I’m not sure. There’s nothing actually wrong with this episode. Seen in isolation, it’s actually pretty good, but compared to the previous episodes, it seems a little low-key. This is all the more strange because the previous two episodes have been fairly low key, too. What’s lower than low key? Unter-key?
True, there’s a colossal monster in it, and that monster isn’t the gigantic toothy fish creature under the Thames. It’s not that simple. Of course it’s not.
The Thames set is rather wonder and though I can’t vouch for the authenticity of the look of the Frost Fair, it does look rather marvellous, despite a rather suspicious looking sword swallower.
What is particularly odd about this episode is that Doctor Who has done the unthinkable and let a child die. I mean, it doesn’t bother me per se, as far as the story went it was entirely the right thing to do, but there was no comeback; no last minute reprieve; no last minute rescue or finding him stored somewhere waiting for resuscitation. He fell through the ice, drowned and was eaten by the fish thing. We know this because we see his hat float past later on.
Bill obsesses about the first death she has witnessed which adds even more depth to her character – with the exception of Rose getting angry with Doctor 9 about the apparent death of Mickey and casually forgetting him . . . twice, the companions seem to take the death and mayhem in their stride without a second thought. Tegan threw a wobbly and ran out after an extended bout of carnage but that, I think, is the closest we got to soul searching and breast beating about the levels of death one can expect travelling with the Doctor. Bill, once again, asks the unaskable and questions the existance of the Doctor.
The episode is a metaphor for slavery and social injustice, something foreshadowed by Bill’s comments early on in the episode about not looking right for Regency London. This is no great insight, the point of the episode is writ large throughout, but it never feels preachy. The line about history being a whitewash is possibly over-egging it, but the point is sound and the Doctor’s speech about the value of a person was a show-stopper.
As a story, it shares a great deal in common with both “The Beast Below” and a Torchwood episode called “Meat” that deals with a whale-like creature being exploited for it’s fast growing flesh rather than it’s rocket fuel poop. The similarities end there and the skin the episode is dressed in is actually rather beautiful.
Naturally, the bad guy gets his comeuppance but not before getting decked by the Doctor for arrogance and, more importantly, racism. The song from Craig Fergusson’s show about “Intellect and romance over brute force and cynicism” whistles awkwardly and looks away at this point . . .
The series so far – and I thought this wold just be relevant to the first episodes – continues to be a learning exercise. In the same way that a new generation learned about the Doctor’s world through Rose’s eye, we all learn through Bills. Us ancient fans might think there’s nothing else to learn but Bill – being Bill – continues asks pertinent questions that no one has thought of before and gives new – and sometimes unpleasant – information about the Doctor. For that, I applaud her.
And I’m still convinced something is going on with her . . .
Nardole is becoming more fractious and whatever lurks in the vault is becoming more agitated. Is it the Master about to be rescued by Missy? Or Missy about to be resuced by the Master? Or something else entirely. Probably something else entirely as my speculations are usually way off . . .
If anything was wrong – other than the unter-key – I thought the ending where the homeless kids are lavishly provided for was a little mawkish, but the look of joy on Bill’s face on realising the help she’d had been able to provide via the medium of time travel kind of made up for it. Prior to that ‘blowing up the ice’ seemed a bit peculiar and pointless, possibly only there to provide some much needed urgency to the episode and provide the explosive for the rescue mission. Given the scale of the fish-thing, I doubt it would have been able to stay hidden in the Thames for very long. Tiny problems that really didn’t diminish the enjoyment of a fine episode.
I did like the stuff about Pete, though. Lovely bit of banter!
A good, solid episode among good solid episodes.
Is it too bitchy to ask for something extraordinary now?