Wow. That was something. Plain, good old fashioned Who fun penned by Sarah Dollard who wrote Face The Raven last season (which was pretty damn good in its own right). I’m also a sucker for Regency era settings, Dickensian working and living conditions and The Doctor preaching humanism to the villain of the week.
Bill and The Doctor travel to the past and discover an unusually cold London winter, a fun fair on the ice, and something odd beneath the water. But is the thing beneath the ice really evil or is the truth far more sinister? What I love about stories like this is that there is space to breathe. Character moments have air time because the alien plot isn’t complex and grandiose. Instead, this story reminded me in terms of set-up of a cross between The Beast Below where the alien of the week wasn’t the big bad at all and was instead a creature who needed freedom to be happy and The Snowman where yes, there were aliens in the story, but they couldn’t have gotten where they did without human fallibility getting thrown into the mix.
The Doctor and his companion
Peter Capaldi got more to do this week. I enjoyed his quips to Bill about the TARDIS. Namely:
The Doctor: I told you, you don’t steer the TARDIS, you reason with it.
The Doctor: Unsuccessfully, most of the time.
I also liked that we saw Bill’s horror at the small thief’s demise and The Doctor’s seemingly callous disregard for his life in favour of saving his sonic screw driver. This Doctor appears to be very focused on reason over heart, but deep down he is still The Doctor and different to the rest of his race because he does feel passion and emotion just as much as he does reason and logic. The Doctor ticks Bill off for stamping her foot instead of doing something about the problem posed to them and he is vehement to Bill when he says that passion fights but reason wins the day. Twelve claims he puts logic and reason over feeling and emotion, but he’s a liar. It’s a front to allow a brave face on the world until something happens… and he snaps. He sees (figuratively) children crying (Moffat really found an essential aspect of all incarnations of The Doctor with Amy’s quote) and has to read them a story, and then get even and get angry, get passionate, to make things better.
You need a bit of reason and logic and a bit of feeling and emotion to succeed at anything in reality. And by the episode’s denouement,this is what has happened, passion and reason in balanced mix. Why else would The Doctor tell the human devil of the story why he has fallen short morally of a brave new world.
The Doctor: I preferred it when you were alien.
Sutcliffe: When I was…
The Doctor: Well, that would explain the lack of humanity. What makes you so sure your life is worth more than those people out there on the ice? Is it the money? The accident of birth, that puts you inside the big, fancy house.
Sutcliffe: I help move this country forward. I move this Empire forward.
The Doctor: 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.
God The Doctor must hate austerity measures and the Tories (why has no one made that episode?) But on a more serious note, The Doctor might claim to Bill that he has never had the luxury of outrage, but like Ros Huntley in Line of Duty, it’s a case of ‘watch what I do, don’t listen to what I say.’ The Doctor does get outraged. He gets outraged when the little people are subjugated, exploited, damaged. He gets outraged when people are treated like things. He flies in the face of everything that neoliberalism stands for with its hard line every man for themself, clink of dollar signs the most alluring sound in the world approach. If he ever stops getting outraged and begins to accept these things, accepts that individuals (alien or otherwise) cease to matter in favour of some imagined greater good… well… that is the end of The Doctor. The name you choose, it’s like a promise you keep. The Doctor has made a choice to draw a line in the sand with his name a reminder to never break that promise. Always heal and help. Always kind. Never cruel. Never cowardly. Never give up and never give in.
The mystery of the week
Nardole turns up for a brief cameo (are they ever going to develop Nardole as a character? I don’t dislike Nardole or Matt Lucas as Nardole, but he has zero to work with). Why is Nardole convinced The Doctor shouldn’t time travel? What is inside that damn box? My vote is on someone Gallifreyan. The John Simm Master? More than one Master? Or maybe another Time Lord from classic Who?
Thin Ice: 9/10 inky stars as series 10’s strongest episode yet