Doctor Who: Thin Ice Review – “A History Lesson in Morality”

Broadcast Date: 29 April 2017
Writer: Sarah Dollard
Rating: 3.5/5

Note: This review contains spoilers from the episode.

The third episode of Series 10 gives the viewers a quintessential Doctor Who history romp with a darker tone as human morality is again brought to the forefront.

The pattern for post-2005 Who companions seems to be one trip into the future and one into the past. This episode is the latter and first I must say that the representation of late Georgian London is beautifully done. The choice to feature the River Thames Frost Fair gives the viewers a history lesson and the fact it brought together different social classes to enjoy the festivities allows the filming crew to create some great shots of elephants, acrobats and sword swallowers. The setting of 1814 also allows Dollard to highlight the mass inequality in society, before various acts were signed in the frequently represented Victorian era.

Following Smile with its poor execution of its social commentary, Thin Ice focuses on the abuses of the white upper-class patriarchy in this period. Having Bill (Pearl Mackie) as a companion in this episode works really well as she is aware of the racial struggle in the past. A particular highlight is when Bill and The Doctor (Peter Capaldi) have a brief mention about the whitewashing of period Hollywood dramas, which is an issue that has cropped up recently in the mainstream media. The angry reaction of Sutcliffe (Nicholas Burns) and The Doctor’s subsequent punching of the former for insulting Bill for her skin colour is probably Doctor Who’s most direct showing of historical racism for many years and it is done very well with how it relates to the episode’s narrative.

In the trailer, it was suggested that the creature beneath the River Thames was going to be an antagonist but the reveal that it is being held captive by the white patriarchy in order to produce rocket fuel was a relief, but at the same time annoying. If it wasn’t following Smile, the status of the creature as something in pain being abused by Man links back again to episodes such as The Beast Below. The writers really need to think of a new way of highlighting how humans abuse others for their own self-progression. I think the rocket fuel was a really lazy throwaway line and created so many questions that weren’t answered. So in this sense it was still too samey; maybe it would have done better if they hadn’t featured the creature in the Thames at all.

Once again the relationship between Bill and The Doctor continues to be the stand-out feature of this new series. Bill is continuing to be the most realistic companion the show has seen in a while. She reacts how any of us would do in that situation; be devastated and angry at The Doctor for letting a child or even one of the henchmen die, or, in a hilarious scene, scream for help when tied up in the middle of the bustle and noise of the fair. I am intrigued to see how Bill develops as the series progresses. One thing deeply annoyed me however. It was established in the first episode that Bill notices things people don’t, however the fact that she can’t see past the illusion of The Doctor’s psychic paper makes her look stupid when she’s probably the most ‘real’ companion for a while. Other than that, the relationship between the two continues to be spectacular. It really helps when Nardole (Matt Lucas) isn’t in the main bulk of the episode.

To summarise, Thin Ice gives us the makings of a great episode with some beautiful establishing shots of a frozen Georgian London and a much better attempt at a social commentary than the previous episode. However, time is once again the villain as the ending feels rushed, leaving several plot holes in its wake. In spite of all of this, the relationship between Bill and The Doctor continues to be the best for years.

So what did you make of this episode? Did it manage to wow you or were you left out in the cold? You can tell me what you think in the comments section below.

Missed any of my reviews of series 10 of Doctor Who? You can now find them all in one place by clicking the link here.

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