Well, it looks like this is the season class and race are going to be issues on Doctor Who
, if this week and last are any indication. To-day's episode, "Thin Ice", written by Sarah Dollard, fumbles in a few areas but mostly is an entertaining adventure in a pleasingly novel time and place, 1814 on the frozen Thames. I don't recall another Doctor Who
episode in Regency England, actually. Spoilers after the screenshot
The episode covers a lot of familiar ground. Pearl Mackie continues to impress as Bill and she had the same steps several modern companions have had to take with the Doctor in this episode--the discovery that the Doctor's accustomed to death and has killed people, etc. For this reason it's a bit fitting that Peter Capaldi seems a bit lethargic in this episode; he really seems like a guy having the same day he's had hundreds of times before.
My biggest complaint in the episode has to do with its handling of race. On the one hand, kudos to Sarah Dollard for pointing out England wasn't as white in the 19th century as many portrayals have made it out to be. And kudos for even bringing up the issue. However, though I think it's fine that Bill was apparently unaware slavery wasn't legal in England at the time--many people Bill's age aren't aware of this--it would have been nice if the Doctor had taken a moment to tell her why
she was seeing more black people than she thought she would. Especially if the idea was to enlighten viewers who were unaware. Maybe Dollard or someone on the show wanted to avoid making it seem like an educational programme, but since Bill brought up the issue, it would have been a perfectly natural conversation to have. As it is, it seems odd that Bill apparently goes from believing she might be kidnapped at any moment to accepting she won't with no explanation.
Incidentally, I can do some self-promotion here since the issue just so happens to be covered in the new chapter of my web comic
, set in 1674. England profited enormously from the slave trade but slavery wasn't technically permitted in England itself for centuries--though slave owners did manage to bring slaves in and out of England--but even this was made illegal in the 18th century. Of course, there was still racism, especially closer to the 19th century, but free black populations in England actually go back pretty far. Though to-day's episode of Doctor Who
wasn't being quite so honest in its portrayal of a London populace on the Thames that looked to be at least 30% non-white. This was probably not Sarah Dollard's fault.
I kind of liked how subdued Capaldi was when he delivered the speech about the poor that everyone seemed to think was amazing. It conveyed that the Doctor knew that it really wasn't going to accomplish anything.
The sets looked really nice and I liked the variety of costumes and social classes visible. I suspect they're probably backlot sets used for a variety of shows but the Doctor Who
team made good use of them and really made what was probably a small space look convincingly big.
The episode felt a lot like a sequel to the Eleventh Doctor episode "The Beast Below". Maybe that's another reason the Doctor felt like he'd done all this before. It's thanks to the lesson he learned in "The Beast Below", maybe, he didn't immediately kill the monster.