I love it when Doctor Who gets political, and ‘Thin Ice’ gave us some zingers this week. First up, as promised, the issue of race came to the fore, courtesy of Bill’s concerns about how her “melanin” might be perceived at a time where “slavery is still a thing.” Then some diverse casting gave us another great line: “Regency England- bit more black than they show in the movies.” The Doctor’s response: “So was Jesus. History’s a whitewash.” It was a small moment, but an important one nonetheless. And especially meta given criticism levelled at the show for its consistently white male casting of the lead. Credit where it’s due- Doctor Who has long been a diverse show, with some really interesting messages about race, gender and sexuality, and I saw this moment as a nod to both how well they have done in the past, and how far they could still go.
Later on, proof of Lord Sutcliffe’s status as human rather than alien was confirmed by his racist attitude to Bill, dehumanising her as a “creature” who shows “the ignorance of all [her] kind.” As Bill notes, it would have been “pretty convincing racism for an extra terrestrial.” The Doctor, moments ago preaching the importance of diplomacy and reason, breaks all his own rules and punches him in the face. It was a delicious moment; pretty much the BBC’s equivalent of this:
There may have been a giant creature at the bottom of the Thames, but this wasn’t really the focus of the episode, and if I’m being picky, this part was sketched out a little thinly. No, Sutcliffe was the real monster of the week. Not only a racist D-bag, he was “a man for whom human beings are raw materials, who grinds up children for profit.” The Doctor’s speech to him was a direct attack on entitled people who, like Sutcliffe, exploit the vulnerable for money and power. Times being what they are, it felt good. “What makes you so sure your life is worth more than those people out there on the ice? Is it the money? The accident of birth that puts you inside the big fancy house? Progress is measured by the value you place on a life. An unimportant life. A life without privilege. That’s what defines an age. That’s what defines a species.” Are our politicians listening?
The Doctor has had some pretty misanthropic episodes where he has railed at the shortcomings of humanity as a species. This one in particular springs to mind:
If Sutcliffe were the only representative of humanity, this would have been a bleak episode indeed. But all is well — because of Bill.
It falls to Bill to define the good side of the human race, and holy cow, my love for Bill is growing by the week. Unlike Sutcliffe (and the Doctor) she weeps for the loss of an “unimportant life.” And when she is given the all-important choice about what to do with the huge monster in the river, she takes a breath then makes the right one. There were so many shades of ‘The Beast Below’ here, anchored by the Doctor’s line: “If your future is built on the suffering of that creature, what’s your future worth?” It’s worth remembering that Amy chose poorly the first time round. Not so with Bill.
Bill continues to show the best parts of Donna in her compassion and joy. But she adds to this with her own dynamic. She is perhaps the most cautious of the recent companions, fretting about the butterfly effect. She is still asking tons of questions, and she won’t let him get away with slippery answers. Keep it up, Bill.
Time/Space note: the last time the Thames froze was indeed in 1814, and it had happened fairly regularly before then. The Doctor said that he had been to the frost fairs before, and there are lots of references to this in the Whoniverse.
They arrive back in the office just as Nardole has finished making the tea, and lo and behold, we have another monstrous encounter. Who puts coffee in tea? I was thinking of getting my own Nardole to help me out round the house and provide snarky commentary on my every move. As the Doctor said, it’s hard to find “the time for the luxury of outrage”, and I think my own Nardole would help me to free up some time to really enjoy my daily outrage. But he ruined it with his dodgy beverages. There’s no time for bad tea.
But before we go, we get another sneaky look at the outside of the vault. There’s a mysterious knocking coming from inside… I’ve read a few theories that it might be John Simm’s incarnation of the Master inside, but his trademark knock was four beats not three…
Next week: Bill’s got herself a house share, and will be facing bigger problems than who’s doing the washing up…
PS, there has been some gossip circulating about a special guest star in this year’s Christmas special, and it looks like that has been confirmed. It’s pretty spoilerific, so I won’t go into specifics, but if you want to find out more, click here!