Doctor Who S10E03 “Thin Ice” REVIEW
Essential Plot Points:
- The Doctor and Bill arrive in London, February 1814, for the last great frost fair – festivities which take place on the frozen Thames.
- Bill thinks they must have entered a parallel world, but no, the Thames did used to freeze over.
- But people are being sucked under the ice by what looks from above the ice like green lights.
- When a young street urchin dies in this way the Doctor decides to investigate.
- It turns out there’s a huge alien serpent chained up under the Thames. Its poo can be used a fuel to power the industrial revolution.
- It’s been under there for generations apparently, and it periodically alters the climate to cause the freeze.
- It’s been the secret of the Sutcliffe family for generations. The current Lord Sutcliffe – an odious industrialist – plans to blow up the ice while the festivities are at their height to provide a food bonanza for his “creature” (and consequently produce more a lot more flammable poo – we can’t believe there’s not a gag about lighting your farts in the entire episode).
- The Doctor gives Bill the choice: should they free the creature and risk it killing innocent people? After some agonising she tells the Doctor yes they should.
- While Bill has helped get as many people off the ice as possible, the Doctor moves the explosives so that when Lord Sutcliffe detonates them, they blow up the creature’s chains instead.
- The creature is free and scarpers off down the Thames, killing Sutcliffe along the way.
- The Doctor doctors Sutcliffe’s will to make one of the street urchins the recipient of his fortune.
- Returning to the present, the Doctor makes a deal with Nardole that Nardole won’t whinge about him galavanting off in the TARDIS again.
- Nardole goes to the vault and hears whoever-it-is inside knocking.
There definitely seems to be a desire to get back to basics this season. If “The Pilot” was supposed to act as a soft reboot, it’s tempting to compare this season with the Eccleston season, which relaunched the show in 2005. That began with “Rose” set in the present day, told largely from the point of the view of the new companion – like “The Pilot”. Then “The End Of The World” was a trip into the far future, like “Smile”. After that “The Unquiet Dead” took us to the 19th century, like “Thin Ice”.
Hell, next week we might get farting politicians!
Seriously, though, “Thin Ice” feels like it could have easily been written for that ninth Doctor season, with a few amendments. It would have to incorporate this season’s conceit about the Doctor being Bill’s moral tutor; and Bill is a bit more sci-fi savvy than Rose (and a different ethnicity, of course). But like those early stories, “Thin Ice” is unpretentious and unshowy; a pretty straightforward, easy-to-grasp sci-fi concept, wrapped in a linearly-told plot. Which isn’t a criticism, because it’s also a tale told with a lot of style, warmth humour and heart. Some absolutely gorgeous production design to bring the frost fair on the frozen Thames to life helps too; this is a great-looking episode.
Once again, the Doctor and Bill dominate proceedings. There’s no name guest star, and they get the vast majority of the lines. Once again, their partnership is a delight to watch, especially as it’s now becoming patently clear: the Doctor is preparing Bill for something. Maybe something in particular. It’s going to be fun finding out.
There’s also that curious moment when the Doctor says that he serves humanity. Is he being metaphorical about that, or does his mysterious “oath” mean he is literally bound to humanity?
Whatever the deeper undercurrents going on, there’s no denying that that dialogue between them this week absolutely fizzes with zingers a-plenty (see “The Good” below for many, many examples) while also having some very poignant moments. The discussion about how many people the Doctor has killed is mesmerising to watch.
There are a few problems. Logic is sacrificed for the sake a good visual or gag occasionally (how did the creature swim off down the Thames without demolishing every bridge on the way? How did the Doctor make Perry Sutcliffe’s long lost relative). A couple of the child actors are woefully stiff. The lack of explanation (or even speculation) about the creature’s origin is odd. The story is very slight and maybe could have done with one more twist.
On the other hand, for people who like a Doctor Who that sends kids behind the sofa, that bit with Spider’s arm vanishing below the ice was pretty strong stuff.
“Thin Ice” may not be an absolute classic, but it’s a polished, entertaining, solid slice of well-made modern Who. And the little blue fish were AWESOME! (Sorry, Bill.)
- “You never said we could travel to parallel worlds.” We love the fact Bill is so sci-fi savvy.
- “Bit more black than they show in the movies.”
“So was Jesus. History’s a whitewash.”
The very unsentimental and practical approach to racism and slavery in the episode is welcome. It addresses the problem with dry humour rather than trying to preach, which is more effective.
- “So how do we stay out of trouble?”
“I’m not the right person to ask.”
- “So the TARDIS has dresses and likes a bit of trouble? I think I’m vaguely in love with her.”
- “So what are the rules?”
“Yeah, travel into the past, there’s got to be rules. If I step on a butterfly it could send ripples through time that mean that I’m not even born in the first place and I could just disappear.”
“Definitely. I mean, that’s what happened to Pete.”
“Your friend, Pete. He was standing there a moment ago, but he stepped on a butterfly. Now you don’t even remember him.”
“Shut up. I’m being serious.”
“Yes, so was Pete.”
“You know what I mean. Every choice I make in this moment, here and now, could change the whole future.”
“Exactly like every other day of your life. The only thing to do is stop worrying a about it.”
No apologies for posting that exchange in full, because it was an absolute delight. Plus, Big Finish can now do a who series of audio plays based on Pete now.
- The Jaws-style under-the-ice shots are very effective.
- Capaldi’s subtle change of expression when Bill asks him how many people he’s killed is a magnificent piece of acting.
- Bill sticking her tongue out when the Doctor hears her say, “I’ve moved on,” was perfect.
- “I was being all down with the kids, then. Did you notice.”
“My hair was cringing.”
- “Is this stuff safe?”
“Potentially? What does potentially mean?”
“Safe with a frisson of excitement.”
- “Human progress isn’t measured by industry. It’s measured by the value you place on a life. An unimportant life. A life without privilege. That boy who died on the river; that boy’s value is your value. That’s what defines a person. That’s what defines a species.” Yep, that is a great speech.
- Nardole’s business with the vault is very intriguing – so there’s definitely a “who” in there?
- “I’m a bit of a thief myself.” We’re not sure why the Doctor suddenly developed a kleptomaniac streak in the episode (aside from the pies he also nicks a top hat) but we’re not sure we approve.
- “The boy’s the one with your magic wand.”
“How is that a screwdriver?”
“In a very broad sense.”
“Alright, then how’s it sonic.?”
“It makes a noise.”
Hmmmm, looks like Bill is – as we feared last week – going to spend the entire season being a mouthpiece for Doctor Who forums, taking the mick out the show.
- While the scene with Spider’s arm sticking out of the ice is great the moment just before when the child actor handily throws up his arm (instead of just dropping the sonic screwdriver) looks very contrived.
- How the hell did Bill and the Doctor climb out of the Thames – straight up onto the ice, not by walking to the banks – with their weighted deep-sea diving boots still on?
- The moment with Bill screaming might have seemed a good idea on paper but it’s a little irritating in practice.
And The Random:
- The sword swallower takes a bow when he has the sword down his gullet – surely that’s not a recommended manoeuvre?
- The guy who bumps into the Doctor at the start appears to say, “Watch out, Doc.” Is the Doctor wearing the recognised garb for a Doctor in 1814? Or was “Doc” the equivalent of something like “Guv” or “mate” back then? Or was he saying, “Duck!”? These preview screeners the Beeb sends out don’t have subtitles or the highest quality sound!
- “I’ve never seen anyone die before.” So was Bill looking the wrong way last week when the Vardy reduced a man to a pile of bones in the climactic battle?
- The story the Doctor reads the street urchins is “Die Geschichte vom Daumenlutscher” (“The Story Of Little Suck-A-Thumb”) by ETA Hoffman from the book Der Struwwelpeter (Shockheaded Peter) which was published in 1845 – but the Doctor is a time traveller. Here’s the full thing:
One day, Mamma said, “Conrad dear,
I must go out and leave you here.
But mind now, Conrad, what I say,
Don’t suck your thumb while I’m away.
The great tall tailor always comes
To little boys that suck their thumbs.
And ere they dream what he’s about
He takes his great sharp scissors
And cuts their thumbs clean off – and then
You know, they never grow again.”
Mamma had scarcely turn’d her back,
The thumb was in, alack! alack!
The door flew open, in he ran,
The great, long, red-legged scissorman.
Oh! children, see! the tailor’s come
And caught our little Suck-a-Thumb.
Snip! Snap! Snip! the scissors go;
And Conrad cries out – Oh! Oh! Oh!
Snip! Snap! Snip! They go so fast;
That both his thumbs are off at last.
Mamma comes home; there Conrad stands,
And looks quite sad, and shows his hands;
“Ah!” said Mamma “I knew he’d come
To naughty little Suck-a-Thumb.”
- “I’m 2,000 years old.” Last week the Doctor said he was over 2,000 and this week he states 2,000 exactly. This means that – despite his somewhat spurious claim that he remembered all of it – we can write off the four billion years he spent in the Keep in “Hell Bent” because time was constantly resetting. Although there are quibbles to be had with the infographic below, it broadly makes sense.
Review by Dave Golder