Sunday, September 28, 2014

"Time Heist"

"No Steven and Stephen, you can't just throw some words
in there and expect a script I'll perform to come out."
'Time Shite'? Well, I tried. Moffat's burning through his regular cronies thick and fast as this series begins, possibly relying on people with whom he has experience to get his new Doctor established. Whether this means the second half of the series will be more fresh remains to be seen. It's now the Stephen Thompson episode and with Moffat by his side he gets to maintain the reputation for bland filler he established in Series 7 as an elevation from the pirate ship episode in Series 6. 'Time Heist' is a serviceable but predictable episode characterised by the same style which has occurred so far throughout Peter Capaldi's first series with an arguably more serious tone limited by unsubtle writing and repetition. The Doctor, a virtually immortal alien with a time machine, apparently doesn't have much to do, so he's standing around in Clara's flat, but she's dressed up in a weird suit and tie outfit for her next date with Mr Pink. He remarks on her face being "all painted in." Didn't he mention makeup just last week? We see Danny being tongue tied, which is presumably meant to be charming, and there's no reason when the TARDIS phone rings (I thought a major point in 'The Time of the Doctor' was that it rang back through the console now?) that she couldn't just walk out and leave. Capaldi has to use the term "a thing" again which seems to be Moffat's current favourite piece of pathetic pseudo Joss Whedon speak.
"I've got hold of a new kind of bank account.
It's called... Smug."
So he picks up the phone and they wake up in a room having lost their memories to those big grub things from the 2012 Christmas Special just after he's said "nothing will happen." Still relying on those instant reverses, I see. They're in the company of a cyborg named Psi and a mutant called Saibra, with a recording cack-handedly giving exposition on the new characters for us. A cheesily modulated voice calling itself 'the Architect' tells them via a recording that they must rob 'The Bank of Karabraxos' which is supposedly the "most secure bank in the galaxy," where doors are unlocked with DNA from breath and thieves apparently get incinerated without trial. There's a fair bit of inept dystopianism going on in this episode. 'Cause he's got half a laptop jammed into the side of his head Psi downloads the necessary data. Meanwhile, Keeley Hawes, who I'm most familiar with from Ashes to Ashes and working a surprisingly large amount with Mitchell and Webb appears in a generic office as 'Ms Delphox,' the head of bank security. Her appearance is the same black suit ensemble we saw already with Tracy Ann Oberman in Series 2, the evil space nanny in Series 4 and Frances Barber in Series 6. There's probably something in RTD's New Who Commandments about how every second series one of the villains has to be a woman in business attire. Hearing that intruders are present, she heads for a tank to get something called 'The Teller' which is guarded by two dudes in expensive-looking 'power armour' type costumes that barely get used.
"Whenever I touch someone, I put on a wig.
If they're bald, I die."
Somehow using the memory worms the Doctor and co escape from their rude awakening, Capaldi presumably insisting that they slow down because of how bloody old he is. Actually, I think 'Capaldi is old' jokes have run their course now because the worryingly ageist remarks people were making about him seem to have died down a bit online, although I daresay they'll keep making them in the show. How did the memory worms let them escape? Did they throw them at the soldiers? The guards seem to have lost all memory entirely, even though our protagonists only lost a bit. It's unclear. We discover furthermore that Psi is a hacker and bank robber, and Saibra is a cross between Rogue and Mystique from X-Men: when she touches people, she uncontrollably takes on their appearance. Clara mercifully doesn't say anything flirty when she sees herself. Saibra tells them she wears a 'hologram shell' to allow her clothes to transform, Moffat and Thompson clearly looking to pre-empt any number of forum threads. The Doctor gets her to take on the appearance of a stock businessman from some DNA which he assumed, correctly but still completely without evidence, to be on some block he picked out of the Architect's case in the first room they were in. You see him do it in the side of a shot and it's easy to miss, so it looks like he just produces this thing from nowhere and then uses it to advance the plot extremely conveniently. After their escape from the guards, this is the second in a series of issues in this episode resulting from awkward direction trying to contain a rushed script.
"Of course you don't get any dialogue or a personality.
This isn't Star Trek you know."
Suddenly they're outside looking at the bank, then they're in it. Where are they in it, though? We know it's a big pyramidal thing, but where in it is this big courtyard full of generic modern-day looking people and half-arsed weirdoes like low-budget Blade Runner? Another problem with this episode is that it needs the characters to jump from location to location without any sense of how they get between them. How come they were being yelled at by bank security earlier when according to this they weren't yet in the bank? I have no idea. In the courtyard in the middle of the bank the Doctor talks in a very loud 'quiet voice' about how they're robbing the place, which is presumably what causes Keeley Hawes to arrive with a big and surprisingly convincing-looking alien. There's some nonsensical guff about how a man's "guilt has been detected" by the alien, which proceeds to use wobbly effects to scan his brain for "criminal intent," after which, without bothering with confirmation, he has his "mind deleted" which farcically causes his forehead to cave in. It's very much the RTD school of visual shorthand, where feelings=thoughts=mind=brain=skull. The best moment is that Psi, presumably due to his augmentations, specifically reacts to the Teller's sounds, but they don't draw attention to it. Keeley Hawes tells the lobotomised fellow that his next of kin will be incarcerated too. It's another instance of the clumsy dystopianism I mentioned earlier. I'm all in favour of corporate satire, but making it that heavy-handed comes across as simplistic. It may be that I'm used to seeing Keeley Hawes in more serious roles, but she's playing it very camp here and I'm not sure it's the best use of her talents.
Damn, already had a line - can't claim
breathing as dialogue for extra parment.
They go to a collection-type room and receive a bomb. Isn't it odd how everyone's just sort of going on with this? None of them are saying that it's a mistake or anything of the sort, just accepting that they have to rob the bank. Somehow Psi projects holographic bank plans out of the metal plug end of a USB cable. They must have forgotten to build a prop. Elsewhere (I was going to say 'downstairs' but who knows where anything is in relation to anything else here) Keeley Hawes complains that they'll be "fired with pain" if Karabraxos gets wind of the intrusion. I'm just going to say "unsubtle" here and move on. If it's a big deal, why aren't they sending guards? Too scared that people will notice and it'll harm their reputation? Didn't we just see that they have discreet guys in suits, not just the soldier people? No one's noticing the four randoms robbing the bank. I mean, this is meant to be an "impregnable bank," we keep getting told this, yet Capaldi and chums have time to just stand around in a room doing nothing. Capaldi argues that "we must all have a very good reason" for being there but it's a rushed explanation for why they've agreed to do this. The Doctor argues that the reason he's in charge is "the eyebrows." Lame, lame, lame. Typical New Who character auto-memetic self-branding in lieu of characterisation. The bomb, interestingly enough, however, shifts part of the floor into another dimension, allowing them access. Why couldn't they use one of those later on the vault door? This is the problem with writing sci-fi: you need to be cautious with how much convenient technology you give your characters access. Too much, and every problem seems contrived. The TARDIS is the prime example these days, of course. Back in the day the combined excuse that the TARDIS was faulty and the Doctor didn't fully understand how to operate it anyway was enough to curtail that kind of thing. In New Who, when he can park it on the side of a building at the precise moment or jump through one person's life, less so.
The face of someone trying to think of
ways the plot holes aren't plot holes.
Once again Capaldi has to use the term "a thing" to describe what he expects will happen. It's not the last time this series alone. They figure the Architect would have had to break into the bank ahead of them but use amnesiacs to hide their guilt from the Teller. How did the Architect get in, then? It's finally detected that there are intruders: what happened to "impregnable"? We then get some clunky exposition as Psi and Saibra spew their personal dramas to Clara and the Doctor respectively. Psi erased all his memories of his kith and kin to protect them when he was interrogated in prison. Saibra is lonely because on touch transforms her. The nonsensical reason is this: "Could you trust someone who looked back at you out of your own eyes?" What the hell is that meant to mean? It's typical New Who forced-angst rubbish. As has been observed elsewhere, it's an excuse to set up some trite moralising from the writers: don't be alone. Personally I like company, but it feels like the writers trying to impose their values on everybody regardless of whether they're necessarily appropriate. The four reunited discover the lobotomised people, and pop through a corridor which gets reused numerous times as different locations in this episode to discover the unguarded Teller in its tank. Where are the power armour guards? The Doctor tells everyone not to move, then moves and wakes it up. It 'locks on' to Clara, whom the Doctor tells to keeper her mind 'blank.' Instead of "Don't blink," it's "Don't think." Do we get a flashback here with the shots of Clara trying not to think? Unsure. Couldn't she just think of things she didn't feel guilty about. Then somehow Saibra gets locked onto instead, and they can't just pull her away for some reason. Instead, the Doctor just sits there telling her how her mind will be destroyed instead of even attempting to help her. He gives her one of the things he took from the latest Architect case, an "atomic shredder" suicide device, which she promptly uses. Gosh, can't believe she's gone so quickly!
"Pull my finger right now or I too will die!"
The remaining guys find the cliché big circular bank vault door, which is totally unguarded despite intruders and looks like something from a London gangster film, not an "impregnable" future space bank. Psi accuses the Doctor of "professional detachment" in his callous attitude to the death of Saibra, which is more 'good man' bullshit, and I finally realise how Moffat is writing the Twelfth Doctor: as Cumberbatch's Sherlock - an irritating tit with a supposed heart of gold who is written in such a way that he seems to deliberately overplay his 'abnormal' or 'inhuman' responses out of insecurity rather than due to genuinely being psychologically different. Psi accuses Clara of making excuses for him, and it really draws attention to this issue in a way that I find quite frustrating. In the tank room, Keeley Hawes is still going on about how impregnable the bank supposedly is. Find the intruders then! Why is it so hard? We get another directorial issue when we barely see Psi retrieving some technological doohickey from another Architect case, which lets him interface with the vault's electronic lock mechanism, along with Clara finding a card with some info. She and the Doctor run off to distract the now-released Teller while Psi has to crack twenty-four locks. The one corridor is lit up with blue and red glows to make it look like different locales as Clara and the Doctor run off, but there's a bit where Capaldi seems to slow down when turning a 'corner' which is actually just a strut because it looks like he's worried he'll accidentally run into the wall. Somehow the vault unlocking keeps happening as Psi runs away. Why is the Teller dangerous? It's so slow.
Don't forget, canon is really important.
Somehow Psi distracts the Teller from Clara by looking at a bunch of pictures of 'criminals' he projects onto the wall: James Marsters, a Sensorite (I guess there were a couple of evil ones) and a comic book drawing of Abslom Daak, Dalek Killer, among others. "I am so guilty!" he exclaims. How does this work? They're just pictures of criminals, Jonathan Bailey having to spit out absurd lines like a maniac. Dramatic music blares as he gets his big 'heroic suicide,' atomising himself in front of the Teller. Nonetheless the vault won't unlock until a 'solar storm' disrupts the electronics. The Doctor realises that the Architect must know the future, and they've been sent back in time to this precise moment because the bank is vulnerable. It spontaneously unlocks just because of the electronics failure. Why? No idea. Inside the vault is basically the Department of Mysteries: a bunch of generic twentieth-century-looking safety deposit boxes that don't have individual locks and are arranged bizarrely not by owner but by contents. The Doctor claims that they must have come without the TARDIS because the solar storm would "make navigation impossible." Why couldn't they have used the TARDIS at any another time and landed it inside the bank vault? As I said earlier, Smith could land it on the side of a building. They'd written themselves into a corner here.
Don't shoot; she might wake up in 1981.
They discover a circuit to restore Psi's memory and 'gene suppressant' for Saibra, but are captured by the Teller, who inexplicably doesn't melt their brains. Instead they're taken back to Keeley Hawes' office. She reveals that the Teller is the last of its kind, as usual. People are leaving the bank, which leads her to believe their jobs are on the line. What, because of a natural disaster? Doesn't the bank ever close? Did no one in the future know this storm was coming? She tells the Doctor and Clara that she's going to lobotomise them too, but then just pisses off with the Teller, leaving them in the hands of the power armour men. These of course turn out to be Saibra and Psi, as the atom shredders were actually, unsurprisingly, teleporters. Didn't the same thing happen with Rose in 'Bad Wolf' with the Weakest Link robot? There's an escape ship in orbit: so the teleporters work in the storm, but the TARDIS doesn't? Suddenly they're back in the big catwalk gas room from earlier. How did they get here? It turns out there's a huge, roomy 'supply line' to their final destination, the private vault. This turns out to be a typical neoclassical space full of generic 'priceless artefacts,' mostly just cliché pseudo-classical artwork and antiques. It turns out that Karabraxos is the original Keeley Hawes: every facility of hers also has a clone to run security. Capaldi thinks he's sussing things out, dreadfully demanding that everyone "shuttety up up up." He goes into typical New Who Doctor manic mode, banging a big gong and gurning upon making a certain discovery. It turns out the solar storm is destroying everything, flames ravaging the city and people running hither and thither. Were they not aware? Why are they still here? Karabraxos takes a handful of junk and leaves, sending in the Teller to mulch their minds.
Down with the kids.
The Doctor is, however, inexplicably able to use the Teller's mind-rummaging technique to harmlessly recover his lost memories, making pointless references to the Fourth and Eleventh Doctor's costumes, doing more self-referential work by comparing his own gear to that of a magician and finally remembering that the phone call at the start of the episode was from Keeley Hawes in old lady makeup calling him with a plea for help. The Doctor was the Architect all along, going through the bank and leaving the boxes everywhere. If he didn't get attacked by the Teller for guilt then, why did he need to bother wiping his memory and gathering the team and doing it all over again? He walks away from the Teller completely unscathed, rambling at it about what they came to find. He makes a convenient remark about the Teller being 'mentally linked' to Karabraxos, something only being brought up now to explain why it couldn't rebel. A safe on the wall starts opening by itself. Is the Teller using telekinesis? This reveals another Teller alien: it was being blackmailed into helping Karabraxos to protect its "mate." It's just like the ending of 2013's 'Hide' then, the line that it's not a bank heist but a rescue mission even being eerily similar to Smith's remark in that episode that the encounter was not a ghost story but a love story. It seems like every episode so far this series has been rife with repetition of what New Who has done before. Incidentally, why is the female the one that's locked up? I guess they're both prisoners but it's typical damsel in distress stuff, even if it's a big alien with googly eyes.
"Can someone help me take the thermometer out?"
So the Doctor deposits the Teller and Mrs Teller on wilderness planet where they can be alone and comfortable without psychic interference. How lovely. It's actually not a bad example of him following through on an offer he seems to make all the time in New Who which never happens. Then apparently he gets everyone some takeaway and tells them an amusing story about Cesare Borgia and the Leaning Tower of Pisa, a very old-school Williams Era Tom Baker style joke which is probably one of the more genuinely humorous and Doctor-like moments of recent years. He sends Psi and Saibra home, weirdly rubbing his arm after being hugged by the latter. "Beat that for a date!" he remarks after dropping off Clara for her evening with Danny. Is this meant to be jealousy? I really hope not. So, 'Time Heist' then. In some respects it's okay, but there are times when the Doctor's characterisation is given far too much emphasis - the whole thing is ultimately a reflective character piece for him, his compassion and his need for company over solitude. The plot feels rushed, especially due to a script and direction which means that without close observation things often seem to happen for no reason. The plot's also of course completely full of holes, which causes the entire scenario to come across as ridiculously contrived. The Doctor being the Architect is very predictable. It should have been the TARDIS in the vault, to explain why they couldn't use it. The supporting protagonists are decent, if a little underused due to the need to write them out for the sake of some cheap drama. Keeley Hawes is completely underused, much like several of the other big name guests we've seen this series such as Ben Miller, and in general the whole thing feels a bit rushed. It's probably the best Thompson episode so far, but that's not saying much, and largely it's due to a somewhat more subdued tone for most of it and some decent costumes. I can't say I think much of the location work for the bank, which makes the characters' progress feel fractured and incoherent. If the direction was a bit tighter, the plot less full of holes, the statements less trite, the scenario less repetitious and the Doctor less annoying it'd probably be a more respectable piece. It's a shame there weren't some good scripts stashed away in Karabraxos' private vault.

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