With it being slightly frosty this week, yesterday’s episode was very appropriate for the weather. Regardless of weather, this episode still continues the trend of fantastic stories from Series 10. I’m serious, if these early episodes are supposed to be the “weaker” ones, then I just can’t wait for the upcoming ones.
One of the best things about this episode is how it’s completely different from last week. We’ve gone from a sci-fi mystery with robots and lasers to a Regency-era costume drama with a big fish/snake thing. It’s this kind of juxtaposition that I love from Doctor Who, and this is probably the biggest contrast for consecutive episodes since Rings of Akhaten/Cold War.
The character work was superb this week, as both regulars got huge amounts of development. Sarah Dollard really knows how to write the Twelfth Doctor and he gets one of his best outings in a while, with his characteristic snarking, humour and cynicism mixed with humanity and warmth. The highlights are when he punched Sutcliffe for his treatment of Bill (I’ve seen people complain about this, but trust me, the Doctor is NOT a pacifist. Just watch any Jon Pertwee or Colin Baker story) and his speech about human progress.
There’s also the continued development of Bill, and this episode once again shows what Moffat and co should have done with Clara in Series 7- show that travelling with the Doctor was not always fun. In this story, she sees a child die (pretty dark considering Doctor Who is a family show) and is understandably upset about it. There were hints of this in Cold War when Skaldak was killing the redshirts, but Clara never had a moment to reflect on what she saw. By having Bill realise the darker side of the Doctor and respond in a realistic way, it makes her more human and relatable. There are plenty of fantastic scenes between them and all three episodes so far have essentially been just her and the Doctor learning about each other. I feel like beginning from Knock Knock, the stories will get larger and more plot based.
I really liked the villain, Lord Sutcliffe, and he was basically exactly what I wanted after two weeks with no villains. I said I liked him when it’s really more “love to hate”, as in he’s so evil and careless that I just couldn’t help but like him and hate him at the same time. He’s essentially a villain from the Jon Pertwee era and as a massive fan of that era, I appreciated the return the stingy, metaphorically moustache twirling, condescending, obnoxious figure of high power that just irritates the Doctor and the audience. He’s so evil that his death is immensely satisfying. It’s been a while since we’ve had a decent human villain on Doctor Who, and Sutcliffe is probably the best since Solomon from Dinosaurs on a Spaceship. I’d have liked to see more of him though and have his plan expanded.
There’s so much more to love about this story. One of the best aspects was how it handled the racism of 1814 and taught the children watching that it is never appropriate to be racist, regardless of what time period someone’s from (just because nearly everyone in 1814 was racist doesn’t excuse it). Whilst I love the Shakespeare Code, it didn’t really deal with the obvious issues that Martha would be dealing with in the 16th century. Thin Ice deals with the issue of Bill facing racism in the past a lot better, even if it was just by the Doctor knocking Sutcliffe unconscious in anger. Part of Doctor Who’s original goal was to educate the kids, and this was a good way to do it. Throwing in a real historical event and giving it a Doctor Who twist also makes the historical aspect of the show stand out more than just stories which happen to be in the past (what did the Vikings and Stuart settings add to the Ashildr stories last season?)
Another interesting element was the lack of aliens (again). It’s never really confirmed whether the sea serpent is from Earth or not and I like it that way. Whilst it is yet another misunderstood creature, the presence of Sutcliffe means there was an actual villain, although I really want the monsters this week to be the “we will kill you all” kind. Comparisons to The Beast Below are obvious as well as the Torchwood episode Meat (I’ve only recently gotten into Torchwood and I’ve been watching the good ones with my dad). There were also elements of Kill the Moon (companion makes a choice that revolves around a moral dilemma) but it’s handled better here because there weren’t any one sided dilemmas and no giant flying moon babies.
Overall, we have yet another strong episode. I feel like I’m in the minority when I say Smile is my favourite of this opening trilogy (its sci-fi aspects, clever twists and great dialogue sell it for me) but Thin Ice comes a very close second. As one of my most anticipated episodes pre broadcast it didn’t disappoint. There wasn’t much about the story arc, but we got a hint towards what’s in the vault (my Master theory is getting stronger) and it appears that Nardole will become a regular from next week.
Speaking of next week, we have a mysterious landlord, a haunted house, tree dudes and things in the wall. It feels like Ghost Light and the SJA story The Eternity Trap combined. Before that though, I’ll be reviewing Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2.