Doctor Who: Thin Ice
Writer: Sarah Dollard
Director: Bill Anderson
Starring: Peter Capaldi, Pearl Mackie
There are many things I continue to love about Doctor Who. I love when it addresses topics that you would never see in another show. In a very clever way, the writing touches upon something so slyly that you have to double take and go “WHOA, THEY DID THAT.” Thin Ice addressed something that I have been dying to know since Ten and Martha, something that I also kind of side eye when it comes to Doctor Who. That’s right folks, I’m talking about race.
Thin Ice was devilishly clever, mixing suspense, humor and humanity in one sweet hour that leaves you satisfied. Written by Sarah Dollard, who wrote Face the Raven, Sarah tells a story that doesn’t shy away from the history, but also critiques, analyzes it and punches it in the face! Thin Ice focus on The Doctor and Bill traveling to London, 1814. They were supposed to get back to the University right after the events of Smile, just in time to have tea with Nardole, but that doesn’t exactly go as planned. The Tardis gears them towards the Frost Fair, a festival over the frozen Thames. However, there’s something weird afoot when people start disappearing through the ice. Bill and the Doctor discover what’s really going on underneath the surface.
Bill Anderson joins Doctor Who in his directorial debut on the show in Thin Ice. He does an amazing job in directing this episode, especially in the underwater scene when Bill and The Doctor first lay eyes on what’s below. The whole sequence was definitely gnarly and plays with your perception, which takes skill. He’s going to be a great addition to the regular rotation of Doctor Who directors if this episode is anything to go by. One of the marvellous things Anderson accomplishes in Thin Ice is its colors. It’s laced in greys and blues, perfect for the dreary episode that literally is dealing with ice and death, in addition to the everlasting greyness of Regency England and the attitudes it holds. Those colors only become significantly lighter once everything is cleared up, which very much says something about the writing and directorial movement throughout the episode.
Pearl Mackie and Peter Capaldi continue to shine as they dive more into their student/teacher relationship, becoming closer and learning more about each other everyday. Or better yet, Bill learning more about the Doctor everyday. I adore this dynamic between them. It’s different for the Doctor and his companion in the best of ways because the Doctor is teaching her about stuff that she wouldn’t be able to find in books, only in life experiences and the choices that you make. That becomes very important when Bill has to make the decision whether or not to save humanity. The Doctor can’t make that choice, he needs an order from her because they are her people and that’s her Earth. We’ve seen the Doctor do that before in Face the Raven, but the end result felt much more natural here. It’s also brilliant to see Bill and the Doctor bicker and fight with each other, but know that they’re pulling the best out of each other and with a smirk and a silly face, everything’s okay between them.
Besides the brilliance of the acting and directing, the one thing I pay attention closely to is the writing for Doctor Who. It’s honestly my favorite part for so many reasons, but we won’t get into that because I’ll keep you here all day. One of those important themes that Thin Ice addresses regards race. I know I’ve said this before, but I put it last purposely because it’s a big part of the episode that needs to be shouted from the rooftops. Sarah Dollard’s writing is just… oh man, I would hug her if I could. Thin Ice has addressed something I’ve always thought the show should address when you bring a POC into a time period where slavery or something else might be of concern. Bill steps off the Tardis and immediately knows it, saying, “It’s 1814. *points to herself* Melanin. Slavery is still totally a thing.” The acknowledgement that she is in a place where there is slavery made me smile so wide. The Doctor knowing that he has nothing to worry about just says, “Oh.” Even a bit later, a small conversation The Doctor and Bill have as they watch wrestlers and Bill’s observing everyone.
The Doctor: “What is?”
Bill: “Regency England. Bit more black than they show in the movies.”
The Doctor: “So was Jesus. History’s a whitewash.“
So brilliant. Just like the conversation Bill and The Doctor have as they meet a very ‘important’ ‘man’ about information of what’s underneath the ice. The Doctor gives her a small lesson on her temper and then says, “Passion fights, but reason wins.” The guy (I don’t even want to say his name, he’s an a**hole) changes his charming demeanor for the Doctor as he looks over to Bill, who is sitting in a lone chair by herself and smiling politely. He then proceeds to say, “Who-Who let this creature in here?! On your feet, girl, in the presence of your better!” The Doctor, once the man turns back to him, punches him dead in the face because of his disrespectful tone and manner towards Bill. Passion both fights and wins.
I point these scenes out because these are the most important moments inside this episode. Yes, there is a greater scheme of things, the monster underneath the ice, but these are the moments of Doctor Who that completely get to me. Race has never really been addressed, especially with companions Martha and Mickey on board with the Tenth Doctor. It’s always been an issue that remains unspoken, but Sarah addressed it in a way that the audience would have talked about it. She writes it as a matter of fact instead of something to be glossed over and ignored in the story. I’ve always wanted to see that in an episode and I’m so happy that Sarah wrote it so everyone could see it. So, thank you Sarah, seriously, thank you.
Before we close out this review, we have to talk about the last scene, don’t we? Yeah, I wasn’t going to let you guys go without talking about that. After Nardole gives Bill and The Doctor their tea, he goes down to check on the vault. We’re still so curious about what’s happening inside that vault and it seems like it might be a bit til we get that answer. Yet, when Nardole goes down to check on the vault, four knocks hit the door. FOUR KNOCKS. So, if we want to create a bit of a theory (you know I f*cking do), we can probably theorize that:
1) The Doctor’s time is set to end soon
2) The Master knocks four times.
Billy helped me realize that The Master also knock four times. I keep realizing that I’m excited about the return of a certain character seen in the series ten trailer. I’ve also realized we are RIDICULOUSLY excited for future Doctor Who episodes.
Watch It! Series ten of Doctor Who is shaping up to be such a delight and Thin Ice isn’t an episode you’ll want to miss. The atmosphere and dialogue within this episode progresses Doctor Who far, but there’s still so much to be explored with these two characters.
Also, I’m pretty sure the Doctor just confirmed some stuff about Jesus.