Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Doctor Who Season 10, Episode 3: Thin Ice

This week the Doctor takes his new companion Bill on her first trip to the past, to the Frost Fairs of Regency London to be exact. Naturally complications arise, as they encounter a seemingly deadly monster that's actually being held against its will, and killing purely in self defense.

It's a well-worn plot that the show's used many times before, most recently in The Beast Below. Heck, Doctor Who spinoff Torchwood even used the same storyline in Meat (and the less said about that episode, the better). 

Despite the familiar storyline, it's still a pretty good episode, due solely to the chemistry between Peter Capaldi and Pearl Mackie. Honestly I'd have been happy if they ditched the plot altogether and just given us forty five minutes of the two of them wandering around the Frost Fair. I'm definitely going to miss their interactions after Capaldi leaves.

Wow, three decent episodes in a row... what gives, Moffat? Did you start taking "writing pills?"

This week's episode raises some hard questions about both racial tensions and death. It doesn't necessarily answer these questions, but at least it spends a few minutes addressing the topics, which was surprising. So kudos for that. Bill holding the Doctor's feet to the fire over the amount of death he's seen and caused over his long life was one of the greatest moments in the entire history of the series, and something that's not often examined.

There wasn't much of Nardole this week, but his brief scene at the end of the episode gave us a pretty good hint (or possibly a red herring) as to who's inside the vault he and the Doctor are guarding.

SPOILERS!

The Plot:
The Doctor and Bill return from planet Gliese 581d to London. As they peer out of the TARDIS, they see a real live elephant stomping down the frozen Thames.

Bill thinks they've on a parallel world, but the Doctor says they've landed in 1814 London, at the last of the Frost Fairs. Bill worries that her dark skin will cause problems in an era that still has slavery, but the Doctor assures her there's no danger. They don period-appropriate clothing and explore the Fair. Back in the TARDIS, its sensors pick up a massive life form under the ice. Too bad there's no way for it to warn the Doctor.

As Bill wanders through the fair, she occasionally sees bright green lights moving under the ice. She's afraid she's experiencing some kind of side effect from time travel, but the Doctor admits he's seeing the lights as well. They encounter a team of child pickpockets, and one nabs the Doctor's sonic and runs off with it.

The Doctor and Bill chase the urchins, and corner Spider, the one who stole the sonic. Suddenly the green lights appear below him, and begin moving around him in a circle. They move faster and faster until they create a hole in the ice, and he drops through. The Doctor tries to save him (or does he?) but only manages to grab his sonic before the child disappears under the ice. The hole immediately closes back up. The Doctor tries to question the other street kids, but they run off in fear.

The Doctor finds a distraught Bill sobbing some distance away. When he asks what's wrong, she says she never saw anyone die before. She notes that he doesn't seem very upset, and asks how many people he's seen die. He admits he doesn't know. She then asks how many he's killed, and he refuses to answer, saying sometimes it's the only option available. An angry Bill says that's not what she asked.

Eventually they track down the kids, who are led by a girl named Kitty. He talks her into taking them back to their hovel. There, the kids admit that they're paid to lure people to the Frost Fair, some of whom end up going missing. Kitty doesn't know who the man is who pays them, other than that he has a tattoo of a ship on his hand.

The Doctor and Bill "acquire" diving suits, then gear up and visit the Frost Fair after it's closed. When Bill asks why they need diving suits on top of the ice, and the Doctor says if all goes according to plan, the lights will come and take them under. Suddenly the lights come and take them under. Deep below the surface, they see a massive (alien?) sea creature, chained to the bottom of the river. It's surrounded by some sort of mutated angler fish (its offspring?), the source of the green lights. They swim melt the ice above, allowing people to fall through and provide food for their massive host. The creature spots the Doctor and Bill and moans plaintively.

They return to the surface, and eventually discover that Lord Sutcliffe is the man who pays the urchins to lure people onto the ice. They visit a workhouse owned by Sutcliffe, where hundreds of men dredge the river for the giant creature's waste. They mold it into bricks, which, according to the foreman, burn a thousand times longer than coal, and hotter than they can measure. The Doctor notes that this "fuel" is suitable for interstellar travel, and wonders if Sutcliffe is secretly an alien.

The two of them then pay a visit to Lord Sutcliffe's mansion, The Doctor tells Bill to let him do the talking, as getting info from a potential alien like Sutcliffe will require tact and finesse. They're taken to Sutcliffe's study, and he immediately treats Bill like a slave. The Doctor punches Lord Sutcliffe, knocking him out. So much for diplomacy!

The Doctor asks Lord Sutcliffe where the creature came from, and he says its secret has been passed down in his family for generations. He defends what he's doing, saying the city's industry runs on the creature's waste. Without it, they'd need coal, and thousands would die in the mines.

Sutcliffe orders the Doctor and Bill be placed inside a tent on the ice, which is filled with explosives. Sutcliffe plans to detonate the explosives (under the guise of fireworks gone wrong), collapsing the ice and sacrificing thousands to the creature. The Man With The Ship Tattoo ties them up and conveniently leaves.

Fortunately for the Doctor, Sutcliffe's men didn't search him, and he still has his sonic. He activates it, and a henchman hears it and runs into the tent. He grabs the sonic and looks at it, as its sound attracts the angler fish. The Doctor yells to the man to toss him the sonic. For some reason he does, just as the ice opens beneath him and he disappears. The Doctor uses the sonic to free himself and Bill.

The Doctor asks Bill what they should do next— free the creature, or leave. She asks why it's up to her, and the Doctor says he can't decide for her, saying, "Your people, your planet." She worries that if they release the creature, it could break through the ice and kill thousands. He tells her it's a risk, but says, "If your future is built on the suffering of that creature, what's your future worth?" She finally decides they should free it.

Bill finds the urchins, and together they try to chase everyone off the ice. Meanwhile, the Doctor dons his diving suit again, and attaches Sutcliffe's explosives to the creature's chains. Bill manages to get most of the people off the ice, but realizes she can't save them all. She suddenly has a newfound understanding of the Doctor, and his attitude toward death.

Sutcliffe sees people fleeing the river, and detonates the explosives. They free the creature, which breaks through the ice. Sutcliffe falls into the cold water, and is maybe eaten by the creature?

The Doctor and Bill watch as the creature, which does not eat anyone, sails down the Thames and out to sea. Later the Doctor invites the street urchins to Lord Sutcliffe's manor. He expertly modifies the deed to the manor, placing it in the hands of Perry, one of the urchins.

The Doctor and Bill return to the present, parking the TARDIS in his office again. Nardole appears with a tray of tea, indicating they've returned a few seconds after they left back in Smile. Nardole realizes they've gone off-world, and accuses the Doctor of breaking his oath to stay on Earth and guard the vault.

Bill looks up and old newspaper, and sees that Perry and the others lived the rest of their lives in luxury in Sutcliffe Manor. She's puzzled though as to why there's no mention of a giant sea creature sailing down the Thames. The Doctor tells her "Never underestimate the collective human ability to overlook the inexplicable."

Meanwhile, Nardole checks on the vault below the University. Something inside the vault knocks three times on the door. Nardole tells whoever— or whatever— is inside that it won't get out while he's around.

Thoughts:
• There are a lot of similarities between Bill's first visit to the past in this episode, and 
Season 3's The Shakespeare Code. And I do mean a lot.


When the TARDIS lands in Regency England, Bill worries that as a black woman, she may be in danger, since slavery's still very much a thing. The Doctor dismisses her concerns, saying she'll be fine:

Bill: "Wait, you want to go out there?"
The Doctor: "You don’t?"
Bill: "It’s 1814. (pointing at her face) Melanin!"
The Doctor: "Yes?"
Bill: "Slavery is still totally a thing."
The Doctor: "Yes, it is."
Bill: "It might be, like, dangerous out there."
The Doctor: "Definitely dangerous."
Bill: "So, how do we stay out of trouble?"
The Doctor: "Well, I’m not the right person to ask."

This is almost word-for-word the same thing Martha Jones said when she and the Tenth Doctor visited Elizabethan England in The Shakespeare Code:

Martha: "Oh, but hold on, am I all right? I’m not going to get carted off as a slave, am I?" The Doctor: "Why?"
Martha: "I’m not exactly white, in case you haven’t noticed?"
The Doctor: "I’m not even human. Walk about like you own the place. Works for me."Bill also worries about accidentally altering the future, bringing up the Butterfly Effect:

Bill: "So what are the rules?"
The Doctor: "Rules?"
Bill: "Yeah. Traveling to the past, there’s got to be rules. If I step on a butterfly, it could send ripples through time that mean I’m not even born in the first place, and I could just disappear."
Again, this is almost verbatim what Martha says in The Shakespeare Code:

Martha: "But, are we safe? I mean, can we move around and stuff?"
The Doctor: "Course we can, why’d you ask?"
Martha: "In those films, you step on a butterfly, you change the future of the human race."
The Doctor: "Tell you what then, don’t step on any butterflies. What have butterflies ever done to you?"
Martha: "What if, I dunno, what if I kill my grandfather?"
The Doctor: "Are you planning to?"
Martha: "No!"
The Doctor: "Well then."

I suppose when you have two different episodes in which a black character visits the past for the first time, there are bound to be a few similarities, but this was definitely pushing it. 

• When Bill first looks out of the TARDIS and sees the Frost Fair, she thinks they've landed on a parallel world. The Doctor assures her they haven't, but he's visited alternate Earths before. 

The Third Doctor visited an "evil" parallel world way back in 1970s Inferno. The Tenth Doctor and Rose Tyler visited an alternate Earth they dubbed "Pete's World" (after Rose's father) in Rise Of The Cyberman/The Age Of Steel. Rose eventually even went to Pete's World to live.

• The London Frost Fairs were actually a real thing! Between the 14th and 19th Centuries, the Thames would regularly freeze over every winter. When it did, they'd hold a fair on the frozen river, and all of London would show up. They even had live elephants stomping around the Fairs from time to time!

For some reason though, the river never froze again after 1814— the year this episode takes place. Thin Ice attempts to explain this, implying that the creature was the one causing the Thames to regularly freeze. Once the Doctor freed it, no more frozen river!

• This isn't the Doctor's first Frost Fair. In 2011's A Good Man Goes To War, River Song tells Rory Williams:

River: "The Doctor took me ice skating on the River Thames in 1814. The last of the great Frost Fairs. He got Stevie Wonder to sing for me under London Bridge."
Rory: "Stevie Wonder sang in 1814?"
River: "Yes, he did. But you must never tell him."

Fortunately the Twelfth Doctor didn't run into his previous self in this episode!

• The Doctor and Bill go off to explore the Frost Fair. Back in the TARDIS, its sensors pick up a massive life form under the ice. It displays a warning on its view screen, which of course goes unseen by the Doctor.

Gosh, it's too bad this ultra-sophisticated time and space machine doesn't have any way to remotely warn him of danger. Some sort of communication system, like, oh, I don't know... a phone maybe? The TARDIS took the phone of a police call box, and even has a goddamned working telephone in it!

• In the street urchins' hovel, the Doctor entertains the kids by reading to them. His story choice isn't a particularly pleasant one, as he reads from the 1845 German book Der Struwwelpeterabout a tailor who cuts off the thumbs off naughty children with a giant pair of scissors!

Since the book came from 1845 and the Doctor's currently in 1814, I'm assuming he carries a copy of it around with him in his infinite Time Lord pockets.

• When Bill sees the boy fall through the ice and die, she lashes out at the Doctor for not doing anything to save him. She accuses him of not caring, which he assures her is not true. He tells her that sometimes it just isn't possible to save everyone, and he has to move on. It's the best part of the episode, and one of the best I've seen in the entire series.


Later on, Bill tries to get everyone off the ice and save them before Lord Sutcliffe detonates his explosives. She manages to get most of the people to safety, but realizes it's impossible to save them all. It's then and there that she realizes what the Doctor was trying to tell her.

It's a small little moment, but an important and very effective one.

• After they return to the present, Bill does an internet search for historical info regarding the giant creature they just freed.  A couple things here:


First of all, she uses the Search-Wise search engine to look for historical records. It's been a while since we saw Search-Wise, which last popped up in Rose, the first episode of the revived series. It's a fake search engine of course, used so the BBC doesn't have to pay licensing fees to Google or Bing.

Secondly, Bill's puzzled as to why there's no mention of a miles-long creature sailing down the Thames in 1814, and why it wasn't headline news. The Do
ctor says, "Never underestimate the collective human ability to overlook the inexplicable. Also, the Frost Fair involved a lot of day drinking."

This isn't the first time the Doctor's mentioned the human race's short memory. In Remembrance Of The Daleks, the Seventh Doctor's companion Ace notes that there's no record of the Zygon's robotic Loch Ness Monster. He tells her, "Your species has the most amazing capacity for self-deception!"

In the nonsensical and execrable In The Forest Of The Night, the Doctor tells Clara, "The human superpower is forgetting extraordinary events."

• At the end of the episode, Nardole visits the mysterious vault under the college and has a one sided conversation with the occupant. We hear a series of knocks coming from inside the vault, so chances are the Doctor's got his arch enemy the Master locked up inside it. Makes sense right, especially after the events of The Sound Of Drums? Plus the trailers have shown us that at least one version of the Master (and possibly more) is showing up this season, so he/she seems like the likeliest candidate.

Of course that's probably what the writers want us to think, and the occupant of the vault could be someone completely different. I'm too worn out from The Flash's Savitar storyline to deal with another mystery right now.

• This Week's Best Lines:
Bill: (after arriving in 1814 instead of the present) "Hang on, why aren't we home? Can't you steer this thing?"
The Doctor: "I told you. You don't steer the TARDIS, you reason with it."
Bill: "How?"
The Doctor: "Unsuccessfully, most of the time She's a bad girl, this one."

Bill: "So, what are the rules?"
The Doctor: "Rules?"
Bill: "Yeah. Travelling to the past. There's got to be rules. If I step on a butterfly, it could send ripples through time that mean I'm not even born in the first place, and I could just disappear."
The Doctor: "Definitely. That's what happened to Pete."

Bill: "Pete?"
The Doctor: "Your friend, Pete. He was standing there a moment ago, but he stepped on a butterfly and now you don't even remember him."
Bill: "Shut up! I'm being serious!"
The Doctor: "Yeah, so was Pete."
Bill: "You know what I mean. Every choice I make in this moment, here and now, could change the whole future."
The Doctor: "Exactly like every other day of your life. The only thing to do is to stop worrying about it."
Bill: "OK. If you say so."
The Doctor: "Pete's stopped worrying."

Bill: (at the Frost Fair) "I hope you realise I'm going to try everything. Everything!"
Frost Fair Vendor: "Tasty ox cheek, piping hot! Lapland mutton! Lapland mutton, cooked right on the ice! Get your sheep hearts here! Juicy, juicy sheep hearts!"
Bill: "Yeah Maybe not everything."

Bill: (after seeing strange lights under the ice) "Are there side-effects to time travel? Like, physical symptoms?"
The Doctor: "Oh, yeah. Yeah, yeah Sometimes you see lights under the ice."
Bill: "OK, so you've seen the lights."
The Doctor: "Of course."
Bill: "Well, why didn't you say something?"
The Doctor: "Well, you're enjoying yourself. I assumed we'd get to work eventually."

Bill: (chasing after the street urchins) "The boy's the one with your magic wand!"
The Doctor: "Sonic screwdriver."
Bill: "How is that a screwdriver?"
The Doctor: "In a very broad sense."
Bill: "How's it sonic?"
The Doctor: "It makes a noise."

The Doctor: "What's wrong?"
Bill: "What's wrong? Seriously, 'What's wrong?' I've never seen anyone die before!"
The Doctor: "A few hours ago, we were standing in a garden full of dead people."
Bill: "That was different."
The Doctor: "How?"
Bill: "They were dead already."
The Doctor: "Morally and practically, that's not a useful distinction. Unlearn it."
Bill: "Don't tell me what to think! "
The Doctor: "I'm your teacher! Telling you things is what I do."
Bill: "Yeah? Tell me this: You've seen people die before, yeah?"
The Doctor: "Of course."
Bill: "You still care?"
The Doctor: "Of course I care."
Bill: "How many?"
The Doctor: "How many what?"
Bill: "If you care so much, tell me how many people you've seen die?"
The Doctor: "I don't know."
Bill: "OK. How many before you lost count?"
The Doctor: "I care, Bill, but I move on."
Bill: "Yeah? How quickly?"
The Doctor: "It's not me you're angry with."
Bill: "Have you ever killed anyone? There's a look in your eyes sometimes that makes me wonder. Have you?"
The Doctor: "There are situations when the options available are limited."
Bill: "Not what I asked!"
The Doctor: "Sometimes the choices are very..."
Bill: "That's not what I asked!"
The Doctor: "Yes."
Bill: "How many? Don't tell me. You've moved on."
The Doctor: "You know what happens if I don't move on? More people die."

Bill: (to Kitty) "The Doctor he helps people. That’s what he does."
Kitty: "And you? What do you do? Apart from shout at him?"
Bill: "We were fighting. It happens."
Kitty: "Are you still fighting now?"
Bill: "No. I moved on."

Bill: (talking to the street urchins) "So, this guy, where would we find him?
Urchin: "He finds us."
Bill: "But a tattoo on his hand. I mean, we could ask around?"
The Doctor: "Boring! I know something that’s much easier to find."
Bill: "Where are we going?"
The Doctor: "All right, you guys, hang tight! Laters!"
(the kids look quizzically at one another)
The Doctor: "I was being all 'down with the kids' there, did you notice?"
Bill: "Yeah, my hair was cringing!"
The Doctor: "Awesome!"
Bill: "Please, stop!"

Bill: (after finding out they're jumping into the Thames in diving suits) "But we’re not going to be completely defenseless down there, though?"
The Doctor: "No, no, no... Well, yes. But don’t worry about it."

The Doctor: (to Street Vendor) "Have you ever seen a man around here with a tattoo of a ship? What’s that face? Is that a 'no' or are you against tattoos? I’m against tattoos, too. I think that we’re bonding!"

Foreman: (explaining how the creature's poop is turned into highly volatile fuel) "I keep my ear to the ground."
The Doctor: "And what is the ground saying these days?:
Foreman: "That this stuff burns a thousand times longer than coal?"
The Doctor: "Very good."
Foreman: "Hotter, too. Hotter than they can measure."
The Doctor: "Excellent! First class."
Foreman: "I’m right, aren’t I, sir?"
The Doctor: "Oh, there’s no stopping you. You keep this up, you won’t be working in this yard for very long."
Foreman: "You think not?"
The Doctor: (ominously) "I can almost guarantee it."
(it most definitely felt like Peter Capaldi was channeling Tom Baker's Fourth Doctor here, which is a good thing!)

The Doctor: (to Lord Sutcliffe) "I preferred it when you were alien."
Sutcliffe: "When I was?"
The Doctor: "That explained the lack of humanity. What makes you so sure that your life is worth more than those people out there on the ice? Is it the money? The accident of birth that puts you inside the big, fancy house?"
Sutcliffe: "I help move this country forward. I move this empire forward."
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. The boy who died on the river, that boy’s value is your value. That’s what defines an age. That’s what defines a species."
Sutcliffe: "What a beautiful speech. The rhythm and vocabulary, quite outstanding. It’s enough to move anyone with an ounce of compassion. So, it’s really not your day, is it?"

The Doctor: "I don’t know the answers. Only idiots know the answers."

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