I had such high hopes for this episode, and maybe that was my fault. But after the near-perfection of last week’s “Listen,” the high-intensity promos for this newest installment, and the promise of a Steve Thompson/Steven Moffat script, I couldn’t help but expect “Time Heist” to be similarly both moving and spine-tingling. And yet, if “Listen” was guilty of recycling previously used themes, “Time Heist” was guilty of straight-up re-using actual plotlines from earlier episodes, seemingly expecting us not to notice. I’m starting to think that the people behind Moffat Bingo actually have a point.
We begin with a quick tour of Clara’s way-too-upscale apartment (on a teacher’s salary? If only), as the Doctor questions the functionality of high heels—“do you have to reach a high shelf?”—revealing, as usual, his social ineptitude. Incidentally, the banter-y reference to household furniture reminded me of that classic scene in “Day of the Moon,” when River Song comments on the Doctor’s choice of weaponry (his sonic screwdriver) by sarcastically advising him to “Go build a cabinet!” But before I can speculate on the flirtatious symbolism of common domestic fixtures, the TARDIS phone rings.
Of course, the last time the TARDIS phone rang, it was Clara trying to reach IT services, using a number she got from “the woman in the shop.” Clara is nervous that “a thing” will happen if the Doctor answers the phone, but the Doctor, a big proponent of Things Happening, acts against her wishes, and suddenly the phone becomes a memory worm as our heroes are zapped to a creepy conference room, at which point it is revealed that they (and their two new companions) have agreed to a memory wipe of their own free will, and have been commissioned by “the Architect” to rob the Bank of Karabraxos.
The Architect describes the Bank as a fortress for “the super-rich.” In his words: “If you can afford your own star system, this is where you keep it.” (I lol’d.) Speaking of uber-wealthy individuals, that emblazoned “K” looks awfully familiar…
“K” for Karabraxos or Kane? Could be both, since Charles Foster Kane’s estate—Xanadu—was named for Chinese Emperor Kublai Khan’s magnificent capital city, which itself became a metaphor for opulence and grandeur. But I digress.
Who is this Architect? We learn at the end of the episode that the Architect is the Doctor himself, a “twist” that would have been more surprising if, again, it hadn’t been done before. You can recycle themes, but recycling shock factors somehow doesn’t have the same effect. Throughout the episode, before regaining his memory, the Doctor consistently notes that he has no idea who this Architect is, but he knows that he “hates him.” Sound familiar?
When I first watched “Amy’s Choice,” I was totally floored by the revelation that the Dream Lord had been the dark side of the Doctor all along. When the Doctor revealed this to Amy, and my mind flashed back to that line, I suddenly understood, deeply and completely, how truly damaged the Doctor is. Using the same gimmick in this episode felt hackneyed, and, what’s worse, nearly cheapened the original usage as well.
However, I was intrigued by the particular terminology, the name—or, rather, the other name—the Doctor chose for himself. “The Architect” sounds particularly sinister, doesn’t it? As it turns out, a quick Google search led me to two infamous Architects:
1. “The Architect” in The Matrix trilogy – Described by Wikipedia as a “cold, humorless, white-haired man in a… suit” (check, sort-of-check, check, check, aaaand check) the Architect is a computer program that created the Matrix.
2. “The Architect” in Dragon Age, a fantasy, role-playing video-game. According to the Dragon Age Wiki, the Architect is unique among his kind, having somehow developed free will, and with it, certain rebellious tendencies. As for its personality, the Architect
… shows a calm, polite personality. However, it is shown to be cold, decisive, and pragmatic, carrying out its plans even if that means sacrificing its allies. Although it is highly intelligent, the Architect has little understanding of other races.
It’s truly eerie how accurately these two characterizations (especially the second!) describe our Architect—even if, at this point in the episode, we may not know it yet. But, hey, might as well discuss it now, because I clearly only begin typing out these so-called “recaps” in order to dive right into a tangent about something I care about. Which, in this case, is…
…not the Doctor.
Look man, we’d probably most of us agree that these are dark times, and stupid ones, but do we need fiction that does nothing but dramatize how dark and stupid everything is? In dark times, the definition of good art would seem to be art that locates and applies CPR to those elements of what’s human and magical that still live and glow despite the times’ darkness. Really good fiction could have as dark a worldview as it wished, but it’d find a way both to depict this world and to illuminate the possibilities for being alive and human in it.
The Twelfth Doctor may have finally discovered his Responsibility gene, but I now believe it was at the cost of his inner beauty, those elements that are “human and magical that still live and glow despite the times’ darkness.” Perhaps it all boils down to that, and it’s simply a matter of which side you fall on regarding the cost/benefit divide. Is Responsibility worth the cost? In the real world, maybe so. In the fantasy world? Absolutely not. I will never write a post about the Doctor’s character in which I don’t refer to that gorgeous Moffat quote about how heroes are important not because they show us who we are, or who we were, but who we want to be—and I believe that it is again relevant here, albeit in a more pessimistic way. You see, I believe that the world is a god-awful place and will probably never improve. But that’s where fiction/fantasy comes into play—either you believe that imagination can actually improve the state of the world, even in tiny, incremental ways, or you believe that we’re all doomed, in which case the fantasy world becomes not only a much-needed escape, but the dream of a place in which things are better.
Super-hacker computer-human Psi said it best when he put a new spin on the name of “the Doctor”; after the latter tells Clara to, essentially, “get over it,” following the (alleged) death of mutant-human Saibra, Psi scoffs: “Oh, is that why you call yourself ‘the Doctor’? Professional detachment?” I had never thought of that angle before, but it hit me right where I used to have two hearts. When previous Doctors were mocked, we felt the hurt, because we could see how much their accusations hurt him. We knew how much Ten cared, and how acutely Eleven suffered, but I see nothing inside of Twelve—nothing beneath his “attack eyebrows.” (Again with the aggression!) “Listen” did such a spot-on job on injecting new life into the Doctor’s subconscious, but “Time Heist” seems to have taken place in an alternate universe, for all the lasting impact that “Listen” had.
I was also irritated by the BBC Sherlock-isms that crept into the Doctor’s speech (“Shut up!” when no one was talking, “I hate not knowing,” etc…I’ll leave the details to the gifmeta masters), but not only because I’ve clearly watched Sherlock too many times and therefore recognize lines from that show instantaneously. I was put off by these parallels because, for me, it only served to emphasize Twelve’s “cold” core even more. After discussing the connections between BBC’s Sherlock and characters in David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest (pluggity plug plug), don-gately mentioned to me that the writers of Sherlock (which include the two writers of this Doctor Who episode!) are actually harnessing “our fascination for cynical heroes and turning it upside down, showing us a sentimental hero.” That’s why Sherlock gives us so many capital-F-FEELS: Sherlock tries to act like a genius automaton, like, as it were, an “Architect,” but we clearly see that he has a very human, very sentimental core. I simply cannot see this sentimentalism in the Twelfth Doctor. There are spurts of emotion, yes, but at his core? The writers have themselves said that this is a “darker” Doctor.
This is a Doctor who feels no need to mourn the dead, who allows—and even encourages—beings to embrace their own deaths. I was very uncomfortable when the Doctor gave both Saibra and Psi those “atomizer” devices in order to ensure them a painless death in lieu of suffering and then brain death. (I know, they turned out to be teleport devices, not cyanide capsules. But the Doctor didn’t know that, so it makes no difference in my mind. He might as well have killed them.) I was angry, even though in Real Life I am obviously more torn on the issue of assisted suicide, because these scenes represent a fundamental break from the Doctors we’ve known and loved– especially the Tenth Doctor, who would manically race to save or reason with every living being, from humans, to other Time Lords, to Vashta Nerada, and everything else in between; the man who cradled his enemy’s dead body and sobbed. I re-watched “Forest of the Dead” (with my father, who’s watching it for the first time…My River Song tears were so very real), and I realized how much I truly miss Ten. That episode ended with one of the show’s great voiceover monologues, delivered by the dearly departed River Song herself…
(this is my new favorite Doctor Who graphic on the internet)
This is the Doctor I love—the Doctor who never, for one moment, accepts death. The Doctor—my Doctor—never stops running.
…oh, you’ve changed.
Skipping to the end (because I’ll leave the fully-fleshed plot recaps to those who are actually paid to do it): we are treated to some more copy-and-pasted elements from earlier episodes. The Teller (which, I will admit, is a perfect example of a fascinatingly-grotesque-yet-oddly-magnificent alien-of-the-week character) is a creature that has lived a miserable life, submitting to a will that is not entirely its own, while in another way serving as a metaphor for the Doctor himself (see: the Minotaur in “The God Complex”). Both creatures also, as it turns out, have lady friends.
Which is all…well…pretty heartwarming, I guess. Score one for Team Twelve after all.
Oods and Ends:
- Missy Watch: Overt reference to “the woman in the shop” at the beginning of the episode. Moving right along.
- Speaking of deliciously evil villainesses with pointy black glasses, Madame Karabraxos & clones were perfect. “Your account will now be deleted. And, obviously, your mind.” That line seriously gave me the creeps.
- This episode also lent a terrifyingly literal meaning to the term: “You’re fired.”
- There were some intense lighting effects during the scene when Clara encounters the Teller and Psi swoops in to save her. When Clara is onscreen, the lighting is red—or pink. When Psi occupies the camera lens, the background is blue. And when Clara meets up with the Doctor after Psi sacrifices himself, the setting is decidedly green.
Given their conversation, I don’t think it’s a stretch to suggest that Clara was thinking of Danny—hence the pink background—while Psi could have been representing Journey Blue, from “Into the Dalek,” the soldier who had just lost her brother and was, ostensibly, now all alone. (Of course, this would only be a direct reference to her if she ends up coming back into the picture—which I’m resolutely hoping will happen!) As for the Doctor’s green tinge, well…did you catch the Doctor’s jeering jealousy as Clara finally went off on her date with Danny after they return to her flat? Hmmm.
- It’s funny that Marvel franchises are legally prohibited from uttering the word “mutant,” and yet BBC can swoop in and literally create their own Mystique? …okay.
- Speaking of Saibra, I was pissed (you may be sensing a theme here) when, two minutes after we meet her, the episode’s token side-character-of-color is transformed into an old, white male. Luckily, we got our POC back soon enough. Whew!
- Yep, “Question!” is definitely the Twelfth Doctor’s catchphrase.
- Okay, there were some hilarious Doctor lines. Notably: “Shut up. Shuttity up up UP!” followed by, “Okay, de-shut up.”
- Can someone do me a solid and hyperanalyze every single object in Madame K’s private vault? Thanks muchly. I noticed lots of lions. Lots and lots of lions. Have fun!