Along with Peter Capaldi, Douglas Mackinnon is quickly starting to become a reason to watch Doctor Who. Between last week’s “Listen” and this week’s “Time Heist,” it’s getting very hard not to notice his tremendous talents. Visually, “Time Heist” retains all the feeling of Doctor Who‘s classic campy sci-fi aesthetic—but still has enough visual cues to feel like a classic heist movie.
The episode begins in Clara’s bedroom, again, where the Doctor (remember: not her boyfriend!) is trying to persuade her to come along for more grand adventures. She refuses because she has a date, as evidenced by her notably uncharacteristic outfit: a stylish casual pantsuit. Bit of an odd choice, isn’t it? Seems like something she’d wear when robbing a bank.
The TARDIS’s phone rings as Clara is about to leave, stopping both her and the Doctor in their tracks. Very, very few people have that number. The Doctor picks it up despite Clara’s protest, because “nothing happens when you answer a phone.”
And then the Doctor and Clara wake up, clutching grotesque worms with two strangers in a completely unknown place. All four have had their memories wiped by the worms. They listen to audio recordings in which they consent to the procedure. To be fair, they’ve been in much worse situations. A mysterious figure called the Architect informs them (in a rare American accent) that they are about to rob the most secure bank in the universe—the bank of Karabraxos—and any slip-up will result in their incineration. Oh, and the guards are already on top of them, beating down the door so that they can incinerate our plucky heroes. Now it’s bad.
The Doctor and Clara hastily meet the two strangers: Psi, a cyborg hacker who has a computerized brain, and Saibra, a woman who shapeshifts into whatever DNA she’s in contact with. The four enter the bank’s compound in a shot pulled right out of Ocean’s Eleven (good thing Clara brought the appropriate attire), where they see their most dangerous threat in action. The head of security, Ms. Delphox, is in charge of a last-of-its-kind species known as the Teller, who feeds on the brains of guilty people—as we find out in the show’s most graphically uncomfortable visual effect in a long while. Nobody feels more guilt than someone who knows they’re about to rob a bank, which is why the four consented to wiping their memories in the first place.
NEXT: Heisting on the fly
The four enter into a private lockroom and gain access to the underground of the bank via a dimensional bomb, conveniently provided for them by the Architect. Down below, they find another care package from their benevolent Architect—something which the Doctor identifies as “an escape strategy, of sorts.” It’s pretty clear what these little devices are. The four split up into twos for a little bit of exposition time, mostly so we can develop some sympathy for Psi and Saibra. Psi permanently deleted his memories of his friends and family to protect them while he was in prison; Saibra explains that she can’t touch anyone, so she feels very lonely. Basically, she’s Rogue from the X-Men.
They get back together and make their way through the underground hallways via shoddily-installed wall grates until run into the holding tank for the Teller. Seems like the “NO ENTRY UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES” warning took bank robbers into consideration as well. Unfortunately, Clara sets the Teller off, and the four scramble to escape the holding area—but Saibra gets caught by the Teller’s mind-eating effect. The Doctor gives her the “escape strategy,” and Saibra uses it, disappearing in what looks like a strange disintegration process. Before she goes, she tells the Doctor, “You’re a good man.”
The Doctor stays aloof about what just happened to keep the rest of the group moving—but Psi calls him out on his “professional detachment,” asking if that’s why he’s called the Doctor. This agitates the Doctor into breaking his calm. Ms. Delphox, meanwhile, unleashes the Teller in the hallways to track down the intruders. While Psi gets to work unlocking the vault, the Doctor and Clara run in separate directions to lure the Teller away from Psi. Clara gets caught by the Teller—but Psi sacrifices himself to save her, saying that it doesn’t matter as much if he goes, since he doesn’t have anyone to remember.
The Doctor and Clara go to the vault, only to see that one of the locks is still active. A solar storm comes in (at a very convenient time) to unlock it for them, and the Doctor realizes that this bank heist wasn’t plotted in the past. Instead, it relied on perfect timing known in the future—it’s a “Time Heist!” Get it?!
The Doctor and Clara open two of the three vaults and find cures for Psi’s and Saibra’s conditions. But before they can get what’s in the third vault, they find themselves face to face with the Teller.
Next, they’re Ms. Delphox’s office. She converses with the Doctor and Clara in the usual “Haha, I’m the villain and I’ve captured you, hero!” way. The Doctor realizes Ms. Delphox is afraid of the bank director, Karabraxos. Ms. Delphox sentences Clara and the Doctor to incineration, and leaves her two security guards to it. But the two guards are actually Psi and Saibra; turns out their last resort devices were actually emergency teleporters that went to a ship in orbit.
NEXT: Vaulted expectations
The four quickly make their way back to the last vault, Karabraxos’s private vault, through… another shoddily installed vent grate. Most secure bank in the universe, indeed. But it does make some sense, considering Karabraxos is living in it. And it turns out that Karabraxos is actually Ms. Delphox. Or, rather, Ms. Delphox is Karabraxos’s clone. One of many, in fact. And, jeez, does she ever hate her clones.
This sends the Doctor into a House moment, where he has a sudden revelation. He keeps saying that he hates the Architect, like Karabraxos hates her own clones. That allowed him to fully understand who the Architect is and what’s going on. He gives Karabraxos his phone number and tells her to call him when she gets old and full of regret. She leaves to escape the storm, and the Doctor invites the Teller into his brain.
In the Doctor’s mind, the Teller sees the Doctor’s hidden memories about the previous few days. Karabraxos called the Doctor from her deathbed to ask him for a favor. The Doctor ushered Clara into the TARDIS hastily, and we see him develop and set up the plan to rob the bank. It seems the Doctor was the Architect all along. (He also looks pretty good in a hoodie.) Back in the present, the Doctor tells the Teller that he’s free to do what he’s always wanted to do. The Teller opens a locked door in Karabraxos’s private vault, and the rest of the group sees what the whole bank heist has been about all along: freeing the female Teller. “This wasn’t a bank heist. It never was. It was a rescue mission for a whole species.”
And everyone lives happily ever after, apparently. The two Tellers go back to their home planet; Psi and Saibra get some dinner and get taken home with their problems solved. As the Doctor drops Clara off, he remarks to himself, “Robbing a bank. Robbing a whole bank. Beat that for a date.” A bit of jealousy from the Doctor, perhaps?