TV

'Doctor Who': "Thin Ice" Is a Welcome Addition to the Doctor's 19th Century Adventures

The Doctor makes another visit to Victorian London

In this episode the plotting is tight and well-judged, the interplay between characters snappy and natural-sounding, and we glimpse the Doctor's savage side.


Doctor Who

Airtime: Saturdays, 7pm
Cast: Peter Capaldi, Pearl Mackie
Subtitle: Season 10, Episode 3 - "Thin Ice"
Network: BBC/BBC America
Air date: 2017-04-29
Amazon

Doctor Who tends to do rather well in 19th century London. Ever since the Fourth Doctor (Tom Baker) and Leela (Louise Jameson) donned Inverness capes and crinoline for 1977's excellent serial "The Talons of Weng-Chiang", the TARDIS has made frequent stops there. Call it a certain sympathy for what would later become known as the steampunk aesthetic, or perhaps a predisposition towards the mode of storytelling ushered in by Jules Verne, H. G. Wells, Montague James, and the other pioneering science fiction and horror authors of the period, everyone’s favourite Time Lord has always got good mileage out of the 1800s.

So the series proved recently when, after two so-so episodes, the latest series of Doctor Who finally kicked into gear with "Thin Ice", an engaging story combining 19th century imagery with horror overtones. The setting -- the London frost fair of 1814, famously the last occasion on which the river Thames froze over for long enough to hold one -- has in fact been the setting for various Doctor-related shenanigans in spinoff media, but this is the first time we have seen the TARDIS in this setting on screen. Peter Capaldi reveals himself to be in his element among gangs of Dickensian street urchins, and Pearl Mackie continues to be well worth the price of admission as companion Bill. The strength of Sarah Dollard’s script combined with the performances of our leads effectively outweighs the episode's deficiencies.

One of the most egregious of these is the realization of 1814 London, which the Doctor and Bill discover to be plagued by the spectre of a giant sea-monster in the Thames. The tight shots in the frost fair are executed well enough, but when it came to shooting the scenes in which the duo examine the creature underwater in diving suits, the CGI is flat and unconvincing, looking for all the world as though it had been filmed through a lens smothered in Vaseline.


Please don't ad block PopMatters.

We are wholly independent, with no corporate backers.

Simply whitelisting PopMatters is a show of support.

Thank you.


Elsewhere, casting is pedestrian rather than spectacular. Everyone's favourite arch-Idiot, Nathan Barley star Nicholas Burns, turns in a respectable performance as Lord Sutcliffe, the aristocrat whose family has benefited from the creature for centuries by supplying it with the sea-monster equivalent if fish food -- human corpses, naturally -- in return for the creature's waste, which is sold as a fuel source superior to coal. The remainder of the characters, however, are largely paint-by-numbers roles, from the streetwise yet vulnerable orphans who pickpocket their way through London society, to the subservient overseer of the operation harvesting the creature's fuel, played unobtrusively by Broadchurch star Simon Ludders.

What, then, of the story? The trope of the fabulous creature put to use by nefarious characters for personal gain is a well-worn one, having been covered at least three times in Doctor Who alone, most notably in Matt Smith episode "The Beast Below" (2010). That being said, the plotting is tight and well-judged, the interplay between characters snappy and natural-sounding, and best of all, we get a glimpse into the Doctor's savage side. Those who rankled at the sight of the Doctor laying aside his non-violent tendencies to deck Sutcliffe with a roundhouse punch for his racist attitude towards Bill should be reminded of the many violent moments in the character's past, from killing Cybermen to threatening to stove in the heads of cavemen with rocks.

Good episodes tend to be the ones in which this deeper understanding of the character is on display, and Dollard, who won her laurels so impressively with her 2015 Doctor Who debut "Face The Raven", has the Doctor down pat. That surety of touch sees the viewer through the weaknesses of "Thin Ice", making it a welcome addition to the annals of the Doctor's travels through Britain's Industrial Revolution.

7

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

Keep reading... Show less

This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

Keep reading... Show less
Theatre

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

Keep reading... Show less
10
Music

Kyle Craft - "The Rager" (track review)

Photo: Jeremy Kale (Sub Pop Records)

In the official video for Kyle Craft's "The Rager", the singer/songwriter brings a sense of poetic tragedy to an intoxicating folk ballad.

When Sub Pop released Kyle Craft's debut album, Dolls of Highland, in 2016, it received a slew of critical huzzahs for the Louisiana native's Dylan-meets-Bowie retro glam stylings. His sophomore effort, Full Circle Nightmare, comes out early next year, and a video for the album's song "The Rager" deftly interprets the sly, intricate wordplay of the tune.

Keep reading... Show less

Up-and-coming indie folk artists introduce captivating new layers of sound to "Hot Scary Summer" in their rendition of this cult favorite tune from Villagers.

When Villagers first released "Hot Scary Summer", it felt like a revelation. Not only did the indie folk outlet develop a truly captivating melancholy atmosphere with their music, nor did they just appeal to the heartstrings by singing about the negative feelings associated with aching loneliness. Rather, songwriter Conor O'Brien went beyond to highlight personal struggles of being called out in public and having threats thrown out by very homophobic individuals.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image