This article contains spoilers. Lots of them.
The Doctor and Bill have saved the day again and something’s knocking in the vault – but it’s only knocking three times, so it doesn’t constitute a reference. Instead, here’s our weekly list of references, callbacks, tenuous spots and generally interesting waffle from this week’s episode. You’ll have to forgive me if I’ve missed anything – I’m at my sister’s wedding as this episode goes out, and they’ve refused to turn the music off for an hour so we can watch it. So as usual, please leave your own spots, contributions and admonishments in the comments below… Hic.
As is often the case with the Doctor’s trip to the past, the last great frost fair – complete with elephant – was a real historical event, held from 1st-4th February, 1814. The River Thames frequently froze over between the 17th and 19th centuries, due to a combination of the period known as the Little Ice Age and the Old London Bridge, which slowed the flow of the Thames and allowed it to freeze more easily. The first recorded frost fair took place in 1608, and they were a dangerous, even deadly day out – rapid thaws would often bring the fairs to a quick and untimely end.
The Doctor isn’t lying when he tells Bill he’s been here before – in 2011’s A Good Man Goes To War River Song explains that the Doctor took her to 1814 for the last of the frost fairs to celebrate her birthday – where they were serenaded by an oblivious Stevie Wonder.
Thin Ice was the title of a story originally proposed for Season 27, the 1990 season of Doctor Who, but the serial never made it into production due to the series being put on indefinite hiatus. The story was intended to mark the departure of Sophie Aldred’s Ace, and would have featured Sylvester McCoy’s Doctor going up against the Ice Warriors, who had last been seen in 1974’s The Monster Of Peladon. The idea was developed into an audio drama for Big Finish’s Lost Stories range in 2011, while the Ice Warriors themselves would have to wait until 2013 for their return in Mark Gatiss’ eleventh Doctor tale Cold War.
As the name suggests, the Ice Warriors were also first encountered underneath the ice, in 1967’s The Ice Warriors (as well as in Cold War). In 2009’s The Waters Of Mars, the tenth Doctor encounters another species under the ice – the virulent Flood, who the Doctor speculates might well have been frozen there by the Ice Warriors themselves.
This also isn’t the first creature to be found within the Thames; that honour goes to a Dalek encountered by the first Doctor and friends in 1964’s The Dalek Invasion Of Earth, which rose out of the river in one of the series’ most effective early cliffhangers. Other notable mentions include the Skarasen – aka the Loch Ness Monster – who made the trip down from Scotland in 1975’s Terror Of The Zygons, and the Empress of the Racnoss, who based herself beneath the Thames flood barrier in 2006’s The Runaway Bride.
The Doctor is emphatic that he and Bill have not landed on a parallel world, and if anyone should know it’s him; he was trapped on a parallel Earth in its dying hours in 1970’s Inferno, while the tenth Doctor and Rose made multiple visits to the Earth affectionately known as ‘Pete’s World’ (After Rose’s dead father, whose double was found to be alive and successful) in 2006 – with Rose eventually getting stranded there with her mother and ex-boyfriend Mickey. Another tenth Doctor companion, Donna Noble, was tricked into creating a disastrous parallel universe in 2008’s Turn Left. Finally, a notable trip in the Doctor Who comics saw the eleventh Doctor, Rory and Amy cross dimensions to team up with no less than the crew of the Enterprise-D in 2012’s Assimilation2.
Bill isn’t the first of the Doctor’s companions to worry about encountering racism while travelling to the past – in 2007, Martha Jones expressed concern that she might be carted off as a slave whilst visiting Elizabethan England in The Shakespeare Code. And when she went undercover at a boys’ school in the early 20th century during Human Nature/The Family Of Blood she experienced a number of racist remarks. It’s also in The Shakespeare Code that Martha asks the Doctor about the butterfly effect – at which the Doctor tells her not to step on any and asks ‘What have butterflies ever done to you?’.
The Doctor sends Bill into the TARDIS wardrobe, which has been providing suitable (and unsuitable) clothing for the Doctor and his companions since at least 1975’s The Pyramids Of Mars, in which Sarah Jane Smith picked out a dress which previously belonged to second Doctor companion Victoria Waterfield. We most commonly see the TARDIS wardrobe following a regeneration – the fourth, sixth, seventh and tenth Doctors all kitted themselves out using the TARDIS’s extensive collection, as did the second incarnation of Time Lady companion Romana in 1979’s Destiny Of The Daleks.
The TARDIS lands on New Lime Wharf. Fully aware that we’re delving into some pretty tenuous territory here (some might say even more tenuous than usual), this could be a reference to Lime Grove Studios, where much of 60s Doctor Who was filmed. Or not. We’ll let you decide…
It’s not unheard of for one of the Doctor’s companions to be erased from history without the other’s knowledge – in 2010’s Cold Blood, Amy Pond’s fiance Rory was sucked into a crack in the universe (a long story for another time) and effectively erased from history; only the Doctor remembered his existence. Fortunately he came back a few episodes later as an Auton duplicate who was also a Roman centurion, and the marriage was back on track (Again, long story).
While we’ve never seen the Doctor meeting Jesus (though ninth Doctor Christopher Eccleston did play the second coming of Christ in Russell T Davies’ 2003 drama The Second Coming), the tenth Doctor alluded to being present both at his birth – in 2007’s Voyage Of The Damned – and at the time of his crucifixtion and revival, mentioned in 2009’s Easter special Planet Of The Dead.
References under the ice
The Doctor refers to himself as ‘a bit of a thief’, which is probably an understatement; as well as stealing the TARDIS (see last week’s article) he’s never been shy to do a bit of half-inching in the name of saving the day. Notable instances include the first Doctor stealing the dimensional control from the Monk’s TARDIS in 1965’s The Time Meddler, the eleventh Doctor stealing the Byzantium’s black box from a museum in order to save River’s life in The Time Of Angels, and of course the time-bending titular scheme from 2014’s Time Heist.
Though the Doctor is winding Bill up about ‘time sickness’, time travel isn’t without its risks to the human body – as depraved criminal Magnus Greel from The Talons Of Weng-Chiang found out to his cost. The time cabinet which he used to escape from the 51st century to Victorian London was described by the fourth Doctor as ‘a dangerous experiment in time travel’, one which split Greel’s DNA helixes open, rendering him deformed and unstable. During the twelfth Doctor’s era, it seems the time travel process isn’t as smooth – both Courtney Woods in 2014’s The Caretaker and Mason Bennett in 2015’s Before The Flood found themselves reaching for the sick bucket after their first trip in the TARDIS.
This isn’t the first time the sonic screwdriver has been referred to as a ‘magic wand’; Elton Pope in 2006’s Love And Monsters told how the Doctor used his ‘magic wand’ to bring his girlfriend Ursula back to life as a sentient paving slab, the less said about which the better. It’s also a common criticism among fans, that the sonic screwdriver has become less of an occasional tool for unscrewing or unlocking and more of an all-powerful plot device – a criticism which was shared by then-executive producer John Nathan-Turner when he ordered that the original sonic be destroyed in 1982’s The Visitation. However, in 2014’s In The Forest Of The Night Clara was adamant that ‘Not everything can be fixed with a sonic screwdriver. It’s not a magic wand.’ So there.
The Doctor has always preferred non-violent solutions, but a great many of his foes do end up dying – some of the more brutal examples include Solon in The Brain Of Morbius, Shockeye in The Two Doctors and Solomon in Dinosaurs On A Spaceship – the latter of which was used to make a point that the Doctor needs regular companionship to reinforce his moral code. Many Daleks have of course met their end thanks to the Doctor – but in 1975’s Genesis Of The Daleks he famously stopped short of committing genocide, reasoning that some good would come of their evil.
Until 2013’s The Day Of The Doctor it was believed that the Doctor wiped out both the Daleks and the Time Lords to end the Time War – it was revealed that the first 13 incarnations of the Doctor banded together to save Gallifrey and have the Daleks shoot themselves in the crossfire, but not before the tenth Doctor condemned the eleventh for forgetting the exact number of children who died during the fall of Gallifrey. Like the twelfth Doctor in this episode, the eleventh claimed to have ‘moved on’.
The wider question of death and the Doctor has been addressed by the modern series on a few occasions – in the first Christopher Eccleston episode Rose, Clive describes death as the Doctor’s ‘one constant companion’. And in 2008’s Journey’s End, Davros taunts the Doctor by asking him how many people have died in his name – prompting a montage of all the unfortunate souls from the first four series who died helping him.
The way the Doctor befriends and utilises the gang of street urchins in this episode is reminiscent of the relationship between fictional detective Sherlock Holmes and the Baker Street Irregulars, a gang of children who he paid to help gather information for his cases. Three of the urchins bear the same names as previous companions of the Doctor: Perry (Peri ‘Perpugilliam’ Brown, who travelled with the fifth and sixth Doctors), Harry (fourth Doctor companion Harry Sullivan) and Dot (Short for either Dorothy – aka seventh Doctor companion Ace – or Dorothea, better known as first Doctor companion Dodo).
The story about the tailor who comes to little boys who suck their thumbs and cuts the thumbs off with giant scissors is taken from 1845 German book Der Struwwelpeter by Heinrich Hoffmann, a collection of short children’s stories designed to curb misbehaviour. Presumably the Doctor keeps a copy in the TARDIS to help keep the many children he encounters in line…
We’re going to need a bigger snowglobe
There are a few similarities between this story and 2010’s The Beast Below. Both stories feature giant alien whales which are being restrained and mistreated for the benefit of humanity (In The Beast Below, the whale was powering the colony ship Starship UK). In both instances, the Doctor and his companion are almost eaten by said whale, and the story ultimately comes down to a decision whether or not to set the whale free, knowing full well that it may lead to the deaths of many. The key difference is that, whereas in The Beast Below it is Amy who rebels against the Doctor and sets the whale free, in Thin Ice the Doctor has Bill make the choice on behalf of humanity – showing he’s learned nothing from 2014’s Kill The Moon, in which he alienated Clara by forcing her to make a similar decision about the giant dragon hatching from the moon.
The Doctor is once again referred to as ‘Doctor Disco’ – this was the name he used when leaving a message on Clara’s answerphone in 2015’s The Zygon Invasion.
An alien creature with a growth dangling from the front of its head whose excrement is a powerful source of fuel? One would be forgiven for thinking that the monster in this episode was a relative of Nibbler, Leela’s adorable and super-intelligent pet from the Matt Groening series Futurama. Nibbler’s droppings are made of dark matter, which the Planet Express team use to power their delivery ship.
Bill asks the Doctor whether he’s really 2,000 years old – and it’s about as complicated a question as you might think. His first stated age came in 1967’s The Tomb Of The Cybermen, when the second Doctor told Victoria he was around 450 years old in Earth years. This became around 750 throughout the fourth Doctor’s era, while the sixth Doctor claimed to be around 900 years old and was said to be 953 when he regenerated into the seventh. However, his age appeared to reset to 900 during the ninth Doctor’s era, rising incrementally with each series – in 2007’s Voyage Of The Damned the tenth Doctor explicitly said he was 903. The eleventh Doctor was claiming to be 1,200 by the time of 2012’s A Town Called Mercy, and his final hour spanned around 900 years, giving the Doctor his second millennium.
However, there’s also the small matter of the 4.5 billion years the Doctor’s mind aged while trapped inside the confession dial in Heaven Sent, and of course this is all assuming that the Time War lasted for a negative amount of time – which is clearly not the case, given 2013’s Night Of The Doctor showed Paul McGann regenerating into a young John Hurt rather than the elderly model seen in The Day Of The Doctor. So perhaps it’s best to heed the eleventh Doctor’s line from that special when asked his age: ‘I don’t know. I lose track. Twelve hundred and something, I think, unless I’m lying. I can’t remember if I’m lying about my age, that’s how old I am.’
It should come as little surprise to learn that Bill can’t find any mention of the giant fish in the Thames – Doctor Who’s version of humanity has always been quick to forget or ignore the numerous alien invasions that happen each year. Some of these are for legitimate reasons – the eleventh Doctor speculated that the cracks in time and space were responsible for people forgetting the events of The Next Doctor, in which a giant Cyberking strode through Victorian London – but often not; in In The Forest Of The Night, the twelfth Doctor observes that ‘The human superpower (is) forgetting. If you remembered how things felt, you’d have stopped having wars and stopped having babies.’ Similarly in 1988’s Remembrance Of The Daleks, the seventh Doctor quizzes Ace: ‘Do you remember the Zygon gambit with the Loch Ness Monster? Or the Yetis in the Underground? Your species has the most amazing capacity for self-deception – matched by only its ingenuity when trying to destroy itself.’
Nardole refers to his being reassembled by the twelfth Doctor; in his initial appearance in 2015’s The Husbands Of River Song, Nardole was decapitated by King Hydroflax and his head kept alive to provide Hydroflax’s robot body with information. At some point before last year’s The Return Of Doctor Mysterio, the Doctor rebuilt Nardole – Nardole claims that the Doctor did this out of loneliness.
The popular search engine Search-Wise makes a welcome return to Doctor Who after a twelve-year absence; it was previously used by Rose Tyler to look for her ‘doctor blue box’ in 2005’s opener Rose. A prop website created by Compuhire, a company specialising in graphics for TV and film production, Search-Wise exists so that productions don’t have to pay massive sums of money to the likes of Google, Bing etc. Search-Wise is reported to have appeared in other shows including EastEnders and Footballers’ Wives. We already know from 1993 charity special Dimensions In Time that the Doctor inhabits the same universe as the Albert Square crew, so could the likes of Tanya Turner also be a part of the Whoniverse? And in turn, Bad Girls and upcoming EastEnders spinoff Redwater? This could be bigger than Tommy Westphall, people…
Pete is the co-presenter of The Mostly Made-Up Doctor Who Episode Guide, a comedy podcast chronicling the Doctor’s adventures that is almost as well-researched as this article. You can find it on iTunes or at http://www.mostlymadeupdw.co.uk.