I’ll be honest; it took me a while to get my head around how to approach the Smile review.
For as decent as story as it was, it felt that talking points were few and far between, and when that happens, the most difficult thing to come up with is an introduction. I even contemplated changing the structure of my reviews to allow me to launch straight into it.
At this point though – hundreds of Doctor Who reviews and two books in – that would be madness.
The advantage though is that because of all of that, I knew that this week – in my review of Thin Ice – I’d have a stick-on easy introduction simply by repeating that anecdote.
And that’s exactly how it’s turned out.
See what I did there?
Doctor Who – Thin Ice Review: What’s This One About?
You’d be forgiven for thinking “I bet it’s about the Ice Warriors”, but no it’s not. It’s about death, pre-Victorian London, a frozen River Thames and a big fish that excretes human remains as powerful fuel.
Thoughts – They Killed A Child. Oh Em Gee.
So there are a few things worthy of discussion here but first of all I have to bring up the fact that a child was killed off.
Now before you think I’m some kind of sociopath, hear me out.
In just about every medium of entertainment you can find, children are presented as these resourceful, independent, almost magical beings who are capable of solving all the world’s problems themselves without those pesky, incompetent adults getting in the way.
If aliens were scouting Earth and using TV as the guide, then they’d believe that humans peak in terms of intellectual and problem solving abilities between the ages of maybe 10-14.
That’s nonsense of course. Children are by-and-large rubbish, resource-draining hangers-on who are almost entirely reliant on adults to exist. We’ve all been kids and we all know that’s true.
So in a show like Doctor Who, when alien threat lurks around every corner, it might just be the case that once or twice, a kid might fall foul to such a menace rather than – oh I don’t know – a trained security guard with years of experience in the special forces.
I understand why kids are presented like that; it’s because shows written for kids will present kids as the heroes. You won’t see a child save the day in tonight’s Line of Duty finale, but at the same time, I would ask why – even in a show where kids are being written for – can a child not be sacrificed to make a point?
In Thin Ice, that finally happened. And against any sensible prediction I might have had, that child wasn’t brought back to life by the end of the episode.
Like I said above, I found it refreshingly brave, and it made the underlying theme of the tale – that if Bill wants to lead the type of life the Doctor has, she will face death even in its most harrowing of ways – stand out.
So well done to the writer for doing that.
An Episode That Could Have Been Made In The 1960s
I watched this episode with my dad last night. That usually throws up some general irritations like “Pause it, I need to go to the kitchen” every five minutes, but for once he made an interesting point.
He suggested that this episode might have been one made on the cheap.
On the face of it that seems daft, as Thin Ice certainly appeared to be a rich and resplendent costume drama that any production company would be proud of.
But I think he could be on to something.
Period costume dramas are the BBC’s bread and butter. They’re up to their ears in the outfits from that era and have locations they can film at on their doorstep.
This episode had a small amount of CGI, a large amount of costumes and surprisingly limited scope. If you notice, a lot of the scenes take place in confined settings, with mist and fog reducing the scope of what you can actually see.
So it probably didn’t cost all that much to make in comparison to other episodes.
In a sense this is one episode that could have been made as far back as the 1960s, as long as the final shots of the fish were done using models.
And that’s to Thin Ice’s credit.
Sometimes you might wonder where modern Doctor Who would be without certain special effects to bring the visuals to life.
Thin Ice stands on its plot, its dialogue and its character development rather than its CGI or the visual appeal of a monster.
- I had a look at fan opinion before writing this review, as I always tend to do, and one thread from a forum summed up Doctor Who fandom in a nutshell. The first three posts were “Meh, it was ok”, “I thought it was really good” and “Absolute horse-shit. I put it off after 15 minutes. Disgusting”. You’ve got to love opinions.
- One opinion I did see was that some didn’t approve of the suggested swearing from Bill. Lighten up folks.
- I’ve noticed that the writers are trying their best to find new questions for Bill to ask the Doctor; questions that no other companion has asked before. Some of the lines are just for comic effect of course, such as the ones she asked when she first entered the TARDIS, but the aforementioned questions about death and the Doctor’s exposure to it have some merit and depth to them.
- One thing that has been asked before though is about black people in pre-20th century England. But then it’s normal for her to want to ask that, so it needed to be in.
- I’ve not touched too much upon the ‘threat’ of the episode – namely Sutcliffe – but really, was he anything more than window dressing for the real underlying theme of the relationship between Bill and the Doctor?
- Having said that, the only part of this episode I would mark down would be the bit where the Doctor punches Sutcliffe in the face after his long speech to Bill about diplomacy. It was a bit too ‘on the nose’ for my liking, pardoning the pun.
- Speaking of the Doctor, once again – and I know, I know, I say this all the time – Peter Capaldi was terrific. No matter who takes over from him, they won’t be as good.
- Cleverest scene of the week was the one where the Doctor convinces the Workhouse supervisor to tell him everything he needed to know.
- The guy doing the coin trick should have been played by Aziz Ansari.
- In last week’s review I voiced concerns about the way this would be another ‘Aliens in recent Earth history’ story and questioned why people within the show wouldn’t be more aware of things from the past like that. I think the relatively small scope and subsequent ‘Back At The Ranch House’ dialogue did a good job of allaying those concerns.
- In my journey round the internet to see what other people thought about the episode, two more things stood out. The first is that a lot of reviews now have a Random Observations section (hmm…) and the other is that one article asks “Did Doctor Who just confirm the existence of Jesus?”. I mean…come on.
Doctor Who – Thin Ice Review: Final Thoughts
Overall, I would consider Thin Ice to be the best episode of the season so far. It explores serious issues alongside some lighter comedic moments, it makes brave choices, it looks good and it flows well.
As with all episodes so far, it also continues to develop the likeable relationship between the Doctor and Bill.
I enjoyed it, and while you’ll never be able to please Doctor Who fandom in general, it seems to me that most others enjoyed it too.
More Doctor Who Reviews
Remember that you can read a select amount of my Doctor Who reviews on this blog and all of them in my two ebooks, available here from Amazon