Saturday, September 27, 2014

Fun Lovin' Criminals: An Overanalysis of "Time Heist"

"Running around robbing banks all whacked off the [memory worms]..."

Sorry about the late post this week, just barely getting this one out before the new episode airs.  I have fewer excuses than usual.  I actually had this week off.  But give me too much free time, and I'll surely waste it.  So here we go:

The Doctor has always been the guy you go to when you need somebody to save lives.  But even in his days where he was forced to live on Earth and work for UNIT, nobody was ever dumb enough to ask him to help them recover stolen goods, unless those stolen goods included a weapon that could be used to hurt others.  I always wanted to see someone try, because I imagine his response would be amazing.  "Do you know who I am?  I'm the Doctor.  I'm hundreds of years old.  I've saved all of existence more times than I can count.  Everything.  All of it.  All that is now, ever was, or ever will be, exists only because of me.  So I'll leave you humans to deal with the little strips of paper that you think mean something."  My girlfriend recently introduced me to the concept of alignments from Dungeons and Dragons (believe it or not, I'm not the one in this relationship with any experience in RPGs), and we had a slight disagreement over the Doctor's alignment.  My argument is that in any regeneration, in any era, the Doctor is chaotic good:  someone who is always looking to do good, with absolutely no regard for laws.  Laws can be useful if the Doctor deems them to be morally correct, but if he does not, he never shows any hesitation in breaking them.

So, yeah, the Doctor's okay with robbing a bank.

I said I felt bad for Stephen Thompson having to write the unfortunate episode that has to follow "Listen."  But what makes this episode work after watching an episode like "Listen"--which will probably go down as one of the best Doctor Who episodes of all time--is that Moffat was smart enough to schedule an episode that follows "Listen" that is completely unlike "Listen" in any way.  What this is is a genre episode, to borrow a phrase that Cultbox invented earlier this week in regards to Doctor Who episodes like this:  an episode that borrows a popular film genre, because in Doctor Who, it's actually perfectly acceptable--and, at this point, even expected--for the show to jump from one genre to another from one week to the next.  "Time Heist" is the Doctor Who rendition of a classic heist film, the most popular of which, in our generation, is the trilogy that sprang from the George Clooney/Matt Damon remake of Ocean's Eleven.  This has all the trappings of a classic heist movie, and plays them up in the most fun way possible.

I'd watch it!

Stephen Thompson, who is the main writer of this episode (although Moffat is co-billed on it, which I'll get to later), is an odd-duck.  Of the three writers of Sherlock, he was the only one who had not written for Doctor Who when he started with Sherlock, only after he had started.  He was brought in for the first season of Doctor Who after Sherlock started, and he wrote the biggest stinker of Season 6, "Curse of the Black Spot," which proves that the genre episode can go terribly wrong.  However, the season after that, he wrote an excellent episode in a really bad season, "Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS."  If there's one thing Thompson proved when writing for Sherlock, it's that he can create a very complex storyline and handle it very well.  There are actually a lot of ways that "Time Heist" resembles a Sherlock episode:  there's a very complex narrative, with clues to solving it hidden throughout, and we learn the answer through the deductive powers of a brilliant, yet arrogant and often abrasive, man.

I've watched over the episode several times and I'm still trying to figure out if the logic all makes sense.  For the most part, I think it did, with one exception being that I don't think the question of why the Doctor didn't just use the TARDIS was ever perfectly answered.  This episode pulls the same trick that Steven Moffat pulled back in "Asylum of the Daleks":  if you have the characters mention what the plot holes are in your story, people will give you credit for filling in the plot holes even if you haven't.  The Doctor does state that the reason they couldn't use the TARDIS was because the storm, which is what made the bank vulnerable enough to be breached, would also have made it impossible to navigate into the bank.  Couldn't he have just taken it directly into the private vault where the female Teller was being held, grab her, and go?  Unlike in "Asylum of the Daleks," there are at least a number of plausible explanations here, even if none of them are explicitly spelled out in the script.  This is a bank in the distant future.  There's good reason to suspect they have some sort of security system to keep anything from materializing inside the most secure parts of the bank.  It seems to me that a bank in this era would be expected to have some sort of security against that.  But then why could he get the TARDIS in to give himself the necessary materials for the heist that he would need later on?  Perhaps the materialization protections are only employed deeper in the bank, closer to the valuables.

But the biggest problem with the logic of this episode is that, to follow it, you need to be able to understand everything that Peter Capaldi says, and that's not too easy for many Americans, and even some Brits, as it turns out.  A lot of people have complained, particularly in the US, that Capaldi's thick Scottish accent is hard to understand, and I have to admit having to rewind the show myself sometimes.  A screenwriting professor I had in college always said that major plot points should be displayed visually instead of just putting them in dialogue because it's easier to miss dialogue.  Well, that's all well and good, but when you get into very abstract science fiction concepts like mind-reading, you do really need to put the information in the dialogue.  Perhaps that's why some of the key information was given by Peter Capaldi's voice being run through a voice changer that, inexplicably, gives him an American accent.  (And, yes, they did that in England, not just in the American broadcasts.)

It's kind of like being yelled at by the garbage disposal.

Moffat, again, takes a co-writing credit in this episode.  I'm still trying to figure out why.  I don't really get an impression that he was a full 50% contributor to three episodes this season on top of the four episodes he wrote solo.  I still think it's possible that my original theory was correct:  that Moffat is being very particular about who writes for his new character, Danny Pink.  So far the only episode that Moffat has not taken at least a co-writing credit on this season was "Robot of Sherwood," which doesn't feature Danny at all.  However, if my theory is correct, and Moffat is taking a co-writing credit just because he's writing all the scenes for Danny, then he took credit for writing very, very little in this episode.  Considering he went uncredited for his writing in "The End of Time (Part 2)" and "Closing Time"--I find it hard to believe he would insist on being credited for writing the brief Danny Pink scene in this episode.

My favorite part of this episode is that it reminds us that the Doctor is always compassionate, even if that's not what is apparent on the surface.  I always say the only two defining traits that are constant throughout all of the Doctor's lives are compassion and curiosity.  There are some Doctors that are meaner and harsher than others, notably 1, 6, 9, and now 12.  They have little regard for social niceties and ensuring that nobody's feelings get hurt.  Their compassion is on a more macro level.  They may not be nice, but they are kind at their cores.  The Twelfth Doctor proves this in this episode when we figure out what he was "robbing" the bank for in the first place.  For all his blustering around, his seemingly insensitive comments, the Doctor's real mission this entire time was one of true kindness and generosity.  Say what you will, this is the same Doctor he always was.

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