Doctor Who review: “instead of solid gold Time Heist yields lead”

"So soon after Listen do we really need another time-bending plot? This one is especially convoluted, unconvincing and distancing"

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No one sets out to make bad Doctor Who. Every so often I have to remind myself of this maxim. The creative folk behind the show are incredibly talented, imaginative and dedicated. Their aim is to entertain and stimulate, even thrill the viewer. They don’t set out to bore and annoy. But, occasionally, when I’m squirming through a misfire as singularly unengaging as Time Heist, I struggle to hold on to that conviction.

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It should be great. “Doctor Who robs a bank” – that’s the high concept for you. And the Doctor is Peter Capaldi! He has the beautiful, gifted Jenna Coleman by his side. Keeley Hawes, one of 2014’s most lauded actresses, is guest-starring as not one baddy but two. Douglas Mackinnon, who directed her in BBC2’s magnificent Line of Duty and honed last week’s eerie gem Listen, is again at the helm. Plus, the script is co-credited to Steve Thompson and Steven Moffat, two chaps behind Sherlock. Most dramas would cry out for just one of these talents.

But instead of solid gold Time Heist yields lead. So soon after Listen do we really need another time-bending plot? This one is especially convoluted, unconvincing and distancing. The business with the memory worms, the Doctor disguising himself as the Architect, and the entire escapade happening in response to a future phone call from Director Karabraxos is a silly muddle. It can be unpicked but simply isn’t worth the investment.

I don’t believe in the Doctor and Clara’s lifeless associates Psi, the augmented man, or Saibra, the mutant woman. I don’t care when they take their own lives and I yawn when – hey, presto! – they bounce back into the story.

Keeley Hawes, who was utterly commanding, solid as granite as Line of Duty’s DI Lindsay Denton, is wishy-washy here, floundering in a dramatic vacuum. Her cloned twosome (security head Ms Delphox and bank boss Karabraxos) come across like fashion-mag editors with their stings removed.

Douglas Mackinnon achieves some interesting compositions and single-colour images but cannot surmount the script’s shortcomings and choppy pacing. The slo-mo shots of the Doctor’s band of heisters striding in unison strain to emulate Hustle (BBC1’s slick con-artist series) but are devoid of panache. As the quartet progresses to the lower levels, there’s zero tension.

The only time I perked up was during that old staple, the Companion in Peril, when Clara is stalked by the Teller. The expressive Jenna Coleman is asked to look blank and think blank to avoid detection and it’s fascinating to see how she accomplishes this.

The Minotaur-like monster with peculiar eye-prongs is the effects showpiece, lovely work by Millennium FX, but I groaned when the Teller found his mate incarcerated in a vault. We had a similar denouement last year in Hide, when the Doctor reunited the woodland creature with his long-lost mate. To misquote Matt Smith’s Doctor: “This isn’t a heist story, it’s a love story!” Thud!

Peter Capaldi is almost beyond criticism. He’s the right man for the job but doesn’t always get the material he deserves. The characterisation seems thinner in Time Heist, offering him scant “Doctor moments”. The final confrontation with Karabraxos and the Teller could have been still, measured, weightier. Instead, the Doctor starts barking at people like a castrato Malcolm Tucker, telling them to shut up, “shuttetty up, up, up!” and even “de-shut up”.  It’s odd seeing an actor of his calibre at the wheel of such a ramshackle vehicle.

To cap it all, this desultory episode ends with an unappetising “Next Time” trailer underselling Gareth Roberts’s The Caretaker; while Samuel Anderson, who has a scene as Danny at the beginning, is omitted from the final credit roll.

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Karabraxos: account deleted.