Nobody talk to me! Nobody human has anything to say to me today!
We’ve all been there, right? Fortunately, when I said that to the DWC team, they promptly ignored me, and instead updated me on what they thought of Thin Ice, Sarah Dollard’s second script for Doctor Who. In Katie Gribble’s review, she said:
“During the scene where Bill is coming to terms with Spider’s death, my favourite interaction between her and the Doctor takes place. When she asks whether he’s ever killed someone, it felt like time stopped. This was a defining moment for how Bill would see the Doctor and it was crucial that the Doctor answer honestly. Now, it’s been a while since we’ve seen a companion getting to know the Doctor and what it means to travel with him, but it’s also the first time that this Doctor has had to do it. I was intrigued to see how Capaldi’s Doctor would deal with this situation and watching him try to avoid the question built this conflict between wanting to tell the truth and also not wanting Bill to hate him, needing her to help and to try to ‘move on’.”
What did the rest of the team make of it? Let’s find out…
Perhaps the best thing about Thin Ice is the wink it makes at the audience. It is not a story that pretends to be grand or significant. It is a story in which the Doctor rewrites Dickens and gets all fanboyish over a con artist. It is a story in which an unreconstructed Nicholas Burns does the splits as the ground cracks beneath him. It is a story in which you wonder whether the thing in the Vault is actually John Simm, and whether the final ‘boom’ that accompanies the words ‘NEXT TIME’ is a simple sting for the episode 4 trailer or that crucial fourth knock.
But at its heart, it’s a story about the necessity of exploration: to scratch and forage, to find both the joys and the darkness therein, the frozen river serving as metaphor for Bill’s discovery of her mentor’s darker side. The path to enlightenment, it is implied, lies not in the certainty of tradition but the willingness to think sideways, whatever the risk. “Only idiots know the answers,” the Doctor insists, in the episode’s latter third. “But if your future is built on the suffering of that creature, what’s your future worth?” Ultimately, Thin Ice speaks to us of the dangers of venturing deeper – the perils that lurk in the darkness and the fear of the unknown – but also of the unexpected clarity that results when you come back up to the surface.
Many have written that Thin Ice represents Series 10’s ‘reinvention’ of Doctor Who but it’s not an opinion I share. To me, Thin Ice is classic Capaldi fare: Dollard’s script with its fast quips, sincerity, and unmistakable social commentary is characteristic of the ‘Capaldi era’ of Doctor Who. In that sense, Thin Ice could easily be a Series 8 or a Series 9 episode.
For new viewers, this latest story (paired with Smile) helps to introduce the Doctor’s ethics (especially the Twelfth Doctor’s) and his opinions on oppression, equality, and global citizenship – retreading familiar dilemmas faced in Kill the Moon, In the Forest of the Night, and The Zygon Inversion. Central to the Capaldi era is its exploration of its antagonists’ motivations and intentions: in Lord Sutcliffe’s case that motivation is greed and his goal, the exploitation of a trapped serpent and its human subsistence for bio-fuel. Regency Britain’s grossly unequal society is also duly presented as a social context that facilitates and enables Sutcliffe’s atrocities.
That having been said, the introduction of Bill, wild-eyed and fun, to a show that feels more comfortable with itself and at times jovial and carnivalesque keeps the episode feeling fresh; more Fires of Pompeii than Kill the Moon, if you will. Both of those episodes were new TARDIS experiences for their companions – Donna and Courtney – and both dealt with weighty themes of death and responsibility but The Fires of Pompeii, like Thin Ice this Saturday, managed to keep things light and appreciate the joy in time travel rather than outright traumatise its protagonist.
It may have had a plot thinner than the frozen Thames but this story delivered in terms of grounding the Doctor in some remarkable scenes where Bill asked the kind of simple questions all politicians find difficult. The Nardole/ Vault arc is simmering nicely and even the generic street urchins added to the overall charm. If only somebody could take a scalpel to the exposition this series is littered with. It’s really a shame this was the last day of the Frost Fair, given how richly constructed the setting was.
I enjoyed this fun, thought-provoking romp into history (with a suitably monstrous, sci-fi twist). I thought that the Frost Fair was an evocative setting and continue to enjoy the Doctor and Bill’s relationship, which, this week, seemed to hark back to that of the Doctor and Ace. That punch was a mistake, though. It felt out of character for the Doctor, who is only supposed to use violence as a last resort. It’s also an imitable action, something to consider when representing violence on a family show. Finally, considering that the punch was thrown in response to the racism displayed towards Bill, it seems ironic that it gave agency to our white protagonist instead of allowing Bill to step up and defend herself (preferably with a witty put-down or some other bit of verbal fencing as this is Doctor Who, a show that should favour brains over brawn where possible).
Thin Ice was so nice, I’ll watch it twice… and maybe even thrice! I loved the setting of this story. As an American born in the late 20th Century, I had never even heard of the Frost Fairs! To me, it was as fascinating as any alien planet the Doctor has ever visited. The costumes, sets, and actors (especially those little street urchins) were all top-notch. It was also refreshing to see the series take on racism, which I think was much glossed over when Martha Jones was the Doctor’s first companion of colour. Like someone else mentioned, this is now three very strong episodes in a row for the new Twelfth-Bill team. Can the rest of the series keep this level of quality? Will they find a way for Bill to stay on for the Chibnall era? And why not have Sarah Dollard just write as many episodes as she wants to from now on? Overall, Thin Ice gets a well-deserved thumbs-up!
On the whole, Thin Ice was really rather fun. It served the ‘first trip to the past’ motif well, taking the strongest elements from stories like it such as The Unquiet Dead and The Shakespeare Code, extrapolating their best features and creating something familiar and new for the Twelfth Doctor and Bill to experience. The monster of the week wasn’t the very large creature under the Thames but rather the nasty piece of racist work controlling it; the nefarious Lord Sutcliffe. With dreams of empire-building at any cost, he served the episode well in terms of motivation but was perhaps rather too two dimensional and was dealt with almost as quickly as he appeared. Griping aside, this was another great slice of Doctor Who for Saturday night and a vast improvement for writer Sarah Dollard compared to her last offering in 2015.
One thing that seems to be a theme with this new season is having Bill ask “real world” type questions to the Doctor. The kind of thing you would think EVERY companion would ask him, but we’ve not seen before. That continues into this episode with Bill asking the Doctor if he’s ever killed anyone. The difference in characters there between the Doctor who’s killed billions vs Bill who’s never killed anyone was quite interesting. I *LOVED* the Doctor’s look – “Oh crap, I have to answer this”. Nice acting by Capaldi.
The scenes on the lake were quite nice, even if we didn’t see Stevie Wonder anywhere. But again, period piece and the BBC – it’s gonna look good!
This episode, the 830th overall gave us a first never seen in Doctor Who before, a profanity. ‘Course it was “masked” much in the same way the meta reference to the show itself in Remembrance of the Daleks masked the full phrase.
Overall, not the biggest or flashiest episode, but one I enjoyed; some nice characterizations and interactions between Doctor and companion. Good stuff!
“Flammable excrement meets Regency values, and something terrible is born.”
Yeah, that was alright. I’m afraid that’s the best I could muster after my first watch of Thin Ice. And it was. It was alright. Pretty good, but this is Doctor Who, so “good” is “average.” It didn’t blow me away, but neither was it a let-down. There was something odd about it, however: I can’t put my finger on it, but something was up. Perhaps it was the ending, which I felt was somewhat anticlimactic. Or the scene with Nardole by the Vault, which was tacked on. The truth is, I really don’t know.
Mind you, the Doctor punching Lord Sutcliffe didn’t feel right either – that is, until I remembered Jon Pertwee’s Venusian Karate. Even then, the Third Doctor never punched. It just got approved because Sutcliffe was a horrible, racist scumbag. Sutcliffe was offensive, but does it compare to the Cybermen trying to tear Tegan apart in Earthshock? The Fifth Doctor didn’t start a brawl, did he? Maybe that’s one of his many regrets. (Adric…?)
Still, Thin Ice was enjoyable enough, and this is shaping up to be a solid series so far.
I can unequivocally say that Thin Ice is the return to form I had been longing to see for nearly a series and a half. The two prior episodes were also great, but the Doctor and Bill were quite a pleasure to watch this week. Pearl Mackie’s performance had an emotional quality to it that, for me, truly cemented her as a companion. The story itself was a welcome change of pace, the actual antagonist being humanity and its greedy nature. Dollard’s sophomore attempt was well structured and the results highly enjoyable. The enslavement of the beast was ever so slightly reminiscent of the Space Whale in Series 5’s The Beast Below; the creature a threat only because of what humans have done to it, and not because of its nature. And lastly, Capaldi was in top form. I’ve enjoyed his Doctor so much more this season that it makes me wonder if bringing back Clara for Series 9 was perhaps the worst of all the creative decisions made last series. That is in no way a slight toward Jenna Coleman or her portrayal of Clara Oswald. She is indeed one of my most favourite companions.
But with Capaldi’s time in the TARDIS drawing ever closer to an end, one can’t help but wonder what two series with a fresh companion and story arc would have been like. As they say, it is what it is and I can’t wait to see what happens for Bill and the Doctor next!
Jesus is canon! That’s probably what I’m going to remember most about this episode (apart from the bit about burning poo). I appreciate the importance of the issues Thin Ice was confronting – and there’s no questioning the fact that they are, indeed, still issues. That said, they’re very culturally acceptable questions to ask. I would be interested to see what would happen if Who asked some deeply un-trendy questions: is the Earth only 6,000 years old? Is abortion wrong? Was The Web of Fear Episode Three really stolen? Of course, I doubt any prime time show would ever take the risk, and that’s probably sensible… although the internet meltdown could be entertaining to watch. The important thing is – big issues aside – I really enjoyed Thin Ice, and I learnt something about frost fairs. Namely their existence.
Not quite as good as the first two episodes this season, but still solid. Pearl Mackie continues to be an absolute delight: Bill is a real human being, portrayed by a very, very talented actress. To some extent, Thin Ice suffers from a problem common to much of NuWho: the single story episode format doesn’t really allow for the development needed, and we could have done with another instalment. Good to see Mike Tucker’s miniatures back in the programme; we’ve had some distinctly mediocre CGI of late, and the effects this time were noticeably better.
A solid episode. This is the best season since Matt Smith’s time.
That’s what we thought. Another serial heaped with praise!
But what about you? Was Thin Ice an entirely satisfying experience? Or did it leave you cold? Let us know below!