The Doctor and Clara find themselves in a room with two strangers after voluntarily wiping their own memories. They learn that they have to rob the most secure bank in the galaxy by direction of an unknown man called The Architect. Now the Doctor, Clara, and their new friends must outwit the most advanced security system in the universe and avoid the deadly psychic powers of a creature called the Teller.
The Doctor wants Clara to go on an adventure with him but she’s on her way to her date with Danny. Just as she is about to leave, the emergency phone in the TARDIS rings. As the Doctor goes to answer the phone, the next thing they remember is waking up in a room with two strangers – Psi, a technologically enhanced human, and Saibra, a mutant human who can take the form of anyone she touches. They are greeted by pre-recorded statements from each of them that they have voluntarily submitted to a memory wipe. A video of a mysterious figure with a disguised voice gives them instructions on their task of robbing the Bank of Karabraxos, the richest and most secure bank in the galaxy. They are given a DNA sample so that Saibra can disguise herself and get them into the bank. Their presence, however, is detected by the head of Karabraxos security and they must leave before they are discovered by the guards.
As they arrive at the bank, a monstrous alien called the Teller, the last of its kind, is led into the foyer to discover a thief. For a moment it seems as if they have already been found out, but it is another man who is scanned and found guilty of some nefarious intention. The alien scans his brain and feeds on his thoughts, turning his brain basically into soup. The group knows now why they wiped their own memories, in order to avoid detection by this psychic guard. Through Saibra’s disguise they gain access to a safety deposit box containing a briefcase with a dimensional shift bomb – a bomb that instead of exploding shifts the matter in the affected area momentarily to another place. According to the bank schematics downloaded by Psi, their next route lies directly below them. They plant the bomb on the floor and make a hole for them to escape through, leaving no trace behind them when the guards go to investigate.
Once down the shaft to the lower levels, they come across another briefcase containing devices that the Doctor refers to as an “exit strategy”. Along their journey they find that the thief that was caught in the foyer is still alive, but brain dead and being kept on display as a warning to others. While trying to avoid detection by the guards, the team stumbles into the room containing the Teller’s cage and must escape before the Teller latches onto their minds. Saibra gets caught, paralyzed by the Teller’s hold on her mind. The Doctor can’t help her, but gives her one of the exit strategy devices – what appears to be a disintegrator, which kills her but prevents her from becoming a soup-headed zombie like the other thief. They reach the vault and Psi works on opening it with his technologically augmented brain.
Meanwhile, the Teller has been set loose in the lower levels and they must split up to avoid detection. Clara gets caught by the Teller just as Psi finishes his work. He pulls the Teller’s attention from Clara to himself, sacrificing himself to save her. When the Doctor and Clara arrive at the vault door they find that Psi’s work has opened all the locks but one and the Doctor is powerless to fix it. Coincidentally, the planet is being bombarded by a severe solar storm, which affects the security system and opens the vault. The Doctor starts to suspect that the Architect must be a time traveler who knew exactly when the solar storm would strike and that it would be the only time in which it was possible to infiltrate the bank. The Doctor and Clara find the items that Psi and Saibra had been promised – the reason they had agreed to rob the bank in the first place – then continue on to a private vault to continue the heist. Before they arrive, they get caught by the guards and the head of security has them sentenced to death.
However, it turns out that their would be executors are Psi and Saibra, not disintegrated but merely transported out of harm’s way. They continue the heist together, infiltrating the private vault. There they find Karabraxos enjoying her riches and discover that the director of security is her clone – that in fact, all the Karabraxos bank branches have a Karabraxos clone in charge. The Doctor begins to suspect more than ever who the Architect must be and why they agreed to rob the bank in the first place. Before the bank burns in the solar storm, the Doctor gives Karabraxos his phone number, believing that one day she will call him to ask him to rob the bank before it is too late – before the second remaining of the Teller’s kind, being kept prisoner in order to bend the Teller to her will, gets burned in the storm. The Doctor was the Architect all along, planning the heist in order to save the last two remaining members of an extraordinary species. The Doctor saves the Teller and his mate, bringing them to an isolated, idyllic world.
This is clearly a pretty complicated and detailed plot with many more ins and outs than have been outlined here. The story was written by Steven Moffat – who seems to be doing a lot of the writing this season – and Steve Thompson – the third major writer of Sherlock after Moffat and Gatiss. This explains the fast paced, detail oriented, mystery heist style of the episode. If there’s one thing that Thompson has proved he is good at through his writing for Sherlock, it’s a fast paced mystery-action-investigation. The story has a circular, nonlinear plot that starts with a mystery of missing time, the secret of which is revealed at the end of the episode with a scene detailing the events leading up to the point at which their memories had been erased. I have to admit, I suspected from the beginning that the Doctor was the mysterious Architect, the one who had planned the whole heist and set them on their mysterious mission. It really seemed like the sort of thing only he would or could do. All the same, I love those storylines where it turns out the Doctor is the manipulator of his own actions – and how much he hates that.
Capaldi’s Doctor reveals himself by degrees, but one of his most defining feature is what Psi calls his “professional detachment”. When Saibra seems to die, we can see in his face how upset he is by it, how helpless he is to help her and how much it pains him that he is a cause of her death. Even so, he carries on with the mission, his goal to care for the people who are still alive and get them through the task safely. This pragmatism bothers Psi, asking if his professional detachment is why he calls himself the Doctor. The Doctor looks from him to Clara and turns as if to continue on without saying anything. He turns on his heel angrily, telling Psi “When we’re done here, by all means you go and find yourself a shoulder to cry on, you’ll probably need that. Until then, what you need is me.”
He turns again, stalking away, both furious and hurt by Psi’s presumption about his feelings and the motivation for his pragmatism. Clara makes excuses for him, telling Psi that underneath it all the Doctor’s not really like that – which he isn’t. It’s all too clear how much he cares, that vulnerability and willful restraint read in every line in his face and furrow of his brow. This Doctor is wise enough to know when he can’t save someone and when its best to keep those in his care safe by not making a futile gesture to try. But this wisdom is often misread by those around him as a callousness or disregard for the lives of others. We first saw this trend in Into the Dalek where he accepted the imminent death of a team member for what it was, and rather than attempt to save him pointlessly, used his inevitable death to save everyone else.
At that point you could say that he’s merely using the resources at his disposal to survive, and that’s the best thing you can do at that point in order to give an otherwise pointless death any meaning. Even so, his business as usual response to these deaths upset his fellow adventurers, which in turn threaten to upset him and his finely tuned façade of control. The Doctor wants more than anything to be a good man and any question of his integrity is deeply disturbing to him, which explains a lot about his angry outburst at Psi for his condemnation.
Of course the Doctor also hates himself more than anyone ever can, and that’s exactly how he guessed who the Architect was. Saibra said to him, “How can you trust someone when you look in their eyes and see yourself looking back?” That sentiment is especially true for the Doctor, who found that he hated the Architect – hated how overbearing and manipulative and egocentric he was – and realized immediately that he must have been the time traveling Architect all along.
Psi and Saibra
In the end, of course, no one died and the Doctor gave Psi and Saibra that which they wanted most – their payment for helping him rob the bank. In Psi’s case it was a memory reset, a cure for the hurried memory wipe during an interrogation that deleted any recollection of his family or friends. For Saibra, it was the cure for her mutation, allowing her to touch people without involuntarily morphing into them, giving her a normal life. For the Doctor, what he wanted most was to save the tragically imprisoned aliens, giving them a happy and idyllic life together. Despite the Doctor’s pragmatism, or perhaps because of it, everyone lived happily ever after and knew the Doctor for what he was – their hero.