Doctor Who: “Thin Ice” Review

The Doctor and Bill visit Regency London (not Victorian this time, so no sign of the Paternoster Gang). Specifically, the Frost Fair of 1814, when the Thames was frozen over in the “Little Ice Age.” But there’s something under the ice that’s eating people.

Because the TARDIS chose this destination, so of course there is.

The Quick & Spoiler-Free Verdict

Oh, this was a fun one. Easily my favorite episode yet this year. Capaldi and Mackie are both at their best, the relationship between the Doctor and Bill gets some great development, and an intriguing sort-of clue about the series arc gets dropped in a great cliffhanger. The story is a little simplistic, but there’s so much good stuff from the main cast that the viewer is left with little reason to complain.

The Good

Controversy aside, I’m liking Bill more and more every week. One of the best things about her is her familiarity with sci-fi. She’s aware of all the tropes, and she’s on the lookout for them, which leads to fun and hilarious conversations between her and the Doctor. She checks the usual companion box of asking questions, but she asks really good ones. Unlike Clara, she’s not accustomed to death and tragedy, so her reactions to such events cause them to carry more weight in the course of an episode. This episode in particular puts all these traits on display, and shows Pearl Mackie’s remarkable strengths as an actress. She runs the full gamut of emotions here and does it beautifully. And of course, Capaldi is at the top of his game too, as per usual. Twelve gives a speech in this episode which, though much shorter, surpasses his famous “war” speech from Series 9—in my opinion, anyway.

Also, he punches somebody, which is arguably even cooler.

No one can really beat Rory in this area, though.

Sarah Dollard deserves high praise for her choice of “Thin Ice’s” setting. I’d never even heard of the Frost Fair, and it was awesome to see the show exploring a lesser-known historical event instead of sticking with its usual haunts (the Victorian era, World War II, etc.). Episode 3 doesn’t break this season’s stride when it come to special effects, either. As with the alien planet of “Smile,” the historical backdrop here feels real and immersive. I’m very impressed with how much detail they’ve put into Series 10 thus far. There have been Doctor Who episodes in the past which felt decidedly cheap in terms of visuals, but there hasn’t been one yet this year.
Finally, while I’ve heavily criticized the development of Moffat’s series arcs in the past, he’s doing an amazing job with this one so far. It doesn’t feel like Series 8 and 9, in which some frustratingly cryptic stuff was dropped in the pilots but not really delivered on until the finales (or, in some respects, not delivered on at all). Each of these first three episodes has added worthwhile details to the ongoing mystery. Even Nardole, at this point, seems to have relevance. I never thought I’d say this, but I’m actually intrigued to find out more about him.

The Bad

This section is going to be short this week. “Thin Ice” really was a fantastic episode, and I can find very little fault with it. Its messages about racism were somewhat heavy-handed at times, but frankly, I’ve seen far worse in that area. At least Doctor Who doesn’t feel the need to use its African-American characters to discuss racism in every. Single. Episode. (Looking at you, Legends of Tomorrow.) The overall message here was more positive than negative, focusing on the best humanity can be instead of only emphasizing its worst elements. Plus, those themes really didn’t take up much screen time. “Thin Ice” mostly revolved around the Doctor and Bill being awesome.
The only other thing I could criticize is the simplicity of the plot. Actually, simple storylines have been a characteristic of every episode so far this year. In the end, however, I’m not sure this is a bad thing. In this particular phase of Doctor Who, characters are more important than plot. Twelve is leaving. Bill has just arrived. Both of them need to get their due when it comes to character development. If that means the plot threads aren’t very intricate right now, I can live with that—especially given how very watchable Capaldi and Mackie are.
Besides, we’ve got two Masters coming up. Clearly, things aren’t going to stay simple for long.

The Final Word

“Thin Ice” is a delightful installment of Doctor Who and a credit to everyone who worked to bring it to life. If the stand-alone stories of Series 10 continue to be this rewarding, we will have a lot of new classics before the year is finished.

So, next week’s episode certainly looks creepy. And I wonder if its title (“Knock Knock”) might have something to do with this week’s unnerving cliffhanger…

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