Doctor Who Recap: Thin Ice And What Lies Below
“You don’t steer the TARDIS, you reason with it.” That’s the Doctor’s explanation for why he and Bill find themselves making a stopover in Regency London instead of heading directly back to his office for tea. But where there’s bioluminescent fish luring Londoners out onto the Thames in order to be ingested by an even bigger fish, there’s work to be done by the Doctor.
As an episode, ‘Thin Ice’ was more about the Doctor’s relationship to his new companion (and to humanity in general) than it was about monsters and saving the/a world. After Bill witnesses a child be pulled under the ice during a Frost Fair, she’s horrified—by his death, by the fact that the Doctor is unable to do anything about it, and by the Doctor’s apparent lack of regard for the loss of a life. She wonders how many people he’s seen die—and how many he’s killed.
2,000 years of experience, however, has taught the Doctor that if he doesn’t move on (and quickly), more people will die. He doesn’t have time for “the luxury of outrage” (but he does make time to read stories to orphans and feed them stolen meat pies).
In a bit of a nod to Sherlock Holmes, the Doctor and Bill delve into some detective work, donning charmingly retro diving suits, the two descend to the bottom of the Thames to find a giant sea creature in chains and follow a trail of clues that leads them to Lord Sutcliffe, a moderately successful, unimaginative industrialist—but an inept villain—whose cruelty towards the creature, Bill, and his fellow Londoners inspires the Doctor to sock him in the jaw before launching into the kind of speech that, as Bill notes, takes around 2,000 years to compose.
“Human progress isn’t measured by industry,” says the Doctor, “it’s measured by the value you place on a life. An unimportant life, a life without privilege. The boy who died on the river—that boy’s value is your value. That’s what defines an age. That’s what defines a species.”
After managing to address racism, environmentalism, sexism, economic inequality, and the whitewashing of history in a way that somehow doesn’t come across as preachy or treacly, the episode ends with Bill making the decision to free the creature from its river prison and the Doctor doctoring a set of documents that see his new orphan friends inherit Sutcliffe’s massive estate—all in time to make it back for tea without Nardole noticing they’d been gone (except for the 19th century getups they’ve forgotten to change out of).
5 Questions About This Week’s Episode
1. That… thing in the vault—has Nardole revealed too much in its presence? Like, about the Doctor travelling again with a new companion?
2. Is he going to get to travel this season or will he be relegated to staying behind and boiling water? Also: what does tea with a bit of coffee in it taste like?
3. Nardole seems to think that the Doctor is in communication with the thing locked up in the vault… is he? And why?
4. In reference to the chained fish monster, the Doctor asks the question “Can you build a future on the suffering of others?” Bill decides that the answer is no. So what does that say about the Doctor’s future and whatever is suffering inside the vault?
5. In other words, is whatever is in the vault the catalyst that will end the Twelfth Doctor’s tenure and cause a regeneration?