'Capaldi's 4' makes it 5 out of 5 for Doctor Who 2014.
|Let's go to work. (Image: BBC)|
Steve Thompson is a curious writer. I don't like his previous Doctor Who stories at all. 'The Curse of the Black Spot' was flat and forgettable, while 'Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS' was so massively misjudged it was very nearly racist featuring, essentially, a family of black car-jackers ripping off abandoned vehicles for salvage money. Then again, Thompson can come up with something as fantastically inventive and mind-blowingly dramatic as Sherlock's 'The Reichenbach Fall'. Which way would the quality compass swing with 'Time Heist'?
I might be wrong, but to see two writers credited on a Doctor Who episode before the 21st century, you have to go back to - who? - Pip and Jane Baker? I'd love to know what's going on with Steven Moffat, Phil Ford and Steve Thompson. Is The Moff writing a draft script and then letting his writing partner finesse it, or vice versa? Whatever the case, this new development in the writer's room is making for some bloody strong stories this year.
'Time Heist' is Thompson's best Doctor Who script - or half script: whatever. We're in William Gibson territory here, with a hi-tech bank robbery, memory wipes, the hero manipulating himself and a criminal able to download information into his brain. Beyond that, the story has this year's nasty surrealism - Mr Porrima's brain being sucked out by the Teller, leaving him with a flat skull, actually drove my Mum from the room - together with the mature meditation on a guest character's motivations. Like the Half Faced Man or The Thing Under The Covers, Keeley Hawes' Mrs Kavabraxos isn't really a villain, but she is amoral, selfish and acquisitive and, in a small way, tries to make up for her failings at the end of her deeply unfulfilled life.
Elsewhere, there's loads of fun to be had spotting pop culture references. The incidental music references the James Bond films, Saibra (Pippa Bennett-Warner) is a nice take on Mystique from the X-Men comics and movies and the flashback scene at the end of the episode, showing how the Doctor had set everything up, is an obvious nod to Hustle, the BBC's enjoyable conmen saga, and the Ocean's 11 films. The Teller is a great monster, looking genuinely solid and genuinely scary. Yes, it's a neat twist that the creature is being blackailed into working for Mrs Kavabraxos, but the horrible violence it visited on people is rather glossed over by the Doctor and even Clara - who's rapidly becoming the series' moral compass - seemed offhand about it.
Maybe that was the point, though. As Psi said (the excellent Jonathan Bailey, having to put up with a rather lazy name for his character): 'It's obvious you've been with him for a while. You're very good at excuses.' Week by week, a theme is emerging.
As well as handling last week's extraordinary 'Listen', Douglas Mackinnon drew a performance of great subtly and sensitivity out of Keeley Hawes in the exceptional police series Line of Duty. Here, he encourages here to be arch and amusing but not over-the-top as Ms Delphox, as well as allow her to finally show some heart as the ageing Mrs Kavabraxos. Mackinnon had a demanding job with 'Time Heist', delivering an intricately plotted - but, crucially, not confusing - high concept action movie in under forty-five minutes. Effortlessly, he made everything clear enough for even the adults in the audience to understand.
With a small and talented cast, there was room for each of the guest characters to have a memorable and meaty scene, something of a feature of this series. Our Time Lord was, as usual, on terrific form, striding abrasively from scene to scene and delivering dialogue that sparkled with caustic and sometimes alarming humour - 'They're not tears, Clara: that's soup.' He's the Doctor, whether you like it or not. I love the way he just doesn't get what's going on with Danny and Clara, here totally bemused by his friend apparently going on a date with a shelf.
To be honest, I'm mystified as to why the usually reliable Patrick Mulkern wrote in the Radio Times of this story, 'it's clear someone's forgotten the combination for what produces solid-gold Doctor Who.' I keep waiting for my favourite series to be crap but, week by week, it doesn't happen. Five stories in and it's five out of five. A year ago, I wouldn't have believed that was possible.
Following 'Time Heist', the BBC advertised two of its upcoming flagship dramas: The Driver starring David Morrissey and the second series of BBC2's historical crime series Peaky Blinders.
I think that says it all.