Sunday 30 April 2017

Reviews in Time & Space: Doctor Who 10x03 - Thin Ice

Watch Doctor Who for long enough and you'll inevitably start to see patterns forming, but even then this current season definitely feels like a throwback to when the show first returned back in 2005. Not only is Bill Potts probably the closest proxy there's been to Rose Tyler since her departure, but now her experiences with the Doctor are pretty similar so far as well. After their initial meeting on present day Earth, both were flung off to the far future before returning to Victorian England for their third adventure. Thin Ice (not to be confused with the Big Finish audio story of the same name) was written by Sarah Dollard, who made her Doctor Who debut last series with Face the Raven.

The Doctor & BillBill brushes with death firsthand

Following on from the end of Smile, the Doctor and Bill have landed in a London in the year 1814. After a quick wardrobe change the pair set out to enjoy the Frost Fair taking place on the frozen Thames, when they eventually spot moving green lights under the ice. After an orphan boy is dragged under the ice by these lights, the pair investigate just what's lurking in the waters below. They discover a giant sea creature - chained in place and feeding on those who fall through the ice. But who chained the creature there, and for what purpose?

Victorian Britain is practically a staple of modern Doctor Who by this point, and over the last decade the setting has yielded stories both good and bad. While Thin Ice certainly isn't up there with greats like The Snowmen or Deep Breath, it's an episode that leans more towards the good. Though at its core a fairly basic story, it spends the right amount of time hanging on mystery and devoting time to the characters instead. This is yet another episode where the only real characters of note are the Doctor and Bill, with the latter taking her next big step in getting accustomed to travelling around in time and space - coping with death.

Bill confronts the DoctorThe mysterious creature under the Thames

It's something Bill's going to have to get used to pretty quickly, but this episode handled that initial shock of seeing it firsthand brilliantly. Three weeks in praising both Bill and Pearl Mackie for delivering such a genuine feeling response sounds like a broken record, but yet again it's both a highlight and something that's felt missing from the series for a long time (especially since the end of Clara's arc saw her becoming colder and more "Doctor-like"). As well as their usual foray of quips (this week featuring a nice little exchange on the Sonic Screwdriver) this episode got more serious conversation flowing as well. Bill's a light-hearted character but she's already shown herself to be a pretty emotional one too, exposing not only the Doctor's age but also how detached he seems from the deaths he sees and why.

Thin Ice is also another great looking episode. The setting might not be quite as exotic or unique as Smile's, but between the scenery and costume design the visuals are nicely in touch with the period the episode takes place in. The mysterious sea creatures (both the large one and the smaller ones that cause the lights) look great too, with the murky underwater scenes doing wonders for the often-ropey CGI.

Villainy doesn't really play a big part in Thin Ice, but what is does feature is a good departure from the norm. While it's the giant sea creature that may be the crux of the problem, the true villain is Lord Sutcliffe - a wealthy noble who's just in it for the money. This isn't the first time Doctor Who has done a character like this (Voyage of the Damned for example) and overall the character barely makes an impression on the story at all, but it is nice to have a human character that's just genuinely despicable and without any sense of remorse. His status works perfectly with the race and class issues the story brings up, as well as giving the Doctor not only another opportunity to pull off another great speech but also throw a rather satisfying punch.

Lord SutcliffeThe smaller fish

However once again an abundance of excellent character moments comes at a cost, with the story lacking in quite a lot of the finer details. Just what the creature is and where it came from is completely glossed over, leaving the story a rather bare bones piece about a rich guy harvesting fish excrement as a fuel source. Setting up Bill's sudden shock over the fact people die also seemed to forget a few things for the sake of convenience - such as the fact someone died right in front of her just before the Doctor reprogrammed the Vardies at the end of Smile. If the episode had specifically referenced the fact Bill had just watched a child die then her speech might have felt like it had more weight behind it. That said, the parts that followed were excellent so that's something that could be overlooked in the grand scheme of things.

Finally there's a few notes for consideration going forward. This is yet another episode where the "alien" lifeform in question isn't an inherently evil one, which marks three for three on the threat level thus far. Certainly this episode also had Sutcliffe on hand to provide a genuinely unlikable villain, but after three episodes in a row like this the Doctor's speech in The Pilot about "hardly anything being evil" is beginning to feel more than just a great line. Meanwhile we also got some more information on the mysterious vault the Doctor's supposed to be guarding, namely that it contains a "who" rather than a "what". With poor old Nardole not having much luck with keeping the Doctor in one place it might be a while before it pops up again, but at least now fans can begin to narrow the speculation down a bit. Personally my money's on the Jon Simm incarnation of the Master, but the question is who has the Doctor promised to guard him for?

NardoleThe mysterious vault

Three episodes in and though there hasn't been anything truly exemplary yet, Thin Ice is yet another enjoyable episode that maintains Doctor Who series 10 's so far consistent run of quality. While the plots themselves are often falling short, each episode is nicely covering a different facet to the relationship between the Doctor and his newest companion without feeling especially repetitive. Next week it's another modern day adventure with a horror vibe, as the Doctor investigates Bill's new house in Knock Knock...


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