Doctor Who is always classed as “science fiction”. Fair enough, you might think. After all, the show is about an alien travelling through time and space in a police box, fighting all sorts of monsters, beasts and robots. But it’s so much more than just a mere science fiction show, and Thin Ice demonstrated this marvellously. After debuting in season nine, writing Face the Raven, Sarah Dollard once again scripted a superb episode and staked a claim to be part of Chris Chibnall’s writing team for years to come.
Punching a racist, feeding the poor, saving an animal in danger and reducing the equality gap. Is it too late for the twelfth Doctor to run for Prime Minister? This was one of the all time great episodes for any Doctor. We saw everything that’s made the Doctor’s character last for over half a century and not grow old. There was a scene at the start of the episode where Bill questioned if the Doctor cared about people dying and whether he had killed people. Here we got to see the darker, and more enigmatic side to the Doctor. Had he just grown so old that he’d stopped caring about those dying around him? After all, when Spider was pulled under the water, he only seemed interested in rescuing his sonic screwdriver, rather than making any immediate attempt to console Kitty or rescue Spider himself. But before long, the heroic side of the Doctor emerged as he dashed about, trying to find out what was lurking beneath the Thames. As I’ve mentioned, this all led to some sensational acts, such as punching Lord Sutcliffe after he made racial slurs towards Bill. It was one of the greatest moments of Capaldi’s run, especially after just telling Bill that passion wasn’t what was needed in their meeting with Sutcliffe. Seeing the Doctor’s emotions come to the fore and stand up for Bill shows how quickly the pair have bonded. We’ve seen past companions get insulted before, but I can’t recall the Doctor ever resort to violence to deal with the aggressor. The Time Lord showed his human side as he took real offence at the nature of Sutcliffe’s insults. Racism is a topic that’s not really been explored too much in Doctor Who. Martha was nervous visiting London in 1599 in The Shakespeare Code, and was also on the end of a few nasty comments in 1913 in The Family of Blood. The Zygon Inversion/Invasion also dipped into the topic of immigration. This was the first time I can recall the Doctor making a stand against blatant racism. What this episode demonstrated, despite the chaos that’s going on in the world, is how society has evolved in the last two hundred years. Verbal tirades, like Sutcliffe’s take you aback, because they are just not accepted like they were back then. It’s important to realise, that even though everything is far from perfect and millions of people are living in desperate situations across the planet, society has improved for the better since 1814. It really was great to see the Doctor oppose racism proactively, and the punch will go down in the show’s history as one of the protagonist’s finest moments.
The Doctor didn’t stop there though. Once he’d escaped Sutcliffe’s men, his predicament was very similar to that which he found himself in season eight’s Kill the Moon. He felt he couldn’t make a decision on behalf of humanity so got his companion to decide for him. Not only that, the choice was to risk freeing a creature that could cause destruction or could drift away to live peacefully, or to kill the creature and guarantee the safety of everyone else. Of course, like Clara in Kill the Moon, Bill told the Doctor to save the creature, and he did just that. It was another fascinating dilemma and it was good to see them make the right decision, and to see the choice pay off as the creature just swam away after being freed. Afterwards, we got to see more of the Doctor at his best as he put on a fancy dinner for the homeless children in the house of the *unfortunately* now deceased Sutcliffe. He didn’t stop there though, as he wrote Perry into the will of Sutcliffe. It was an act of immense thoughtfulness, that probably wouldn’t even have crossed the minds of anybody else. The episode began with Bill doubting the Doctor after his admission of murder, and ended with her in admiration for what he’d done, and it was a journey for the pair that was a pleasure to watch.
Apart from the social message in the episode (it’s ok to punch a racist), evidence of society’s improvement and the Doctor’s utter magnificence throughout, there were other strong points. The sets were beautiful. Nineteenth century London covered in snow looked stunning. Bill and the Doctor also looked very dapper in their old fashioned get-ups. I mentioned that the dilemma at the end of the story was similar to Kill the Moon, but the plot itself was original and enjoyable. Sutcliffe was a worthy villain. I always enjoy when human beings take on the role of the bad guys. The show is very good at showing that all species are capable of being both very good, and very bad, something that is important to remember. The CGI creature, and the CGI ice cracking perhaps wasn’t done very well, but that’s forgivable, especially when the episode was so visually pleasing elsewhere.
Bill now looks totally at ease as the companion. She’s learning fast about life with the Doctor and watching her trying to work out exactly what sort of man he is, is entertaining and educational. After all, after fifty four years, we as viewers still have so much to learn about the show’s main character, and a new companion asking questions is the best way to find out more. The pair’s teacher/student relationship is terrific, and reminiscent of, although not identical to, the relationship the seventh Doctor enjoyed with Ace. Three episodes is too early to completely judge a character, but Bill is well on her way to becoming one of my favourite ever companions.
If the Doctor thinks it’s ok to punch racists and fraudulently write poor, homeless children into a scummy, rich, dead person’s will, then that’s good enough for me. Season ten continued to impress and I certainly hope we see Sarah Dollard writing for the show under Chris Chibnall. We got a further glimpse of the vault, which is almost certainly now the story arc for Steven Moffat’s final season. What or who could be inside? The Master, Missy, Rassilon? What has the Doctor promised and to who? Why has Nardole been entrusted to keep the Doctor in check? There are plenty of intriguing questions to be answered and the rest of the season has been set up perfectly. I seem to say this a lot, but I think Peter Capaldi delivered his finest performance as the Doctor tonight. Of course episodes like Deep Breath, The Zygon Inversion and Heaven Sent saw brilliant performances from the Scot, but I felt tonight, he went beyond the incredibly high levels of those. He went from the the dark Doctor, who looked like he was trying hard to hide the scars of the murders he’s committed, to the vehemently compassionate hero we all know and love, with consummate ease. Thin Ice was one of the best historical episodes of the modern era, and proved that the show is more than just science fiction.
Episode Rating: 9/10