Personally, I think it’s fair to say that Doctor Who is one of the most inconsistent shows on television. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, Doctor Who’s ability to almost change genres week in week out is what makes it brilliant. The fact that if you have watched an episode, you haven’t necessarily “seen them all”, like with some programmes, is a great thing. It’s also inconsistent factually, the cast and crew have changed numerous times throughout the years, naturally allowing for various storytelling capabilities and opportunities.
In my opinion, it’s also quite inconsistent in terms of quality. I don’t think it’s quality is completely polarised, while it can often be the best thing on TV, it’s never been the worst. However, I’d be lying if I said that “Listen” was a standard episode of the show, Listen is special not only because it’s a masterpiece, but because it’s a rare one. Don’t get me wrong, in general, yes the show is pretty good most of the time, but it’s very rarely as good as it was the previous episode.
While following one of the greatest pieces of TV ever isn’t the fault of Time Heist, it’s not like it would be a masterpiece if you stuck it somewhere else in the series, it does mean it has to live under its shadow. Sure, topping an episode like Listen would be a difficult task, I get that, and it’s not that it doesn’t which is the problem, it’s that it doesn’t really try to.
Time Heist certainly has the potential to be a great story. It has some really good ideas and concepts, and the themes surrounding memories, and lack of them, do really fit into what we’ve seen of the series’ themes so far. In particular are the Doctor’s bewilderment of why he’s there, which in this story is talking about the location, but as we’ve seen from the other episodes this series, the Twelfth Doctor still isn’t sure on why he’s the Doctor, so it’s nice to see that touched upon, in almost an allegorical way. The plot, while nothing to write home about, is a lot of fun and very “Doctor Who”, one of the cases when you think to yourself “I’m surprised it’s taken so long to do this”, and it’s nice to see The Doctor and Clara having an adventure together. Keeley Hawes also guest stars, and she’s brilliant as expected, obviously having a lot of fun with her role.
Time Heist’s problem is that while it has some really good ideas, the execution is pretty standard. There’s not really anything here which lets it stand out, which ironically makes it stand out even more, as the previous four episodes have all had something to really rave about. Deep Breath and Listen showed Classic Moffat, Into the Dalek was an interesting character piece, and Robot of Sherwood was highly enjoyable while also being quite deep. This one is just okay. It’s not even bad, but it certainly lacks the enthusiasm the previous four stories had. This story doesn’t really do anything which we haven’t seen so far. There’s not a “unique selling point”, bar the appearance of Hawes. Sure it has a good plot and some good ideas, but so does every other episode of Series 8 so far.
While you could probably argue that “having nothing much to write home about” isn’t exactly a flaw, (and I would agree to a certain extent, you can’t really criticise an episode for something that isn’t there), this episode does actually have a couple. Firstly are Psi and Saibra. I don’t know how you manage to have a man who is half-computer, and a shapeshifting mutant, and end up with two of the most “just there” guest characters in the show’s history. Seriously, their characters are at times so thin, that you do wonder if the Doctor’s “calories consumed on the Tardis have no lasting effect” claim actually has some truth in it. They’re not exactly winning me over with stunning performances either, being a bit hammy and wooden at times, and there’s little enthusiasm in their performance. Granted, they don’t have the best material to work with, but neither does Samuel Anderson sometimes, and he’s still enjoyable as anything. Also, the pacing isn’t great. It works tonally, but I did drift off a couple of times.
Also, it’s a love story. Yeah. It has the exact same “Twist” which Hide had the previous year, except for this time it kind of comes out of nowhere. Monsters not really being baddies is a trope I am getting bored of in Doctor Who myself, and while it works with the Daleks, who have been explored for 50+ years already, for a new foe, I would personally rather just see them as “bad”.
Visually, this episode is really good. MacKinnon again proves what a fantastic director he is, using some really interesting shots and camera movement. I also really enjoyed the little transitions between scenes. The music’s a lot of fun, the design of The Teller is simply fantastic, and it looks lovely. The set design is nice too, and the costumes, especially Clara’s, are also rather nice.
Capaldi and Coleman are brilliant too, as always.
Overall: While not a bad story, it’s not a particularly good one. There’s not really anything in it that makes it all that special. It’s a perfectly watchable, well-made piece of Who, but nothing more.
Previous Score: 7
New Score: 5