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‘Doctor Who’ Review: Racism and Privilege Are No Match for the Doctor in Chilling Episode

Bill met a horrible monster, but it wasn’t the one lurking underwater.

"Doctor Who"

“Doctor Who”

Jon Hall/Stuart Crouch/BBC America

[Editor’s Note: The following review of “Doctor Who” Season 10, Episode 3, “Thin Ice,” contains spoilers.]

The Rundown

While the Doctor and Bill had some excitement in Regency England with some monsters during a Frost Fair (a celebration the day before a thaw is expected), that was just the framework for the richer character content that the episode delivered. Despite traveling through time and space with the Doctor, Bill only now really saw into the heart, er, hearts, of the alien Time Lord who looks human.

READ MORE: ‘Doctor Who’: The Next Doctor Rumored to Be ‘Chewing Gum’s’ Black Female Star

"Doctor Who"

“Doctor Who”

BBC

Here Be Monsters

Again, “Doctor Who” created a one-off, disposable monster that we highly doubt will resurface on the show. Tiny, aka the Loch-less Monster, aka the Creature lurking in the frozen Thames, in the end wasn’t really all that scary. The symbiotic relationship she had with fish that were very similar to anglerfish — those with the scary mouths and bioluminescent lures dangling from their heads — and the fact that she ate humans and then converted them into some sort of super-fuel poop was just far more complicated than it had to be.

But really, we all know that the real monster was Lord Sutcliffe, right? It was his family that had imprisoned and exploited Tiny for generations, not to mention sacrificing people he thought were below his status in order to create this fuel. And then he had to go and insult Bill, calling her a “creature” who didn’t respect her “betters”? Oh, we would’ve decked him too.

"Doctor Who"

“Doctor Who”

BBC

The Companion Who Smiled

“Wait, it’s 1814. Melanin. Slavery is still totally a thing,” Bill reminded the Doctor in regards to how safe she’d be wandering around during that period. It’s good that this iteration of the Doctor didn’t brush off Bill’s concerns about racial inequality as much as Ten did with Martha. In fact, Twelve seemed to be very aware of the ridiculousness of racism and privilege and rightfully got outraged when Sutcliffe (Nicholas Burns) insulted Bill.

As disappointing as that was for Bill to experience though, the sad truth is that it wasn’t really new. What really threw her for a loop was learning how The Doctor can so easily compartmentalize suffering and loss of life, and in fact has killed before. The companion known for her smiling lost some of her innocence when she realized her hero could act in a way that she perceived to be cold and calculated. Fortunately, by the end of the episode, her faith in him was restored and perhaps made even stronger. We’re really digging the Doctor-Companion bond this season, which makes it all the more bittersweet that this will be the last for Peter Capaldi as Twelve.

"Doctor Who"

“Doctor Who”

BBC

The Spin Doctor

While the Doctor had some great moments in this episode, especially when he was schooling Sutcliffe on the value one places on life in defining a species, let’s not forget that this entire adventure was taking us away from whatever he was doing in Bristol. The final scenes implied that some sort of being was being imprisoned there; Nardole’s defiance in the face of those series of three knocks seemed to indicate that whoever is inside is being punished or deserves to be there.

"Doctor Who"

“Doctor Who”

BBC

Straight From the Two Hearts

Sarah Dollard, who had written the heartbreaking episode “Face the Raven” last season, brought her mastery of emotions for this week’s episode. While the lines weren’t quite as quippy as the earlier episodes, her dialogue was compelling and revealing, and her character work was top notch. Take, for example, this excellent speech by 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. That boy who died on the river, that’s your value…That’s what defines a species.”

It’s so freaking good, it’s so stirring that both Sutcliffe and Bill at separate times marvel at its power. “Thin Ice,” about the creature below the surface of the Thames, was also an episode that revealed what was below the surface of these characters, for good or ill. Both Bill and the Doctor gave good face this episode, breaking our hearts with the poignancy of their emotions.

Timey-Wimey-Ness

This was a mere stroll to the 19th century, but they still managed to change the course of history by killing off Sutcliffe and putting a homeless street urchin in his place as heir. Other than that, nothing big happened unless you believe the Doctor about Pete, who had stepped on a butterfly…

"Doctor Who"

“Doctor Who”

BBC

Who-niversity Degree

While there were no Who-niverse references that were apparent, there was one from real life. When the Doctor was reading to the street urchins, he was reading “The Story of Little Suck-a-Thumb,” from “Struwwelpeter,” a 19th century book of cautionary tales by Heinrich Hoffman. It’s frightening and sick, which is probably why it was also a favorite of the Dwight Schrute character on “The Office.” Heinrich’s book, however, was published in 1845, far later than the 1814 setting for this Frost Fair. So unless the Doctor is reading a pre-existing version of the story, which is feasible when it comes to folk tales told through generations, then this would be an anachronism.

Also, we’re probably reading far more into this than necessary, but the homeless orphan boy Perry, whom the Doctor had placed as Sutcliffe’s long-lost heir, had his name written in documents as “Peregrine,” which means a pilgrim or traveler, apropos for this series.

"Doctor Who"

“Doctor Who”

BBC

Quotes

Bill: “Interesting. Regency England, a bit more black than they show in the movies.”
The Doctor: “So was Jesus. History is a whitewash.”

“Of course it’s not really wrestling unless it’s in zero gravity… with tentacles… and magic spells.”

Bill: “How is that a screwdriver?”
The Doctor: “In a very broad sense.”
Bill: “All right, well how is it sonic?”
The Doctor: “It makes a noise.”

“I’m 2,000 years old and I’ve never had the time for the luxury of outrage.”

“If your future is built on the suffering of that creature, what’s your future worth?”

GRADE: B

Watch a sneak peek of next week’s episode below:

“Doctor Who” airs Saturdays at 9 p.m. on BBC America.

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