Throughout the run of 2005+ DOCTOR WHO, I’ve traditionally felt the second episodes of each Season/Series - whether they be a standalone tales or the closure of a two-parter - were frustratingly weak when compared to the stories which preceded them.
Until last weekend, the only possible exceptions to this trend (to my recollection, at least) would’ve been 2008’s The Fires of Pompeii, and S7’s Dinosaurs on a Spaceship. Yes, I will continue to enjoy defend the gorgeously sleek and conceptually daffy DoaS, even though doing so still feels like an uphill and lonely battle.
Smile, however, became the third trend breaker. This said, having now watched it twice, I’m not altogether certain the overall logic of its story is 100% air tight.
Pearl Mackie’s Bill once again shined very, very brightly. She has, in an incredibly brief period of time, become one my favorite ‘companions’ to the Doctor - and may be on her way to becoming my most favorite. Part of her genius, by my measure, is in her fundamental conception. When we first met her via this brief introductory video…
….I suggested that her character might well soar if she were to be used as an almost meta reflection on the show itself. Interestingly, this appears to be more or less how the character was actually developed.
To a degree, Bill is the voice of many DOCTOR WHO fans across the ages - pondering the rampant oddness and illogic which frequently characterizes the show, always through a lens of legitimate observation, but with a sense of child-like wonder, and above all…affection. Through her incessant questioning and nit-picky curiosity, Bill is, to me, something of an homage to why we, as fans, love DOCTOR WHO. I see ‘Bill’ as essentially ‘roasting' DOCTOR WHO, the show. A love-fueled poking, prodding, and reflection, but also a circuitous and emotional embrace and ‘goodbye’ from departing show runner Steven Moffat.
Will Season 10’s good fortune continue with this week’s Thin Ice?
The episode is described thusly by BBC:
In Regency England, beneath the frozen Thames, something is stirring.
The Doctor and Bill arrive at the last of the great frost fairs, and find themselves investigating a string of impossible disappearances – people have been vanishing on the ice! Bill is about to discover that the past is more like her world than she expected, and that not all monsters come from outer space…
Thin Ice is scripted by Sarah Dollard, who wrote Face the Raven last Season. I’ve always felt highly conflicted regarding Face the Raven, my chief conundrum being this: how would the episode have played if it were free to be regarded on its own merits? Which didn't really happen.
As is, nearly all viewers watching it - myself included - considered its apparent dispatch of Jenna Coleman’s ‘Clara’ through a lens of doubt or incredulity. A lens clouded by a near-certainty that Coleman/Clara would somehow be recovered and returned to the show. This skepticism, essentially, shorted out whatever impact FtR might’ve otherwise had. Such suspicions were, of course, ultimately proven correct - further diminishing the episode's purpose. Would Raven now be regarded as a strong or affecting episode if Coleman hadn’t eventually come back? ’Tis a fascinating alternate history to consider, and an important reaffirmation that storytelling conceits and gags deployed within a show should never become predictable.
But, I digress a bit. It’ll be interesting to see how Dollard acquits herself with Thin Ice - when the circumstances and timing of her episode are much more in her favor, and the strength and effectiveness of her work can be viewed more objectively, and with less kerfuffle and distortion than before.
Thin Ice is, by the way, also the title of an unrelated audio adventure from Big Finish, which itself was repurposed from a story called Ice Time. Ice Time was an unrealized Sylvester McCoy-era adventure television story which would’ve found two factions of Ice Warriors sparring in 1960s London, and seen companion ‘Ace’ (Sophie Aldred) departing from the show.
Here are some promo images from this week's episode...
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