Stay on target
This article contains spoilers for “Thin Ice,” episode three of Doctor Who season 10.
Doctor Who writers have all of space and time at their fingertips. But the long-running sci-fi series does occasionally visit real-life historical events—including the Thames Frost Fairs of the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries.
Between 1600 and 1814 (the year the Doctor and Bill visit medieval London), it wasn’t uncommon for the River Thames to freeze over for a couple of months at a time.
In the face of famine and death, enterprising locals launched the Thames Frost Fairs; seven major festivals were held over those 200 years—one even featured a parading elephant.
But it wasn’t just Regency Londoners skating on thin ice in Saturday’s episode of Doctor Who.
The honeymoon is over for Bill, who, after watching the Doctor save his sonic screwdriver from the grip of a young street urchin being swallowed into the ice, realizes traveling with the Time Lord isn’t all rainbows and lollipops.
Unnerved by watching the scene—and the Doctor’s reaction to it—the new companion confronts her mentor about his 2,000 years of sin: How many people has the Doctor seen die? How many people has he killed?
Like the number of licks it takes to get to the center of a Tootsie Pop, we may never know.
Pearl Mackie as Bill Potts (via BBC)
By the end of the hour, Bill begins to see things the Time Lord way, coming round to the Doctor’s philosophy that if he doesn’t “move on” after a death, more people will die.
Perhaps it was that off-the-cuff inspirational speech he gave to baddie Lord Sutcliffe (Nicholas Burns)—the cold-blooded heir with a “pet monster that turns people into fuel,” as Bill put it—that changed her mind.
Doctor: “I preferred it when you were alien.”
Sutcliffe: “When I was…”
Doctor: “Well, that would explain the lack of humanity. What makes you so sure your life is worth more than those people out there on the ice? Is it the money? The accident of birth that puts you inside the big, fancy house?”
Sutcliffe: “I help move this country forward. I move this Empire forward.”
Doctor: “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.”
Undeterred by the time-traveling alien’s moving speech, Sutcliffe waves his white privilege like a flag—some things never change—and orders the advancement of his plan for world domination.
The Doctor and Bill face off against Lord Sutcliffe (via BBC)
As showrunner Steven Moffat promised, season 10 of Doctor Who is a continuous buffet of details for newcomers. This episode places the spotlight on the Doctor’s sonic screwdriver: a lock-picking, laser-pointing, sound-wave-amplifying, matter-scanning, glass-shattering flashlight/microphone/lighter, which also happens to tighten and loosen screws.
It’s that very multi-purpose tool that ultimately save the day and set free a lonely fish—at Bill’s command.
Still finding her TARDIS legs, Miss Potts is a quick learner with an even quicker temper. Ready for a thrill, but always curious to know who, what, where, why, and when, the inquisitive companion finally feels right. She is utterly human, modern, and most importantly, relatable; she asks the questions I want to know, says the things I want to say, and goes on the adventures I want to take.
There’s something fishy in Regency London (via BBC)
But while Bill keeps him busy in the present, at least one of the Doctor’s hearts is stuck in the past.
As the Time Lord reveals (while eating some nauseating local delicacy), this is not his first Thames Frost Fair. Savvy Whovians may have connected the dots, recalling the Doctor’s off-screen holiday with wife River Song, who he took “ice skating on the River Thames in 1814,” prior to the events of 2011 episode “A Good Man Goes to War.”
Could River’s return be the second mind-blowing surprise the retiring producer has in store for his final season? (The first, obviously, is John Simm’s Master being detained in that mysterious underground vault.)
Missed episode two of Doctor Who? Check out our recap of “Smile,” as well as our review of Class episode “Nightvisiting.”
Also, check out the BBC’s list of six historical events attended by the Doctor and his companions (a la Forrest Gump):
- Eruption of Mount Vesuvius, AD 79 (Tenth Doctor & Donna Noble, “The Fires of Pompeii”)
- Signing the Magna Carta, 1215 (Fifth Doctor & Tegan Jovanka/Vislor Turlough,”The King’s Demons”)
- Great Fire of London, 1666 (Fifth Doctor & Adric/Nyssa/Tegan, “The Visitation”)
- The Blitz, 1940-41 (Ninth Doctor & Rose Tyler, “The Empty Child”/”The Doctor Dances”)
- Moon landing, 1969 (Eleventh Doctor & Amy/Rory, “Day of the Moon”)
- London Olympics opening ceremony, 2012 (Tenth Doctor & Rose Tyler, “Fear Her”)