Three episodes in and Thin Ice continues a hot streak for the final full series for Peter Capaldi’s Doctor.
There’s much to celebrate in this excellent episode, which after two introductory tales, finally sets the Doctor and Bill Potts off on their own adventure. The Doctor and Bill are a great comedy double act and get to share some witty dialogue which, rather ingeniously, deals with all the questions a new companion would ask in a way that didn’t feel like it was treading over the same old ground (I loved the exchange about Pete the lost companion).
Thin Ice is effortlessly fun in a way that the show hadn’t been for a long time. Admittedly, that hasn’t been what the show has been going for in the previous two series. The self-serious tone took us down some incredibly dark alleys and while that is one of the shows strengths – that it can shift from tone to tone – it isn’t its only strength. So it’s always a welcome surprise when an episode like Thin Ice manages to balance out the two. Sure, there are massive tonal shifts – sometimes from scene to scene – but that’s what the show can do in the hands of a capable writer like Sarah Dollard (conversely, it’s also why knock-a-bout romps like The Return of Doctor Mysterio don’t work – when you shift too far in one direction it makes what you do choose to focus on seem inessential in comparison to what could have been).
A lot of what makes this balancing act work falls on the actors too – they must keep their characters consistent even when called upon to go from one extreme to the other – and both Peter Capaldi and Pearl Mackie absolutely nail it.
Capaldi especially has a gift for underplaying means that you have little trouble accepting the characters choices from moment to moment. In a way, seeing Capaldi find the emotion underpinning these moments – and to be fair, Capaldi can go big and take a huge chuck out of the scenery but there’s always something going on underneath, take his speech in The Zygon Inversion, even though he’s playing to the cheap seats, his weariness at having to explain something that should be self-evident to us by now, sells that moment far more than his bluster – It makes you wish that he hadn’t been saddled with the aloof, back-to-basics Doctor in Series Eight and was just allowed to find the character from the get-go.
The episode also features one of the key moments for a new companion, witnessing death first-hand. Sure, Bill had already seen that travelling with the Doctor could expose her to terrible sights in Smile but she experienced those at a distance or in the heat of the moment where she could just run with the Doctor and flee the scene. Here, there’s no escaping it.
It’s a credit to the episode that we take our time with Bill to deal with grief and outrage in the way it does. In finding her own moralistic position alongside the Doctor we again learn that despite the Doctor insisting that her response to the little boy’s death was not logical or practical – and that her outrage was misguided – we learn that the Doctor is in fact all outrage and indignation. Again, there’s some lovely character work here.
So what did you think of the episode? Well, Ranger found much to love in the Peter Capaldi/Pearl Mackie double act, even if he found the story somewhat lacking:
While it’s true that some elements felt a little lightweight or perhaps you could feel that elements were being moved into place by the writer so that we could get to the meat of the episode, the role of the Doctor and his companion. It’s certainly gave the feeling of an enjoyable Doctor Who episode for Peter Rabytt, even if it didn’t stand up to scrutiny:
However, Planet of the Deaf was less forgiving when it came to Thin Ice’s moral quandary:
Consulting our highly scientific poll, most of our readers said Thin Ice was ‘Serpently Great’ (basically 4 out of 5 stars) with 42 votes or 39.25% of the overall votes, while 29.91% of readers said they were ‘low-key in love with Thin Ice’ (5 out 5 for those who demand less puns in their voting system…the fools).
Up next on our trawl back through Series Ten, who’s there? It’s Knock, Knock.