In my previous Doctor Who post I talked about how much I liked the new companion, Bill, in the first 2 episodes. In Thin Ice, Pearl Mackie is no longer introducing her character, she is full on owning it! The chemistry between Peter Capaldi and Pearl Mackie in this episode was beautiful. It didn’t matter if they were flinging one liners or seriously debating the nature of death, these two were masterful.
This episode has all the elements of Doctor Who when it is at its finest. The great writing and performances allowed the episode to move fluidly between serious, horrifying, and comedic. A hilarious exchange between The Doctor and Bill about a made up guy named Peter addressed Bill’s worries about the butterfly effect. There is then a funny scene where poor children steal The Doctor’s sonic screwdriver. This quickly makes a shift to tragic when the child running away with the sonic screwdriver is swallowed by a monster below the ice.
This incident is the heart of the episode. It goes from lighthearted to devastating in one moment and smacks Bill in the face with her first time witnessing a death. The Doctor’s seeming lack of compassion upsets Bill and leads her to question The Doctor about how many deaths he has witnessed and how many people he has killed. When The Doctor cannot give a number and talks about “moving on” it seems to point to a devaluing of life. However, this scene comes full circle later in the episode when Capaldi gives a brilliant speech about a species being judged by how they treat their most “unimportant” lives.
The actual plot involves an ice fair in 1814 London in which poor children are being paid to lure people to fall through the ice in order to feed them to the monster below whose waste is a power source strong enough to power interstellar travel. The man benefitting from this, Lord Sutcliffe, is the latest of generations that have benefited from the monster eating the “unimportant” people. This episode is not about the plot, but rather the themes of how we view death, social class, and the value of life.