Historicals have been a staple of Doctor Who since the very beginning (it was originally meant to teach children history and science after all), though they fell out of popularity for a long time. Within a hundred years tended to be where the show drew the line as the focus shifted more and more towards straight up science fiction beginning with Patrick Troughton’s run, featuring more aliens, explorations of the future of humanity, and less likely chances of the companions knowing something the Doctor didn’t. There were some exceptions, but for the most part that’s how they rolled. Historicals tend to show up more in the Big Finish audio dramas but that wasn’t until ten years after the shows was initially cancelled. Plus it’s less expensive to do an audio drama in a historical time period than a TV show with a shoe string budget.
For those who don’t know, the money lords of the classic era were not very kind to Doctor Who.
With the modern series and the show reestablishing itself as the BBC’s flagship with a much bigger budget, while the focus still remains mostly on science fiction, the show does occasionally remember “…Oh yeah, we have a time machine.” and actually go back in time. In fact, going into the past tends to be trip number two for new companions and this is no different. This is ‘Thin Ice.”
WARNING: MINOR SPOILERS FOR DOCTOR WHO SERIES 10 EPISODE 3
The Doctor and Bill have arrived in London at the Last Great Frost Fair (which is when the Thames River is frozen enough for people to walk on for a few days and they have a big celebration. This hasn’t happened in over two hundred years) and have a wonderful time. Pies and shops and games, acrobats and a giant elephant, there’s something for all. However, they notice strange lights moving around under the ice and a young pickpocket soon disappears down below, seemingly pulled down by the lights. There’s something underneath the ice and they’re gonna find out what.
Okay, let’s address the elephant in the room. …no, not that one. Yes, they’re 1814, slavery is still a thing, and Bill is Black. Yes, they address it. It’s not glossed over. It’s actually handled very well. While they’re among the poorer classes, which is most of the time, no one cares. When they’re among the upper class, that’s when it’s brought up big time. There’s also a lot more people of colour than you expect to see in something about a historical period. As the Doctor himself says “History’s a whitewash.”
The plot itself sort of reminds me a bit of the Eleventh Doctor episode ‘The Beast Below’, which was okay as an episode, but Liz X was badass and amazing. The difference, of course, being the setting and circumstances, but if you know that episode, you know how the ending’s gonna go. Also, the bad guy’s no Liz X and there’s no mind wiping.
This is Bill’s first real exposure to death while travelling with the Doctor, and the death of a child no less. That’s not something you can brush off easily, but when you travel with the Doctor, you have to. You need to pull yourself together and move on to find out what’s happening, why, and how to stop it. It’s disconcerting, but it is useful advice. Don’t let grief control you when something important’s on the line. There will be time to grieve later when the crisis of the week is resolved. Pearl Mackie handles this transition well and it’s a powerful scene, one the new companion needs if she’s gonna be sticking around a while, which it appears she is. I loved Bill’s interaction with the group of street urchins and her reaction to the time period as a whole. Though, as always, she and the Doctor interacting is the highlight of the episode.
The group of street urchins present a tight knit group of misfits just trying to survive in these troubled times. They work off each other well and are a cute family. The villain is a greedy aristocrat and isn’t very interesting. Although the one scene with him being racist is satisfy for reasons you’ll understand if you’ve seen the episode.
I think the setting is great. I like it a lot. True, it’s not the Victorian Era (which means there’s no Vastra and Jenny, much to my eternal sadness.), but 1814 is shortly after both the American and French Revolutions which I have some affinity for (especially the former which is the only bit of American history outside my wheelhouse I have any interest is). And Victoria is only a few decades away so I kinda spent the whole episode forgetting it wasn’t the Victorian Era…I should know this. It was only ten years after Hamilton’s death after all. The costumes and sets are all well done. It really does look like they’re on the Thames instead of…wherever the hell they are in Wales. Then again, Doctor Who tends to go all out for their historicals so this is no surprise.
Also, Did anyone notice when Capaldi got a new sonic screw driver? …I think I missed it.
I tend to like historical episode, with some exception, and I liked this one. We get further exploration of Bill and the Doctor’s relationship, a nice mystery (even if it does get obvious near the end), and an amazing setting. It’s a good episode and I recommend it. Hey, you know what’d be cool? The Doctor going to the American Revolution. I know Doctor Who’s a British show, but the British were there too. How have they not done that before?! Two of the Founding Fathers fancied him and you can’t tell me one of them wasn’t Hamilton! …Sorry, what was I saying?
Next time, we’re looking at a horror episode so that’ll be fun. …I swear they used that house in series 7.
Sorry I was late. You’ll be getting two this Wednesday because I gotta get that SDCC Quickie out.