Time Heist makes us wonder why Doctor Who hasn’t tried to rob a bank before.

From the title alone, you have an idea of what you’re getting into with Time Heist, which throws all of the classic heist movie tropes into a single Doctor Who episode. Though leaning on tropes isn’t always a good thing, the end result here was a great blend Doctor Who‘s trademark sci-fi with classic heist movie style. This episode was fun to watch and had just enough twists to keep the audience guessing until the end — and unlike some of showrunner Steven Moffat’s cleverer plot twists, this story felt like it made perfect sense once you reached the end.

If you want to tune in yourself, you can can new episodes of Doctor Who on Saturday nights on BBC America — though cord-cutters will have to pick up the current season on iTunes or Amazon Instant. If you want to catch up on earlier seasons, they can be found on both Netflix and Hulu.

To get you up to speed, in the last episode we saw:

  • The Doctor going on a wild goose chase for the mythical monster under the bed. At the close of the episode, it’s still hard to say if it ever really existed.
  • Clara meeting young version of Danny Pink and a young version of the Doctor, which works out well because she’s great with kids… though it might twist up the future a bit.
  • Clara going on a first, disastrous date with Danny Pink, which she then tries to fix with time travel… only to make it worse. Oops.
  • By the end of the episode, Clara and Danny have a steady thing going, and keeping up appearances with Danny is going to complicate Clara’s time traveling side-gig.

As we start this episode, we see the Doctor attempting to sweep Clara away for some fun while she’s getting ready for a date with Danny… and since this is an episode of Doctor Who, that means her date is being put on hold so the two of them can save the day. Sort of.

For those of you who have watched (or don’t mind spoilers), read on for more about the fifth episode of season 8, Time Heist.

After getting a phone call on the TARDIS, the Doctor and Clara find themselves in an unfamiliar room with two strangers and no memory of how they’ve gotten there — or of anything since the Doctor picked up the phone. Their companions are computer guy Psi and shapeshifter Saibra, and their mission — as explained in a video by a hooded figure who calls himself the Architect — is to rob the Bank of Karabraxos.

Now, bank robbery seems like an easy job for a time traveller like the Doctor, who could just materialize inside the average bank vault, take what he wanted, and then go on. But our gang of misfits is starting out inside the bank and the TARDIS is, unfortunately, nowhere in sight. What’s a would-be bank-robber to do but carry on?

As our crew of robbers heads further into the bank, we get to see the consequences for thieves: an alien telepath called The Teller (surprise, this show is big on definite articles) can sense guilt…. and when he does, he erases their minds. The would-be robber is left with a caved-in skull and locked away in one of the bank’s vaults. This unpleasant ending gives us our first clue as to what’s going on: with a telepath on the security team, the more the crew knows about the plan, the more danger they’re in. Because they don’t know anything, they’re safe from the Teller… at least for now.

The Doctor takes charge, assuming there must be a plan in place for them to get what they’re here for, even though he doesn’t know what it is. So when they find a bomb left for them by the Architect, he assumes they need to use it to blast through the floor into the level below, which will get them closer to the vault.

Neither Psi nor Saibra are completely on board with this crazy idea, but the Doctor posits that they’ve all agreed to do this for a very good reason — so they should think about what they want most and then what they would go through in order to get it. After a moment, everyone comes around and they detonate the bomb… which turns out to be a dimensional shift bomb — just in case you were thinking a bank robbery meant we’d be short on technobabble this week — that creates a neat hole in the floor and then, once they’ve passed, puts the floor back.

The Architect seems to have planned things perfectly to allow the group to penetrate the bank’s defenses… but if he could plant these things inside the bank, just what does he need them for? The next package he’s left for them offers a hint, but it’s not a very positive one: the Doctor suspects the capsules inside are disintegrators, which will kill the user rather than leave them to let the Teller destroy their minds.

When Saibra gets caught by the Teller’s telepathic scan, she uses the disintegrator, vanishing but allowing the rest of them to escape. “Saibra is dead, but we’re alive. Prioritize it if you want to stay that way,” the Doctor says with what has become 12’s trademark grumpiness. As Psi works to hack into the vault, the Doctor and Clara split up to keep the Teller away… but when the Teller catches Clara, Psi thinks guilty thoughts (or something like that) to lure him away, using his own disintegrator when the Teller catches him.

However, the Doctor and Clara have made it into the main vault due to the help of a solar storm which has shorted out the security systems. They’ve arrived at exactly the right time to be able to get in. Is it good luck… or is it time travel? It’s no surprise that the Doctor’s convinced they’re not just pulling a bank heist, but a time heist planned by someone with future knowledge of the storm. The storm’s disruption, however, would have made navigation by TARDIS impossible, so someone needed to be here when the storm hit in order to get in.

Unfortunately, they’re caught by the Teller and taken to the security manager Ms. Delphox. She gives them a dramatic speech about how intruders are good for morale… when their minds are erased and they’re put on display for all the bank-workers to see. But after that she makes the classic mistake of leaving their disposal to two guards… who happen to be a shapeshifted Saibra and Psi with a guard’s uniform and helmet, which both dramatically reduces the episode’s body count and also frees them to get into the private vault where, presumably, whatever they’re here for is hidden.

But in the vault, alongside countless treasures, is bank-owner Ms. Karabraxos herself… who looks exactly like Delphox. Her security staff are clones but, she says, not very good ones since when she calls Delphox to explain she’s fired for this security breach — meaning literally incinerated — Delphox doesn’t even put up a fight.

Karabraxos’ dislike of her own clones gives the Doctor an idea: he hates the Architect, who’s overbearing, manipulative, and thinks he’s very clever. The Doctor is the Architect! If you figured this out before now, you’re faster than I am, because I didn’t catch this until the Doctor did… though it seems obvious in hindsight.

But, while the Doctor has figured out that he’s the one who kicked this plan into action, he still doesn’t remember why… so it’s fortunate that the Teller shows up as Karabraxos flees from the solar storm, which will soon destroy the bank and everything in it. Now that the Teller is alone, not under the control of anyone, the Doctor manages to convince him to help restore his memory… and then he remembers why they’re here: to free another member of the Teller’s race before the storm can wipe them out entirely.

The episode ends on a surprisingly cheerful note with the Doctor releasing the two telepathic aliens on an isolated planet, rewarding Saibra and Psi for a job well done, and having a cheerful meal in the TARDIS while he ferries everyone home.

This is the most cheerful we’ve seen Capaldi’s Doctor: he’s animated, telling stories, and even accepting hugs without (much) complaint. After a string of episodes in which he’s been nothing but grumpy and dour, we’re starting to see the heart that he’s hiding behind all that gruffness… and it’s nice to get a glimpse of the Doctor we’re familiar with again.

Of course, it’s unlikely to last: no doubt as future emergencies strike, we’ll see more of Capaldi at his grumpy best… but it’s good to know there’s more to him than that.

Bottom Line: This standalone episode was thoroughly enjoyable, whether you’ve been following this season or not. Not only did we get a fun time-travel story, but we also finally got to see Capaldi’s Doctor as something more than an eccentric grouch. (Though if you enjoy the Doctor as a grouch, there’s some of that, too.)

Recommendation: Though this episode doesn’t touch on the season’s ongoing story arc at all, it’s perhaps the season’s best yet. Whether you’ve been enjoying the season so far or not, you should check this episode out.

[rating=4.0]

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