Written by Sarah Dollard | Directed by Bill Anderson
The writers really aren’t pulling their punch this season. A social commentary on race relations, the death of children and a good ole fashioned evil human-dominated this episode.
Something is frozen beneath the Thames and is apparently eating the residents of London, but how and why? It seems like every season of Doctor Who we need the Doctor to rescue a trapped animal of some kind, which is never as evil as it’s size and choice of food source suggests it will be. Very similar to the Eleventh Doctor’s second episode ‘The Beast Below’, a whale like space creature is trapped and used for human gain of some sort, in this episode to create fuel and the true villain is revealed to be the human race. Or at least one particularly evil and racist human. If I had a main criticism that would be it, but I think the episode had enough fun balanced well with emotional moments, led superbly by Pearl Mackie, that it didn’t bother me whilst watching the episode.
I don’t hide the fact that I’m simply in love with Bill and again this episode shows why. So here’s to another Bill appreciation moment.
What I love about Bill is that she acts and responds how most people would in these crazy situations and a lot of that comes down to just asking a tonne of questions, as I’ve mentioned in previous reviews. In this episode in particular though she quite rightly questions the morality and the humanity of the Doctor after an innocent child is killed. Much of this is down to superb writing. What Dollard has done well here is appreciate the small moments. I imagine many of us would need a second to comprehend what we just saw and wouldn’t always just be swept up in the momentum of the action and mystery surrounding us. To be fair, Bill’s outrage didn’t last that long but that’s by the by and she forgave the Doctor or at came to understand his side of the story in another small moment that allowed us to get to know or appreciate the new characters that had been introduced and to have a moment of normality amidst the craziness.
The race of Doctor’s companion is an idea that’s been explored before with Martha, but as I recall, was never tackled in such an overt way as writer Sarah Dollard does in this episode. With Martha, it was always excepted that she was a friend of the Doctor’s from ‘Freedonia’ and was highly respected there and therefore should be in whichever time period they visited. In the Shakespeare episode, the initial hesitation was quickly glanced over in place of romance. However, as this episode shows, that probably would never have happened, or at least not in such a public way. It’s almost refreshing to see such out and out racism in a ‘light-hearted’ show like Doctor Who, which doesn’t need to make any sort of social commentary in order to entertain but as society itself is becoming more socially aware in the real world, it’s nice to see that reflected on-screen. There was a time where such brutal truths as “History is whitewashed”, would never have been expected to appear on a sci-fi show despite how accurate a statement it is. Along with her sexual identity, it seems that Bill is set to break barriers, at least in the Doctor Who realm, as one of the most interesting and complex companions in New Who.
It was also fun to see the Doctor react to racial comments in a way other than dismissing them or trying to explain away what’s happening. Although having the Doctor clock Sutcliffe for his comments (another case of the strong white man saving the helpless black woman), I simply saw it as another step in solidifying their relationship. Just like a father would never accept any abuse towards their child, especially a father with his daughter, the Doctor, despite instructing Bill to keep her temper, lost his. His compulsiveness showed that despite the consequences, he will always try to protect Bill.
This episode had a very Bond-villain-like antagonist in Sutcliffe, border lining and sometimes tipping over into very campy, all the way from his outright racism to building a bomb as the last part of his plan with a convenient countdown giving our heroes enough time to escape captivity and stop his evil plan. Simple yet effective, I quite enjoyed the break from evil/misunderstood aliens being the cause of suffering as sometimes humans and our cold hard capitalism are our worst enemy (as we’ll see in the next episode). And once again the Doctor actively did something to stop the antagonist and there was no reasoning or the extensive amount of talking, just the good ole’ scene of the bad guy getting eaten by whatever he was holding captive.
Again, another solid episode. Just like the best sci-fi shows, this episode deals with real social issues whilst entertaining us aliens and shiny bright lights. Pearl Mackie and Peter Capaldi work excellently together and as the layers of their relationship continue to grow I’m beginning to hate the fact that Capaldi’s leaving at the end of this season and get more nervous as I hear rumours that Pearl won’t be sticking around for another season. What am I gonna do?