What’s Lurking Under “Thin Ice” On Doctor Who?

Credit: Simon Ridgway/BBC

The trend of series 10 so far has been one episode starting right where the last one ended. It gives the feel of a never-ending adventure for the Doctor and Bill. So last week ended with them stepping out of the TARDIS into the London Frost Fair rather than the Doctor’s university office. And that’s right where we begin this week.

Bill is getting the crash course in “being the Doctor’s companion.” On her third outing with the Time Lord she’s learned he really was serious when he said you don’t steer the TARDIS but rather negotiate with her. “Unsuccessfully, most of the time,” he adds because the TARDIS definitely wants them to stay put in 1814 London. There’s nothing left to do but dress the part.

Looking very nice in their period clothes (especially the Doctor; is Peter Capaldi getting cuter by the episode??), the pair head out to take in the fair. Bill buys herself a fish pie, the Doctor gives a homeless child his top hat and then promptly nicks a new one, and all the while Bill is noticing little green lights under the ice. Of course, the Doctor has seen them too and he’s keen to investigate. Before they can, two street kids steal the sonic screwdriver and while running away, one of them is sucked into the ice. All the Doctor is able to do is save the sonic at the last moment and his priorities and apparent lack of feeling for the dead little boy rattles Bill.

Here she gets another lesson in being the companion: The Doctor has seen a lot of people die. And yes, he’s also killed some people. He can’t remember the exact count of either because a) there are too many, and b) he’s chosen to move on. It’s a tough realization for Bill to swallow. What she’ll soon understand is the Doctor’s coldness is actually pragmatism that’s been honed over 2,000 years of winning and losing every kind of fight imaginable.

He may not have saved the little boy on the ice but the Doctor cares about preventing anyone else from being eaten. Nabbing some period diving suits, he and Bill go exploring on the ice. When Bill is sucked under, the Doctor follows and they see a massive sea creature chained up under the river. Some bioluminescent and possibly alien anglerfish are responsible for bringing the creature humans but only because they can’t bring it any other food.

Following a lead, the Doctor discovers someone is using the creature’s droppings as fuel because they’re far superior to coal. They track down Lord Sutcliffe, a smarmy, racist, rich guy whose family has exploited the creature for generations. He’s organized the whole Frost Fair in order to provide the creature with food and plans to blow up the frozen river. He also gets a well-deserved punch in the face from the Doctor when he insults Bill.

That gets the duo tied up in a tent, which means it’s sonic screwdriver to the rescue. Once free, the Doctor charges Bill with deciding whether they should free the creature, nicknamed “Tiny” by the Time Lord, since they don’t know if it’ll then go kill a bunch of people. She votes yes and gathers some street urchins to help usher most people off the river.

The Doctor rigs the sonic up to the explosives so when Sutcliffe pushes the detonator it actually blows the chains off Tiny. As it swims to freedom, Sutcliffe falls to his death into the river. Righting as many wrongs as possible, the Doctor forges some paperwork to make one of the street urchins Sutcliffe’s long lost heir.

Finally, the Doctor and Bill make it back to the Doctor’s office where Nardole comes in with tea only minutes after they’d left. He’s none too pleased the Doctor has been traveling again but that really isn’t going to stop the Time Lord or his new companion. Nardole is left to check on the vault. Whatever is in it, is now knocking.

Doctor’s Notes

But seriously, Capaldi looked so damn good in period clothing. smashes coffee mug Thor style ANOTHER!

As much as people tried (and ultimately failed) to see and create a father/daughter dynamic between the Doctor and Clara, it’s not hard to see that dynamic between the Doctor and Bill. With each passing episode, there’s no doubt in my mind that Bill is, in many ways, a contemporary version of Susan, the First Doctor’s companion and granddaughter.

Bill: “Regency England. A bit more black than they show in the movies.”
The Doctor: “So was Jesus. History’s a whitewash.”

The Doctor: “Human progress isn’t measured by industry. It’s measured by the value you place on a life, an unimportant life. A life without privilege. That’s what defines an age. That’s what defines a species.”

Predictions: I wasn’t going to but I’m now jumping on the fandom bandwagon that the Master is in the vault. What else would make Nardole that nervous?

Stephanie Coats
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