This review is spoiler-free. There is a spoiler for last series’ Face The Raven, though.
10.3 Thin Ice
The very soft reboot we got of Doctor Who with The Pilot, an episode that afforded a jumping on point for people new to the show, has now extended across three episodes I’d argue. For if The Pilot introduced Bill, and Smile got her used to a future world, what Thin Ice does is bring Peter Capaldi forward a good deal more, and sees how his Doctor develops alongside Pearl Mackie’s companion.
Thin Ice, from Sarah Dollard, last responsible in Who for Face The Raven (sort-of-killing Clara in your first Who script isn’t a quiet way to start!), picks up immediately from the dropping off point of last week’s. Thus, there’s a frozen River Thames, a frost fair, a big elephant, and disappearances. Arriving where he didn’t expect, this, in turn, gives the Doctor an opportunity to explain a little more of the erratic nature of the TARDIS (which has gone from landing pretty precisely over the past two weeks, to misbehaving itself). It also works a treat with Bill again, and the idea of having a companion who’s seen more than her fair share of sci-fi.
Happily, the episode then gives the Doctor and Bill space to solve the mystery that’s presented. Lots of people have noted that this run of Doctor Who feels a little more ‘classic’, and I do think this is a notable part of it. That, accepting the parameters of a 45 minute time slot, for the most part the stories have felt slower (even though, when you stop and think about them, they still pack an awful lot in). That there’s more conversation, and more detective work. Following clues, resolving things: it’s really good fun to watch.
Thin Ice continues that. It’s not quite as quiet in its opening moments as its two immediate forerunners, and rightly so, given part of the set-up was given to us last week. Yet the episode still quickly posits a mystery to get to the bottom of, and affords the Doctor time to solve it.
Dollard and director Bill Anderson actually give the story the feel of a Dickensian Christmas tale early on too, before we discover that there are strange lights coming from beneath the ice. In the spirit of spoiler-free reviews, that’s where I stop talking plot.
Instead, let’s talk Peter Capaldi.
It’s been said that a feature of Capaldi’s era on Doctor Who – sometimes on this very site – is his generosity, in that often his Doctor is taking a back seat in the exploration and resolution of stories. Sarah Dollard runs counter to that, and Capaldi – replete with fresh hair cut – is present right the way through here, and if anything, this is about Bill discovering more about him, than us learning about Bill. For the second week running, it’s Nardole-light, which is a disappointment, but there are lots of merits to compensate.
For this is another goodie. A good story, told well, with space for Peter Capaldi to have a good, proper Peter Capaldi monologue. On top of that, there’s also a bit in here that’s punch the air good, instantly heading to the higher reaches of my top 10 Peter Capaldi Doctor Who moments, were I ever to write one. Plus, I wonder if the episode might irritate the Daily Mail a bit, which is always a bonus.
There’s a quiet confidence simmering with this year’s run of Doctor Who, and Thin Ice is the latest example of that. It’s got real steel and heart to it, too. And I think you’re going to like it as well.