Discussing Doctor Who: Thin Ice

Doctor Who Thin Ice

Will Kevin and I ever agree about an episode this season? It won’t happen this week, as we break down “Thin Ice,” the latest episode of Doctor Who.

Kevin Harvey is the author of All You Want to Know About The Bible in Pop Culture and a fellow Whovian who enjoys watching and breaking down the latest adventures of the Doctor. You can follow him on Twitter at @PopCultureKevin.

Last week, we emoted about “Smile.” Previously, we navigated the first episode of the new season: “The Pilot.” If you need a refresher on last season, here is our recap of season 9.

“Thin Ice” was the Doctor and Bill’s first trip to the past. How did you enjoy this week’s episode?

Aaron: This was the episode I have been waiting on this season, as it was—by far—my favorite this year. It was peak Doctor Who, balancing whimsy with seriousness. How do you have a lighthearted treatment of the inherent value of a human life or the dehumanization of racism? I have no idea, but when Doctor Who is done well, it accomplishes heavy goals with a light touch.

The Frost Fair (which actually was a real thing) provided the perfect backdrop for Doctor Who to explore Regency England again and to do so with a black companion, broaching the very real issue of slavery.

The dialog was pitch perfect this week, ranging from witty wisecracks to a brief, but memorable “Doctor speech.” Much of this is owed to Peter Capaldi’s incredible range as an actor, but Pearl Mackie was spot on this week. She went from wide-eyed wonder to teary-eyed sadness with ease.

I love how they are progressing the season along. Giving us enough information each week about “the vault” to keep the audience interested, but not allowing that to overwhelm the early weeks that should be focused more on Bill and the Doctor’s blossoming mentor relationship.

Kevin: Well, as you brought up last week, once again we have a “misunderstood monster.” I know there indeed was a true villain this time with Lord Sutcliffe, but I thought it important to bring it up here that for the third time in three weeks, we have a monster killing people that’s not really a monster. Is this a theme for the season? Is Capaldi going to be brought down at the end of the season by a nefarious Bond villain or something?

All your points are true about the dialogue, the wisecracks, the big Doctor speech, and the value of all human life. Loved it all. And that is what makes Doctor Who so much better than almost anything else on television. But that said, I am still a fan of plots, villains, etc. in a good story, and on that matter I was highly disappointed in “Thin Ice.”

A heartless, rich businessman feeds kids and other peasants to a monster so that he can profit off the energy poop of the monster? That’s the kind of plot I have come to expect from Hollywood but not Doctor Who. I felt like I was watching a Matt Damon special, brought to us by Al Gore. The evil oil tycoon is a bit tired by now, don’t you think? I expect a bit more originality from Doctor Who than that.

We had a classic Doctor Who villain swap this week where the big scary monster is not the actual monster. What did you think of “Tiny” and Lord Sutcliffe?

Kevin: Well, I think my previous answer gives some of this way. I really should start reading through the list of questions before I go to town on the first one…

Listen, humans in general make the best villains, because that’s just how deep and corrupted our sinful nature takes us. But when it comes to Doctor Who, call me old-fashioned, but I like Cybermen, Daleks, weeping angels, hotels that don’t let you out … basically anything that places the Doctor in some kind of actual danger that he needs to figure himself through. But Lord Sutcliffe was basically the Lex Luthor of the Who-verse—no real danger for the Doctor or Bill.

Aaron: I agree with all your critiques of the misunderstood monster trope and your preference for villains or situations that actually present real danger for the Doctor and his companion. But for some reason, it all worked for me this week. Yes, I want the Doctor to get back to Daleks and life-or-death situations, but I’m OK if he takes down a pompous jerk in the meantime.

The monster under the River Thames was a fun swerve before we see the real evil in Lord Sutcliffe. He’s not someone we have to wonder if he’s coming back to challenge the Doctor at some future point. But at least he’s actually a villain seeking to exploit others and not merely a “hungry” alien. His response to the Doctor’s classic speech about the value of life was perfectly villainous. I don’t want a season full of Sutcliffes or any more misunderstood monsters, but if we had to go there again, this was the best example of the season.

Let’s go back in time. What previous episodes of Doctor Who did ‘Thin Ice” bring to mind?

Aaron: The two episodes that immediately leapt to my mind were “The Beast Below” and “Kill the Moon.” In both instances, humanity was faced with a choice to destroy or exploit the life of another species to aid their own progress or grant freedom.

Both also featured conflicts between the Doctor and his companion over matters of life. In “Thin Ice,” Bill initially chastised the Doctor over his cavalier attitude toward the death of a boy. Clara was angry the Doctor forced her to choose between saving the moon egg or humanity in “Kill the Moon.” In “The Beast Below,” the Eleventh Doctor wanted to take Amy Pond home after she chose to forget what was happening to the star whale powering the spaceship they landed on.

What made “Thin Ice” work so well is that it drew from those (and other) past adventures and decisions of the Doctor, but with a new companion the choices and discoveries were new. It wasn’t a derivative of previous episodes, but merely picking up on themes previously touched on.

Kevin: Yes, “Kill the Moon” is a good episode to refer to with “Thin Ice.” One thing I liked better about “Thin Ice” is that Bill learned, forgave, and adjusted to the reality of the situation much better than Clara did with the Doctor. Clara took a few episodes and bonus adventures with the Doctor (all while supposedly threatening to be done with him) before she finally adjusted and moved on.

Bill’s outrage toward the loss of a life was reminiscent of Donna’s in “The Fires of Pompeii” (which I’ll refer to again shortly on another matter) where the Doctor’s new companion was questioning how the Doctor could just let someone die.

I’m wondering, though, if the writers of Doctor Who need to be the ones to travel back in time and revisit previous episodes. In last season’s “The Girl Who Died,” we had the big “face reveal” when the Doctor realized why he was given the face of the man Donna convinced him to save years back in “The Fires of Pompeii.”

Basically, he reasoned that he was given this face to remind him that every life is worthy of being saved. So … what was up with the Doctor not seeming to care at all about saving the little boy Spider? He was strangely relieved that he was able to save his sonic screwdriver and wasn’t bothered at all about the little boy dying before his eyes.

Now that I think about it, the back and forth inconsistency on whether the Doctor values every life or not is extremely reflective of society today, isn’t it? But somehow I don’t think that’s where the writers are going. I think it’s just some bad inconsistencies on their part.

Since we’re talking about Doctor Who, now let’s go to the future. Why is Nardole so concerned with the Doctor’s “oath” and who/what is knocking behind that vault door?

Kevin: Your guess is as good as mine. It sounds like it’s a person, or at least a creature that can knock and understand English. Is it Missy? It would certainly take an extremely special vault under the Doctor’s watchful eye in order to keep her locked away safely. But why would he be locking her up? What plan of hers might he be trying to foil?

Aaron: As soon as the episode ended, I went to YouTube to find a clip of the drumming from the Master. The knocking from the vault was clearly a pattern, but it didn’t match the rhythm burned into the other Time Lord’s head.

That makes me think it has to be someone besides the Master (or Missy). It’s close to make people believe it’s connected to the Master, but since it’s not exactly, it can’t be him (or her—though she has never brought up the drumming since regenerating).

Favorite quotes or one-liners?

Aaron: As we could expect with a newcomer on board the TARDIS, so many great lines come from Bill learning about the ship that she is now “low-key in love” with.

Doctor: I told you, you don’t steer the TARDIS, you reason with it.
Bill: How?
Doctor: Unsuccessfully most of the time.

Bill: Regency England … a bit more black than they show in the movies.
Doctor: So was Jesus. History’s a whitewash.

Kevin:

Bill: Every choice I make in this moment, here and now, can change the whole future!
Doctor: Exactly like every other day of your life. The only thing to do is to stop worrying about it.

Doctor: I’m 2000 years old, and I’ve never had the time for the luxury of a little outrage.

Doctor: We have to use codes for the steel mill.
Dredges worker: Codes?
Doctor: Yes, we have to use codes; otherwise anyone can walk in here and get you babbling like a fool.

What are some spiritual takeaways from this episode?

Kevin: The following dialogue between the Doctor and Bill really stood out to me as soon as I heard it. Upon seeing the little boy die right befor her eyes, Bill was having trouble dealing with the tragedy she just saw.

Bill: I’ve never seen anyone die before.
Doctor: A few hours ago we were standing in a garden full of dead people.
Bill: It was different.
Doctor: How?
Bill: They were dead already!
Doctor: Morally and practically, that is not a useful distinction. Unlearn it.

How many of us who call ourselves Christians and believe Jesus is the only way to heaven get caught feeling just like Bill when someone we know that we think is a non-believer dies and is spending an eternity apart from God? Of course, it’s perfectly normal for us to be devastated and having a hard time dealing with it.

But the truth is, as the Doctor pinpointed so perfectly to Bill, that moment is no different, no worse, than every other moment we live in this world where we are surrounded by dead people living without Christ in their lives. Where is our concern and devastation there?

Morally and practically, Christians must unlearn that distinction and remember all the dead people walking around them right where they are who need to hear about Jesus.

Aaron: It’s hard not to watch episodes like this (and “Kill the Moon”) and not place them on to current debates about personhood and humanity. Whether it is gun violence, police shootings, immigration, refuges, the unborn, the disabled, there is always an attempt to dehumanize someone else.

We can disagree over the proper way to respond to such challenges, but we should not disagree on the personhood and inherent value of every human. Yet that’s constantly where we find ourselves, having to defend someone else’s value. The Doctor rightly challenged Sutcliffe’s view of life.

Human progress isn’t measured by industry. It’s measured by the value you place on a life. An unimportant life. A life without privilege. The boy who died on the river, that boy’s value is your value. That’s what defines an age. That’s what defines a species.

The Doctor’s right, of course, but there’s no real reason to accept his view of life over Sutcliffe’s. Except we innately know the Doctor is correct, but unless there is something external to us that can judge between those two ideas, they are just that—two equally valid, competing ideas.

As Christians, we know that every human life has value because God has created us in His image. We have worth because He has given it to us. We are so valuable that He sent His Son to die so that we might be redeemed.

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Aaron Earls

Christian. Husband. Daddy. Writer. Online editor for Facts & Trends Magazine. Fan of quick wits, magical wardrobes, brave hobbits, time traveling police boxes & Blue Devils.