Doctor Who episode 821: Time Heist (20/9/2014)

‘Could you trust someone who looked back at you out of your own eyes?’ Stephen Thompson’s third, final and best script drops the Doctor into a Hustle plot. It’s about five years too late to be topical, but a lot of the visual style – the crew walking into opulent surroundings, the use of slow motion, quick cuts and flashy editing effects all look like they could belong in a Mickey Bricks adventure.

It’s not exactly like Hustle – there’s no roper or inside man as such, which means the plot is much more linear than most Hustle episodes – but it has the same sense of cocking a snook at the rich and powerful which fits neatly with this incarnation’s Robin Hood / rebel Time Lord image. Keeley Hawes stands in for both of Hustle’s main villain types – the security officer convinced they can best the grifters, and the wealthy businessperson (‘Moi’) who needs a lesson in philanthropy.

I really like most of this. The Doctor’s crew are attractive and fun, with their own special talents to bring to the party and a personal stake in the heist’s success. Keeley Hawes is great value for money playing smug and vicious. The Teller is a great monster, with a peculiarly horrible (and borderline unsuitable) ability to turn its victims into lobotomised shells. Brains leaking out of eyes is very nasty indeed. There are a couple of clever touches like Capaldi peering into the Teller’s cell like Frobisher looked into the 456’s tank in Torchwood, and his pained reaction to Saibra’s hug which foreshadows his own death. In general, and despite the moment between Psi and Clara (‘You are really good at the excuses’) this is a good episode for the Doctor as he gets out of breath running behind the pack (rather than energetically leading the way as the 10th Doctor usually did) and bantering with his crew. Only Clara feels a bit redundant, without any of the obvious value Psi and Saibra bring to the table.

It’s not all great: the script sometimes gets muddled (why does Ms Delphox bring the Teller to brain soup the Doctor and Clara then go off with it and tell the guards to dispose of them differently?), there’s a bit too much wandering around a slightly differently lit corridor set, and the ending might have been more satisfying if the Teller itself had commissioned the Doctor to complete a rescue mission rather than the awkward stuff with old Director Karabraxos. Mostly, though, this is straightforward entertainment. I just wish I could work out whether there was a pattern to each opening title sequence this series – they jump between the episode title in capitals and lower case, which I’m hoping isn’t just slapdash.

Next Time: The Caretaker


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