Well, it’s time to review the third episode in the new series of “Doctor Who”. Again, I’m not sure how many of the new episodes I’ll end up reviewing or how long it will take me to review them. But, I’ll try to review as many as I can.
So, that said, let’s take a look at “Thin Ice”. Needless to say, this review will contain some SPOILERS.
As shown in the last few seconds of the previous episode, the TARDIS has decided to take both The Doctor and Bill to London… in 1814.
In that year, the river Thames has frozen over and the ice is thick enough for a frost fair to be held. After a brief discussion, they change into some historical clothes and decide to enjoy the fair. Of course, unknown to them, the TARDIS is flashing a warning message:
After a while, Bill begins to notice mysterious green lights under the ice. The Doctor has noticed them too, but doesn’t want to ruin the occasion. But, after an orphan steals The Doctor’s sonic screwdriver and then gets pulled under the ice by whatever is lurking there, the Doctor and Bill decide to investigate….
One of the first things that I will say about this episode is that it’s a pretty standard “Doctor Who” episode. This isn’t to say that it’s a bad episode, but that it’s the kind of episode that could have appeared in any previous series of the modern incarnation of the show.
Seriously, there isn’t really too much that sets the main story of the episode apart from, say, an episode from Christopher Ecclestone, David Tennant or Matt Smith’s tenure on the show. This episode could have easily been released in 2005 or 2010 and it would still be fairly similar.
Surprisingly, despite the premise, this isn’t really that much of a horror episode. If anything, it’s kind of a cross between a more adventure-based episode and “serious drama”. Yet, the episode mixes serious nuanced drama with cartoonish melodrama in a way that kind of ruins both of these things.
On the one hand, a central theme of the episode is the worth of life. There’s a somewhat chilling discussion between Bill and The Doctor, where the Doctor cannot remember exactly how many lives he has saved and how many lives he has ended.
Bill also has to make a serious moral decision at one later point in the episode, which is a fairly dramatic moment. There is also, of course, also a lot of philosophical discussion about various subjects and, in true “Doctor Who” fashion, the monster under the ice isn’t really the villain of the episode.
Likewise, the episode also talks about the historical context (eg: Bill nervously mentions that slavery still existed in 1814 etc..) and the time period is correctly referred to as “Regency” rather than “Victorian” (the Victorian era lasted from 1837-1901, if you’re curious).
In addition to this, the episode also quite rightly points out that London in the early 19th century was probably more of a multicultural place than is commonly thought.
Yes, the episode probably exaggerates this very slightly to make a point – but, from what I’ve read about the time period, it is basically historically accurate (in addition to colonialism being a factor, this was also because formal immigration laws were first introduced in Britain in 1905 – because of a stupid anti-Semitic mass panic about people from Eastern Europe).
Still, this subtle realism is undercut slightly by a speech about history that the Doctor makes early in the episode which occasionally comes across as a somewhat preachy lecture to the audience rather than just an explanation of the historical context.
Likewise, the portrayal of London as an open-minded metropolis and anywhere even slightly outside London (eg: an aristocrat’s rural manor) as being incredibly narrow-minded and backwards is slightly annoying. I mean, you sometimes have to wonder if the makers of this show have ever ventured outside the M25….
Yet, despite all of the serious nuanced drama and historical realism, there is a lot of silly Victorian-style melodrama here too. There are Dickensian orphans (who are in a vaguely “Oliver Twist“-style gang), there’s a slightly ominous-looking workhouse and the main villain of the episode (Lord Sutcliffe) is pretty much a cartoon character. He’s an evil aristocrat with a fondness for industry, racism, the British Empire and explosives. He even has henchmen too!
Still, all of the drama and melodrama in the episode is counterpointed with a few humourous moments. However, these are somewhat less memorable than in previous episodes.
The special effects in this episode are reasonably good, although there is a little bit of mildly clunky CGI in some scenes with the sea monster near the end of the episode. Still, in terms of special effects, the scene that takes place underneath the Thames is surprisingly good. Not only does it feature a large sea monster but, amusingly, we also get to see Bill and The Doctor clanking around in some rather steampunk diving suits too.
All in all, this is a fairly “standard” episode of “Doctor Who”. Although it could have gone in a much more interesting horror-based direction, it just ended up being the same kind of episode which you could have expected to see in 2007 or 2011 or whenever. It certainly isn’t a bad episode, but it isn’t an outstanding one either.
If I had to give it a rating out of five, it might get three and a half.