Dear Steven Moffat: Time Heist

DW Time Heist

Dear Steven,

Despondency, sluggishness, boredom, confusion, apathy: did you feel any of these co-authoring Stephen Thompson’s time waster, or were these treats reserved for viewers? The kindest thing one can say about “Time Heist” is that will be quietly forgotten. The show was one long memory worm, challenging each and every brain that grappled with it to hold onto a single, salient detail. I made notes, Steven, but I look at them now and struggle to recall when they were written. If that sounds unlikely, given I’ve spent the better part of this paragraph talking about how little I thought of this instalment, it’s surely no less ridiculous than a half man, half computer remembering the time he deleted all memory of his friends and family. How would he know?

Look, there was a germ of a good idea here. The villain of the week growing old, regretting their sins and contacting the Doctor to right an historic wrong is a story we can get behind. The conclusion was humane, neatly inverted our expectations of the heist sub-genre, where we typically expect all gains to be ill-gotten. But God damn you and your separatist sympathetic locks, you’ve gone and done it again: you’ve drawn a circle on a piece of blood stained paper, handed it to your collaborator and said, “there’s the shape of your plot, just add details”. Two ontological paradoxes in a row! Surely you can find another way to make these time travel stories work, can’t you? What’s that, you can’t? Well let me turn that frown upside down and explain what you should have done.

The Doctor’s holidaying on the planet Xendaris and he encounters the wizened, embittered form of Madame Karabraxos. She explains that she’s recognized the TARDIS from her people’s big book of cosmic symbols, and wants to know if it’s true that he has the ability to time travel. Initially he fobs her off but she persists, begging him to listen to her story. Eventually, desperate to be alone and salvage some of his break, he relents and lets her tell the tale. From there you proceed much as you did. The Doctor materalises in Clara’s shower as she’s toweling down and forces her to join him on this bank raid, they arrive, act on Karabraxos’s tip off they’ll have to wipe their memories to stay one step ahead of the Teller Beast and your piss-weak pastiche of Hustle plays out, complete with intrusive transition effects and irritating slow motion.

By plotting it this way you lose the illusion that the story’s got a clever shape, because the relationship between cause and effect is straightforward, but crucially the episode would now make sense. Save the Xendaris scene to the end and close with the Doctor stroking the old woman’s hair and promising her that he’ll get to the vault and redeem her slave owning soul, perhaps moments before she croaks, and you’ve got a touching ending. You’d also have a moment of pathos, a dramatic conclusion – you know, something memorable. But fuck all that, you went for your favourite trick and consequently a nation scratches its crotch, wondering how the Doctor could have been recruited to rob a bank by an old woman when she only had the means to contact him because he’d already completed her request. Seriously, man, stop it. Stop it before I go to your next script book signing with a grenade in my pocket.

So the episode was impossible, flat, not particularly compelling, often incoherent and reworked a plot point from Die Hard (namely the vault with multiple locks that needs an external miracle to cut the final circuit) but what really bothered me was this practice of Clara having a life on Earth and travelling with the Doctor at the same time. I don’t like it and I think it brings into question why Clara should be our man’s exclusive companion.

It seems to me that if you’re a TARDIS mate you should commit to it full time. There’s no reason not too really because once it’s over the Doctor can drop you back to whenever you left. Alright, some of your friends and family may wonder why you’ve acquired longer hair and crow’s feet overnight, or perhaps half won’t notice, retrospectively justifying your decision to take an extended universal holiday from them in the first place, but this allows the writers a certain freedom. They don’t need to worry about keeping pace with the companion’s personal life or their career, because the Doctor’s both combined.

Ah, you say, but we’ve never had the opportunity to explore a woman’s attempts to “have it all” on screen before, i.e. juggle a career, love life and adventures in time and space. Yes, and with good reason. The show’s called Doctor Who, not ‘My friend the Time Traveller’. Increasingly the Doctor’s a cockblocker and bad lifestyle guru, showing up at the wrong moment, fluffing reassurance; he’s like an autistic Dad. His universe seemed somehow bigger when he took his companions away from it all and the focus was on him. It was less a case of “where do you want to go?” more, “this is what’s happening, now look out!” or “where the fuck are we?” In short, the Doctor used to pick up hitchhikers, people who were grateful to be going anywhere at all. Now he’s jostling for attention with the rest of their weekly schedule. If his next incarnation looked anything like me it would tell would-be associates, ‘sure we’ll drop in on your home town once in a while, if there’s time’, knowing full well there wouldn’t be.

I like Clara these days but I’m not sure I care about her dates or what’s going on in the staff room. I accept she wants a normal life, but that’s not the deal. The deal is that you pack some clothes, get in the Police Box and forget about the humdrum, repetitive, everyday nonsense that weighs down the rest of us. Were I offered a ride in a time machine, you can bet your life there’d be a million places I’d want to visit before I got nostalgic for the pub on the corner and work breaks at Starbucks. But why shouldn’t Clara have a boyfriend, you ask? She should, let her enjoy a full and vibrant sex life I say. It’s just that she’ll have to give up her place on the TARDIS and let someone with no commitments have a go.

The dip in approach begs another question. If the Doctor’s prepared to take time out to pick up and drop off his companion at regular intervals, giving them a parallel existence, why not have ten companions, or twenty? Why not leave Clara for a little while and pick up James Corden for a couple of years, or Bob who the Doctor occasionally visits in space prison, or Maisie, his favourite 17th century Cornish prostitute? Don’t say the Doctor doesn’t have time; he’s got all the time he needs.

So I say the time has come to make Clara choose, Steven. Join the Doctor as a full time space traveller or settle down to a life of teaching and coupling. I want to enjoy adventures in the farthest reaches of the universe without having to break off to visit Clara’s flat, because she’s due out for dinner and absolutely must have a few hours to get ready beforehand.

Yours in time and cyberspace,


P.S: I thought I saw a half-second of John Barrowman in tonight’s episode. Please say it ain’t so.

P.P.S: Two naked aliens on a family show? Steven, I’m shocked.

P.P.P.S: “C’mon then, team not dead.” A brief moment of levity in an otherwise dull three quarters of an hour.

P.P.P.P.S: A cyborg who makes a clichéd data processing computer noise when he’s calculating something was flat out idiotic. What next, an episode where the Doctor shows up at Coal Hill as the new caretaker?!

The Adventures of Clara and her Geriatric Pal:

Doctor Who: The Youthful Years

The Distant Past:

Deep Time:

Published in: on September 20, 2014 at 20:00  Leave a Comment  
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