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Recap / Doctor Who S34 E5 "Time Heist"

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"The bank of Karabraxos is impregnable. The bank of Karabraxos has never been breached. You will rob the bank of Karabraxos!"
The Architect

The One With… the hologram-projecting USB plug.

Written by Steve Thompson and Steven Moffat.

Clara, once again, has a date! Things with Danny Pink seem to be going swimmingly, which is nice, and she's even bought a brand new suit and heels for the occasion. The Doctor doesn't really get it, but on the bright side, he does point out those heels would be great if she ever needs to grab something from a shelf. Clara's just about to leave, when the phone rings. The TARDIS phone rings.

There aren't many people in the universe who have that number — one exception being the woman in the shop who gave it to Clara, who they still haven't managed to identify. Like a moth to a flame, or a mad alien man with big eyebrows to an upcoming adventure, the Doctor goes to pick it up. Clara warns him not to — that's how adventures start, don't you know — but the Doctor ignores her. After all, What Could Possibly Go Wrong?

The Doctor hastily drops the worm he's holding, disgusted, and looks around to see Clara and two other interesting people. One of them, Psi (Jonathan Bailey), appears to be a cyborg, and the other one's Saibra, a woman in vaguely-Gothic looking dress starting to sprout the face of a worm herself. A deep voice crackles through a speaker on the table: they've all agreed to rob the Bank of Karabraxos, a whole banking planet for the sort of people who can buy their own star systems. And they've definitely agreed - he's got their pre-recorded consent to prove it. Of course, the Bank of Karabraxos does this nasty thing where they kill anyone who so much as sets foot there without notice, and there's a rather insistent man with a blowtorch trying to get in and incinerate them right about now, so it looks like they're going to have to rob the bank if they want to get out alive.

You may have noticed there was a fairly big gap between the events of that paragraph and the last one. The Doctor and company noticed too, and they intend to find out what the hell happened. But first, they have to contend with an Affably Evil security head, a million and one locks, walls full of flamethrowers and, deadliest of all, the Teller; a terrifying beast that'll turn your mind to soup so it can feed on your guilt...

And, if they can, look really cool doing it.


  • Actor Allusion: Peter Capaldi tells people to "shutity up!"
  • Air Vent Escape: To the point of being lampshaded. All the vents have the warning "No Entry Under Any Circumstances". The Doctor and crew entirely ignore said notices.
  • All There in the Script: Mr Porrima, the bank customer copied by Saibra to gain access to the safety deposit boxes, is only identified in the credits, not in dialogue.
  • Almost Kiss: Followed by a mutual Get Out! when Clara and Danny are interrupted by a student.
  • And I Must Scream: Having your mind erased until you're just an empty husk. This was why the Doctor chose to give Saibra a Mercy Kill, or at least he thought he did.
  • Apocalypse How: A massive solar storm threatens to destroy the bank. Given the visuals, it would probably depopulate the planet if there was anything other than the bank there.
  • The Alcatraz: Even those incarcerated in the bank who haven't been mind-wiped can't escape, because the Teller will pick up their guilty thoughts.
  • Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking: The Doctor tries to convince Clara out of her date and mentions the places they could go, like the Satanic Nebula, the Lagoon of Lost Stars... or Brighton.
  • Artistic License – Biology: The Teller's ability to reduce its victims' brains to soup somehow also caves in their skulls, the bone going from a nice convex dome to a concave section where the forehead and front half of the top should be. It makes the victims actually look like their heads are empty, and is all the more horrifying for it; much better advertisements for the bank's security measures.
  • Ask a Stupid Question...: Clara asks Psi why he would choose to forget everyone he ever loved. Psi, obviously, does not remember why he made that choice.
  • Batman Gambit: The Architect (aka the Doctor in the future) deliberately makes the teleport devices identical in design to atomic shredders, not to confuse the bank staff, but because of what he knows about himself. The only thing that would get the Doctor to the vault, and keep his spirit up despite all the danger, is to give him something to run from. The one thing the Doctor runs from more often than anything else: death.
  • Better to Die than Be Killed: The theory behind the Shredders is to die quickly rather than having one's mind devoured by the Teller, before they're revealed to be teleporters.
  • Big Bad: Madame Karabraxos, the owner of the bank and the one responsible for imprisoning the Teller's mate in order to force his co-operation. Unusually, she's also the Big Good, as her older self was the one who hired the Doctor to put right her past wrong.
  • Big "SHUT UP!": "Shut up, shut up, shuttity up up up!"
  • Black Dude Dies First: The Teller's first onscreen victim is black.
  • Blessed with Suck: Saibra's powers can't be shut off, which keeps her from ever touching people without assuming their form. Which means in her case, simple handshakes and sadly, intimacy, are to be avoided.
  • Body Horror:
    • The Teller makes soup out of people's brains. It wouldn't be so nauseating if their brain fluids didn't leak out through their tear ducts afterward, or their heads didn't cave in. (The caving-in part is one of the more unsettling visual effects the show has ever displayed on screen. Especially when it's later revealed that the people continue to live afterwards.)
    • In her first few moments on-screen, Saibra demonstrates how unpleasant her power can be when she starts to imitate the memory worm she's touching.
  • Buffy Speak: The Doctor and Clara both say that "a thing" will happen.
    Saibra: That's your plan? A thing will happen?
  • Can't Have Sex, Ever: Saibra effectively suffers this, because she shapeshifts into anybody who she touches directly, and it turns out Screw Yourself is a very uncommon fetish, or more disturbing in reality than people expect.
  • Caper Crew: The Doctor is the Partner in Crime as himself and the Mastermind, Coordinator and maybe Gadget Guy as the Architect, Psi is the Hacker, Saibra is the Con Woman, Clara is the New Kid and the future Madame Karabraxos serves as the Backer.
  • Chair Reveal: How Karabraxos is introduced (the reveal being that she looks exactly like Ms. Delphox).
  • Computer Voice: The bank's system speaks.
  • Continuity Cavalcade: Images are played of Androvax, a Sensorite, Captain John Hart, Abslom Daak, a Slitheen, a Terileptil, the Gunslinger and the Trickster. In the case of Abslom Daak, this firmly cements him as a Canon Immigrant.
  • Continuity Nod:
  • Crazy Jealous Guy: Despite Ship Sinking the possibility of a relationship at the start of the season, and apparently ignorant of human courtship rituals at the start of the episode, it turns out the Doctor is Not So Above It All. He woos Clara with another exciting adventure, stuffs her with food just before her dinner date, then brags about it after she's left.
  • Creator In-Joke: One of the treasure items in Karabraxos's private vault, visible in the background of several important shots, is a child's cardboard model of a rocket ship. In the making-of documentary, director Douglas McKinnon explains that it belongs to him, was a gift from his daughter, and is one of his own most treasured possessions.
  • Cyanide Pill: The Doctor assumes the syringes they find are "atom shredders" meant to painlessly kill anyone caught by the Teller. He calls them an "escape route... of a sort." In fact, they're a more conventional escape route: they teleport the user to a spaceship in orbit.
  • Cyborg: The Doctor describes Psi as having a mainframe in his head. It lets him wipe his own memory, interface with other systems and upload imprints of close to all the greatest criminals in existence, making him guilty enough to distract the Teller from Clara.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: People caught disobeying rules or stealing at the Bank of Karabraxos have to face the Teller as punishment. Not only do they get turned into walking vegetables, but their descendants get incarcerated as insurance that the family will not commit a crime against the bank a second time. It makes sense in that there are such things as crime families like the Slitheen afoot who might co-conspire and this is a preventative measure designed to split them up, but innocent children... hoo boy, it's gonna suck for them.
  • Dressing as the Enemy: After being thought to be dead, Saibra and Psi return disguised as bank security. Psi had to appropriate a uniform from somewhere, while Saibra can just mimic the uniform with her holographic shell. Saibra's shapeshifting ability allows the writers to play with the "faceless goons remove helmets to reveal allies" aspect of the trope, which initially seems to be ruled out by the fact that one of the security guards already has his helmet off; that one is Saibra wearing a false face.
  • Emotion Eater: The Teller feeds on the guilt of other living beings.
  • "Eureka!" Moment: In Karabraxos's vault, the Doctor figures out who the Architect is: himself.
  • Expendable Clone: Karabraxos uses clones of herself as secretaries and such, since she won't rely on anyone else. This doesn't stop her from killing them for failure.
  • Exposed Extraterrestrials: While the Teller walks around in a full-body straightjacket for most of the episode, he and his mate are released wearing nothing at all.
  • Failed a Spot Check: Early on, the Doctor ponders why he isn't just using the TARDIS to do this job. Clara then brings up the more obvious question: where is the TARDIS? The Doctor admits he should have led with that.
  • Fake American: A plot-related use of the trope: The Doctor adopts an electronically altered American accent as the Architect in order to conceal his identity.
  • False Reassurance: Bank security politely asks the Doctor and crew to let them in, on the rationale that they don't want to hurt them before executing them.
  • Foot Popping: The Doctor is so pleased with himself for exhausting Clara right before her dinner with Danny Pink ("Robbing a whole bank. Beat that for a date!") that he does this in the last shot.
  • Freeze-Frame Bonus: When Psi is going through the list of criminals, it flashes through several previously introduced characters from the Doctor Who universe, including the Gunslinger, John Hart and Abslom Daak.
  • Get Out!: Clara and Danny are swift to order out the student who interrupts them while they're getting intimate.
  • Green-Eyed Monster: The Doctor's "Beat that for a date". Keep in mind that at this point in the series, he has yet to (officially) meet Danny.
  • Heist Episode: The plot of the episode. The Twelfth Doctor, Clara, and other subjects are forced by the Architect to rob the Bank of Karabraxos, a whole banking planet for the sort of people who can buy their own star systems in An Offer You Can't Refuse (along the lines of "rob the bank or you're dead"). The bank holds something of great value to each member, which is why they took the job despite having to erase their memories of ever taking it.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Psi deliberately overloads his mind with the criminal records of hundreds of infamous bank robbers to lure the Teller away from Clara, figuring her ties to her loved ones make her life more valuable than his. Subverted when the "Shredder" he uses to avoid becoming lunch teleports him to safety instead of killing him.
  • High-Heel Power: Lampshaded. Clara is wearing heels and a fancy pantsuit to emphasise her Action Girl status, but the Doctor just thinks she needs the heels to reach a high shelf.
  • Hilarious Outtakes: In contrast to the David Tennant and Matt Smith eras, gag reels have not been released for Capaldi's episodes. One of the only publicly released bloopers from Series 8, from the epilogue scene in which Capaldi begins speaking the wrong line of dialogue, can be found in the Doctor Who Extra featurette for this episode released online and later on DVD.
  • Holographic Disguise: Saibra has a natural ability to mimic faces, bodies, and voices, but has a hologram generator to make sure her clothing looks like that of the original.
  • I Just Want to Be Normal: Saibra's motivation for robbing the bank - her mutant ability to shapeshift into what she is currently touching means that she is incapable of ever having sex with or even touching a person normally, so she's hoping to obtain a gene suppressant from the heist to make her normal.
  • I Have Your Wife: The Teller is coerced into working for the bank because they have its mate chained up in the private vault.
  • Incredibly Obvious Bomb: The Doctor opens their mysterious briefcase. Played with in that, while it is indeed a bomb, its detonation doesn't cause a conventional explosion.
    The Doctor: OK, well I'm no expert but fuses, timer... I'm going to stick my neck out and say bomb.
  • Informed Ability: The "most secure bank in the universe" apparently cannot afford cameras, regular patrols, or any kind of meaningful security other than the Teller and some intermittently placed breath-based DNA scanners. It does make sense in a way, the Teller stops anyone even thinking about committing a crime and the final lock required a time-travelling genius and a planet-destroying solar storm to beat.
  • In the Hood: The "Architect" wears an identity-concealing hood in the video briefing.
  • Involuntary Shapeshifter: Saibra assumes the appearance of anyone she touches, for as long as they remain touching. She can choose to retain the appearance for as long as she likes after they stop touching, but she can't choose not to mimic a person while they're in contact.
  • I Was Quite a Fashion Victim: The Doctor allows a psychic alien to feast on his memories, telling it, "Big scarf... bow tie... embarrassing."
  • Karma Houdini: Yes, Karabraxos, on her death bed, is hit with guilt over what she did to the Teller and his mate and helps save the day in a timey-wimey fashion. Otherwise, though, there is no indication given that she ever faced direct consequences regarding her actions towards the Teller, the killings of multiple clones, and the "brain souping" of numerous individuals.
  • Kill It with Fire: The bank has rows of flamethrowers to incinerate any potential thieves that fail the security checks.
  • Lampshade Hanging: The Doctor's comment on Clara's height and her showing off her shoes highlight the truly impressive heels 5'2" Jenna Coleman has had to wear to stay in frame with 6' Peter Capaldi.
  • Large Ham: The Doctor's "Eureka!" Moment is so hammy that he bangs a gong to accentuate it!
  • Laser-Guided Amnesia:
    • The memory worms used by the group to wipe their minds and thus hide their guilt from the Teller.
    • Psi's implants allow him to do this at will. Unfortunately for him, there's no easy restore function, which cost him the memories of his family during an interrogation in order to protect them. He agreed to the heist because the bank holds a device which can restore his memory.
  • Last of Its Kind: The bank claims The Teller is the last of its species, which forms the basis for the special terms of its contract. There's a second one chained up and kept prisoner in the bank's most secure vault, and it works for them in exchange for the imprisoned one's safety.
  • Lighter and Softer: Another episode that appears to be gritty, but is in fact a happier episode than the general trend of the season so far.
  • Literal Metaphor: Employees of the Bank of Karabraxos whose performances are deemed substandard are fired... by means of an incinerator.
  • Living Lie Detector:
    • The Teller is a unique spin on this, in that it detects guilty and remorseful feelings from people that have stolen from the bank. If an individual's thoughts come up as positive for guilt, they get a Fate Worse than Death.
    • As a woman who shifts faces on a regular basis, Saibra is very good at reading people. She instantly deduces the Doctor is lying when he opens the case with the Shredders and claims to be ignorant of their function.
  • Logo Joke: The opening credits "time tunnel" are shown at the start of the episode... which turns out to be Clara's washing machine with the Doctor peering into it.
  • Meaningful Appearance: Clara dons a pair of particularly high heels for a date with Danny, which confuses the Doctor who thinks she needs to them to reach a high shelf. Later, the Doctor recommends she change her shoes.
  • Meaningful Name: The Teller works at a bank, but can also "tell" what people are thinking.
  • Memory Gambit: The Doctor, Clara, Psi and Saibra have their memories voluntarily removed with memory worms in order to get into the bank.
  • Mind Rape: The Teller has the ability to liquefy the brain of anyone he makes eye contact with, provided he isn't interrupted. Strangely, this doesn't kill the person, even though their head deflates; it must leave enough of the brainstem intact to keep the heart and lungs going. Being around and absorbing so many thoughts is slowly driving the Teller insane too, giving a rare two-way version of this trope.
  • Mishmash Museum: Karabraxos's personal vault is a disorganised collection of shiny but slightly kitschy items.
  • Moment Killer: A student walks in on Clara and Danny Almost Kissing. They react swiftly.
  • Must Make Amends: The heist is a rescue mission contracted by the future dying Karabaxos for just this reason. She has a lot of regrets, and freeing the Teller is one that she can correct before she dies.
  • My Life Flashed Before My Eyes: Psi lampshades the trope before his Heroic Sacrifice, but says he has no memories of loved ones to remember.
  • No Body Left Behind: The "Shredders" left for the team are assumed to be suicide devices, so called because they seem to "shred" the body with an energy field. They turn out to be teleporters.
  • Not a Date: "Beat that for a date!"
  • Not So Harmless Punishment: Employees who disappoint Madame Karabraxos are "fired", by which she means they are thrown into the incinerator.
  • Off-the-Shelf FX: Psi's hologram projector is a USB plug with an LED. It also works as an actual plug.
  • Ontological Mystery: The episode begins with the Doctor answering the phone and then suddenly he, Clara, and two people they have never met before are in the most impregnable bank in the galaxy, having agreed to rob it on behalf of a mysterious benefactor, recorded a message to themselves explaining that they have accepted this mission, and then erased their own memories of doing so. Half the episode is them carrying out the heist, the other half is trying to figure out who orchestrated this whole thing and how they seem to have infiltrated the bank already yet still need help robbing it.
  • Pin-Pulling Teeth: Psi does this with his transporter locking pin while thinking it will kill him, trying to go out like a badass... only to scream in terror seconds later as it activates.
  • Plot Tailored to the Party: Subverted; characters are killed after they've used their skillset, but it turns out they're Not Quite Dead.
  • Portal Cut: The bomb left for the team is a dimensional shift bomb, displacing a roughly cube-shaped section of floor for the team to escape through, which then returns to normal space about a minute later, leaving no trace behind.
  • Punch-Clock Villain: Bank security is incredibly polite about the fact that they're going to kill you, and really wish you wouldn't make such a fuss about it.
  • Red Herring: The introduction to the heist establishes various facts: the walls have flamethrowers, the air is regulated, and the safes are atomically sealed. The first never comes up again, while the second is only marginally related to the fact that the private vault has its own life support system.
  • Seen It All: Averted; the Doctor can't recognise the Teller's species, which he hates as he doesn't know how to stop the Teller once it's locked onto you.
  • Self-Deprecation: The Doctor refers to his current look as intended to have been "Minimalist" but winding up with "Magician". Also, throughout the episode, the Doctor continually mentions how he hates the Architect. Later, it turns out he is the Architect.
  • Ship Tease: "Beat that for a date!" caught fans by surprise who assumed that the series had executed Ship Sinking with the Doctor and Clara.
  • Shout-Out:
  • Smash Cut: When the Doctor picks up the TARDIS phone, the scene suddenly cuts to himself, Clara and two strangers all holding memory worms.
  • Solar Flare Disaster: The entire planet of Karabraxos is roasted by solar flares. The solar storm also messes with the bank's security.
  • Stable Time Loop: It turns out the Doctor was hired by the future version of Madame Karabraxos to free the Teller, but she only had his number because he gave it to her during the heist itself. Possibly also true of some of "the Architect"'s break-in tactics, if she also told him as much as she could remember about how his team had penetrated the bank.
  • Take That, Critics!: As the Teller goes through his memories, the Doctor addresses fans' criticisms of his costume: "What do you think of the new look? I was hoping for minimalism, but I think I came up with 'magician.'"
  • Team Power Walk: As you'd expect in The Caper episode, though different in that the characters are somewhat strung out, only visible when they turn a corner.
  • Tempting Fate:
    • The Doctor insists no harm ever came from answering a phone. Cue Smash Cut.
    • As the Doctor says there's no immediate threat the alarm goes off. He lampshades this by saying "I should stop saying things like that."
  • Title Drop: Close. "It's not a bank heist; it's a time-travel heist."
  • Treacherous Quest Giver:
    • Inverted with Karabraxos. She's set up to be the villain from the start, while it's later revealed her regretful future self had sent the Doctor back in time to fix her mistakes.
    • Subverted with the shady and ruthless Architect, who's no more than a set of cryptic instructions from The Twelfth Doctor being his own, scary self.
  • The Triple: The Doctor offers to take Clara to the Satanic Nebula, the Lagoon of Lost Stars, or Brighton.
  • Troll: The Doctor lets Clara stuff herself with Chinese food before her dinner date with Danny.
  • Verbal Tic: Psi's brain augmentations cause him to repeat repeat repeat himself when he's stressed.
  • Wasn't That Fun?: Psi invites the Doctor to call him next time he wants to rob a bank. Clara says it's not really the Doctor's thing, only for him to give Psi the wink once her back is turned. Then Clara turns out to be Not So Above It All when she tells the Doctor not to rob any more banks without her.
  • Wave-Motion Tuning Fork:
    • The Teller pushes his eye stalks together when liquefying the brains of his targets.
    • The dimensional shift bomb has two folding flanges that the Doctor extends like this to set it.
  • Wham Line: "Beat that for a date." A wham because it implies the Doctor was deliberately trying to sabotage Clara's dinner date (including feeding her just before she's to have dinner with Danny) and that his feelings for her might not be all that platonic. So much for "Clara, I'm not your boyfriend."
  • What the Hell, Hero?: Psi is unimpressed by the Doctor's "professional detachment" and Clara's claim that "underneath it all, he isn't really like that."
    Psi: It's very obvious that you've been with him for a while. Because you are really good at the excuses.
  • Whole-Plot Reference: Our heroes and some weird new allies have to rob a corrupt high-security alien bank with a wildly ruthless female boss. Where have we heard that before?
  • Wicked Cultured: Karabraxos has classical music playing in the private vault.
  • You Have Failed Me: Ms. Delphox knows when someone is fired from the bank it is "messy". They get incinerated.
  • You See, I'm Dying: When Madame Karabaxos from the far flung future sends the Doctor on the job that he would later predict that she in the present day would need to, she's already dying of old age.


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