Doctor Who #985: Thin Ice

"So how do we stay out of trouble?" "Well, I’m not the right person to ask."
TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired Apr.29 2017.

IN THIS ONE... A monster under the frozen Thames in 1814.

REVIEW: There is some pretty great dialog in this episode, some cracking speeches, and opportunities to develop the new Doctor-companion dynamic. The creation of "Pete", the companion who was erased from the timeline (probably funnier until you remember Rory); the humanistic speech only a 2000-year-old would say (though treated with self-congratulatory schmaltz); the bit that treats the TARDIS like a love interest; Bill taking the piss out of the sonic screwdriver; and the scene about moving on from outrage (Bill is especially strong here, getting to know the dark side of what she experienced in Smile)... Just some of the stand-outs. Unfortunately, the plot feels quite familiar, borrowing rather heavily from at least three "early travels" episodes. There's The Unquiet Dead with its snowy 19th-Century trappings, Bill gingerly putting her foot into the past and visiting the wardrobe, exactly like Rose did. There's The Shakespeare Code, in which racism and the butterfly effect are also discussed through Martha. And when it comes down to it, the Lochless Monster, Tiny, the Thames Serpent, whatever you want to call it, is in the same situation as the Space Whale, and leaves with whale song at the end. After almost 55 years of Doctor Who, it's normal that some tropes repeat, but in this case, beats and lines are repeated, which annoys the hell out of me. Never mind from episode straight into episode. It seems like the Doctor is forced to tell Bill "I told you" at the start of every story so she can be told information she's already received for our benefit. And those damn in-episode flashbacks, as if I couldn't recognized a burped-out hat when I saw one.

Taken for what it is, and accepting the repeats from - let's be fair - 6-12 years ago, there are still praiseworthy things in Thin Ice beyond the dialog. The monster taking its shape from that of the Thames is a good starting point for a Doctor Who monster. The diving suits makes a nice, steampunk change to the frequently used orange space suits of the Tennant era (certainly seems like they lost their Vardy phones though). The Doctor punching an upper class prick who today comes off as a White Supremacist, and it somehow gives him the guy's age and other personal details (an evolution of Tennant's licking power?). And having a child die and not be brought back is, for this show, bolder than cutting off an expletive.

But I find the Doctor a little weak in parts. When Spider falls through the ice, it's staged to look like he only cares about his sonic screwdriver. Similarly, he hands the guy with the tattoo a Bondian death pun when he bites it. No wonder Bill is outraged by his coldness. That IS the best scene of the episode, but it didn't need the Doctor's seeming amorality to work, only his need to move past it so he could get to work. His appreciation for grifters is a nice bit, leading to the con he runs on the yard manager, with the counterfeit heir, and later on Nardole (he does seem to rack up "knacks", doesn't he?), but his theft of fish pies is less conscionable (they had money!). And then there's putting the ball in Bill's camp and asking her to give him an order. I understand how he would want to get her invested in the mission, and this is a kind of con he runs on her, but the way he does is is too obviously disingenuous. He wants Bill to say they should free the creature under the ice, and he pretty much shames her into deciding to do so. It doesn't feel like it's coming from her in the same way the "order" came from Donna in the more effective The Fires of Pompeii did, for example. Making her the "boss" in this case just feels like he's fobbing off responsibility when confronted with his mysterious oath later. At least he does have a certain self-aware streak, noting that "smug" belongs to him, as if in answer to my worry that Bill was acting smug like Series 2 Rose in the previous episode.

On a minor note, I had to watch the bit where the Doctor plays with Sutcliffe's orrery to see if he moved a planet in Mondas' position as foreshadowing for later in this series, but alas, there doesn't seem to be anything to it.

THEORIES: "He will knock four times." Remember that old prophecy? "Your song is ending [Doctor]... It is returning. It is returning through the dark and then Doctor, oh, but then... He will knock four times." Turned out it was Wilf who would herald the Doctor's death, despite the Master being intimately associated with a four-beat rhythm. But while I don't think they'll be referring to this psychic vision again, what if it actually hasn't come to pass (or will come to pass several times, reinforcing its power to reverberate through time and reach psychics)? Because we know from promotional materials that John Simm's Master is set to make an appearance. He is in fact frontrunner as to what might be in the Vault the Doctor is guarding. At the end of this episode, whatever's in the Vault knocks. 3 knocks... 3 knocks... FOUR! Coincidence?

REWATCHABILITY: Medium - Great dialog and a couple of excellent scenes, but the plot feels too tired for a stronger recommendation.


Toby'c said...

I love the bit where Twelve mentions being at the Frost Fair two times before. One of those has to be as Eleven with River and Stevie Wonder (A Good Man Goes to War), but I like to think the other one is the Big Finish Companion Chronicle Frostfire (One, Vicky and Steven).

Siskoid said...

And don't forget Jane Austen's participation!

I don't actually think he says what number of times, but regardless, that does play havoc with continuity, giving the uncommon cold several reasons to exist.

snell said...

Re: fish pies. It's perhaps a few decades to late to worry about the Doctor being a thief. What about in The Long Game, when he uses the Sonic to give Rose & Adam an infinite ATM card? That money had to come from someone's account! Plenty of more examples out there, not the least of which is stealing the TARDIS itself...

Siskoid said...

We can presume the fake ATM card was stealing from EvilCorp or EvilBank though. And we usually let it slide because he doesn't seem to be carrying any money (the clothes in The Crusade is an early example). But in this case, they HAVE coins (Bill pays for hers) and are robbing a lower class man of his livelihood.

I even felt for the yard manager who didn't know Sutcliffe's business was evil and who would soon be out of work.

Anonymous said...

You didn't see the scene where the Doctor also slipped the fish pie monger a coin? I guess you didn't watch the All Pete All The Time cut.

This episode seemed kind of pointless; I was scanning for season-wide themes but I didn't see much. The thing I think keeps coming up with Bill is, the future could be good or terrible, and she hopes for the one but also fears the other. I picked up some of that here.

I think the Doctor asking Bill to command him was to get her to start seeing things from the Doctor's perspective: it's easy to gripe at the Doctor when people die, but having to actually make the choices is rough.

Lastly, I still like to think the Doctor's real name is "Pete". That's what I was certain Drax said when he met #4, watching on a grainy low-power UHF station. It would make sense that, on a world of Romanas and Borusas, the Doctor would find "Pete" to be the ultimate embarrassing name. Combine that with what we know from the novels and his full name is "Pete Lungbarrow".

Toby'c said...

I double-checked - he said "Two times".

Anonymous said...

I just saw episode four (the episode following this one) and I've detected a theme: people being consumed by monsters. Thus far we've got a woman consumed by a puddle that detects her desire to travel, nanobots that consume people in trying to optimize joy, and people consumed by leviathans while they're partying on the ice. The fourth episode will continue the theme, and like episodes 1 and 2 it will hinge upon people consumed by monsters as part of trying to find a home of sorts. (Episode 3 doesn't fit the pattern quite as well.)

Then there's the vault, what's in it? Will it be a monster that consumes the Doctor for trying to find where he belongs? Is there a slice of Gallifrey in there, figuratively or literally?


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