Doctor Who Review: Thin Ice

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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.

I suspect it says a lot that I’m already starting to run out of ways to describe just how good Bill – and, by extension, Pearl Mackie – is. Three episodes in and you’re making this much of an impression? That’s surely a hallmark of a successful companion.

Once again, we’re getting an episode that’s largely defined by Bill, but it’s one that’s done so in a markedly different way from Smile and The Pilot. Where Thin Ice’s two predecessors relied on fairly simple plots to give Bill the space to take centre stage, Thin Ice itself builds its approach to history around Bill’s perspective, and the manner in which Bill’s perspective is going to differ from (almost) every companion who’s gone before her. (More on which shortly.)

As a result, then, the episode feels a lot like Bill’s story in much the same way the previous two episodes did, while at the same time allowing it to touch on some deeper themes and ideas. There’s a lot here that we’ve actually never seen from a companion before, which again is a great way to make Bill distinct – not only is it her fears and concerns about time travel (which of course give way to her wonderful enthusiasm soon enough) but her reaction to seeing someone die for the first time. We haven’t seen a companion respond in that way before ever; not only is it a very clever way of continuing Bill’s premise as the companion who challenges the accepted norms of the genre, it’s just a very nice moment.

It’s one that Pearl Mackie does some brilliant work with, here getting a real chance to show her range as an actress. She gets to continue doing a lot of what she’s good at, of course; the enthusiasm I love so much, and that wonderful charm and charisma that have made people take to her as a companion so quickly. But at the same time, Mackie is given the chance to continue pushing and developing Bill’s relationship with the Doctor – Thin Ice is the first time there’s a meaningful challenge or conflict between the pair – and Mackie carries that brilliantly. If anyone still had doubts at this point (though surely no one did) this is undoubtedly the final proof of how abundantly skilled she is; she managed to hit that complex point between fear, revulsion and anger at the Doctor, yet still ensuring it grew from the closeness of their relationship, absolutely perfectly.

And so, Thin Ice is a great conclusion to the trilogy of episodes that introduce a new companion – although it’s very lucky to have such a great companion to introduce in Bill, and a great actor to bring the material to life in Pearl Mackie.

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I suspect it also says a lot that I can already tell I’m going to start running out of ways to describe just how good Sarah Dollard is. Two episodes in and you’re making this much of an impression? Well, that’s surely a hallmark of a phenomenal writer.

The first time I saw an episode of television she wrote was actually an episode of You, Me and the Apocalypse, a tragically short-lived comedy-drama about the end of the world. Dollard’s episode was the fifth one, and while not exactly an event episode, it was clearly one of the best – her deft handling of the characters was expert, and there were some wonderfully poignant moments. (I said this to her at the time, and she said it was lovely of me to say. I count that as something of a personal achievement.)

And, of course, everyone knows how good Face the Raven was. That’s just sort of an accepted fact, and I don’t need to tell you that again. It’s nice to see, then, Dollard coming back and proving that it wasn’t just a one-off success, but a high benchmark of quality that’s evident across of her work (that I’ve seen). It’d be an absolute tragedy if she didn’t return under Chris Chibnall, or indeed take over the whole shebang herself in a few years’ time.

But it’s worth pausing for a second to reflect on just what it is that’s so good about this episode. I mean, obviously, there is a lot – we’ve already spoken about how wonderful the moments examining Bill’s reactions to death are, and I’m going to talk about that speech in a moment. The bit that stood out to me, though, was the pacing and structure of the piece.

Admittedly, that’s not necessarily the sort of thing that you’d instinctively pick up on; certainly, it’s not as easily noticeable as the lovely dialogue. However, it’s just as important in many ways – Thin Ice is a really well put together piece of Doctor Who. It moves along at a quick pace, yes, but it’s more accurate to describe it as an expert pace – Thin Ice gels together exceptionally well, and it manages to hit all the right beats while letting them all breathe appropriately. I genuinely think you could study this one to work out how to put a Doctor Who episode together well.

So, it’s an excellent effort from Sarah Dollard here, giving us what’s arguably the platonic Doctor Who episode. I can’t wait to see what she does next – Doctor Who or not.

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The bit that everyone spoke about when the episode aired, and the bit that I loved and immediately started gushing about, was that speech from the Doctor about the value of a human life. And, obviously, the punch.

On the most basic level, it works really well within the episode. It’s the moment where the Doctor more meaningfully addresses Bill’s concerns – the demonstration that actually, he does care. And, of course, it is a lovely speech. Plus, the punch is great on a couple of levels – a moment of triumph, absolutely, but also as payoff to the joke about the Doctor’s comment about needing to be charming. It is, literally, a punchline.

More than that, though, this is probably one of the better handlings of injustice and inequality that we’ve seen in Doctor Who. It’s not so much simplistic as it is straightforward, but it benefits from being deeply emphatic in how it advances these ideas; it’s utterly unforgiving in its rejection of racism, its subtle critique of imperialism, and that redistribution of wealth at the end. It’s perhaps odd to be able to praise an episode of Doctor Who for saying racism is bad, but that does feel increasingly necessary these days – despite having been filmed in August 2016 and written before that, Thin Ice manages to be deeply in tune with the zeitgeist of 2017, and does an excellent job at being post-Trump/post-Brexit Doctor Who.

Similarly, it’s also one of the better handlings of race in Doctor Who, in that it… actually does address and acknowledge Bill’s race. It gets it exactly right in the way that The Shakespeare Code got it entirely wrong; we’ve seen what it’s like when they drop the ball on this issue, and Thin Ice is obviously all the better for getting it right.

Ultimately, then, I loved Thin Ice. I could talk about it at length, really; in a way, I’m almost disappointed with this review, because I don’t think I’ve done the episode justice. But then – much like with my review of Face the Raven last time – Knock Knock is about to start, and it’s time to post the review.

Much like Face the Raven again…



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Doctor Who Review: Face The Raven

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I guess we’re both just going to have to be brave.

I’ve been looking forward to this episode for a while now actually – I mean, obviously, I’m always looking forward to new Doctor Who, but particularly since I saw the fifth episode of You, Me and the Apocalypse, which shared a writer with Face The Raven. Sarah Dollard did a rather fantastic job on that show, so I was definitely looking forward to seeing her work on Doctor Who.

And it was great!

The trap streets are, first and foremost, a rather wonderful concept, well realised and fantastically presented. It’s the sort of idea you would have expected Doctor Who to have used in the past, and the fact that it now actually has is brilliant, because now things are a lot more complete, in a way. Face The Raven does a great job of showing it off in a uniquely Doctor Who way, too – Capaldi’s narration over clips of the Doctor, Clara and Rigsy walking through London, searching for trap streets does a wonderful job of grounding the idea, while invoking the classic Doctor Who juxtaposition between the mundane and the alien. I can almost guarantee that kids up and down the country were counting their steps on the way to school on Monday morning, and ending up highly suspicious when they inevitably lost count.

On top of that, though, the alien refugee camp aspect was a genuine stroke of genius, taking an already fantastic concept on to the next level entirely. Dollard did a great job of fleshing out that community, in a fairly limited space of time; one line that stood out to me, actually, was when one of the aliens said something along the lines of “Humans can survive losing whole limbs”. Little more than a throwaway line, I know, but I liked the implications of it; it counters the usual idea of aliens being more resilient and stronger than humans, and carries connotations of a sort of alien culture we’re not necessarily as familiar with in comparison to others.

It was also really nice to see the various different alien species we’ve grown to know over the years; I know they were just cameos, but it’s always exciting to see Ood and Judoon and the like. I really hope that at some stage in the next few years we return to these Trap Streets; there’s a lot of mileage there, and you could definitely get a few more episodes out of it. We’ve only really scratched the surface of the idea, and there’s definitely more to see.

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Of course, the Ood and the Judoon weren’t the only returning characters; we also had Rigsy and Ashildr, both in prominent roles. Admittedly, I was skeptical when I heard Rigsy was returning – I wasn’t entirely sure whether there was anything new to explore with the character, primarily – but watching the episode, it actually makes a lot of sense. I’m not really sure if Clara’s death would have had as much thematic weight had it not been a character that the audience, and both Clara and the Doctor, weren’t already familiar with. Rigsy makes a lot of sense, then; the only other character I can think of who might have fit the same requirements is actually Courtney Woods, but I’m not sure if that would actually have been better or not. Regardless, though, Joivan Wade did an excellent job playing Rigsy here, who is a really great character. (Did anyone know Joivan Wade is part of that Mandem on the Wall YouTube channel? I found that out recently, thought it was quite interesting.)

Maisie Williams gave another great performance in this episode with Ashildr’s third appearance this series – now, of course, she’s going by Mayor Me, and she’s leading the alien refugee camp of the trap streets. It was wonderful to see the character back again, further extending her progression across the series; Face the Raven does a really good job of building on Ashildr’s previous appearances, particularly that of The Woman Who Lived, by positioning the character in a slightly more villainous, antagonistic role. I actually really liked the way in which it was initially made to appear that she was working alone – for example, the involvement of the TARDIS key harkens back to Ashildr’s previous desire to leave the planet – which makes the eventual reveal that a higher power is involved all the more interesting a reveal. (Any guesses on who they are, out of interest? I’m thinking Time Lords.)

Honestly, the only slight issue I had was the fact that we actually knew Maisie Williams was returning. It would have been truly amazing if that had been kept a secret – honestly, a truly massive surprise. Nevermind, though. It’ll be surprising enough when she’s revealed to be the next companion! (Please?)

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Of course, though, the most important part of this episode was Clara. Because this was her departure, in the end. (Probably.)

Now, Clara’s already had two very good departures – once at the end of Death in Heaven, and then once again at the end of Last Christmas – so I was a little anxious to see how this departure for Clara actually went, and whether or not it would be a case of diminishing returns, or third time lucky. Thankfully, though, this was a wonderful exit for Clara, which was ultimately really fitting in terms of her character arc and progression.

In the end, Clara was undone by her flaws, and her attempts to become more like the Doctor. She had to be brave, and face the raven.

Thematically, there was a lot of resonance throughout this scene and all of Clara’s previous episodes, because it formed the culmination of a journey that we’d seen and taken part in alongside her. As a concept, I thought it was probably the best death that Clara could have been given; even though it was a result of her attempt to be more like the Doctor, in the end, she had total control over her death. The circumstances were inevitable, yes, but in the end, Clara was brave. Like she always has been.

It was a very intense set of scenes, and it’s times like this when Doctor Who fans should be thankful for writers like Sarah Dollard, and for actors like Peter Capaldi and Jenna Coleman, because this was a truly wonderful sequence. It’s worth singling out Jenna Coleman though, particularly, given that this may well be one of the last times we ever see her as Clara.

Her performance was fantastic; genuinely compelling, and it gave life to some absolutely fantastic scenes. Which is what we’ve become accustomed to from Jenna Coleman, really; I am pretty firm in my belief that she is the best companion we’ve had over the past ten years.

So, then, Face the Raven. Honestly, it was truly excellent – I loved it. 10/10.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, Hell Bent is literally starting right now. I have cut it pretty fine with the review this week!


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TV Review: You, Me and the Apocalypse (Episode Five)

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You, Me and the Apocalypse is a bold, adrenaline-fuelled comedy-drama about the last days of mankind – boasting a relentlessly entertaining mix of action, adventure, romance and wit set against a backdrop of apocalyptic chaos.

The story follows an eclectic group of seemingly unconnected characters around the world as their lives start to intersect in the most unexpected ways, all triggered by the news that a comet is on an unavoidable collision course towards earth.

This week’s episode (well, I say that, it aired a few weeks ago now) was written by Sarah Dollard! (That’s @carrionlaughing, for those of you following at home on tumblr.) Her name stood out to me, actually, when I saw it in the opening credits, because I am a big Doctor Who fan, and obviously I knew that Sarah Dollard is going to be writing the tenth episode of series 9, Face the Raven. I’ve been avoiding plot details for that, more or less, but I do know one thing now – it’s going to be very good.

This fifth episode is very much a transitional one; it’s the mid point in this ten episode series, and you can clearly see a lot of story arcs drawing to a close, and new ones opening up. It’s something that Sarah Dollard handled really well, bringing (in some cases) a sense of closure to this crossroads, with plenty of intrigue following on.

Much like last episode, it’s a great episode for characterisation – much like the whole series, really. Jamie and Dave start to get to know Mary in this episode, and there are some genuinely compelling scenes between them; an obvious one to point to is Jamie’s grief when he finds out about Ariel and ‘Hawkwind’, but the one that stayed with me more was Dave reproaching Jamie for his response to Mary’s delusions – it was a rather powerful moment, actually. The way the show has handled Mary’s mental illness has been impressively sensitive, actually; they’re very careful as to how the other characters respond to her, and just what exactly is played for laughs, and what is a moment of pathos.

I also quite enjoyed the culmination of Rhonda and Leanne’s story; it was similarly well done. It’ll be a shame to see Leanne go, actually – she was a consistently very funny character, and there was a level of depth to her too; the goodbye between her and Rhonda (the circumstances of which were very well chosen) was in fact quite poignant. And, of course, Scotty and General Gaines had a similarly compelling storyline. Kyle Soller is a fantastic actor – fast becoming one of my favourite characters, actually. Very well characterised, from the acting and the writing. Paterson Joseph too is rather wonderful; there’s an interesting potential Doctor in there. (It’s always on the brain.)

Another very strong episode there then! Enjoyed it quite a lot; very much an “end of act one” sort of story, but it’s come at the right time, and it’s got a lot of strengths in its own right.



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