So what happened?
After realising they’ve landed on the Thames during the 1814 frost fair, Twelve and Bill don period appropriate costumes and head out to investigate what’s on offer. However, just as they close the door on the TARDIS, the monitors show that a life form has been detected which appears to span almost the entire stretch of that part of the river. As they amuse themselves with all of the sights and sounds around them, including the appearance of lights beneath the ice which make Bill question her sanity, a small boy called Spider steals The Doctor’s sonic screwdriver. Aided by the head of his troop of pickpockets, Kitty, he manages to break away from the duo chasing him, and run onto a cordoned off area. It’s there though that the lights under the ice seem to circle around him, creating a gap for the boy to fall through. Just in the nick of time Twelve manages to grab his screwdriver from the young thief’s hand, before he sinks under entirely. Taken aback by her professor’s lack of remorse at not being able to save the boy, Bill distances herself from him, forcing him to explain to her that not only has he been responsible for more deaths than he’s willing to divulge, but that he’s also old enough to have lost so many people that all he can do is move on. Somewhat placated by his answer, they both decide to track down Kitty and find her and her band of pickpockets living in a dilapidated house. There, after The Doctor reads the children a story, it becomes apparent that they’ve been paid to attract more people to the fair, and that some of those people have gone missing.
Wanting to get to the bottom of things, the duo don antiquated diving suits and head out onto the thin ice where the boy was taken. There Bill is quickly detected by the mysterious lights and is dragged under the ice, swiftly followed by Twelve who jumps into the hole she’s been dropped into. Once they’re under the water, they quickly discover that the lights belong to a strange type of fish that has a symbiotic relationship with a huge creature that’s chained to the sea bed, and was presumably responsible for eating all of the missing people and poor, little Spider. Managing to remain uneaten, they return to the surface once more and discover from Kitty that the person who’s been paying them to lure people to the fair is an extremely wealthy man by the name of Lord Sutcliffe. Heading to his stately home, The Doctor asks Bill to allow him to do the talking because of his level-headed nature, and then proceeds to knock the rich bigot out when he insults his companion on the basis of her race. After the rich man’s servants have apprehended them, Sutcliffe goes on to admit that his family have been using the sea creature to amass their wealth for generations, relying on the ‘waste’ it produces after eating the victims, and making it into a super fuel that easily outperforms coal.
Mindful that his captives now know too much, Sutcliffe has the pair taken back to the fair. There he’s planning to cause a huge explosion to shatter the ice that will allow numerous victims to drop into the water and be eaten by the sea creature, in turn leading to a glut of fuel being made. Having been tied up in the tent where the explosives are being kept, Twelve and Bill utilise the sonic screwdriver and the subsequent attention it attracts from the light-emitting fish to plunge their guard under the ice, and escape. Once free, The Doctor urges his companion to decide whether or not the creature should be allowed to leave its confines on the river bed, and after agonising over the pros and cons, she soon comes to the conclusion that it should, giving her teacher the go-ahead to allow it to happen. As he sets about doing just that, transferring the explosives onto the chains that are preventing the creature from leaving, Bill and Kitty set about getting everybody off the ice. Concerned that his livelihood is being put in jeopardy, Sutcliffe sets off the explosives, unwittingly freeing the underwater beast, and causing a wave of water to drag him into the river as it escapes its confines for the first time in centuries. With the evil Lord no longer in need of his extensive wealth and estate, The Doctor re-writes his will and leaves everything to the pickpocket children, who eagerly demolish a feast fit for a King as he and Bill look on.
Travelling back to the present day, The Doctor fields yet more criticism from Nardole, who once again reiterates his vow not to take the TARDIS ‘off-Earth’. Explaining that he didn’t technically leave the planet, Twelve uses a coin trick he learnt from someone at the fair to get his assistant off his back should he wish to take his newest companion somewhere further afield. Bill then goes on to check the internet for records of the sea creature, but only finds information about Sutcliffe’s death and his heir mysteriously being found. Meanwhile, in the University’s basement, Nardole checks on the vault and hears a banging sound. Clearly perturbed by the noise, he tells whoever/whatever’s inside that he won’t let it out unless The Doctor expressly allows him to, and runs away.
Monster of the Week
Marieke: There is a big fish underneath the ice on the Thames which eats people, mostly children, to produce its own manure which can be used as fuel. Fuel is the important part here. Humans use fuel, which means we are in familiar Who and specifically Twelve territory. The monster is not the monster, but humanity is, represented by Lord Sutcliffe. He invented the fairs to make sure people can be fed to the fish without really noticing because ‘alcohol’! He even wants to destroy a part of London to get more fuel. He does not care about children, let alone orphans, and he is clearly racist. Pure evil in human form yet again.
Danielle: As Marieke has already mentioned, humans are the ‘big bad’ here, specifically those who subjugate both man and creature alike for their own financial gain. Whilst Lord Sutcliffe is the focal point for this particular brand of evil, further underlined by his rampant racism, I think it’s fair to say that the barbaric nature of unfettered capitalism is also under the spotlight.
Marieke: What is beneath the ice? What are those lights? People just disappear! GIANT MAN EATING FISH. Fish can be extremely creepy, let alone a village-sized one that eats people. Even in chains, the fish is so scary the Doctor puts the burden to choose on Bill. Let it free to do whatever it wants, or to kill it so it cannot eat people anymore? The emphasis however was less on the scariness, and rather more on the puzzle part of the dilemma as The Doctor and Bill mulled over exactly why the TARDIS would lead them there.
Danielle: Let’s face it, there have been much creepier episodes of Who. Nevertheless, the air of them staring down that giant sea creature did sense a shiver down my spine. The pupil alone was as big as their heads. No wonder it was munching away at the people who fell below the ice like french fries!
Marieke: Still that vault, which is hiding someone (or might that be plural?) who knocks. Even though it’s not that knock, it does raise eyebrows after a certain spoiler that’s in the public domain. Whatever or whoever it is, or they are, Nardole is incredibly scared by the contents of the vault. I also wonder why the Doctor took an oath, and who he promised all the things to that Nardole keeps reminding him of.
Danielle: I actually found it rather curious that Nardole seemed to know who or what is in the vault, especially when it’s seemed like The Doctor is clueless in previous episodes. Could it be that this has something to do with the darker side to Matt Lucas’ character that we’ve been teased about? It is curious that the TARDIS just decided to drop them off at the 1814 frost fair as well, especially as it’s a place he’s been more than once before, specifically with River. Hmmm.
Perhaps best known for his role as the title character in cult comedy, Nathan Barley, as well as more recent stints in Benidorm and Uncle, Nicholas Burns played this week’s baddie, Lord Sutcliffe.
Twelve and his Companion(s)
Marieke: We overlooked this category last week. It has importance though, especially as we also discussed Twelve in his first series, and how he and ‘current Twelve’ seem like different people/aliens. Bill brings out a side of him that makes me like him. At times he looks like a madman in a box with wild eyes and overly active eyebrows. He teaches, about bio-luminescent lights and life in 1814. He listens to Bill, who challenges him about answering the question if he ever killed someone. He challenges her, by saying he is employed by humans and therefore needs someone to tell him what to decide. He never really needed that before, but he taught Bill a lesson in the difficulties of time travelling and saving mankind. They bounce off each other perfectly. We also see The Doctor read to the orphans and punch a racist. Why couldn’t Twelve have been like this from the beginning?
Nardole finally brought the tea, reminded the Doctor of his oath and inspected the vault here. Whereas in the promos he looked like a third crew member in the TARDIS, his role is still very small. Maybe he -was- put together against his will just to guard the scary vault? I still would like to see more of him, but mostly another more comedic side. I do not need to see him act as The Doctor’s walking reminder all the time.
Danielle: It’s amazing how much of a difference expunging the romantic undertones between The Doctor and his newest companion has made. Slowly but surely, the teacher/pupil dynamic is morphing into something deeper though as they get to know each other. Twelve’s hotheaded response to Bill being racially abused exemplified that, and perhaps suggests that she’s bringing out his paternal side. Whether that’s a coincidence or not remains to be seen. I, too, think that Nardole’s current role in proceedings is rather flimsy. I get that Moffat might want to let him take a backseat as the audience gets to know Pearl Mackie’s character, but we do want to see him being more than a glorified tea boy.
Marieke: A lighter episode with deeper undertones, literally and figuratively. History and whitewash, along with history and racism, were not shunned in this instalment. I applaud the fact social commentary and science-fiction have been put together so seamlessly and overtly here. Sarah Dollard, who wrote ‘Fear the Raven’ before, has created a wonderful script where light and dark tones compliment each other. The atmosphere was, just as in her other episode, wonderful. With a little ‘trickery’ you truly believed they were there in 1814 walking along the frozen Thames at a fun fair with creepy fish and an elephant. The ‘man is more evil than monster’ theme has been played out a lot, but it works for this episode, especially because it serves as a didactic moment for Bill. The emphasis on death, dying and age is present yet again. We’re clearly working to Twelve’s demise, and even though Bill revived something in him, the Sword of Damocles is hanging above this series.
I am wondering if the Doctor’s decision to make Perry Sutcliffe’s heir will have implications for the future. The butterfly effect has been brought up by Bill several times, and the first thing she did after their return was Google the boy. It would be very interesting if it did. My favourite moment was when both Bill and the Doctor confessed their love for the TARDIS. The Doctor seemed to blush a little even. Sometimes we forget she is just as important as the companion riding along. But this series, it is exactly that companion who makes the show.
Danielle: Whilst I can’t say I ‘enjoyed’ this episode as much as I did either ‘The Pilot’ or ‘Smile’, letting myself think about it for a few days has allowed ‘Thin Ice’ to grow on me. Even though the Victorian setting didn’t necessarily appeal to me, (I don’t know why, but the Paternoster gang adventures never blew me away either), I am a fan of the themes that were explored here and wider implications for both the show and the general discourse it opens up. At a time when blatant racism has once again become accepted in the mainstream, I practically gave Twelve a standing ovation when he came out swinging and knocked Sutcliffe out cold. The Doctor does not care about how much melanin someone has in their skin, but if you seek to exploit the vulnerable, well, woe betide you! As it should be with our time-travelling protagonist! At the same time, in spite of the fact we have seen a much lighter side to him since Bill’s arrival, the fact they aren’t shying away from the emotional baggage of his past is commendable. Gone are the days when Ten and Eleven could barely acknowledge the number of casualties they caused on Gallifrey. Twelve not only recognises the blood on his hands, but tries to move on, even if that seems unnecessarily cold to human ears. The difficult conversation with his newest companion about the bodies that are littered around in his 2000 year lifespan further helped to flesh out Capaldi’s incarnation, and reaffirmed his alien nature, even if he looks increasingly like a benevolent Grandpa.
Coupled with the references we’ve seen to both Susan and River in previous episodes, it’s really interesting that the TARDIS took the duo to the very place Eleven took his wife to to celebrate her birthday, and exactly the same point in time and space where the First Doctor took Vicki and Steven in the aftermath of his granddaughter parting company with him. It’s almost as if his trusty time machine is trying to direct it’s owner and, in turn, us towards something. Also, is it just me who saw potential parallels between the sea creature being chained to the sea bed for centuries, and The Doctor being made to stay ‘on earth’ as a condition of his promise? With that in mind, I can’t help but feel like Twelve’s upcoming death will be more of a ‘release’ than anything else.
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