Saturday, 29 April 2017

Doctor Who: Thin Ice

"Bit more black than they show in the movies!"

"So was Jesus. History is a whitewash."

In a sense this episode hearkens back to RTD; we have an episode in the present day, an episode set in the future and then, as here, an episode set in the past, namely the very last Thames frost fair of the Little Ice Age in 1814. The actual plot, with the splendidly dastardly cartoon baddie Lord Sutcliffe using sea monster poo as a source of energy and cynically allowing countless people to die for profit- oh, and he's racist too- is actually very much secondary to what's really important; this is Bill's first trip into the past so there's a lot of focus on her wonderful reactions and, again, lots of fun with the fact that we have a sci-fi literate companion, hence the stuff about stepping on butterflies. It's great fun to watch.

And yet, in a sense, this episode (and season so far) has harked back just as much to the early Hartnells, not just in the sense of the nice mini-cliffhanger between episodes as in how the episodes are structured, with the leisurely exploration of the fun little environment in which Bill and the Doctor find themselves this week, allowing the mystery to build and finally letting the threat present itself. It's a simple idea that's worked since 1963; adventure. That's all it is. It works. And so we get well-written episodes (Sarah Dollard impresses again) which follow a simple structure to spin an entertaining tale. Timeless stuff in a very modern style, and, my God, the dialogue sings. Again.

(Oh, and the TARDIS scanner signalling danger after Bill and the Doctor have already sallied forth is also very Hartnell, specifically very The Fire Maker, or An Unearthly 100,000 BC of Gum, whichever brew you happen to prefer.)

Nice touches; I'm glad the possibility is left open that the massive beast and its fish buddies may not be alien life but simply unknown species native to Earth. That would make it Doctor Who's first real sea monster. Either way, it certainly looks a lot more convincing than either the Skarasen or the Borad. Nardole (naughty Nardole actually disparages tea, the blasphemer!!!) drops heavy hints about the Doctor's "vow" to remain on Earth and guard the Vault. But what's that knocking...?

Oh, and the Doctor's speech? Wow. A quietly impressive episode from a quietly impressive season that succeeds by not trying to be big and epic or, indeed, structurally clever, but just doing the basics well. Showrunner, who are you and what have you done with Steven Moffat?

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