With “Listen,” I theorized that series eight was deconstructing the character of the Doctor and there’s nothing in “Time Heist” that makes me doubt that theory. But watching the episode and how things unfolded, I couldn’t help but ponder that the episodes this season are about more than just deconstructing the Doctor as the hero of the show, but attempting to answer the question he posed to Clara in “Into the Dalek” (and we saw in the promotional material leading up to the season), “Am I a good man?”
With “Time Heist,” the question seems to be “Does the end justify the means?”
The Doctor and Clara are forced to help two others rob a seemingly impregnable bank. Because the bank employs a life-form known as the Teller that can sense guilt and then consume the mind of the guilty party, their memories are wiped of their motivation and knowledge of the mastermind behind this plot.
Using literal mind worms, the group goes in to find a way into the bank, following clues left behind by the mastermind. But as the story progresses, we find out that not only are our quartet playing with the rules of the bank, but they’ve also been brought back in time to a specific point when the bank is the most vulnerable. Clearly the oft-mentioned Architect of this plot has more up his sleeve that he revealed to the quartet before they had their memories wiped.
This leads to several conversations with various participants in the heist expressing their lack of pleasure wit the Architect and his methods. Interestingly, this includes the Doctor himself. Of course, it’s only a matter of time before it’s revealed who is behind this elaborate plot. I’ll admit I had put the pieced together before our heroes did, if only because having the Doctor somehow be behind the elaborate manipulation of the entire series of events and the nature of time travel only made sense — not just from a storytelling point of view but also the character examination that Steven Moffat has undertaken this season.
In the case of the bank, the prize isn’t the fabulous treasure contained within the vaults, but instead freedom for not only members of the bank robbing quartet, but also the Teller. The Teller is kept in check because the bank is holding its child in the vaults — and the Doctor has decided to free the child and allow the Teller (one of the last two of its race) to spend its last few days in freedom instead of a henchman for the bank. There’s also deleted memories of one robber and a cure for another robber who shape shifts into the person she touches.
The Doctor is able to pull off freeing everyone — but it’s by secrets, lies and manipulative means. This is something very in keeping with the darker side of the Doctor and it’s interesting to see his own statement of disliking the mind behind this plot. And yet, we’ve seen the Doctor either kill the Clockwork alien or convince it to jump to its death earlier this year as well as a multitude of other, dark and manipulative things over the series run. Is this restoring of freedom to several people an attempt to “do something about it” as he tells Clara in “Deep Breath?” And, the bigger question that should come up (eventually) is do the ends justify the means?
On the surface, it appears that everything works out and everyone gets the happy ending. Even Clara is allowed to get back to Earth on time to go on a date with Danny. I will admit I’m starting to sense that Clara is weary of the Doctor popping up in her life to whisk her away on some adventure with promises to get her back in the nick of time. I have to wonder if this might begin to take a toll on her both physically and mentally. Based on the previews for next week, it appears these issues could come to the fore in the next episode.
And while I liked the questions and answers raised by “Time Heist,” I can’t say it’s my favorite episode of series eight. It felt a bit derivative in a couple of ways — both borrowing from classic Star Trek’s “The Devil in the Dark” to last year’s “The Rings of Akhaten” with the Doctor telling the Teller to feast on his memories.
But the selling points of this one are, once again, the superlative work on Peter Capaldi as the Doctor (I sound like a broken record, but I really like him) and the continued look into the question of whether the Doctor is a good man or not. It should be interesting to watch the rest of the season unfold and continue to give us reasons why he is and is not a good man.