There’s a commonly held belief that Doctor Who stories which contain the word ‘Time’ are generally disappointing. There’s certainly plenty of evidence: “The Time Monster”, “Time Flight”, “Time And The Rani”, “The End Of Time” but “The Time Of The Doctor” was pretty good so maybe…
When the Doctor and Clara find themselves teamed with two strangers and given a mission to rob the most secure bank in the universe by a mysterious Architect, the Doctor must use all his wits to not only defeat the Bank’s fearsome security but also unravel the Architect’s plan before the mission reaches its end.
Doctor Who does “Ocean’s Eleven” is a well Moffat (co-writing with Stephen Thompson) has visited before, notably in “A Good Man Goes To War” but this time, he’s gone for the third act of the story rather than assembling the team: a bank heist. A nifty beginning with a suddenly amnesiac Doctor and Clara quickly develops into a cat and mouse chase through the Bank of Karabraxos as the Doctor and the team dodge the ruthless Ms Delphox and the sinister Teller, an alien who can detect guilt and feeds on memories. Only the production values let the episode down because the self-proclaimed most secure and richest bank in the universe looks decidedly cheap. The same corridor is used again and again with different lighting like it was the 1970s all over again and if it’s not in a vaguely trapezoid corridor then the episode is stealing its design cues from “Wreck It Ralph” and JJ Abrams’ “Star Trek” movies.
All in all the episode’s a light hearted bit of fluff and has a lot going for it but five episodes in to the new series it can’t quite cover up what’s lacking. The Architect’s true identity is obvious from the moment he’s first mentioned but the team he puts together provides great entertainment and has me hoping it’s not the last we see of them. There are scenes in this episode which really suggest that this Doctor – and Clara too – are better when there are more people in the TARDIS crew. ‘Team Not Dead’ – Saibra (Pippa Bennett-Warner), a reluctant shape shifter and Psi (Jonathan Bailey), a cybernetically enhanced human hacker would make fine additional companions for this sterner, more obstinate Doctor. The true villains of the piece are okay and a neatly satirical comment on the nepotistic and networked world of high finance but it’s the Teller and his gruesome brain sucking powers which will be the talk of the playground on Monday morning.
The dialogue crackles and again Capaldi’s right at home with the acerbic quips, the amnesia even giving him the chance to turn some of that scathing analysis on himself but it leads us into this series’ familiar (and increasingly tiresome) trope of self-doubt and the deconstruction of heroism. At least this time out, the Doctor is acting heroically Doctor-ish, despite there still being a trademark moment of pragmatism as an innocent man is killed and the Doctor does nothing (even though, when you think about it, he dies because of the Doctor’s plan). We see the Doctor using his cleverness to solve the mystery and make sure nearly everyone gets what they deserve (sorry innocent guy), albeit with a great deal less élan than the Seventh Doctor used to. I suspect if Fenric challenged this Doctor to a game, it wouldn’t be chess, it would be Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots.
While Keeley Hawes is perfectly adequate in her dual role of Ms Delphox/ Madame Karabraxos, the character helped me put my finger on what has been lacking this series: a real sense of danger. So far, the Twelfth Doctor hasn’t faced anyone – including the Daleks – who felt even remotely like a threat to him. He seems aimless and bored. In the absence of anyone or anything which remotely tests him, has fallen to introspection which is wearing perilously thin from a dramatic perspective.
Something is needed to shake the Doctor out of this funk and get him back taking names and kicking butt (with cleverness). Perhaps next week’s episode will do it. It’s called “The Caretaker” so I really hope it doesn’t involve the TARDIS being flung 70,000 years into the Delta Quadrant.