Welcome back inside the TARDIS! This week was a fairly standard adventure into the past, London 1814 to be exact. It had a monster of the week, some cute urchins, a dazzling Doctor, and a pretty cool conclusion. So let’s skate out onto “Thin Ice.”
I’m low key in love with Bill, the way she is with the TARDIS. It’s so nice to see a companion acknowledge her as a character and not have a contentious relationship with her. Bill’s pragmatism continues to shine through in little ways, as she concerns herself with “how not to get in trouble.” Sometimes I like to think about how certain companions would react to different incarnations of the Doctor and this exchange made me think of how mad she would think 11 was. I doubt she would’ve gone along with his childish antics. But I do like having a self-aware companion, one who points out that she lives in a world containing time travel stories gone wrong and has an appreciation for not wanting to repeat mistakes. It’s a refreshing take in (arguably) the mother of all time travel stories and it’s nice to see that idea not being ignored. (I’m looking at you, current season of The Flash.)
The sonic screwdriver featured heavily in the action this time. Are the sonic specs gone? Or did the Doctor just flag them as an anachronism and leave them on the TARDIS dash? (Maybe so, seeing as he did don an adorable, period-appropriate cravat and top hat combo.) If the show has indeed switched back to the screwdriver as the Doctor’s primary sonic tool, I find it an interesting choice. I’m glad to see them keeping with tradition, I just wonder, with fans clamoring for changes in so many areas of the show (primarily casting and writing), what drove this particular detail being changed back. At any rate, I really like the look of the Doctor’s new sonic, back to a proper TARDIS blue and mimicking some of its exterior design elements. This episode also did a good job of introducing this Doctor Who basic to the new companion.
The adventure itself was pretty typical, but that’s good sometimes. You don’t always need a big flashy plot when you’re trying to get a new Doctor/companion relationship up and running. The underwater effects, especially the audio (reminiscent of Firefly’s space audio effects) were especially cool. The plot echoed that of “The Beast Below” (S05E02), another test run for a new companion. The episodes share some elements, but went in different directions, which I think is down to a good job by the writers, taking what worked from a past episode but being careful to apply it to this relationship and not make it too same-y. I did also think that the girl Kitty who was saved was going to end up being Bill’s great-great-great grandmother or something, since Bill was so concerned with her impact on the past, but unless they’re going with a season-long arc about Bill’s journey through her own ancestry (please don’t), I think I’m wrong.
So, the key to this episode is the Doctor letting Bill make the decisions. He says “Your people, your planet,” and calls himself a servant of the human race, which is…true and not true. Of course he’s there to help, but I’m not so sure of his leaving the decisions in their hands. Never forget Rule One. Just because he tells you you’re in control, doesn’t mean you are. Also, he has a history of testing his companions’ morality (see “The Beast Below,” again). He didn’t explicitly state that’s what was going on, but I think the way the story played out, Bill passed the test, and I, for one, was glad to have the speechifying over the value of human life directed at the episode’s baddie, rather than at the audience, by way of their stand-in in the form of Bill.
And then we have that fascinating stinger with Nardole. Who. Is in. The Vault? I mean, we know the Master/Missy are coming back this season, so that’s an obvious choice, but even if it is him/her/them, it’s still fun to speculate about how he/she/they got in there. And if it’s not, it’s even more fun to think about who could be in there and why. Are they trapped for their own protection or ours? Did the Doctor put them in there or is he merely the guard? And is the Doctor being foolish about, scared of, or just bored by his guard duty, causing him to be lax with his vow about not leaving? Given his history, I think it’s a mix: he’s bored by being stuck in one place, drawn in by the excitement of traveling with Bill, and so sure of himself that he’s got it under control that he’s forgotten how dangerous the occupant of the vault is. Clearly, that’s going to bite him in the ass and I look forward to seeing what happens after that.
In the meantime, it looks likenext week we’ve got a classic spooky haunted house episode. I can only imagine how much trouble they’ll be in in that old house when they once again run into the problem that the sonic screwdriver doesn’t do wood. See you all again next week!