Following last week’s rather unconventional Listen, it was probably a smart thing for Who-showrunner Stephen Moffat to return the series to its more formulaic roots. Time Heist, written by longtime Moffat cohort Steve Thompson, is an engaging, twisty, and, best of all, exciting addition to Series Eight, and it is easily Thompson’s best contribution to the series.
The episode revolves around the “impregnable” bank of Karabraxos, which of course ends up being all too vulnerable to the Doctor and his merry band of companions. The episode starts off with Clara (as per usual) preparing for a date with Danny, only to be mysteriously whisked away with the Doctor. They and two other characters have had their memories wiped and are set up to break into the bank’s vault. The only problem? The bank is protected by Miss Karabraxos (played by the wonderful Keely Hawes) and an alien creature known only as “The Teller.” The Doctor and Clara are joined by two other companions, and convoluted timey-wimey robberies ensue.
Many Whovians will find themselves rolling their eyes at the twists and turns the episode takes, many of which are surprisingly predictable. It was worrying during the episode, since it could be an indication that Moffat (who received a co-writing credit) has run out of fresh ideas. His use of time travel as a plot device was once considered innovative and creative, but now it just seems stale.
However, where the episode redeems itself is in the characters and production design. Clara actually takes a backseat to sidekicks Saibra and Psi, who both get some great moments throughout the episode. It’s refreshing to see the writers actually devote some time to developing these characters, and it raises the question as to whether or not we’ve seen the last of them. Miss Karabraxos is slightly underwhelming as the main villain, but a nice reveal at the end of the episode gives her character more value and depth. “The Teller” is brilliantly designed, and the concept behind the creature is wonderful. The whole concept of “guilt detection” plays into the running theme of the Doctor’s guilt that has pervaded throughout the series; however, having Clara be the one who’s threatened turns this trope on its head quite nicely. He’s one of the scarier and more threatening monsters the Doctor and Clara have had to deal with lately. The viewer will actually feel a sense of danger for the characters, which is something Who has lacked over the past few seasons.
Overall, Time Heist works excellently as a stand-alone episode. Sure it’s formulaic and somewhat predictable, but the characters feel layered and there are some legitimately tense moments. Considering the fact that Thompson’s two previous works, Series Six’s The Curse of the Black Spot and Series Seven’s Journey to the Center of the Tardis, stand among two of the worst episodes of Stephen Moffat’s tenure, it’s a positive sign that Time Heist is a quality addition to what has been an excellent Series Eight. It may not be remembered for its plot or somewhat boring twists, but the writers’ attention to character development is a fantastic indication for the future of the series, which is bound to only get better as Peter Capaldi becomes more and more confident as the Doctor.