I’ve never been a big fan of Stephen Thompson’s work with Doctor Who. I found “The Curse of the Black Spot” to be mostly forgettable, and I was definitely not a fan of “Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS.” ”Time Heist” might be his best episode to date, but it is still my least favorite episode of Series 8 so far.
The idea of “Doctor Who does Ocean’s 11” is fun and quirky, and could’ve lent itself to a really unique episode. Unfortunately, the plot itself suffered from being a bit unfocused, and there were some glaring plot holes, the biggest of which was the whole concept of conducting a “Time Heist”. The whole point of the heist was so that they could rob the bank at the exact moment when the solar flares took down the security systems, but the only reason they couldn’t use the TARDIS to bypass the security systems was because of the solar flares. This begs the question of why they didn’t just use the TARDIS before the solar flares started. Also, I find it a bit questionable that solar flares capable of interfering with the TARDIS’ navigation systems didn’t also interfere with the transporters they were using to get out of the bank. It stretches the limits of credulity just a bit too far.
It also relied heavily on some very familiar plot devices and stereotypes. Doctor Who has done plenty of misunderstood monster plots, but the ultimate resolution of “Time Heist” was shockingly similar to “Hide“‘s “Every lonely monster needs a companion” plot. A horrifying looking alien creature acts aggressively towards others because all it really wants is to be reunited with its lost love. And then there was Ms. Delphox/Madame Karabraxos. Apart from the visual similarities, which are just getting tiresome at this point, she had a strikingly similar demeanor to many other female characters written by Moffat: haughty, a bit condescending, and with a “naughty secretary” type of flirtatiousness.
Thankfully, #TeamNotDead was there to save the day. Saibra and Psi were absolutely wonderful, and very honestly it took me several days before I realized that I didn’t much like the plot of “Time Heist” because I loved #TeamNotDead so much. Saibra and Psi were both fascinating, complex characters that were a joy to watch. Thrust into a situation none of them remembered agreeing to and with no idea what they were supposed to do or what dangers awaited them, they surprisingly functioned very well as a team.
Their abilities neatly reflected the main themes of the episode. Saibra, with her ability to reflect someone’s outward appearance, brought up themes of recognizing the worst qualities of ourselves. The Doctor can’t stand the Architect because he reflects his own worst qualities: he’s overbearing, manipulative, and likes to think that he’s very clever. Psi, who can delete his own memories at will, brought up themes of facing our regrets and dealing with our responsibilities. Karabraxos, years later, finally calls on the Doctor to save the creatures she captured, abused, and left to die on a burning planet.
#TeamNotDead also prompted a very interesting and entirely unexpected criticism of the Doctor. Following several episodes in which the Doctor has been especially brusque following the death of a team member, Psi criticizes the Doctor for his “professional detachment.” And, when Clara tries to defend the Doctor, Psi comments that it’s easy to tell that Clara has been traveling with the Doctor for a long time because she is good at making excuses for him. This is a fascinating new layer to the dynamic between Clara and the Doctor, and I’ll be curious to see how it develops in the next few episodes.
Nevertheless, I wasn’t entirely thrilled by #TeamNotDead’s dynamic. Although I loved Saibra to pieces, I wasn’t particularly fond of the way her narrative progressed. Her mutant ability was very cool but was used only once in any significant way during the heist, while Psi’s ability was utilized several times. And while both Psi and Saibra presumably killed themselves to avoid being killed by the Teller, Psi killed himself in a heroic effort to save Clara. Saibra, meanwhile, was paralyzed by the Teller while the Doctor agonized over not being able to save her. In fact, there was entirely too much damseling of female characters in this episode. In addition to Saibra being paralyzed by the Teller, Clara was paralyzed twice by the teller and needed to be saved by the Doctor and Psi, and the Teller’s female companion was tied up and held hostage to force the Teller to work for Karabraxos.
I’m also not particularly fond of the resolution of Saibra’s powers. Both Psi and Saibra’s abilities were shown to be powerful but flawed. Psi can’t remember his loved ones, and Saibra is physically isolated from others. But while Psi was offered a solution which allowed him to keep his abilities and regain his memories, the only solution to Saibra’s flawed abilities was to completely lose her powers.
Now, from a textual perspective, I have no issues with Saibra choosing to give up her abilities if that is what makes her happy. But from a narrative perspective, I’m disturbed that Psi and Saibra were given such different options. Psi is offered the option to regain control over his abilities and overcome their inherent flaws. Effectively, he becomes more powerful and regains his agency. But Saibra is given no similar option. She can only choose to entirely give up the mutant ability which make her powerful and unique, or continue to be physically isolated. There is no middle ground. There wasn’t even any meaningful discussion about whether or not this was a worthwhile sacrifice. It was simply assumed that Saibra would want to give up her abilities in order to be physically intimate with others.
Physical intimacy has been a subtle recurring theme since the introduction of the Twelfth Doctor, particularly with his aversion to hugging. But the way that physical intimacy is discussed and represented in regards to the Doctor and Saibra is undeniably influenced by gender. When the Doctor is uncomfortable with hugging, we view it as an adorable, dorky trait. And when Saibra gives up her powers in order to experience physical intimacy, we barely bat an eye. We’re willing to accept that men are uncomfortable with physical intimacy and that a woman would be willing to give up everything to experience it. Women are expected to want to be physical and nurturing, while men are allowed to be aloof and reject it.
And unfortunately, this follows on the trend of Clara being repeatedly stripped of interesting and unique abilities. After gaining exceptional technological prowess in “The Bells of Saint John,” those powers inexplicably vanish and are never referenced again. And after being scattered throughout time and interacting with all the various regenerations of the Doctor, she has apparently lost all of those memories, and no reference to her alternate lives has been made since. It’s important to acknowledge that Saibra and Clara’s powers aren’t the only things that make them interesting, but it is still rather annoying that they have been stripped of their powers without any meaningful discussion of what they have lost.
Hm. I don’t think I’d swap any companions. The companions really seem to fit the Doctors they are with. Which makes sense from a textual perspective; that particular Doctor would choose a companion which meshes best with their personality.
I have, however, been listening to the Big Finish audio “The Light At The End,” and it makes me want a few episodes where the Doctors and their companions interact with each other. Donna and Nine would be awesome and a little terrifying (just imagine the sass!). Martha with Five would be fun. I think they both have a very dry brand of snark and sarcasm that would be fun to mix. And I just want to see Three and Twelve face off against each other with Clara and Jo making fun of them both in the background.
And then, to top it all off, Ace would make fun of all of their ridiculous outfits. I kid you not, this is an actual quote from Ace in “The Light At the End,” describing the First, Second, Third, Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, and Eighth Doctors:
“So…are you seriously telling me, all those blokes: Old man white hair, Beatles haircut, frilly shirt, long scarf big eyes, cricket boy, Joseph and his amazing Technicolor dream coat and Lord Byron? All of them, they were you?”
Joseph and his amazing technicolor dream coat.