Saturday, 29 April 2017

TV Review: A monster in the Thames isn't the only villain as Doctor Who heads into the past

S10E03 - "Thin Ice"


Contains spoilers.

Series 10 of Doctor Who sure is following the tried and tested path, isn't it? As with Series 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5, our opening three episodes have seen one set in the present, one in the future and one in the past. Finishing up the three this time around is "Thin Ice", courtesy of Sarah Dollard who also penned last series' breathtaking "Face the Raven". The early positioning of this episode means Dollard is handling a very different kind of story than what she gave us back in 2015, and so "Thin Ice" is hardly going to be quite as memorable in the long run.

That isn't to say it's a bad episode though, because it most certainly isn't. In what may be some of the most extensive production design the show has seen in quite a while, "Thin Ice" finds the Doctor and Bill inadvertently arriving at the last Frost Fair in the 1800s. A massive party set atop the frozen Thames, all seems well for a while until glowing lights start appearing below the ice and a child is sucked under the surface. As per Doctor Who tradition, an investigation begins.

If last week's "Smile" was focused predominantly on Bill and how her and the Doctor's relationship will grow, "Thin Ice" rests more firmly on the Doctor's shoulders. Like most good Doctor Who episodes, though, the perspective still belongs to Bill - we learn about the Doctor through her eyes and her mind. After witnessing the child's saddening demise, Bill is unsurprisingly traumatised and the Doctor's indifference bothers her. "How many people have you seen die?" she asks him. He's lost count. "How many people have you killed" comes the follow up. He doesn't want to answer.

When Peter Capaldi was announced as the twelfth Doctor, we all expected a more closed off character. Lately the show has been doing a stellar job of expanding this standoffish-ness into something a bit more accessible, and "Thin Ice" continues this trend well without sacrificing the sternness we've come to enjoy from Capaldi's Doctor. He won't lie to Bill to make her happy, but he knows the truth will make things even worse. Not answering her question is just about all he can do to keep them on the right track.

The episode soon dives under the ice in a sequence perhaps a tad too ambitious for a show of this budget, but once we're back on ground level again "Thin Ice" begins to soar. Dollard's script admirably refuses to sidestep the racial and societal issues of the time, addressing them in focused and even surprising ways. As well as looking at racism, "Thin Ice" takes a stab at poverty and industry, but the episode never loses focus amid all the themes floating around. Dollard's script brings a lot to the plate, but doesn't lose control of what it's saying.

The Doctor's mini speech on humanity and how we should measure it was an effective moment, perhaps strengthened by its brevity. What he's saying here - that we don't look at humanity via industry and that species' are defined through their handling of the less privileged - shouldn't require a mass of words and big, complex sentences. The moment is simple, concise and thoughtful - it's a real treat.

Ultimately, much like "Smile", "Thin Ice" is marginally undone by its conclusion. The episode gets very chaotic in its final act and it eventually gives way to some choppy editing and a few character decisions that don't feel entirely earned - the Doctor making Bill decide their plan was very reminiscent of "Kill the Moon," only not as thought out. Still, there's nothing here overwhelming enough to destabilise an otherwise strong episode.

The Doctor and Bill's relationship remains this season's highlight, heading down slightly darker territory here but still retaining a sense of fun and loyal companionship. For the most part, "Thin Ice" is appropriately balanced with its plot and its character work, made even more engaging through its impressive production design. For the third season in a row, Doctor Who is on strong footing for something great. Here's to the end of act one, let's hope act two is just as good.

Notes-
  • Pearl Mackie was great again tonight. I feel like she's a more confident performer in the lighter, more adventurous scenes. She handles humour and action very well, but when Bill's emotional side surfaces Mackie starts to come across a bit unsure of herself. I'm sure she'll iron the issues out as the series progresses though, she's doing a bang up job so far.
  • No need to say how great Capaldi was again tonight. He always is.
  • That running joke about Pete was consistently very funny. The rapport between the Doctor and Bill is seriously great.
  • The supporting characters weren't given much room for fleshing out, which makes two weeks in a row now. Hopefully it will only be an issue in the earlier episodes and will be subsided once the Doctor and Bill are more established with each other.
  • Those knocks on the vault at the end sounded awfully familiar, just one knock short...

Smile - Previous | Next - Knock Knock

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