and while I don't share those interests, I have an intellectual understanding of why someone might. The Doctor should be able to manage something more than a stupefied "Wha-wha-what?!" when he sees Clara wearing lipstick. It's stupid sitcom humor, and I had thought we were done with it.

Just as she's about to leave, the TARDIS phone rings. Clara is concerned that "a thing" will happen if he answers it, but the Doctor assures her that nothing happens when you answer the phone.

Is this transitioning into another cheesy sitcom gag?

Quelle surprise.

Moffat's not going to be satisfied until the show has a laugh track.

We see that there are four people at the table, the Doctor, Clara, and two others. Each has his or her own worm.

The Doctor informs them that the worms are memory worms, and a recorded message in each person's voice declares that they consented to memory wipe.

The guy is called Psi, and the woman is named Saibra. I got the spelling from the end credits. During the episode, I thought it was "Sabra", like the brand of hummus or the Israeli superhero. I liked her look. The actress seemed familiar, but I didn't recognize any of her earlier roles when I looked her up.

She and Psi are a huge part of what I like about this episode. I wouldn't mind seeing them as full time comapnions. The case in the center of the table pops open and plays a message from a "terribly mysterious" man calling himself the Architect. He tells them that their mission, should they decide to accept it, is to pull a heist on the Bank of Karabraxos, the most secure bank in the galaxy. I like the name "Karabraxos" a lot. It seems like such a Doctor Who word. Bank security shows up, and we cut to Ms. Delphox.

I had her pegged as a haughty woman who got her comeuppance as soon as she appeared onscreen, and I was right. (Oops, spoilers.) Despite my tone so far, I don't dislike this episode as strongly as this review might suggest. Had it been a man in this role instead of a woman, I think my opinion would have shifted from a mild negative to a mild positive. Moffat says he has a fetish for sexy, powerful women, but what he really has is a fetish for seeing sexy, powerful women being humbled. It's pretty ugly, and it brought down my opinion of this episode.

Yes, I'm being uncharitable with this, and I don't think I would hold another writer to this standard, but Moffat no longer gets the benefit of the doubt.

Cut to the Doctor and his new companions running down a corridor. We learn that Psi is a cyborg, and that Saibra is a shapeshifter who uncontrollably mimics any person she touches. They meander around a bit through the most impregnable bank in the galaxy before the room they're in is locked down. Delphox and her goons march out the Teller, and while the name is terrible and an unnecessary pun on "Bank Teller", the design of the creature is outstanding.

They think the Teller is there for them, but it sucks the brains out of someone who sought to exchange some counterfeit currency for that in his vault.

I've been watching a lot of Leverage lately. (Gina Bellman's fortunes have vastly improved after escaping Moffat's sweaty clutches.)  And it's competence porn fantasy where they pull off one heist after another, but at least they go through enough hand-waving to allow me to buy into the illusion. My biggest complaint about this episode is theme. It doesn't feel like a heist movie. The characters lackadaisically stroll from one location to the next, collecting the plot coupon at each before moving on. It lacks the tension that a good heist movie should have.

While lazily ambling down the unpatrolled steam tunnels, the Doctor says, "My personal plan is that thing will probably happen, quite soon." I think I'd prefer 45 minutes of nails on a chalkboard to hearing that phrase in next week's episode. 

Clara finds another case. This is a pretty good scene. The Doctor says that once he opens the case, he can't close it again. Psi asks if it would be safer if only one of them knew the incriminating information, because the Teller can track them through their guilty conscience. I really liked this bit of characterization.

Let's have a pity party for Saibra.
However, there is no message inside. Instead, the case has six devices. The doctor claims not to know their purpose, but Saibra knows he's lying. Meanwhile, Clara is talking to Psi. She asks him about his ability to delete his memories. He tells her that he panicked when he was in prison, and deleted all memories of his loved ones when being interrogated. That brief exchange might well be my favorite sequence in the season. (Up until something later in the episode.)

Unfortunately it's followed by a really terrible and artificial exchange. Saibra laments to the Doctor how she is completely and forever alone, because she automatically assumes the form of whomever she touches. Tell it to Rogue, sister.

She asks him "Could you trust someone who looked back out at you out of your own eyes?"

I don't know. I've know a couple identical twins, and they generally got along okay.

The whole thing is just silly. The show is trying to elevate Saibra's personal hangups to level of a universal taboo. The universe is a big place, and I'm sure even on Earth she could find some narcissists into that kind of thing.

They continue navigating the sprawling, easily accessible corridors and find the counterfeiter in a cell with his head improbably concave.

Then the loudspeaker goes off and tells them that they've been detected, so they better hide if they don't want to be caught. They wander into the room where the Teller is being held in hibernation. Unfortunately, it picks up on Clara's thoughts and wakes up.

Clara gets away, but it then locks on to Saibra. She's tortuously dying by inches, but she exchanges some melodramatic dialogue with the Doctor, asking him to kill the Architect, should they meet him. He says that he hates the Architect, but he can't make that promise. She's all like "You're a Good Man, Doctor Who," and then she uses the "disintegrator".

That "Good Man" was so awkward and jarring. It was terrible.

The survivors escape through an unfeasibly large grate, into a ridiculously wide corridor.

Most secure bank in the galaxy

They bicker. Psi says Clara must have been traveling with the Doctor for a long time, because she's really good at making excuses for him.

Delphox releases the Teller after them. Psi tries to hack the vault. There are corridors and running, just like old times. 

Clara is unable to keep her mind empty, and her Destroyer is coming for her,

but before it can reach her, Psi uploads the memories of a number of criminals, including some classic Who villains, and the Teller starts coming for him.

He strides right down the corridor directly towards it and says "Clara, for what it’s worth, and it might not be worth much…when your whole life flashes in front of you, you see people you love, and people missing you. And I see no one."

That was great! Because of scenes like this, I can't bring myself to hate this episode, despite all its flaws.

The vault doesn't unlock, but then there's a solar storm, which causes it to automatically unlock. The Doctor and Clara enter the vault. There is a brief exchange where the Doctor concludes that the Architect must be a time traveler, because he planned the heist for the time the solar storm would hit. I suppose he could be some kind of solar astronomer too, because presumably solar storms occur due to pre-existing conditions and don't just happen for no reason, but forget that for the moment.

I like how they addressed the absence of the TARDIS, that the solar storm would have made navigation impossible. They enter the vault and find the rewards for their "dead" comrades, a device to restore Psi's memories, and one to stabilize Saibra's genetics. But before they can retrieve their own rewards, they're captured by the Teller. Delphox twirls her metaphorical mustache, and then takes the Teller off to hibernation, telling her underlings in face concealing helmets to dispose of them.

This is really my biggest complaint about the episode. It had no surprises whatsoever. Yes, the Doctor is the Architect. Yes, these goons are really Saibra and Psi in disguise. Yes, the disintegrator was really a teleporter. (If you liked the disintegrator that was secretly a teleporter in Bad Wolf, you'll love it in Time Heist! Man, Into the Dalek rips off Dalek, and now this?) Yes, the Teller, in its leg irons and prison uniform, was serving under duress.

They enter the private vault through some air vents that are bigger than my first apartment. I do like the layout of the vault, and here's one of the most touching things about the entire series. 

They confront Director Karabraxos, who was the template for Delphox. She then orders Delphox's execution. The Doctor has a revelation! "How could you trust someone who looked back out of you out of your own eyes?"

Then he figures out that he's the Architect. It was so obvious that the only question was if his identity was actually supposed to be a twist. The Director packs up some of her treasures, but before she goes, the Doctor tells her that he's a time traveler, and he gives her his phone number. He mansplains that someday that she's going to be old and full of regrets, and that she'll call him. She rolls her eyes, but...

The Teller arrives and scans the Doctor's memories of the missing days. In a flashback, we see the events leading up to the episode. An elderly Karabraxos calls the Doctor from her deathbed (she was the phone call to the TARDIS in the beginning of the episode)  The Doctor was right! Women don't know what they want until a man tells them! Eye roll, please, Clara.

The Teller knows the combination lock and opens the safe within, freeing its mate. The Doctor takes them to an uninhabited planet, before likewise returning Psi and Saibra home. I like the scene in the TARDIS a great deal.

I wouldn't mind seeing a larger crew in the TARDIS at all. Some of the best scenes in the news series were Captain Jack and Rose playing off each other. I hope we see more of Psi and Saibra.

Overall, for me, its flaws outweigh its virtues.  I think there was a really good episode in here, it was probably the most tightly plotted of the season,  but it needed better direction, and NuWho dearly needs someone to rein in Moffat's worst tendencies regarding writing women and jokes that belong in sitcoms.

No comments:

Post a Comment