Doctor Who: 10.03 Thin Ice
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Face The Raven was one of the highlights of series nine and writer Sarah Dollard emerged as the best new addition to Steven Moffat's writing team for Doctor Who that year. Thankfully she's returned for an encore to script Bill's first trip into the past - this time Regency London in 1814 - and it's another winner. Thin Ice doesn't quite reach the classic heights of Face The Raven, which was partly served by a wonderful ending to Clara and then undone frustratingly by Moffat's convoluted finale. But it is a very fine conclusion to what has essentially been the Doctor meets Bill trilogy.
Having journeyed into the future in Smile, the trip into the past rounded off their first round of adventures and as always, the BBC pulled out all the stops. Everything about the episode looked magnificent, from the pick pocket street urchins to gentlemen in top hats, sword swallowers and elephants on the frozen Thames and a thoroughly absorbing recreation of Regency London. As I mentioned in my spoiler-free preview, Doctor Who does 19th Century England very well, from The Talons Of Weng Chiang to The Unquiet Dead to any of the Vastra, Strax and Jenny stories (The Crimson Horror being my favourite).
Using a real historic date - the last Frost Fair in 1814, when the River Thames froze for five days - Thin Ice injects plenty of mystery and monsters to tell the tale of a mile long pilot-fish-type creature that lurked beneath the ice. It allowed the episode to do something a little different with the period setting and one of the most thrilling moments was the scene where the Doctor and Bill in their (I assume heated) gold diving suits broke through the ice and encountered the giant eye of the monster beneath. It added some real mysterious and claustrophobia and allowed the Doctor and Bill to get into the heart of the action after last week they seemed to largely be unaware of the threat at play.
The episode also made great use of Bill's inquisitive nature, again asking those sensible questions you would probably ask in her situation. It's almost getting a little tired to write that Pearl Mackie is a delight again - I think that's my summary line for series 10 so far - but it is true. She brings such an endearing, engaging performance that it makes a trip to the past which we've seen countless time before feel fresh and exciting once more. I was completely sold by her investing in the starving children, her horror at seeing someone die for the first time and opening up to the realisation that a casual death had only a small effect on the Doctor. Dollard was able to bring a darker tone to their relationship and it totally worked. It also allowed the Doctor to completely win her over with his speech about humanity only being worth the life of its weakest person. It wasn't quite his Zygon speech from series nine but it was a great moment for the Doctor and allowed Capaldi to really shine. There was a lot more balance between the two leads this episode, now we've gotten to know Bill a bit.
Nicholas Burns's Lord Sutcliffe was a fairly forgettable villain to be honest, using the fuel from the creature's faeces to fund his own industrial revolution. However Burns was able to inject enough smarm to his performance to make his despicable enough for this story and the fact that we had already seen one small child die as a result of his enterprise meant that his eventual death, falling through the ice was a well deserved one. Asiatu Koroma meanwhile was wonderful as the pickpocket Kitty and mother figure to the other children. There was a touch of The Empty Child / The Doctor Dances's Nancy about her.
If Smile was a light, breezy affair, then Thin Ice was darker, more densely packed tale. It addressed race and class in Regency London, gave us villains and heroes, some tense action moments like the climax when the ice began to break, an intriguing, creepy mystery in the green lights that would lure people to their deaths in the ice and continued to build on Bill and the Doctor's relationship, opening her eyes to his vast experience and the dangerous world he lives in while giving the Doctor and couple of great heroic moments to show why, after all, he's the hero of the show.
And then there's Nardole and the vault. This series 10 mystery is bubbling along nicely and I'm more intrigued than ever to see what lurks within.
With rumours that Chris Chibnall might be starting with a fresh new writing team, this might Dollard's last script from the show and that will be a loss. While Thin Ice didn't quite measure up to Face The Raven for me it was another great feather in her cap and the strongest episodes of series 10 yet. It proved that through the fresh eyes of Bill, Doctor Who can be fresh and exciting even when we've seen elements of the story many times before...