September 23, 2014

Leveraging the Doctor: A Review of TIME HEIST

Fan reactions to Doctor Who episodes can be tricky: either they're absolutely in love with the show, or feel that Steven Moffatt is the worst producer ever. (Of course, five years ago Russell T. Davies was the worst, Phillip Segal was the worst before that, and there's no love lost for John-Nathan Turner). I say this because sharing opinions can be tricky - I've had Listen "justified" to me by several people, as if my thinking that it's ending - seeming too much like fan fiction - is somehow contrary to the group mind of "Who" fandom.

Time Heist, however, is actually one of my favorite episodes....and it's gotten very mixed reviews. The biggest complaint is that it's "not at all like Hustle/Leverage/name-your-favorite-caper-film here...and that's simply not fair. Time Heist is a gem of an episode - where Moffatt's love of the plotty-wotty actually works within Who's format.

Admittedly, I'm a fan of caper/con movies, and that genre has a particular set of tropes and mechanics. There's the intro of the team, the mission, the complications...all of these work like clockwork. Time Heist works precisely because one of those time travel. Although some may complain that one of the twists is telegraphed....well, given one of the plot elements in Listen, I actually hadn't seen it until the very end.

There is also some complaint about the use of other familiar elements (like the Rogue from X-Men-esque "person who loses self when touching others)....but Doctor Who has always cribbed from popular culture. (Remember the reality show-pastiches from Bad Wolf? Or even the 24-esque real time nature of 42?). This is a caper, plain and simple - and capers are like meatloaf: you know the ingredients, but it's the extra flourishes that make it more than just comfort food.

Douglas MacKinnon's direction is one of those "extra flourishes" - Time Heist is so unlike Listen, and yet both share the same visual flair. (In fact, I'll argue that the first 35 minutes of Listen are a nice, taught little thriller). It's not meant to be an outright romp (like Robot of Sherwood), and there's something unabashedly pleasing about the Capaldi Doctor denigrating his past (when he mentions "big scarf" and "bow ties" in the same contemptuous breath) while trying to determine just what kind of man he is, good or not.

Maybe I should put Time Heist into my category of "Who stories I like but which other people may not". Like The Lazarus Experiment, Boom Town, 42, and Fires of Pompeii, they rarely get the love they deserve. Trust me on this, Time Heist is Doctor Who stretching itself and taking some chances, some of which may or may not pay off.

If you disagree with me, I will fight you. And I will win.

No comments: