We’ve fallen behind with Doctor Who, so we’re going to attempt three reviews in three days, getting us up-to-date by Sunday. We’ll start with the third episode of the current season, which sees the Doctor and Bill at the 1814 Frost Fair—the last time the Thames froze solid enough to have one.
There really was an elephant.
The Doctor and his companion find something else, something history doesn’t record.
Title: “Thin Ice”
Cast and Crew
Director: Bill Anderson
Writer: Sarah Dollard
Peter Capaldi as The Doctor
Pearl Mackie as Bill Potts
Matt Lucas as Nardole
Nicholas Burns as Lord Sutcliffe
Asiatu Koroma as Kitty
Peter Singh as Pie-man
Simon Ludders as Overseer
Tomi May as Dowell
Austin Taylor as Spider
Ellie Shenker as Dot
Kishaina Thiruselvan as Harriet
Badger Skelton as Perry
The Doctor and Bill head to the 1814 Frost Fair (previously visited, according to a previous incarnation, with River Song. Then again, I doubt there are many years left in the 1800s that the Doctor hasn’t visited. I’m surprised he doesn’t have his own private club in London). While there, they discover something monstrous lurking beneath the surface of the river– and something more monstrous beneath the fine clothing of a local gentleman.
This episode delivers a fun adventure with a monster, mixed with weightier ethical considerations. We even get a band of kids. They’re not as memorable as Nancy and her group from “The Empty Child,” but they’re a nice reminder that Doctor Who began as a children’s show, and works best when it retains elements of those origins, no matter how serious individual episodes might get. In short, “Thin Ice” delivers on the promise of the season premiere, that suggested we’d get a Doctor Who in keeping with overall fan expectations.
They can do colour-blind casting for nineteenth-century Europe (they’ve done it before), or they can use the realities of the past to address racism (they’ve not done it frequently enough). It didn’t work for me to have both in the same episode.
Originality: 2/6 Someone harnesses a big monster for nefarious purposes; the Doctor intervenes while raising still-relevant moral and ethical issues.
Effects: 5/6 The CGI is pretty good, at least while the characters stay above the Thames.
Acting: 5/6 Capaldi and Mackie have great chemistry. The rest of the cast do well in fairly stereotypical roles. Burns as Lord Sutcliffe is a step away from the villain of a period melodrama.
Emotional Response: 5/6 I’m enjoying this season, and this episode felt like classic Who (with a contemporary budget and sensibility, of course).
In total, “Thin Ice” receives 31/42
The Doctor’s punch made the episode for me.
“colorblind” casting doesn’t in any way mean inaccurate casting. My current understanding is that there was more diversity in 18th century London than one might think – and even so, that doesn’t preclude racism from being normal or expected.
A little more (especially later in the nineteenth century– we’re four decades away from midcentury in this ep), and Bill would have been noticed, but not entirely unexpected (likewise Kitty– the African-descended population of London were somewhat overrepresented among the urban poor, relative to their small numbers– the racism / classicism noted by this episode again). But I don’t believe the Fair would have looked like 2017 London, which is what that crowd brings to mind. And again, in another kind of episode, I wouldn’t have found it noteworthy.