After last week’s futuristic adventure, we took a step back in time and joined the Doctor and Bill on the frozen over Thames for the frost fair in Sarah Dollard’s Thin Ice. But what did our team make of it? Let’s find out…
Ben (Assistant Editor)
Thin Ice is defined very early on. This is the episode that is going to question the issue of race in historical adventures. This is the episode that is going to show the companion having a realistic reaction to a death. Sarah Dollard is not afraid to challenge these issues that are usually brushed over to keep the drama light. But by tackling these issues, Bill becomes a much more rounded character and feels more like a normal human than many recent companions. We’re now into Episode Three and already Pearl Mackie has made her mark and cemented herself as a great companion for Capaldi’s Doctor.
Speaking of which, the Twelfth Doctor gets yet another inspiring speech and one hell of a right hook! By contrast to Bill, we also see his more relaxed attitudes to death, with his sonic feeling more important to him than human lives. We know he ‘moves on’ and this episode is a reminder for us and a realisation for Bill. It’s nice to see the companion finally question the Doctor on this matter.
The story itself was interesting. Although aspects of it weren’t new – the ‘space fish’ trapped against its will feeling very reminiscent of The Beast Below and people being dragged under the surface is a Doctor Who staple – the frost fair was an exciting setting and the Doctor helping children and interacting in a kind and fun way made a nice change.
Again we saw a brief glimpse of Nardole, who feels very much like the Mrs Hudson of Doctor Who: pops in occasionally to bring the Doctor tea and make some hilarious remarks. Honestly, the line about the tea – “I put a bit of coffee in it as well, just to give it some flavour.” – made me laugh out loud.
My only major quarrel with Thin Ice was the character of Lord Sutcliffe. Despite being a convincing antagonist, despite the typical 19th century attitudes and a half-decent maniacal plan, he felt too much of a ‘spoilt child’ villain instead of a real threat. His death scene in particular was a real disappointment. In a stark contrast to the emotional and well-handled death at the start of the episode, Sutcliffe’s death was terribly acted and far too ‘Scooby Doo’ to have any impact.
Overall though, this episode felt like a real triumph. The writing, direction and acting were all on point (apart from Sutcliffe, obviously) and we finally to got to pause the action for a bit to explore the Doctor and Bill a little more. The ending set up the mystery of the vault beautifully.
I am being increasingly wowed by Series 10. Thin Ice, in my opinion, was an example of what Doctor Who can do at its very best. I would say the story was both gentle and dramatic, undoubtedly thought provoking and challenging, and a glorious new insight into the 2000 year old Doctor and his extremely inspiring new companion. Pearl Mackie continues to exceed expectations in the extremely effective way she portrays a natural young, bright and curious mind. I was immensely struck by the high brow morals intertwined in this tale, and the extremely entertaining way these were portrayed. What great imagination from the brilliant Steven Moffat to explain to us how it can be that Christmas cards to this day still have images of people ice skating and having great fun on the totally frozen great river!
What we saw was an extremely heart warming tale, particularly through the range of emotions and challenges the Doctor essentially sets for Bill, her sadness and heartache and the injustice she sees as well as her acute fear because of her ethnicity in this olden day context of England, including active slavery, at the time.
But we also learn an awful lot about the Doctor. We get to an extremely important question, has the Doctor actually ever, through moral instinct, killed anybody? Bill says he has a certain look in his eye and ultimately, if reluctantly, The Doctor finally gives a frank answer of ‘Yes’. He argues some circumstances require difficult decisions. This may be him referring to the Time War, the Clockwork Man from Series 8, or shooting a laser gun at another Time Lord in the final episode of Series 9. I suspect however the Doctor has had many more situations in which he explains he has to just ‘move on’ quickly from the moral questions and guilt of such actions in order to be the most effective servant to the human race and the planet Earth as he can be. The Doctor truly loves humans, this we see in his excitable fondness for Bill as he try’s to educate her, and the hilarity at times from Capaldi plus Sherlock style brilliance is outstanding, subtle, and expert acting. The Doctor displays great strength on many occasions, quite when he ‘punches out’ the main villain of the story, the obnoxious terrestrial Lord Sutcliffe. Capaldi also delivers an impeccable and beautiful speech stating intelligence and stature of a civilisation is judged on how the smallest of people are treated. Only somebody with no compassion at all would think any differently, and the villain in the story certainly fits this type of cold hearted human beast.
Bill’s series of decisions and bravery impress the Doctor as she inspires him to help the desperate people around them who are suffering from extreme injustice. To re-write history by the end to allow a monumental change of fortune for the oppressed children in the tale and bless them with a position of great strength by the end of the episode and so this story is a stand alone with a truly happily ever after plot. The Doctor seems slightly weary after his extreme efforts, but more so weary in general. Nardole again made me laugh out loud referring to the Doctor’s time travelling misadventures whilst ‘on duty’ in earth under oath as being ultimately naughty (to which The Doctor with great comedy warns Nardole is ‘language’ of an offensive sense. But maybe not quite as shocking as the ‘No Sh*t we almost get from Bill earlier than in the episode where the ‘crudity’ was drowned out by the call of a passing horse!
This Series is incredibly refreshing as many fans old and new had wanted, and of course we’ve yet to learn about the mystery of the ‘vault’ which Nardole is nervously guarding in the Doctor’s ‘naughty’ absence. Without meaning to be spoilery (and I honestly don’t know) I am starting to suspect something cyber-like may be lurking under lock and key.
Thin Ice is a really powerful, moving, and delightful tale that I hope along with other episodes from Series 10 is remembered for a long time to come. Thank you to all who create and contribute to Doctor Who for something once again magical.
Following directly on from adventures in the present and the future, Bill’s first trip into the past proves to be just as eventful, with another strong offering from Face the Raven writer Sarah Dollard. Whilst her Doctor Who debut episode is tied heavily into the narrative arc of Series 9 by way of Clara’s death, Dollard first standalone story – hopefully of many – is of equally high quality.
Thin Ice finds the Doctor and Bill at the last great Frost Fair in 1814, with the two immediately confronted by an elephant on the frozen Thames. The revelation that it is not part of any strange goings-on but is instead historically accurate is a joyous surprise, and the fair proves to be a great choice of setting, with Regency Era London beautifully realised in terms of costume and set design.
With the elephant on the Thames neatly out of the way, Thin Ice boldly tackles what could otherwise have been the elephant in the room. Having a companion of colour travel into the past presents unavoidable challenges, ones which Thin Ice admirably faces head on. Both Bill’s concern that slavery is ‘still totally a thing’ and her observation that it’s a ‘bit more black than they show in the movies’ are succinctly addressed without being preachy. The Doctor’s decidedly physical response to Lord Sutcliffe’s overt racism later in the episode does much the same – as well as providing the most literal of punchlines to his endorsement only moments ago of tact and diplomacy!
In Thin Ice the Doctor and Bill continue to embody their respective roles as wise old tutor and inquisitive new companion equally convincingly. Their tense confrontation after a child gets sucked into the ice is at direct odds with the light, easy-going rapport between the two at the beginning of the episode, but both Peter Capaldi and Pearl Mackie handle the shifts in mood flawlessly, proving themselves constantly capable of portraying whatever is asked of them.
In the case of Thin Ice, this is a lot. Sarah Dollard’s script sparkles with many genuinely funny moments – from snappy one-liners to longer set pieces – whilst deftly handling darker tonal changes with aplomb. The story is kept ticking along at a consistent pace, and while the relationship between the Doctor and Bill may have dominated the previous two episodes at the expense of plot, here the two are smoothly intertwined. The mystery of the creature under the Thames makes for an engaging watch, and although the resolution may have echoes of the captive Star Whale in The Beast Below, the shift in perception in who the real monster is in this week’s episode – identified by yet another sublime speech from Peter Capaldi’s Doctor – is satisfyingly handled.
And with all this going on, Thin Ice still manages to squeeze in return appearances from Nardole and the Vault. Both are proving to be equally fascinating week-on-week, and it’ll certainly be interesting to see how both mysteries unfold as the series continues!