Three episodes into series 10 and our intrepid troika of the Doctor, Pete and Bill come up against an elephant on a frozen river. Spoilers: the elephant is not the Big Bad. It is Cthulhu.
This is Thin Ice. Written by Sarah Dollard. Are you sitting comfortably? On with the motley. Remember, events may be shuffled around for no reason whatsoever.
Our heroic threesome have survived sentient puddles (remember how Pete accidentally drank his Heather smoothie and got the fright of his life when he went to the toilet?) and Emojibots (how I laughed when Pete picked up a colonist’s skull and worked it like a puppet) and now they face…an elephant? What the heck!?!
The TARDIS has landed, with its usual flatulent hippopotamus sound, in Regency London. And not, as Bill suggests, a parallel universe. Ms Potts has been watching too much sci-fi me thinks. Why else would she think that elephant plus frozen river (Alex Kingston in fine tooth-chattering pachyderm-carrying form here) equals alternate world? Her timey-wimey saturated brain has steered her wrong. Much like the Doctor’s steering of the TARDIS.
The Doctor’s steering is weird since he never seems to go to the wrong place. Leastways since Russell Tenacious Davies brought the show back. In the classic series, the Doctor couldn’t navigate his way around a rice pudding.
The year is 1814. The date February 4th. The year of the last frost fair on the river Thames. And it brass monkeys outside! So the Doctor, Bill and Pete pop back in to get themselves some period clobber (for Americans and other semi-demonic folks ‘clobber’ is slang for ‘clothes’) and pop back out again, unaware that the TARDIS has detected the first transmission of Eastenders and that famous scene where Artful Dirty Den the Dodger kicks down the door to find a corpse and…of course not, the TARDIS finds something much more plausible than that. It has detected a giant snake, no, not the Mara, under the ice of the Thames. A snake, so not Cthulhu either, that measures a kilometre in length. I’d like to see Billy the Exterminator deal with this not-so-little-mermaid.
1814? Frost Fair? The same one which the Eleventh Doctor brought River Song and Stevie Wonder to? Yes, that one. It would explain why the Doctor came back here. Maybe he was remembering and the TARDIS thought to take him there? But hold on a second! This visit must be before the previous visit because the TARDIS would have detected the snake the first time, yes? Also, the Doctor and River would have noticed the lights, spoilers, under the ice. Therefore, this must be before the romantic date. Unless the TARDIS did detect snakey and made a note to revisit when the Doctor was feeling less lovey-dovey.
Bill is amazed to see black people happily walking through Regency London. Most of her historical knowledge coming from movies, TV and half-remember ramblings from short old dudes at school. But history is more ethnic than you might think. A famous example being Olaudah Equiano (there is/was a portrait of him in Exeter, Devon but your safe bet might be to google him). It is rumoured that Catherine of Aragon was black what with all that Moorish blood in the Spanish royal families. So this really shouldn’t be a surprise at all. The future might be orange but the past was black. Sometimes.
The Doctor calls this the whitewashing of history. He cites Jesus Christ as a good example of this. Just think of every church you have been to and you’ll note that every single depiction of Jesus shows him as being a skinny white guy with the ravishing good looks of Norville ‘Shaggy’ Rogers. Now think about Jesus himself. If he existed, our Galilean Hebrew Israelite would be sat at the back of the bus with Rosa Parks in 1950s America. Modern so-called Christians (the bad ones not the good ‘uns) would call out to our Biblical homeboy and tell him to “go back home, terrorist” or, if too polite, would simply walk across to the other side of the road to avoid the bearded ‘threat’. Sad but true.
The Doctor and Bill (but not Pete because Bill stepped on a butterfly and wiped Pete, sabre-toothed gerbils and chutney-making bees out of existence; time travel is harsh) take a flyer from a pauper girl. The Frost Fair in big letters, six pence to enter, six guineas to leave (how they make their money). Seems nice and safe as long as they avoid stepping in elephant poo.
Our TARDIS twosome wander around the fair, visiting the booths and tents and gap-toothed beggars, partaking of fish pie (well, mostly fish, half maybe, look, it has been in the river, good enough for you?), thieving of fish pie, discovering lights under the ice, looking at the dog-faced boy, getting bitten by the boy-faced dog, getting the sonic screwdriver half-inched (dear Americans, this means ‘stolen’) and running after sonic screwdriver thief. Fun for all the family.
The sonic has been thieved by Spider (son of Arachnea and Stag Beetle no doubt). Him and the leader of their pickpocket posse, Kitty, run rings around the Doctor and Bill, leading them away from the fair and onto thin ice. The underice lights have also followed and now they spin beneath Spider’s feet. Just like Incey-Wincey Spider, Spider is flushed down the pipe into the cholera breeding ground that is the Thames.
The Doctor, unable to rescue poor Spider (come on, he must have really been called Erasmus or something similar), snaffles his sonic screwdriver back. Doesn’t show any remorse for the urchin’s demise at all, instead cradling his sonic like a kitten. “Och, ma wee baby. Dinnae let the big bad lights scare ye.” Bill does not like this side of the Doctor.
Kitty has skedaddled. But the Doctor and Bill manage to find her and her plucky group of beggars. The orphans distrust them at first but after a rousing rendition of Hard Knock Life and Food, Glorious Food, they soon take our heroes into their hearts. Ahem, trust them a little teeny bit that is.
Yes, similar scene to the one in The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances and every version of Oliver Twist that has or ever will be made but, and this is a big but, if you are gonna complain about originality then don’t bother. Every story is based upon another story. Blah blah blah.
Kitty gives them the skinny on how she is paid to bring people down to the frost fair and how some people go missing. Please note how I am down with the kids, just like the Doctor. Yeah! Bo selecta! Groovey! Splendid!
After a quick visit to Argos, the Doctor and Bill have themselves some, what people might call steampunkesque but in reality just normal, diving suits. The Doctor has a plan. Let the whatever-it-is eat them up and then make another plan later. The quality of that plan makes me suspect that his diving suits are made by Acme.
The Doctor and Bill go out onto the ice, lumbering around like Frankenstein’s monster after too many pints of beer, and…
By the by, a quick note. If you want to annoy literary types, just refer to Frankenstein’s monster as ‘Frankenstein’ and then don’t allow them to correct you.
…before long, the lights appear under the ice. The Doctor and Bill are taken. Down into the depths of the Thames. Doom!
Or not doom at all. The lights turn out to be alien angler fish. Or are they alien? Could they be animals from the time of the Silurians (or Earth Reptiles)? Maybe. I say yes because I quite like the idea of lumping Thin Ice in with the other Homo Reptilia stories. I am nerd!
Then, oh boy, they see the underice beastie. Cthulhu! No, not Cthulhu but for the lack of a better name, yes, Cthulhu. The monster has an eye the size of a really big frickin’ eye. This is the second time in three episodes where an eye has been a dramatic point. Is there an eye theme for this series? Also the second time in three episodes that we have had a water-related monster. Hmmmmm…
Cthulhu is chained up so it cannot leave the Thames. And given that it burps out Spider’s red hat, well, it has obviously been snacking on paupers. This is why so many people are disappearing. Once you eat one peasant, you feel like eating another. The poor are so moreish. Cthulhu loves human nom-noms.
There is a five-minute montage in black-and-white of Spider. His hat being the only colour. Poignant music plays.
Back to the action! The Doctor and Bill crawl back out of the Thames, up through the ice, to the amazement of the fish pie seller who is catching fish for his pies. The Silurian fish. Health and Safety would have a field day with this guy.
It is not long before they, the Doctor and Bill, find out that Lord Sutcliffe is the one paying Kitty and her cheerful chirpy Cockneys to get people onto the ice. So our heroes go stomping off to Lord Sutcliffe’s place.
The psychic paper is whipped out when a foreman asks them who they are, why they are here, and whether he can get a date with Bill. The psychic paper reveals that they work for the Palace and that Bill is just not interested thank you very much.
The Doctor pulls off Blackadderlike verbal trickery and gets the foreman to reveal that Sutcliffe is taking Cthulhu’s dung and selling it. Probably not to gardeners for their compost heaps.
The Doctor and Bill have it away on their toes to confront Lord Sutcliffe but he isn’t there. So they mooch around for a few minutes before he turns up. Sutcliffe is not pleased to see the Doctor but even less so to see Bill who has committed the twin sins of being female and black.
There is a book I read last year, essays about race in Doctor Who. They complained about how the show never questions it in any detail such as when Martha in Shakespeare’s time and the Paul Cornell’s episodes based upon Human Nature. This is a valid point.
Now. What do you think some people said about the racist Sutcliffe and the Doctor punching him,. Yeah, spoilers, racist punched. Below are a few comments…
“…social engineering reverse-racist idiocy…”
“I hear Doctor Who is making racist white men angry so I guess I’ll have to catch up on the recent two episodes”
If you can’t shoot rabbits, maybe punching racists instead is the thing? Some people complained a lot about this. The same people, mind you, that have no problem with xenophobic aliens being dispatched by the Doctor. Curious and curiouser. I liked the scene but it really should have been Bill that punched the Doctor though.
The sociopathic Sutcliffe picks himself up from the floor. His goons rush in and take the Doctor and Bill prisoner. Because Sutcliffe is quite verbose, he explains what he is doing, why he is doing what he is doing, and what he will do to our heroes.
Sutcliffe’s ancestors, centuries ago, found Cthulhu and captured him. They used it as a factory, kinda, farming it for serpent plops by feeding it random yokels. These plops are then used, not for compost, but as a better fuel than coal. Just how the Sutcliffes found out that the droppings would make excellent fuel I don’t care to consider. Ugh! Also, how did they capture Cthulhu in the first place? Perhaps it was a lot smaller when they found it?
Incidentally, nearly every review of this story has called Cthulhu a sea serpent/monster. While, yeah, serpent maybe. Monster certainly. Sea? No. The beast is literally in a river. It is a lochless monster not a sea serpent. If anything, it is a river monster.
Of course Sutcliffe won’t, despite the Doctor’s protests, stop farming Cthulhu. Instead he will have our heroes tied up and eaten. Not only that but he will stick them in a tent full of explosives. The cad! These explosives will crack the ice and all the food-on-two-legs will fall through into the Thames and Cthulhu’s gullet.
Need I say that the Doctor and Bill escape? Yep, they escape. As if they would end up as fish food.
Bill teams up with Kitty and her gang to get people off the ice. The Doctor does something clever and attached all the explosives to the chains holding Cthulhu in place.
Sutcliffe is outraged. How dare these oiks get off the ice! Don’t they know that Cthulhu needs feeding? The bounders! The sociopath presses the plunger down and explodes the explosives. These dashed paupers won’t escape the hungry teeth. But they do and Sutcliffe is swallowed up by the freezing cold disease-ridden water. Does he die though? Who knows?
The Doctor and Bill have saved the day! Did you think they wouldn’t? Cthulhu escapes to the sea, maybe it is a sea serpent after all, and that is that. Only a brief scene of the Doctor rewriting the deed to Sutcliffe;s mansion and now it is owned by the lost heir to the Sutcliffe millions, random urchin number four.
Our heroes return to the Doctor’s office in time for the tea, with added coffee, that Nardole promised at the start of the previous episode. Gah, he is peeved! The Doctor is not meant to leave the planet. Why? Because of the Vault?
Bill checks online that the pickpockets lived a good long life, so that is alright then. But why is there no mention of Cthulhu? Remember when the Doctor told Clara that her race’s superpower is forgetting. Or as the Doctor says to Ace in Remembrance of the Daleks the human race “has the most amazing capacity for self-deception”. If nobody remembers the Daleks stealing the Earth, the CyberKing, the Zygon Gambit or the Vervoid invasion of Woking, why would they remember a random snake?
Nearly the end now, Nardole is alone and checking that the Vault is safe. It is. But there is a dreadful knocking from within. Ooh, now all Whovians will have their theory as to what is inside the Vault. Can’t wait to find out.
Peter Capaldi continues to be wonderful. Good speeches and that punch, wow! I bet a lot of people punched the air because of that scene. Loved him. Will miss him when he is gone.
Pearl Mackie just gets better and better. Maybe it is because she is written by a woman but she was really good in Thin Ice. When she questions the Doctor on if he as killed and how many people he has killed…powerful stuff. She is asking the questions that the previous companions should have asked. Will miss her too… Sigh!
Matt Lucas is good in this story. But he only appears in two small scenes so I will forget him for the time being.
Nicholas Burns as Sutcliffe? Yeah, he was alright. Just the right mix of pompous, entitled evil. Liked it. Not often that we get a human baddie in the show. It is to be relished.
Good performances from Asiatu Koroma and Austin Taylor as Kitty and Spider. Child actors often get roasted by critics but I reckon they did a good job here. Kudos.
Brief note: Perry, random urchin number four, is played by a kid called Badger Skelton. Badger? Badger?!? Maybe the fictional Spider has not so strange a name after all… Badger does a stellar job too by the way. Kudos, young Badger, kudos.
Is Thin Ice any good? Of course it is. Loved it. Should you watch it? Of course squared.