Doctor Who: Time Heist (2014)

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“This is a recorded message. I am the Architect. Your last memory is of receiving a contact from an unknown agency – me. Everything since has been erased from your minds. Now pay close attention to this briefing. This is the Bank of Karabraxos, the most secure bank in the galaxy; a fortress for the super-rich. If you can afford your own star system, this is where you keep it. No one sets foot on the planet without protocols. All movement is monitored, all air consumption regulated. DNA is authenticated at every stage. Intruders will be incinerated.”

Stephen Thompson’s last foray into Doctor Who writing was last year’s somewhat lackluster Journey to the Centre of the Tardis, an episode that I didn’t hate, but characterized as “well done from an atmosphere and effects standpoint, but [a failure] with the writing.” Thompson seems like a decent enough writer, considering his work on Sherlock, but I feel that he gets too trapped in the mindset of finding a theme for each episode he does. So far, his track record with Doctor Who involves a pirate episode with The Curse of the Black Spot, his aforementioned Jules Verne pastiche, and now an Ocean’s Eleven episode. “Theme episodes” work sometimes, but often fall flat as the writer tries to shoehorn all of the characteristic tropes into one episode. It’s fun to have the occasional homage, but constant ones make the show seems like a parody of other shows.

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The episode follows another routine day in the life of The Doctor and Clara until they get a phone call on the Tardis phone. The scene suddenly jumps to an entirely different room with a handful of strangers as they watch videos explaining that they have all willfully erased their memories for some reason. They discover a briefcase left by a mystery person simply named “The Architect”, only hearing his digitally altered voice. The briefcase contains plans to rob the impregnable vaults of the Bank of Karabraxos for some reason. While The Doctor usually doesn’t do things like rob banks, whatever his reasons, this seems important. The group takes items from the case designed to aid them in their caper, and head to the bank. They have no memories of why they are doing it, or who sent them, but it seems like the right thing to do under the circumstances.

The supporting cast was very decent in this episode including those “strangers” I spoke of. It appears that “The Architect” has enlisted two specialists with what could be considered “powers” to aid The Doctor. Psi, played by Jonathan Bailey, has a computer enhanced brain like something out of a 80’s cyberpunk story, and Saibra, played by Pippa Bennett-Warner, can shape shift into another being by simply touching them. They, of course, have their own motivations for the robbery, and it seems that everyone involved is in this to get something VERY important.

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I really liked seeing Keeley Hawes as Ms. Delphox, the ruthless chief of bank security, since I have enjoyed her in many shows in the past. I was one of those folks, that when comparing the two, actually loved Ashes to Ashes better than its predecessor Life on Mars, the former having starred Hawes in the leading role. She is almost like a “Bond Villain” in Time Heist, down to the silly part where she explains all of her motivations, then leaves the room so that The Doctor and company can escape her clutches. All she needed was a big interrogation laser, well, I guess she had “The Teller”.

This week’s “monster” was pretty awesome and somewhat different to the sort of monsters we’re used to seeing in Doctor Who. “The Teller” is a psychic creature, said to be the last of his kind, that uses psychic abilities to determine motive in anyone it comes across. If anyone has even so much as a thought about a way to defraud the Bank of Karabraxos, the terrifying hammer-headed beast will turn their mind to “soup”, which is every bit as gruesome as it sounds. From the first moments that we see “The Teller” accompanied by handlers, a straight jacket, and crunchy guitar riff, you can tell The Doctor is going to have trouble this week.

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Time Heist is sort of jarring in that it uses the literary technique of the “unreliable narrator” in that we don’t get much explanation as to what is happening and are somewhat misled until the end of the episode. The way The Architect’s plan plays itself out reminds me of some of the sillier stuff from those “Bill and Ted” movies where they set things up with time travel to aid in the present. In Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey, for instance, the titular characters went through and “set up” convenient Deus-Ex-Machina type things to get them out of sticky situations – like hidden guns and the like. In Doctor Who, we see characters seemingly die, then come back later at the “nick of time” as if it’s all according to one big plan.

Time Heist is better than Journey to the Centre of the Tardis and The Curse of the Black Spot in that Stephen Thompson went a bit more abstract than the usual “theme episode”. This episode is by no means a classic, and has silly logic, but it was entertaining none-the-less. Keeley Hawes and “The Teller” were highlights for me, and I honestly hope we get to see both make a return at some point, although I’m not holding my breath.

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Doctor Who: Journey to the Centre of the Tardis (2013)

I really had no idea what to expect with Journey to the Centre of the Tardis. On one hand you could surmise that the episode may have something similar to the classic Jules Verne story A Journey to the Center of the Earth, but the trailer looked more like a scary high-tension episode than an action adventure story. I was surprised to see that this particular episode was something of a horror episode, strange in the fact that it comes right after another horror-based episode in Hide. Journey to the Centre of the Tardis is notable for one reason – we get to see the insides of the little blue box that could. We have seen bits and bobs of the Tardis here and there since the very beginnings of the show, but never have we seen this much of the ship. Even the classic Invasion of Time pales in comparison in terms of Tardis touring. The question is: Was it any good?

I will start out by saying that this episode is one of those that really improves with repeat viewings. For the basis of this review, I watched it twice and liked it a bit more after the initial viewing. You can surmise that I had some problems with the episode if I said “it improves”, and I definitely did. I didn’t hate it, in fact I thought it was pretty good, but it could have been a lot better for reasons I will soon explain. I think my main complaint is that the nature of time travel concepts and cause and effect found within is very chaotic, and to be honest came across as messy. I will not say that it was as incomprehensible as a story like Ghost Light, in which fans have notoriously elevated to being “good” because “complexity” means “smart” but it has its problems.

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The story follows The Doctor and Clara as they come across a large salvage ship piloted by three expert salvagers called The Van Baalens (played by Ashley Walters and Mark Oliver) and their “android” named Tricky (played by Jahvell Hall). This salvage crew captures the Tardis with a powerful magnetic beam wreaking havoc on its internal systems as a result. Not only is she leaking fuel, but the Tardis looks so unsafe that the salvage crew decides to eject it back into space. The Doctor has apparently escaped the ship unscathed and is pretty mad at the salvage crew; it seems that Clara is still trapped somewhere inside.

The Van Baalens were a bit hard to pin down. I love the concept of these three guys traveling around and listening to The Cult whilst gobbling up bits of wrecked ships. Too bad that the characters were pretty unlikable; I know that they weren’t necessarily “good guys” but their decision making skills were horrid (don’t take that part of the ship, the Tardis will try to kill you – takes piece anyway). I also was not a fan of the fact that the two older brothers somehow brainwashed their younger brother (Tricky) into believing that he was an android servant for the simple thrill of bullying him. With character traits like this it’s really hard to feel bad when one of them dies, since he was a jerk anyway.

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The Doctor tricks them into going inside, and fakes a self-destruct system to force the Van Baalens into helping him save Clara, and generally comes across as a bit unhinged, even more so than usual! The rest of the episode is basically everyone running around in various corridors and rooms trying to elude the Tradis’s self-preservation systems and make it to her core. Time starts to unravel, and everyone starts seeing weird things like future and past echoes of themselves as well as terrifying radiation zombies with glowing red eyes. These creatures were pretty creepy for the same reason that “The Crooked Man” last week was – you never get a good look at one of them. Until it is explained as to the nature of these beings is, you usually see the shape of one, with eyes ablaze, surrounded by a haze of obscuring “waves”. They had me on the edge of my seat trying to figure out what these things could have been. I honestly was wondering if he wasn’t housing scarred up refugees from Gallifrey or something, but the real answer was almost as creepy. It seems these were future versions of Clara and the Van Baalens disfigured and driven mad by the energy from the Eye of Harmony, a possible future that is adverted with a stupid plot device.

What really bugged me about this episode was that it involved a “reset button”, and we’re not talking about a figurative one for the purpose of storytelling – an honest to God big red reset button. This trope usually drives me crazy when it’s used this way, and not since the ending of Superman the Movie has it been used in such a silly manner. We saw it at the end of season three to undo The Master’s massacre of the human race, and I hated it then as well. The “reset button” concept is something Russel T. Davies used to employ a lot, I wish it would have stayed with him and not crept into these newer episodes.

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I did enjoy the fact that we got to see things like Clara reading a huge book about the Time War (where she may have seen The Doctor’s name!) and the Eye of Harmony. Little nods to the past such as these usually lead me to “nerding out” even though it reeks of fan service. The special effects for the various Tardis rooms (especially the Eye of Harmony and the Heart) were awesome, and really gives a sense of how massive the whole ship can be. Things like this really helped an episode that could have been pretty mediocre into something special despite its flaws.

Did I love Journey to the Centre of the Tardis? Well, no. The episode was well done from an atmosphere and effects standpoint, but failed a bit with the writing. I’ve loved each episode this half-season so far and having one that “isn’t quite there” is pretty typical (sort of like Curse of the Black Spot), at least this was pretty solid and not terrible. Had they stayed away from things like a giant red reset button, I may have even loved this episode as well. So on a scale of one to ten, with 10 being “woo hoo” and one being “aaargh!” I’d say this one was a “meh” (I should use that as an official rating system…lol). Next week we have Diana Rigg and the Paternoster Gang to look forward to, so can’t wait till Sataurday!

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Lately I have been watching this show on Amazon.com’s portal on the PS3 as I do not have cable nor do I want to “steal” the episodes. Here are some links if you want to try this method out as well:

Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS

Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS [HD]

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