‘Thin Ice’ takes place exactly from where the previous Doctor Who previous episode ‘Smile‘ leaves off. But, instead of the far future where humanity are touching the stars. We are greeted to the past of Regency England. Tasked with writing Bill’s first trip to the past is Sarah Dollard, who previously wrote ‘Face the Raven’. A fan favourite from Series 9, can she replicate her success here? Let’s find out.
The historical setting immediately evokes atmosphere and authenticity. As soon as The Doctor and Bill set afoot Regency London we witnese a world soaked in old English sensibilities. The wardrobe department did a superb job with costume design to bring alive the well-realised setting further. It entices the viewer with warmth, ironically, as we look upon the Frost Fair on the River Thames. Jam-packed with stalls, games and festivities it feels both believable and exciting to watch.
Seeing our TARDIS team explore and muck about in the first minutes of the story is actually one of my favourite parts and allows our heroes to let their hair down. I also appreciated how they tackled the idea of history not being as “white” orientated as first-thought. Heavy themes of race, identity and “whitewashing” were briefly mentioned in a mature way. It’s also worth noting, for those that are sceptical, that elephants were indeed used during the frost fair!
‘Thin Ice’ continues the consistent trend of developing new companion Bill in layered ways. Perhaps, on the surface, this doesn’t seem like a huge compliment but given how previous companion Clara was treated – it’s a marked step-up in quality (readers of my work have no doubt realised I’m not the biggest fan of her character). This story builds upon Bill as a time-traveller, her thoughts on the famous ‘Butterfly Effect’ are brought up and are dealt with by the dry wit we cherish from the Twelfth Doctor. Not only does ‘Thin Ice’ succeed in it’s endeavour of establishing Bill as a developing time-traveller it also brings forth the intrinsically down-to-earth nature of her character.
Sparking our first major conflict between her and The Doctor, Sarah Dollard takes the gutsy approach of killing off a young street urchin. The Doctor’s ability to move-on from the death without much of a second thought cultivates a tear-filled outrage within Bill which manifests in some cracking dialogue between the pair. These darker undertones that interweave the story add a richness that would have otherwise been missing.
The plot is surprisingly a non-alien approach, the central thrust of the conflict is about an ultra-privileged aristocrat (Lord Sutcliff) keeping an unknown creature trapped under the Thames. The episode makes you sympathise with the creature far more than you’d expect considering you only see fleeting glimpses of it. During this mystery The Doctor and Bill are aided by a group of street urchins. They do their job, they’re not bad child actors but can make the plot feel a little pantomime-esque. Lord Sutcliff is a tad exaggerated and panto also, but it was great to see the story not shy away from exposing racist behaviour. I felt this constructed a sense of realism in the world-building of this story.
Again, like previous episode ‘Smile’ we have a rushed conclusion via use of the sonic screwdriver. It was better done this time around, but on the other hand, it felt weak. Leading on from the conclusion, we again re-visit St. Lukes University where The Doctor is based guarding The Vault. When watching, it struck me how much I love the idea of a base and the story-arc so far. The university feels cosy to return to and the arc has a simplicity that’s ominous and points to darker tones to come in the series.
Overall, ‘Thin Ice’ provides a jaunty well-realised trip to the past that’s dripping with excellent set and costume design. The Doctor and Bill’s relationship is fleshed out further going down mature avenues. The plot is a little hit and miss and is further let down by an average supporting cast but it still remains a throughly watchable adventure.