DOCTOR WHO – SEASON 10, EPISODE 03
WRITTEN BY SUSAN DOLLARD
DIRECTED BY BILL ANDERSON
Another week, another Doctor Who episode. So far so good, with this season showing an abundance of energy and fun that was sometimes missing from the other Capaldi seasons. We’ve had something in the present and something in the future, so now it’s time to take Bill into the past. I’m always enjoy a good Doctor Who history adventure so let’s get into it.
We open exactly where we closed last episode, on the frozen Thames facing an elephant. They retreat back into the TARDIS (and move the TARDIS to higher ground), and the Doctor sees that rather than being back in sunny 2017, they’re actually in 1814 during the Frost Fair. The Doctor wants to leave the TARDIS and go exploring but Bill points out that her skin tone isn’t going to be widely accepted in the 19th century setting. Yes, the Doctor agrees and yes it might be dangerous, so he does the only rational thing and gives her directions to where she can find a dress inside. While Bill goes to get dressed a man carrying fruit and veg bumps into the Doctor and some of his wares fall onto the ice and through the ice. The fruit/veg floats down into the murky depths until it hits a giant fish with lots and lots of teeth.
Bill and the Doctor emerge from the TARDIS in their Regency-era clothes. Inside the TARDIS, the console lights up showing a map of the Thames and a warning: LIFE FORM DETECTED.
Bill asks the Doctor what the rules are for time travel and the butterfly effect and causality and paradoxes, and the Doctor tells her to not worry about it, so I guess that solves that.
They travel down onto the ice and begin to check out the Frost Fair eating the food (or, in Bill’s case, not eating it), seeing a sword swallower, wrestlers, and bowling. Bill notices a lot more black people than she expected and the Doctor explains that history is a whitewash.
Beneath the ice, the fish stir, and Bill notices a green light moving below her feet. She tells the Doctor about the lights but obviously he’s already seen them and that he wanted them to have some fun before the work started.
Two Londoners ice skate on the Thames, watched from below. They pass a drunk who sees the lights and follows them, right past a sign that says THIN ICE. He follows the lights into a mist and we hear the sound of a man being pulled under the ice and eaten by fish.
The Doctor and Bill discuss the lights and whether they are mechanical or organic. While they’re talking they are pick pocketed by urchins who steal the Doctor’s sonic. They give chase and we see under the ice that the noise of the pursuit is attracting the fish. The boy urchin stops running, dazzled by the lights beneath him. His friend calls for him to run as the Doctor and Bill show up. The lights turn red and the boy is pulled beneath the ice. The Doctor manages to grab his sonic before the boy is completely gone. Bill angrily demands that the Doctor save the boy and the Doctor tells her he can’t. He asks the girl urchin where the others sleeping rough are. The girl points out that Bill is gone and then runs away.
The Doctor finds an upset Bill who is angry at the Doctor for being glib and heartbroken at seeing someone die for the first time. She asks him if he’s ever seen people die before and if he cared. He says yes to both things but can’t tell her how many people he’s seen die. And she asks him if hes ever killed anyone he mumbles excuses before finally admitting that yes, he has killed people but he can’t tell her how many. He quickly shuts down her outrage and says that they need to help the others sleeping rough rather than standing around stamping their feet.
Kitty, the girl from before, appears behind them. She takes them to the place the homeless sleep, a collapsed building full of orphan children. They reveal that they are paid by someone to hand out flyers and get people to go to the fair, out on the ice. Before they reveal the name though one of the children starts asking questions about the boy who went under the ice and the Doctor distracts them with food and stories. The kids explain that a man with a ship tattoo paid them to get people onto the ice. The Doctor considers it boring to go looking for the man and instead decides they need to get a closer look at what’s under the ice.
They get into old fashioned diving suits and head out on the ice. The lights appear and take Bill below and the Doctor follows. Beneath the ice they see swarms of little fish and hear the roar of something bigger. They shine the sonic around and see a giant fish held in place with chains.
They emerge from the ice right next to a man fishing. The fisherman runs away and they see that his catch is the little fish with the green lights. The find the fisherman and ask him about the ship tattoo man and he points them towards a workhouse and the dredgers. They psychic paper their way in and get shown around. The men working there are pulling mud from the river and then packing it into bricks. The Doctor tricks the foreman into revealing that the bricks (which might actually be fish poo) are being taken to the steel mill. The foreman tells them that he’s heard a rumour that the bricks burn a thousand times longer than coal and immeasurably hotter. He says that he’s also heard that the bricks will burn underwater.
The Doctor and Pearl go to Lord Sutcliffe’s house – I should have mentioned that in the above scene they kept talking about him as a bigwig – and knock on the door. The Doctor advises Bill to stay quiet and keep her temper under control as they need information, not a fight. Bill agrees and sits down. Lord Sutcliffe enters and is all smiles with the Doctor but when he sees Bill he demands to know who let ‘this creature’ into his house. The Doctor, a man of reason, punches him out.
A group of scruffy men (one of which has a ship tattoo on his hand) enter the room and tie up the Doctor and Pearl. Lord Sutcliffe, now conscious, tells them that the creature in the river has always been there, a family secret passed down forever. The Doctor points out that this is the biggest frost fair in decades and Sutcliffe arranged it all. Sutcliffe agrees, telling them that the creature causing such an intense freeze means they can harvest tons of poo fuel. His reasoning is that without the poo fuel (poo-el?) they would have to rely on coal and coal mines kill people too, and his mills and plans move the empire forward.
The Doctor tells him that progress isn’t measured by industry, it’s measured by the value we put into human lives, especially an unimportant life without privilege. That’s what defines a species. As a side note this is the kind of speech Capaldi does so well. There’s something about his age and tone that makes these speeches fly where Tennant and Smith would have seemed too, well, childish to make them work. Credit to Capaldi and to the writers for realising that these speeches, which always mirror something in the real world, sound like Shakespeare when the 12th Doctor says them.
Of course, the speech is lost on Sutcliffe who tells his men to bring the plan forward. The Doctor and Bill are packed into a carriage and taken to the river. They’re put into a tent containing explosives and tied up. The bombs will go off at noon and sink everyone on the ice, giving the creature a feast. Bill and the Doctor manage to get his sonic screwdriver. By turning on the sonic he summons the little fish who gather around them. Ship Tattoo comes in and grab the sonic from them which summons the fish to him. He throws the sonic away but too late, under the ice he goes.
The Doctor asks Bill what they’re going to do next and Bill assumes they need to kill the creature to save London. The Doctor tells her that it is up to her as he serves at the pleasure of the human race so she needs to give him an order. She turns to him and tells him they need to save the creature. The Doctor tells her he’ll deal with the bomb but she’s got to get everyone off the ice. Bill gets the urchins to run around telling everyone that the thaw has come and people are falling through the ice. The crowd panics and begins to flee. Lord Sutcliffe tries to stop people from fleeing but they ignore him. Sutcliffe’s men are setting the fuses for the bomb and he tells them he needs to blow it up now. Bill gets the orphans to get ashore even though there are people still on the ice. Sutcliffe drops the lever to set off the bomb and…nothing happens.
We cut to beneath the water and see the Doctor has attached the bombs to the creature’s chains, which explode. Sutcliffe runs out onto the ice after Bill.
At the workhouse the Doctor, in full diving suit, emerges from the water.
Sutcliffe runs into the bomb tent and finds it empty. He runs outside, just in time for the creature to break the surface and for him to fall in. Bill runs along the breaking ice and the Doctor pulls her ashore.
The creature swims away down the Thames, singing a happy fish refrain as it heads for somewhere colder and away from humanity.
The orphans go to Sutcliffe’s mansion where Bill lets them in. The Doctor doctors Sutcliffe’s will to give the house and the fortune to the orphans and they TARDIS away back to the Doctor’s office in 2017.
Nardole comes in with the tea he went to make at the start of the previous episode and even before he’s finished congratulating the Doctor for sticking to his oath he notices the Regency clothes and tells the Doctor off.
Bill googles 1814 and sea creature/big fish/monster but finds nothing. The Doctor explains that people will gloss over the inexplicable and also that the Frost Fair involved a lot of day drinking. He does find her an article about the Sutcliffe fortune passing to a street urchin and Bill is happy that they managed to save the children.
No, says the Doctor, you saved them. You gave the order.
We cut to later and Nardole is down by the vault muttering to himself when something knocks on the other side of the vault door. Nardole shouts at the knocker that they’re not going anywhere. And the knocking continues.
The new companion episodes follow a pattern in which we get an intro episode, a future episode, and a past episode. Once this is done with the companion is established, has asked as many questions as they need to ask, has faced some sort of moral quandary which helps establish their character, and we can get into full adventures next week.
This episode was a great past episode based on a real event in 1814 (the Frost Fair, not the giant fish). The creation of the Frost Fair was a wonderful production touch which managed to feel like a huge event with lots of moving parts without ever seeming as though they just filmed the same bit of set from a bunch of different angles.
It was lovely to see some idiots complain on social media that Doctor Who has been taken over by SJWs. I love this, as it usually means that a show is moving in a really good direction. I have no interest in seeing what it is that idiots have beef with but it could be the gay companion, the fact that said companion is a WOC, or perhaps it’s the Doctor giving a speech that for me resonated as being an admonishment towards the world’s treatment of refugees. Maybe its the fact that the racist 1%-er got knocked the hell out in classic Nazis need punching style. Who knows? Either way I’m enjoying it, and the fact that these three episodes have been killer is a bonus.
It’s shame this is Capaldi’s final season as I really feel he’s made the role his own. Removing the brash grumpiness to make him more jolly (in a grumpy sort of way) works wonders for the character and Bill just brings something out in him that Clara didn’t. I loved Clara as Matt Smith’s companion but she never quite clicked into place with Capaldi. Bill, on the other hand, probably wouldn’t have worked with Smith but is a shot of adrenaline for the 12th Doctor, who is full of energy and silliness this year.
The bigger mystery of the vault continues though we’re nowhere closer to knowing what it is and what it contains and why, but it’s a good, solid runner of a mystery for this season that hopefully we’ll get more of next week.
Body Count: 4
Best line: “History is a whitewash” – The Doctor
What’s in the vault: It’s knocking three times so not the Master maybe. Could it be Me? The 13th Doctor? Davros? I really have no idea.
Predictions for next week: David Suchet in a haunted share house horror movie mystery? Yes, please.
Featured Image: BBC