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Tuesday, September 23, 2014

"Time" For Better DOCTOR WHO

Article first published as TV Review: 'Doctor Who' - "Time Heist" on Blogcritics.

You may not have seen the latest Doctor Who episode, “Time Heist,” before it aired for the first time this weekend, but it sure feels like it’s a repeat! The plot is quite similar to other shows or films. The Doctor (Peter Capaldi) and Clara (Jenna Coleman) answer a mysterious phone call to the TARDIS, then wake up in a room with two other individuals, clueless about how they got there and why they’ve gathered. Before they’ve begun to digest their situation, though, law enforcement is upon them and they have no choice but to complete a mission given to them: break into the most secure bank in the universe.

It isn’t completely unbelievable that The Doctor and Clara would go along with the scenario, but it’s also not the most sensible thing, either. They both love adventure, and are liable to jump headlong into the unknown. They hear their own voices saying that their memories have been wiped at their own, freely-made choice, with the worms that erased the past hours or days sitting right in front of them. Being pursued, perhaps the only way to move is keep going forward. Yet, I question how not-suspicious the duo are in their participation.

If one can set that aside, “Time Heist” is not a bad episode, at least not for the action fans. It’s certainly fast-paced and quite a lot happens. It features our heroes running through tunnels pursued by dangerous enemies. There are mysteries and strange looking creatures. Viewers are transported to an alien world that feels very different from earth. These are all good things to have in a Doctor Who episode.

I also like the guest stars in “Time Heist” who play different variations on the human being. Psi (Jonathan Bailey, Broadchurch, Leonardo) has computer hardware embedded in his skull, allowing him to access his brain like a machine. However, he misses what’s been erased and wishes he could recover it. Saibra (Pippa Bennett-Warner, The Smoke) has a genetic mutation that makes her look like whomever she touches, making it impossible for anyone to get too close to her, as people don’t tend to trust someone who is staring back at them with their own eyes. This Scarecrow and Tin Woodsman, along for the adventure to get their brain and heart back, respectively, are interesting characters in their own right, and open up all kinds of ripe possibilities for the future of mankind, which I hope Doctor Who explores further someday, rather than just dropping the passing references to them it usually does.

The Teller (Ross Mullan, Bear Behaving Badly) is less well developed, but is a pretty cool looking alien.

But the way “Time Heist” skates over all of these things feels too quick. It’s like the writers only care about getting to the end of the hour with adrenaline still rushing, rather than exploring the potential of the story. From The Doctor’s callous reaction to Saibra and Psi’s deaths, an echo of his behavior in other recent episodes, but still not mulled over enough, to the incomplete explanation of how The Doctor and the central antagonist (Keeley Hawes, The Bank Job, Ashes to Ashes) set the whole thing up, something about the hour just doesn’t feel quite right. It’s an incomplete portrait, sketched in, but never fully realized.

“Time Heist” is not the worst episode of Doctor Who Season Eight so far; that distinction belongs to “Robot of Sherwood.” But it is the second-worst in my opinion, and with two such mediocre, uneven entries this early into the season, the year is not shaping up to be among Doctor Who‘s best. Hopefully, future weeks will salvage this and give us more stories along the lines of last week’s brilliant “Listen,” rather than another one like this, which isn’t bad, but isn’t great either.

Doctor Who airs Saturdays at 9 p.m. ET on BBC America.

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