Monday, May 1, 2017

A Random Sea Creature Puts Doctor Who On "Thin Ice!"


The Good: Morals, Special effects, Moments of character
The Bad: Telegraphs the humor, Mediocre performances, Ease of the resolution
The Basics: "Thin Ice" is a very simple Doctor Who episode that has a good moral, but takes a long time to get there and does so in a mediocre way.


Peter Capaldi's final season of Doctor Who got off to a fairly good start, but with a dangling mystery. While much was made of the new Companion, Bill, The Doctor still has had Nardole as a Companion with him on Earth. Nardole has, apparently, kept The Doctor focused on keeping a promise to River Song, which says that he will not leave Earth. That, combined with a mysterious vault below the University where The Doctor has been teaching for (perhaps) seventy years, have an inherent mystery for the season.

But, of course, in "Smile" (reviewed here!), The Doctor does leave Earth, taking Bill to the future of a distant world. As is the tradition on Doctor Who, the return trip to the point at which the TARDIS left, does not go as planned. The Doctor and Bill ended up in London in the 1800s, which is where "Thin Ice" begins.

Having arrived in London, 1814, Bill begins to fret to The Doctor about blending in given her skin color and the time period. The Doctor sends her back into the TARDIS to change her clothes and shortly thereafter, they come out onto the streets and are able to walk without incident, much to Bill's surprise. The pair discovers that there is a Frost Fair going on on the ice of the frozen Thames. Bill and The Doctor encounter homeless children, who use the Fair to steal from the citizens who attend. While on the ice, Bill notices bright green lights under the surface of the ice and The Doctor eagerly begins investigating the phenomenon with her.

It does not take long for the pair to realize that there is something under the ice and it is eating human beings. The Doctor quickly figures out that whomever is running the Frost Fair is probably behind the creature under the ice. The Doctor and Bill discover the purpose behind the enslaved creature and the monstrous nature of Sutcliffe, the very human businessman who is exploiting it. With their investigation drawing Sutcliffe's attention, The Doctor turns to Bill to decide how to resolve the problem of the giant fish beneath the ice.

"Thin Ice" is basically a mild rewrite of "The Beast Below" (reviewed here!) set on Earth, but with virtually identical themes. It is interesting that this late in the game, Steven Moffat gets to where Russell T. Davies began Doctor Who. In the first season of Doctor Who (when it returned in 2005) featured a number of episodes where the villains were bloodthirsty businessmen who were motivated solely by profit. "Thin Ice" features an adversary who is that type of villain.

Sutcliffe is not a particularly clever or intriguing villain, but his exploitation of the giant fish matches his racism; he's a pretty horrible guy on all fronts. "Thin Ice" is much more formulaic than it is audacious, from the villain to the anti-slavery themes. In fact, "Thin Ice" is another Doctor Who episode that becomes more problematic the more one considers it. If Sutcliffe's family had been using the fish for fuel for multiple generations (to build his family's empire), it seems like London would have leapt dramatically forward in the Industrial Revolution, disproportionately to where "Thin Ice" (and reality) show it.

"Thin Ice" continues to build Bill into an interesting Companion, as she tries to feel out just what the nature of The Doctor and his journeys are. Bill asks all the right questions about traveling to the past in "Thin Ice." But, the most interesting aspect of Bill in "Thin Ice" is that The Doctor cedes control to her. This Doctor has let humans decide their own fate before, but the circumstances of "Kill The Moon" (reviewed here!) were very different from "Thin Ice."

Peter Capaldi is fine as The Doctor in "Thin Ice," but this is another episode where he is not given material on par with his performance abilities. Capaldi is given humor that is written in such a way that it spoils the punchlines - literally - and he carries the more serious scenes far better than the episode's repetitive attempts at humor.

The guest actors in "Thin Ice" are unfortunately stiff and at a key moment, Nicholas Burns interacts poorly with the virtual environment.

Ultimately, "Thin Ice" is mediocre in its execution of a good idea that Doctor Who has amply explored in the past.

For other works with Matt Lucas, please check out my reviews of:
"The Pilot" - Doctor Who
"The Return Of Doctor Mysterio" - Doctor Who
"The Husbands Of River Song" - Doctor Who
Alice Through The Looking Glass
Paddington
Bridesmaids
Alice In Wonderland

4/10

For other Doctor Who episode and movie reviews, please visit my Doctor Who Review Index Page!

© 2017 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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