DOCTOR WHO (2005) series 8, episode 5
WRITERS: STEPHEN THOMPSON and STEVEN MOFFAT
DIRECTOR: DOUGLAS MACKINNON
AIR DATE: September 20 2014
The Doctor (Peter Capaldi) is trying to put Clara (Jenny Coleman) off from having a date with Danny (Samuel Alexander) and go with him instead, when the TARDIS phone starts to ring. As he answers the phone, they immediately find themselves in an unfamiliar room with two strangers: Psi (Jonathan Bailey), a hacker with cybernetic brain implants, and Saibra (Pippa Bennett-Warner), a humanoid shape shifter. Not knowing how they got there, the band of four listen in surprise to a recording of themselves in which they all agree to have their memories wiped, so that they can rob the impregnable Bank of Karabraxos for a shadowy figure named the Architect. A briefcase on the table contains a heist plan and tools to do the job. Taking the contents, they flee the room (which is inside the bank) as guards arrive. As they follow the plan, Psi explains that his memory wipe will protect his loved ones even if he can sadly no longer remember them, while Saibra confesses to being lonely because her shapeshifting ability makes it difficult for others to trust her.
Saibra takes on the form of a customer, allowing the group to access the main vault floor. There, they witness another customer being accused of “guilty thoughts” by Head of Security, Ms. Delphox (Keeley Hawes). In tow with her is a shackled alien creature called the Teller (Ross Mullan), which begins telepathically scanning the man to establish his guilt. On proof of guilt, the man’s brain is reduced to a pulp. The Doctor and his associates leave the disturbing scene and find more briefcases, one of which contains six devices which the Doctor believes to be disintegrators. The plan requires them to get past the cage where the Teller is kept in hibernation. The Doctor twigs that the memory wipes were designed to lessen the chances of their guilty thoughts being detected by the Teller. As they pass the cage, the Teller locks onto Clara's thoughts and stirs. The Doctor helps Clara break free of the Teller's scan, but Saibra ends up ensnared instead. The Doctor gives Saibra one of the disintegrators which she uses to escape the Teller’s scan at the cost of her own life. Psi is furious at the Doctor's apparent unconcern about her death, but agrees to complete the mission.
The Doctor, Psi, Saibra, and Clara
prepare to enter the Bank of Karabraxos
As they race to the vault, the Teller pursues them. Psi stays behind to open the vault, but when Clara is cornered by the Teller, he offers himself in her place. Psi activates his disintegrator rather than die by the Teller's scan. The Doctor and Clara reach the main vault, only to be thwarted by one remaining lock. Suddenly, a solar storm erupts, causing the last lock to be released. The Doctor then realises that this is a time travel heist, recognising that the exact moment of the storm flaring up presented them with the best chance of breaking into the vault. Inside, they discover two safe boxes, the first containing a device capable of restoring Psi's lost memories, and the second containing a serum capable of allowing Saibra to touch others without shapeshifting. The Doctor further determines that the item which they have been tasked with finding is in the personal vault of Director Karabraxos. However, before they can break in, the Doctor and Clara are apprehended and taken to Ms. Delphox. She examines the items they stole before being summoned away. After she leaves, the two guards remove their helmets and reveal themselves to be Psi and Saibra. The disintegrators were in fact teleporters. The four then head off to the Director's vault.
Inside the vault, they are astonished to meet the bank’s Director, Madame Karabraxos, who looks identical to Ms. Delphox. Ms. Delphox is one of several clones created to assist with the running of the bank. The Director orders the Teller to be brought to the vault and begins packing a few valuables into a case, intending to escape the worsening storm. The Doctor, beginning to understand the true nature of the mission, gives the Director his TARDIS phone number and invites her to call him when she is old and full of regret. She leaves, and the Teller arrives. The Doctor submits to the Teller's scan, hoping it will restore his memories. As the scan proceeds, he recalls an older, dying Madame Karabraxos phoning, just as he had invited her, to tell him about her one big regret. He also sees himself setting up the heist and realises that he is the Architect. Recognising that the Doctor came to help, the Teller releases him from its scan. The Teller then opens a locked door, behind which its mate has been held captive in order to ensure the Teller’s compliance. They are the last of their kind. The Doctor then fully comprehends that the bank heist was in fact a rescue mission. He uses two teleporters to transport the Teller and its mate to a beautiful planet free of “thought pollution”. He uses the remaining four teleporters to get the heist team safely back home. The Doctor finally drops Clara off and departs, congratulating himself on how impressive a bank heist is for a date.
The Doctor and the heist team
witness the power of Ms. Delphox and the Teller
How do you top last week’s episode? The answer is you don’t, but you still offer up a very enjoyable tale nevertheless. What this story lacked in terms of Listen’s storytelling genius, it more than made up for in terms of its scale of ambition and visual flair. Like Into the Dalek, I reckon that a huge chunk of series eight’s budget went into the production of this episode, with its alien landscapes, outlandish creature design (in the form of the awesome Teller), and a variety of interior sets furbished with impressive futuristic technology.
The lavish look of the episode aside, there was much else to enjoy. As with the previous episode, the conundrums of time travelling were strongly at the forefront (the clue being in the title, Time Heist), requiring the viewer to sit up and pay attention, and not just lazily admire the monster of the week (although there was much to admire in that respect). Imagine Ocean’s Eleven in space, replete with a clever plan to rob the universe’s most secure bank, a telepathic ‘guard dog’ adept at squishing robbers’ brains, and more twists than a bowl of fusilli pasta. You get the picture. Or maybe not! Because if I have one quibble about this episode, it’s that the plot was possibly too convoluted for its own good. I had to watch it twice to comprehend certain parts of the plot which I hadn’t quite grasped the first time around. Where I ended up watching Listen twice back-to-back for the sheer pleasure, here I required a repeat viewing to educate the somewhat duller parts of my cerebellum. Clearly, Mr. Moffat’s brain – and perhaps Mr. Thompson’s too – operates at ten times the speed of normal mortals. I’m sure a lot went over my kids’ heads but, on the plus side, they did like the scary monster. (And, no… that doesn’t make them, or me, lazy!)
Ms. Delphox Madame Karabraxos
Complicated plot notwithstanding, I thought that this was a strong episode. The new characters, Psi and Saibra, were both likeable and memorable, and ideally suited for the task at hand with their respective hacking and shapeshifting skills. I thought that the glaring contrast between the heartfelt motivations of these two characters and the more clinical motivations of the Doctor was extremely well done. In particular, Psi longed to regain his memories to reconnect with his family, while Saibra longed to lose her shapeshifting abilities to secure intimacy with others. This yearning for connection and tenderness was juxtaposed against the Doctor’s remoteness and coolness – and while they nobly sacrificed themselves to save others, he strategized and calculated at every turn to complete the mission. This was definitely not your cuddly Eleventh Doctor (Matt Smith). And as I’ve said before, that’s no bad thing.
I also have to mention the wonderful Keely Hawes, whom I last saw in sci-fi mystery series, Ashes to Ashes. Her depictions of the frosty Ms. Delphox and the even frostier Madame Karabraxos were delightful. Her nonchalance and snarky attitude as Ms. Delphox when she got the Teller to turn a man’s head to slush, was terrific - like a snooty school teacher throwing an unruly child out of second storey window with a “tut-tut” and a condescending wag of the finger. An outstanding performance delivered by a talented actress.
So, all in all, a successful and good looking episode, despite a few confusing - or should that be brain-squishing? - twists and turns.