Bill continued supplying interesting insight in this week’s episode of Doctor Who, “Thin Ice”. Following directly the end of last week, our team found themselves in the early 1800s. Bill points out that her melanin situation could prove to be an issue. For a series about time travel, some of the ugliest parts of history seem to get skipped over quite a bit. It was good for them to actually acknowledge some of this ugliness for once. I’ve often wondered what a season of Who that dealt head on with social issues could be like. Like a version of Quantum Leap with monsters (by the way with all the crappy reboots how have we not gotten a new Quantum Leap?).
Bill also asks the rules, whether if by changing the past the “butterfly effect” could negate her own existence. Doctor Who has always played a little fast and loose with the rules. Sometimes pushing the strict “observe only” rule while other times jumping in with little regard. Fixed points in time, crossing your own timeline, all rules that have been said to be steadfast and other times completely broken. I really loved the playful way Capaldi’s Doctor answers this question with a bit of mischief. Referencing Pete, a made up companion and friend of Bill he claims erased himself and her memories of him. Kind of a twisted joke when you think of the repercussions one really could cause.
The banter between The Doctor and Bill has really been on point since she joined up. The pure fun they both can be seen having, both as the characters and, I get the feeling, the actors themselves were just having a ball. Capaldi started as the grumpiest of the Doctors, and while he still has his moments his tone has definitely shifted from straight up grouch to a playful jerk. Even a line about history being a whitewash upon seeing the surprisingly diverse crowd in 19th century London seemed like it could be both a legitimate gripe about how history is presented and a dig at the series’ own treatment of the past.
The actual plot of “Thin Ice” is a basic one. A fair is being held on the Thames while it is frozen over. Lights on fish are seen under the ice and are snatching people and feeding them to an enormous creature. As we find out the waste of this monster is an amazing fuel source that a rich businessman is using in place of coal. The idea of killing people and abusing an enormous creature that turns out to be simply another victim is an idea the series has hit many times. I was happy to see the return of psychic paper, and The Doctor using his wits to uncover the plot. The entire sequence of him questioning the middle manager and tricking him into giving up every bit of the plan was fun to watch and back to the smart Doctor we sometimes lose in the more action oriented modern episodes.
There was a bit of a somber tone for a section of this episode as well. The whole Oliver-like street urchin pickpocket stuff felt like it was heading in a silly direction, with one of them stealing his Sonic Screwdriver and Bill and The Doctor chasing them down. Fairly harmless stuff. But when that young boy gets targeted by the lights under the ice and torn beneath, the only thing The Doctor saves is his Sonic. While a pragmatic move, it was also a chilling one. As relieved as The Doctor seems at having saved his trusty tool he seems fairly unaffected by the young man’s death. I even assumed that this would be counteracted later by our heroes finding all the victims alive in the belly of the beast Pinocchio style. No such luck. These victims are dead and stay dead.
This actually leads to some of the best stuff of the episode. Another moment of Bill “learning” who The Doctor is. Questioning him about how many people he’s seen die. The Doctor can’t remember and Bill asks how many before he lost count. The real tough question was when she asked if he’s killed and how many. The Doctor for all his charms has seen countless people die and been an active party countless times. A fact that can be lost with all the silly “timey wimey” stuff. Both shining a critical light on this and then later kind of backpedaling while showing that Bill is starting to understand how cold he can be and why “moving on” isn’t a callous reaction but a necessary one.
Another great moment for the episode was when confronting the man behind this whole horrible plan, The Doctor orders Bill to be quiet since her temper tends to get the better of her. But when they meet the master of the house and he lets loose a racist rant about Bill being a lesser and unworthy creature, The Doctor lashes out and cold cocks him. Oh so satisfying!
But in the end they save the day, free the creature, kill the racist, and all’s right with the world again. A fairly paint by numbers episode with some very entertaining character moments. A trend with this season so far. The most basic, seen it before plots but great interactions between Doctor and companion.
The secret door was teased again at the end though and I believe I know what is behind it. We hear knocking. One character has had knocking as a signature trait. A character confirmed to return at some point this season. The Master. I would bet anything The Master is trapped behind that door somehow. Time will tell!