I was giddy with excitement after watching Thin Ice, and the smile on my face just wouldn’t leave. I absolutely love a Doctor Who story with a ton of depth and impressive exploration of character, and this week’s episode delivered on levels I never expected. Writer Sarah Dollard has accomplished a beautiful story amongst the frozen Thames in London during the last great frost fair in 1814. Pearl Mackie and Peter Capaldi once again are at their very best diving through ice and moral codes to give us a look at the Doctor’s bombastic wit contrasted with dark fury of the Time Lord.
Once again this series doesn’t fail to dazzle the eyes with stunning scenery and fantastic camera work. This lends itself to the awesome setting of the London Frost Fair, which I appreciate ever more because of its (mostly) historical accuracy. I can’t help but admire when Doctor Who actually uses educational elements while creating a fun and interesting story at the same time.
The new exploration of Bill experiencing time travel into the past is as cheeky and quirky as ever. Moreover this shows the progressive advancement of her and the Doctor’s relationship and how it’s moulding and starting to grow. The pacing of Thin Ice is fantastic and far better than Smile of the previous week. Exploring the fair with Bill and the Doctor is awesome and a great time, before they have to “get to work” and explore the unknown depths of the river to find the monster. Bill is also starting the see the darker elements to the Time Lord, for all his wondrous ‘timey-wimey spacey-wacey’ attitude, he’s really a veteran to the worst aspects of life. The Doctor sees death and simply moves on, and not only that he’s causes death and simply moves on. Bill has to ask him questions that she may have been terrified to ask and wonderfully written material that is hit home perfectly by Mackie and Capaldi. The scenes covering this moral ambiguity of the Time Lord are fantastic and one of the reasons I love this episode so dearly.
Thin Ice even addresses racism in regency London, and even makes some bold statements along the way “[it’s] a bit more black than they show in the movies”. Dollard uses racism and slavery as an effective theme across the whole episode, yet it still feels rather natural and not shoe-horned in, it’s more of a casual mention in the narrative rather than slap-in-the-face, which I love. This theme is embodied by the monstrous serpent underneath the Thames that draws unlucky citizens to their demise. But the truth is the real monsters are its enslavers, Lord Sutcliffe and his merry disposable men.
Lord Sutcliffe is a perfect enemy for this episode and his blunt inhumanity makes it even more fantastic when the Doctor actually resorts to violence and smacks his lordship after his sexist and racist treatment of Bill. Although the blunt ‘look at me I’m the bad guy, I’m Evil McEvil’ factor to Sutcliffe is silly at times, it still works rather well in the end as we feel that overwhelming release when we get to see him eaten by the very thing he enslaved.
I cheered and laughed on multiple occasions throughout Thin Ice. After all these years Doctor Who is continuing to find ways to keep itself simple yet fresh and unexpected in a variety of different ways. The Doctor’s speech on human life has now become a favourite of mine, and I hope we get to see more episodes on this level throughout series 10.
“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. The boy who died on the river. That boy’s value is your value. That’s what defines an age. That’s what defines a species.”
Final Score: Thin Ice – 9.5/10
By Robert Anderson.