Another episode that follows the season 36 pattern in being low on plot, high on atmosphere and above all leaving plenty of room to explore the Doctor/Bill dynamic. It’s definitely working for me, and this is the strongest episode of the season so far.
The frost fair of 2014 is a terrific setting that we’ve never seen on TV, though we know that the Doctor has been there with Vicki and River Song, along with Stevens Taylor and Wonder respectively. Here it is render colourfully (in multiple senses) and while the plot is simple, it is well realised, with an entirely convincing (and even logical, if diabolical) scheme by a self-facilitating merchant node to exploit an alien’s highly combustible excrement.
This is the story that sees the new companion encounter the darker side of a jaunt with the Doctor and it’s played very nicely; it’s not glossed over, Bill has a very human reaction to a little boy’s death that is acknowledged – and there is an angry exchange with the Doctor, but while he is quick to dismiss her concerns to put his point of view, she listens, considers and very quickly accepts. Despite this there’s little chance we’ll be left with the impression that the Doctor is still as callous as he claims (much as I loved his “top layer if you want to say a few words”) or that Bill is overawed by him, as is evident when she takes pleasure in pointing out that the 2000-year-old has been indulging in the ‘luxury’ of outrage.
“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. The boy who died on the river, that boy’s value is your value. That’s what defines an age, that’s… what defines a species.”
The issue of a black woman stepping 200 years into Britains past is taken head on too, giving the Doctor an opportunity to demonstrate his Totally Mexico right hook.
The trickery with this week’s title which is almost-another-episode-of-Who (following on from The Pilot) relates to an episode planned for what would have been the show’s original 27th season in 1990, if it hadn’t been cancelled. It would have featured the Ice Warriors and the departure of Ace to make way for a new companion alongside Sylvester McCoy’s 7th Doctor. In 2011 this was dramatised by Big Finish (it’s rather good too). I have to admit, I was expecting Ice Warriors in this 2017 story, given the title. But then, Ice Warriors seem to be Mark Gatiss’ thing these days, and this one is by Sarah Dollard, author of last season’s splendid Face the Raven and the excellent Cara Fi.
More enjoyable music for Murray Gold; and once again Lucas gets a title credit for a tiny bit of business in the epilogue.