The Doctor: Why not?
Clara: Because if you answer it, something will happen.
The Doctor: What?
Clara: A thing.
Doctor Who Season: S34 (Ep5).
Story Number: 246.
Twelve does Ocean’s Eleven…
It’s another curious writing credit for this one. After the “and Steven Moffat” of Episode 2, this time it’s ampersand Steven Moffat. Whether the next episode will be “and” or ampersand, it will be another one co-written by Moffat.
As to what all this means exactly only Andrew Pixley can say for sure.
It doesn’t seem like it’s because there’s a lot of Danny Pink scenes and Moffat is establishing the still-new character, as Danny is hardly in it, unlike the previous episode. He’s still part of Clara’s life though, it’s just that it’s a more traditional Doctor Who episode – one that begins and ends with the TARDIS and an outer-space adventure in the middle.
Though it might have a beginning and a middle there is a disconnect for both the audience and Clara & the Doctor as we have no idea how they got to to that conference-table.
It’s a magnificently funny line – “It’s just a phone, Clara. Nothing happens when you answer the phone” – and what happens is the phone turns into a worm and they’re somwhere completely different.
The TARDIS duo have been joined by two others, and apparently they’re going to pull off a bank-heist – do they have a choice? “I don’t think we have a choice. We’ve already agreed to” says the Doctor, as they’ve hear what seem to be recordings of them already agreeing to it.
That they don’t question this more is one less-than-satisfactory of the story, but, the story has to keep going so the heist is on.
It’s Doctor Who, then, using the conventions & expectations of an established genre (“heist story”). Some of the potential joys of this genre is the assembling of the team, and the planning phase before the heist is underway.
These conventions are subverted as the heist-team have no memory of how they’ve been assembled as a team, no memory of any sort of planning phase.
Once shapechanger Saibra has transformed to a fascimile of a customer using the DNA left for them, and recovered their next item, Psi asks a great question – “If he can break in here and plant this thing, then why does he need our help?”
It’s a great question that only has a semi-satisfactory answer if, by the story’s end, you stop and think quite hard about the episode you’ve just seen.
With the audience having absolutely no expectation of what’s coming next (which is unusual for a heist, being – like the heist-time – ignorant of what’s been planned for the heist), any enjoyment is of the moment, and there’s plenty to enjoy: it all looks great, with Clara looking particularly stylish in a outfit that just happens to recall Hollywood genre-traditions, (even though she wasn’t dressing for the occasion).
Also looking very stylish is Keeley Hawes, with her superb performance bringing sexy back to asymmetric geometric hairstyles as both Ms Delphox & Karabraxos.
After they’re down to the next level, they really don’t know what they’re supposed to do next, until they stumble upon an alcove next to the Vault door with the third briefcase, (having lost Saibra along the way – she used the one of the things contained in the second briefcase to escape the Monster of the Week, the Teller). The Vault door is Psi’s part of the mission, the first “door” having been Saibra’s.
So how much of all this is part of “the plan”? On the first watch, before the audience realises what “the plan” was formulated, this isn’t what the audience is thinking. It’s only after, on a second watch of the episode or when thinking about what we saw onscreen that this question can be asked. Even then it’s not clear – what did Madame Karabraxos instruct the Doctor regarding and what did he plan of his own accord?
What does she actually say, that she now regrets? She will mention the two captives of the alien race at the very least.
Is it then up to the Doctor to ensure a situation of him and Clara and the alien being in that Vault (with its other captive alien) with Madame Karabraxos escaping the disastrous solar activity, knowing only that minimal summary, choosing his team – or has Karabraxos given him a preview of the two other people of his team with her deathbed phonecall?
Karabraxos may even be aware of how they got all the way to the Vault, and relayed this. Maybe she did – maybe she didn’t.
It’s this lack of clarity over what instructions the Doctor was given, that means it’s not as satisfying as it could have been, the episode’s resolution: we see the classic “planning phase” of this heist story – finally – in flashback, but how much is the Doctor’s genius plan reacting to a minimal message and how much is as he was told to do (as it had already happened to a all-knowing Karabraxos) is unclear.
Still, it was a fun ride, and there were some weighty and intriguing Science Fiction ideas that doubled-up as poetic themes – such as the values of memories, and the idea of Karabraxos having to gaze at her own self leading to her ultimate self-reflection and phonecall (years later) to the Doctor.
“Could you trust someone who looked back at you out of your own eyes?” was what Saibra had said of her own predicament. Karabraxos ultimately hates her self. The Doctor hates the figure that’s sent them on this heist mission – and so it’s another mirror for this season, and the running theme of how the Doctor perceives himself.
(Time Heist on bbc.co.uk/programmes/)