The Doctor and Bill are walking on thin ice – literally – in this week’s episode of DOCTOR WHO, “Thin Ice.” The episode was incredibly witty and did an amazing job of showcasing the Twelfth Doctor’s evolved personality. Honestly, this is a totally different doctor from the one Clara knew, and he’s awesome. Capaldi’s doctor has taken on an extremely dry sense of humor that really meshes well with Bill’s almost-childlike sense of wonder and willingness to take everyone at their word – including films about time travel and their assumed authority in depicting how the past affects the future. (Because obviously *cough cough* Doctor Who is the expert on time traveling here.)
I really just cannot get over how much I love Bill as a companion. Among the many reasons I gave in last week’s review, she’s very clearly become a sort of outlet through which the show’s writers are able to covertly break the fourth wall, so-to-speak. Bill’s not actually talking to the camera, but the questions she asks the Doctor about the “rules” of time travel, and the comments she makes about her surroundings are both timely and effective in getting a message across to the show’s viewers that this isn’t exactly the same Doctor Who you’re used to: it’s better. Bill is asking questions other companions have never thought to ask, and she’s not blindly following the Doctor around because she assumes he’s an authority figure who knows what he’s doing – she questions his every move and absorbs his every answer, just as a student would do to a teacher or mentor. And the Doctor loves it – he’s being more honest with Bill than he ever has with any other companion, as though he’s almost grooming her to take his place, or, as we saw at the end of this episode, lead the way altogether.
Speaking of that ending, this episode was striking for a couple of reasons. First, it was very clearly a direct commentary on the current changing political times, and second, the action surrounding the episode’s mystery creature took a backseat to this commentary and Bill’s personal development as a companion. Not that these reasons hurt the quality of the episode; quite the contrary, this was perhaps the best Capaldi episode I’ve seen thus far in his time as the Doctor.
Like many third episodes with new companions, this one takes place opposite to the time of the second episode (future to past or vice versa), and grounds the companion in an aspect of the Doctor’s reality that, up to this point, she or he had been too wonderstruck to notice or consider. In Bill’s case, this episode takes place in the past – winter of 1841 in London to be exact – and involves a hard lesson for Bill to learn: you can’t save everyone, and you must move on. This, a lot of times, is the hardest lesson of all for companions to learn; the Doctor, no matter how highly they think of him, isn’t perfect, isn’t a magician or a god, and can’t save everyone. Of course, the Doctor is Bill’s greatest hero at this point, and in her eyes, there isn’t anything he can’t do – so when a little boy gets eaten by a giant river monster right in front of the two of them, Bill is of course stricken with grief and anger.
Here’s where the really poignant social commentary comes into play (well, part of it, at least): the Doctor doesn’t give Bill permission to stay mad. He understands her anger and her passion, but he tells her, with the wisdom of two thousand years of life, that he’s never had the luxury of having the time for grief; meaning, to feel anger and passion for injustice is within the human nature of anyone with half a decent heart, but to change, to make sure that that injustice is never done again, you must move on, because anger and grief don’t fight fires, they only fuel them. It’s a complex ideology, but then again, what in Doctor Who isn’t complex? This sentiment gets revisited later at the manor of the wealthy man guilty of trapping the river monster and leading people to their deaths to feed it. Except, this time the Doctor doesn’t follow his own advice about diplomacy and punches the man when he goes off on Bill for being a woman.
Which reminds me, this episode was very transparent about the depiction of women and people of color in period film and TV, and not only did it make a couple great passing quips, but it also really added value to the show’s depiction of London in 1841. Right away when Bill and the Doctor figure out what time period they’ve landed at, Bill is worried because slavery in England still exists at that point, and she’s black. Lucky for her, history isn’t nearly as white as Hollywood would like you to think, and she makes this comment as well, to which the Doctor responds with a clever witticism. Then, using the scene with the misogynistic villain I mentioned before, the show also drives home a point about the inequality women in this time period face.
So, as you can gather, there was a lot to absorb in this episode, but it was by far the best Capaldi episode yet. And of course, the Doctor let Bill take the reigns at the end of the episode, and she agreed that setting the giant river monster free was the best and most humane option. Greenland, anyone? Oh, and back in the present, there’s something knocking behind the doors the Doctor is supposed to be watching. What’s behind them? I’m not sure, and I’m also not sure I want to find out, but I am sure that I will, and I can’t wait! What? I can be contradictory. That’s like rule number one in Doctor Who.
Season 10, Episode 3 (S10E03)
Doctor Who airs Saturdays at 9PM on BBC America
Tasha is a freelance writer currently based in Los Angeles. Originally from Kansas, when she’s not writing about or watching TV, Tasha is searching for the best BBQ place in LA to fill the KC BBQ hole in her stomach.
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Tasha Cerny | Contributor