Saturday, September 20, 2014

Cop-Outs And Robbers

Despite the fantastic work done by this season's previous four episodes of Doctor Who to try to lower my expectations, this year's fifth instalment, Time Heist, managed to fall a bit flat. It was all a bit like Hustle, without the really ingenious, cleverly constructed plots.

There are probably some people, mostly including the writers, who believed the cons featured in Hustle represented the absolute pinnacle of devious plotting. Alas, I was not among them. They were generally obvious, contrived and successful by virtue of the mark's stupidity. Time Heist suffers somewhat in comparison by being more full of holes than a standard tea bag.

It's something we've come to expect from Steve Thompson, writer of such pedestrian logic-deficient works as Curse Of The Black Spot. But in this case it's not all his fault. For one thing, Steve Moffat take the credit of co-collaborator. For another, we now live in an era of Who in which the TARDIS and/or sonic screwdriver are used for everything. So if you're in the business of creating a good temporal bank job plot you first have to come up with a convincing reason why the TARDIS can't be the obvious solution.


Solar flares were offered up as the excuse, because obviously they would have rendered navigation impossible. Erm, yes, like they always do. Clearly. Of course, that begs the question why, when staging a Time Heist, you wouldn't just set your TARDIS to pop into the private vault to rescue the two alien lovers a little before or after the solar flare activity. No, thanks, as a 2000-year old super-smart Time Lord I'd much rather set up this convoluted break-in plan that makes no sense whatsoever, exploiting the unique talents of my trusted companion and two really dull additions to the supporting cast canon. Cos, you know, that'd be more fun.

And it was fun. In the sense that it was driven along by some witty dialogue and some great moments, much like any other Who episode, but those moments failed to hold together as any kind of convincing whole. Jason Statham routinely delivers more ingenious crime capers.

In addition to Capaldi continuing to be awesome, we had Keeley Hawes in cool ice-maiden mode and an interesting telepathic creature in the form of the Teller. But rather like the nice CGI high-tech cityscape was let down by the bank interiors - bland corridors and some basement full of pipes - it all ultimately adds up to wasted material. The Doctor's 'brilliant' plan is to use memory-wiping worms so that he and his friends are guilt-free right up to the point they've opened the case and walk into the bank. Whereupon the incredible guilt-detecting telepath skips right past the four prospective bank robbers to some random suspect who's only there to have his head caved in for demonstration purposes.

Just as last week's astoundingly clever Listen was a sub-par exercise in time-travel 101, this episode's main surprise will be in the number of people who turn out to have been surprised to discover that the Doctor turns out to have been the architect of the whole mission. The main unexpected twist for me was that it all emerged as a rescue mission to bust out the Teller's bug-eyed lover, but largely because I didn't expect them to pull quite such a similar so soon after Hide.

If only the greatest bank in the galaxy was as riddled with holes as this episode, the Doctor and Clara could have walked right in. Then again, they pretty much did just that from being hauled into Keeley's office to clambering through the vents into the amazingly ultra-secure private vault.

The thing is, in order to construct a genuinely clever heist plot (particularly with a time-travel angle), you'd ideally have to be pretty clever. And I don't get the impression that any single Who writer is up to the task. Or possibly in this case any two Who writers together.

To be fair, it's possible - and even probable - that Moffat only wrote the tiresome earthbound Clara dating scenes that kicked this escapade off. And if every episode this season is going to be bound up in that soapy tedium, the future doesn't look particularly bright.

On the other hand, if Time Heist is an example of what occurs between Clara's domestic lifestyle, maybe we'd best just focus on the soap opera.

SAF 2014

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