Sunday, September 21, 2014

Time Heist - "You'll be old and full of regret for the things you can't change."

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Series 8, Story 5 (Overall Series Story #250) | Previous - Next | Index

Another pained reaction to being touched?
Image via debatchery

Fond of this episode without loving it, I wonder if any of the little bits that feel like they've got significance actually do, or if the Doctor just twinged his shoulder crawling around vents and that's why he's wincing after Saibra's hug ...

When we think of the heist movie, we are generally looking for a solution to a how question: how will this crew get it done? How will their allegiance to one another hold up once they have the booty? How will they adapt when things, as they invariably do, happen to the carefully laid plan?

"Time Heist" puts a spin on the usual questions and drops us into the heist scenario wondering: Why are they robbing the bank? Who's behind the whole thing? And then it proceeds to answer the questions after the plot beats we associate with the caper drama. On the whole, it works well. It looks great -- though some of the corridor running reminds us of the classic series tricks used to make the same corridor serve as different corridors. Here, instead of numbers on the wall incrementing up, or the camera shooting from the left instead of the right, the corridor instead are lit with different colors. (In this big, gorgeous bank, it feels like we may be spending a little more time than the viewer might prefer looking a plain corridor red, plain corridor blue, and plain corridor yellow.)

The assembling of a team having the skills needed to get the job done feels like an appropriate tip to any number of heist flicks -- the Ocean's movies, for example -- and Clara's choice of a date suit contributes to the a slow motion shot of the crew walking that could be considered a little Reservoir Dogs. These are nods of which I approve.

Image via AV Club
Much like the way "Hide" represented itself as a ghost story, only to turn out to be a different genre, "Time Heist" announces itself as being one sort of story, only pull a little sleight-of-hand and turn out to be another. The Doctor tells us outright: this was a rescue mission. So, once revealed, how do we feel about the rescue mission? Well, we can see why it's important to the Doctor. The Teller is another creature who is (not exactly) the last of its kind, so we can understand the Doctor's heartfelt desire to rescue it from that fate. But ... even though its motivations for serving as the guard dog of the bank is explained by its duty to do whatever it takes to save the last female its species, it still feels like a bit of a cheat that it gets to wander off into the sunset with the lady after, you know, sucking the brains out of a bunch of folks. Criminals, granted ... but this bank is for the super-wealthy, the wealthiest people in the universe in fact, so it's not that much of a stretch to imagine much of that wealth is ill-gotten, and that there might be very good reasons for thieves to try to get at it.

And that, that more than anything, is why I think I don't like this one quite as much as I'd like to ... this is a story produced in an age of historic wealth and income equality, in the wake of a vast, criminal activity by bankers and financiers which (we are told) necessitated massive bailouts of financial institutions in order to prevent a worldwide financial collapse. So, two weeks after a story about Robin Hood that seemed more concerned with getting all metatextual about story-telling and heroism than with addressing rapacious plutocracy, we have a story where the villain is a banker, sitting on her immense fortune, but who suffers pangs of conscience in the end and calls in the Doctor assuage her guilt over abusing two individuals she personally held in bondage.

We're dancing around structural, societal problems that grind swaths of humanity down into lives of struggle and debasement and addressing instead an individuals guilt over unambiguously evil actions directly against other individuals. Lost is the understanding that "white collar" crime and corruption by crisply dressed elites results in violence and suffering on wide scale, and should be dealt with. Crimes of violence by one individual against another individual are easy to prosecute; I want to see the Doctor pursue justice on a scale more appropriate to its sci-fi trappings.

Stray Thoughts:

There's a heist sequence in "The Planet of the Dead", and Davros engineered one of the all-time cosmic heists when he stole the Earth, among other planets, back at the end of Series Four. But those stories aren't really in the heist genre. "Planet" dips its toe into it, and Lady de Souza was the right sort of character, but after the opening, that's all dropped. It was a stretch to even link "The Stolen Earth" the genre at all.

Going back to the classic series, The Key to Time sequence, Season 16, could almost be seen as series of heists, but really only "The Ribos Operation" even comes close to having a heist movie vibe. And not that close, really.

The Doctor hating the Architect has shades of Eleven in "Amy's Choice," so if we weren't already pretty certain the Doctor was the the Architect, his announced hatred of that guy made it a lock.

Again with the cracks about Clara trying to dress up for a date ...

I keep reading how much everyone loves Psi and Saibra and wants to see them again. I get it, but I didn't think either were all *that* interesting. This may be widespread sub-conscious acknowledgment that the novelty is wearing off the Paternoster gang's collection of One Trick Ponies and we want something more, if not from them, than from a new set of recurring characters.

Great point in this comment by John Peacock on Sandifer's post about this story: "Last week's episode seemed very much to be adhering to dream logic, whereas this weeks was game logic: apart from the movement from level to level collecting things that aid in the task, closing in on the final boss (literally), and at least one elision point was highlighted (They enter a vent and there's an explicit visual effect and they are at the next level). I wonder if this ties in with the sense in Robot of Sherwood that they had materialised in story-space rather than actual medieval England."

"Robot of Sherwood" felt like a conscious nod towards "The Mind Robber" to me, but I saw this one being like "Robot of Sherwood" in that it's another missed opportunity to channel the post-Occupy zeitgeist. (That is the zeitgeist, right? It's not just me?) Having it pointed out that it's also another foray into a narrative logic that calls attention to the story as fiction, as opposed to a realist mode of storytelling forces back to front of mind that moment where Robin tells the Doctor they are each just as real as the other. No, I don't think we're leading towards a reveal that Clara is the Master of the Land of Fiction, but again it feels like that's deliberately being dangled as a possibility to prompt us to at least think about the series in the context of the art of storytelling.

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