I’ll be upfront: this has been the most consistent Moffat’s Who has been in many years. The Pilot, while not deeply original, served as a great introduciton to the highly enjoyable Bill and eased Capaldi’s thorny Twelve into the role of tutor. Smile may have had a rushed conclusion, but it absolutely nailed the ‘exploration’ aspect of an adventure series, with a well realized world and compelling themes. Now, Face The Raven’s Sarah Dollard is back with a period adventure, where the Doctor and Bill investigate strange lights under the ice during the last Great Frost Fair in 1814.
Saying the BBC do period drama well is like saying Freddie Mercury was a good singer. The Thames, the Fair, all the revellers and performers; the money shows and it looks gorgeous. I especially appreciate the colour in the costumes: it feels less stereotypically drab and adds to the fun atmosphere of the first act. The VFX work for the monster is also quite strong, and wisely kept in murky water most of the time to allow for a sense of power and presence.
Also, as far as nothing new, is how well Capaldi and Mackie work with each other. Their relationship is maturing, while still remaining very kinetic thanks to their chemistry and some fun banter as they explore. It’s also good that we’re confronting the darker side of the Doctor’s travels this early with Bill, as it not only gives Bill some wonderfully pensive moments about the Doctor’s views, but also fits into the story’s themes about relationships and what people mean to each other.
Dollard manages to balance the attention to world building and deliberate pace that Cotrell-Boyce gave Smile, while still delivering a well paced and compelling mystery on the ice. I especially love the tense sequence when the Doctor and Bill are on the ice at night, trying to draw out the creature: it had me on edge and I love the Hinchcliffian atmosphere where danger feels very close yet all around. Even the villain, while perhaps a little on the generic side, fits nicely into the episode thematically and the actor’s having fun chewing the scenery and sneering, top hat and all.
Thin Ice was a really nice surprise, and the first gem of the series after two good but not quite exceptional episodes. It feels like the series has found the right way to balance fun and dark again, without becoming as lopsided or tonally unwieldly as the last few years. Furthermore, the Bill dynamic has massively reinvigorated the Twelfth Doctor as a character and he’s now a greater joy to watch because of it. If Knock Knock, from newbie Mike Bartlett, can knock it out of the park too, Series 10 could be well on its way to becomign something very special.
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