Hey people, I’m back! Sorry for my absence, my university assignments have taken priority meaning that I couldn’t write a review for “Smile” last week so right here you’re going to get two in one! Read on to find out what I thought of “Smile” and “Thin Ice”
Episode 2 – “Smile”
Picking up where “The Pilot” left off, we enter this adventure with the Doctor asking Bill whether she’d like a trip forward or backwards in time, very reminiscent of the beginning of the adventures with Nine and Rose. Bill chooses to go to the future and Twelve takes her to Gliese 581D, an Earth colony in the far future which is being built by some incredibly cute yet deadly emoji faced robots known as the Vardi. This episode is written by Frank Cottrell Boyce of “In the Forest of the Night” notoriety, so obviously there was some reservations going in but I was pleasantly surprised by this one.
First off I’ll say what I loved about this episode – it looked absolutely beautiful. The location filming in Valencia, mixed in with the Welsh corn fields really gave such a stunning and believable look to the Utopian world it was meant to be set in. I liked the idea of it being a Utopia too rather than Dystopian because I feel like it’s something we’ve seen a lot of these days especially with a lot YA films that are released. The use of more elaborate sets and locations has impressed me a lot in series 10, with “Thin Ice” too, and adds way more to believability of the worlds we are being shown on-screen. One issue I’ve had in the past few years is that some sets have looked very cheap and that has made it difficult to invest in some episodes – I’m looking at you “Time Heist” and “The Husbands of River Song”. This one made be feel like I too had been taken to another world with Bill.
And that was another thing I enjoyed about the episode, was how it fleshed out the relationship between the Doctor and Bill. Keeping it as a two hander was a very clever decision from the writer, but this episode was definitely told from Bill’s point of view. We got to see her discover the new world, and see the Doctor take joy in her doing that. We got to see more of her humanity too as she discovered the reason the people of Earth left (same reason for what was going in “The Ark in Space”, “The Sontaran Experiment” and “The Beast Below”). I also enjoyed how this story showed the Doctor can be fallible, as much as Capaldi would like us to believe he’s not, when he nearly accidentally killed all the people on the ship to stop the Vardi.
Speaking of, not much to say about the Vardi (or Emojibots) but I thought they were actually great. I can see them people the new Adipose, something cute but sinister for marketing purposes. There was also a lack of Nardole in this episode which is sad because I’m really coming to enjoy him whenever he appears.
That’s not to say this episode is perfect. It’s two biggest flaws for me are the eventual arrival of the supporting cast and the resolution to the threat. The feel of the episode, and the momentum, almost completely changes as soon as the rest of the cast are introduced, including Ralf Little’s Steadfast. To that point the two main cast were able to hold the entire episode together on their own, and adding in several other speaking roles into the mix completely changed the episode. The brief splurge of action we got against the Vardi towards the end of the episode was fun but the whole “turn it off and on again” resolution to the plot was annoying. I’m really uncertain about whether or not that was meant to be a rather funny commentary on technology or had Frank Cottrell Boyce genuinely backed himself into a corner.
Overall, I do actually enjoy this episode in particular for the world building, the scenery and the dynamic that is furthered between the Doctor and Bill. Also for as much as I thought I would hate them I ended up thinking the Vardi were a great inclusion into the Doctor Who rogues gallery. Also the end of this episode was a lovely little nod to the old days of Hartnell teasing us with what was the come next week. A really fun, enjoyable story.
Episode 3 – “Thin Ice”
Easily the strongest outing of Series 10 so far, similar to the last episode this one opened where “Smile” left off as the Doctor and Bill find themselves standing on the frozen River Thames in 1814 for the last of the great frost fairs. I have to admit I love the setting, I tend to enjoy period settings the most for episodes like this – pre-1900 settings, base under seige and horror episodes tend to be the ones I like the most – the costume and set design was just amazing, and similar to “Smile” all of this lent to me enjoying the episode more because I felt more immersed in the story.
This was definitely more of a story for the Doctor, as I just loved every single moment from Capaldi. Especially the moment he punches a racist in the face after just telling Bill off for being too emotional. That was such a punch in the air moment for Twelve and hopefully Series 10 can truly be a swansong for this incarnation.
Bill offered some moments of brilliance too, especially earlier on when she questions whether or not the Doctor had killed someone. I feel like she is the first companion to actively do that onscreen in New Who, but I could be wrong. Also her reaction to see someone die was very authentic, and reminded me of when Clara saw the slaughter of those crew men in “Cold War”, it was great to see the moment when life with the Doctor suddenly became real for Bill. Also kudos to Sarah Dollard for having the guts to kill a child in Doctor Who, not sure if that’s ever actually happened. The Doctor putting the decision of what would happen at the conclusion was also very reminiscent of “Kill the Moon” but this time he was nicer to stay with her and encourage her choice instead of pissing off to make his point. I also got a laugh out of Bill when she nearly uttered “no shit” and when she called the kids “cute as” at the end. Th kids were great in this too. Not often that children are not only written well but also performed well in Doctor Who.
As for the threat of the episode, the sea monster thing really reminded me of the Star Whale from “The Beast Below”, and the way it went about killing its victims were very cool, but as soon as I saw it chained up I knew that it was not going to the real antagonist of the episode. Sutcliffe was a good, if underused, villain but the few moments he had were very effective, even if he did cross over into pantomime. That’s the only thing the first three episodes of Series 10 have been lacking is a single episode threat that’s a strong presence. But it was great that this episode really showed that the scary creatures are not always the monsters, but in fact humans can be just as bad, something Torchwood did really well at times.
Overall, this story is not “Face the Raven” but is an excellent follow-up from Sarah Dollard, and is easily the strongest outing from Series 10 so far. I really want to see more from her when Chibnall takes over. I also loved that we got a bit more Nardole at the end, a real tease about what was in the Vault – Missy? The Simm Master? Well have to wait and see.
Thanks so much everyone for reading and again sorry for the delay in the reviews. They’ll be coming a bit more regularly from now. Love you long time!