Posts Tagged With: thin ice

Have I got Whos for you (part 3000)

It’s all about the deleted scenes this week, as we reveal some abandoned concept art for ‘Oxygen’.

Elsewhere: that deleted scene from ‘Thin Ice’, cast into new light:

And the Doctor regrets not renewing the security option on his TARDIS console.

And yes, the TARDIS does have Windows. They’re just the wrong size.

 

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God is in the detail (10-03)

I’m excited this morning. Not because it’s Friday and we’re going to the seaside tomorrow, but because I’ve worked out something ABSOLUTELY COLOSSAL when unpacking ‘Thin Ice’, and it’s all to do with the Eleventh Doctor.

Let me explain. We’ll start with the Sutcliffe residence.

Birds are the theme here. There are so many bird references in this picture it practically deserves its own blog post. For a start, consider Bill’s hat, made of white feathers: a symbol both of hope from beyond and also cowardice, recalling the moment in ‘Parting of the Ways’ in which the Doctor admits that he is a coward – only to be rescued by Rose, as played by Billie Piper.

The wallpaper sitting behind the red urn contains four birds, a clear and unambiguous allusion to ‘The Day Of The Doctor’ – in which Doctors 10 and 11, accompanied by the War Doctor, gather around the Moment, which takes the form of a big red button. Clara lingers in the background, and the sentient Moment itself, as played by – yep, you remember, BILLIE PIPER, lingers just out of shot. The urn itself is a symbol of death and remembrance: moreover the base of the red section is exactly (and quite intentionally) parallel with Bill’s nostrils, which itself conjures images of the Curator winking at the Eleventh Doctor, tapping his face and whispering “Who knows?”

Also consider the willow plate, which refers explicitly to a particular legend, in which two forbidden lovers are transformed into birds by the gods in order to cheat death. And yet it is the traditional (read: author untraceable) poem that surrounds the tale that is perhaps of greatest interest:

Two birds flying high,
A Chinese vessel, sailing by.
A bridge with three men, sometimes four,
A willow tree, hanging o’er.
A Chinese temple, there it stands,
Built upon the river sands.
An apple tree, with apples on,
A crooked fence to end my song.

Let’s unpack that.

You’ll notice I haven’t circled ‘willow tree’, and that’s because it deserves a separate explanation, alluding as it does to the Willow Tree Surgery in Hayes – a town that was used for location filming during ‘Day of the Daleks’. And what do you find in a surgery? Doctors. NEED WE SAY MORE?

The notion of the Third Doctor continues once when we visit the docks, and Bill’s big pile of poo.

There are 26 discernible bricks in shot, representing two sets of canonical regenerations, and you will note that Bill has her hand on the third of them. You will also note that Bill is wearing a velvet bottle green jacket, an outfit the Third Doctor often dragged out of his wardrobe – and that three buttons are visible on the left hand side (as we look at it). However, the Third Doctor isn’t the only one referenced here: note the cuffs, made of the same kind of hair used to construct the Yetis which the Second Doctor fought – and which were a product of the Great Intelligence, WHOM THE ELEVENTH DOCTOR LATER ENCOUNTERED.

Now have a look at this.

Cages – and birds – are once more the theme here, but it is the sign in the background that arouses particular interest. Because if we examine the big words – clearly THE ONLY ONES WE’RE SUPPOSED TO BE ABLE TO SEE, we’ll detect a curious pattern if we pick them apart. And this being episode three, here’s what we get if we pull every third letter from them.

U N S N P S P G B O

All of which may be rearranged to form ‘SPUN NSP BOG‘, which ostensibly means nothing until you Google NSP, whereupon the fish scales fall and you can see with astonishing clarity. Because NSP is an acronym for ‘Nurse Scheduling Problem’.

I’ll just leave this here for a moment.

[Pauses to allow mind-blowing implications of this sink in]

Let’s move on, shall we? Behold: a banquet.

There are four glasses of milk. This in itself means nothing until you consider that the chemical formula for lactose is C12H22O11, which may be broken down thus:

We’re just saying, Legends of Tomorrow isn’t going to last forever. Eventually it’ll be Legends of Yesterday.

The five plates in the background refer to ‘The Five Doctors’, the 1983 anniversary special: note that Doctor Three is positioned directly above a silver bowl. This alludes not (as you might expect) to the Cybermen, but rather the Raston Warrior Robot, which the Third Doctor (yes, HIM AGAIN) and Sarah Jane so memorably encountered in this story, and which is due to IMMINENTLY RETURN in the series finale, along with Peter Davison. The painting above – a clear depiction of the Great Fire of London, which Davison’s Doctor helped start in ‘The Visitation’, is further evidence – as is the fact that ‘THE VISITATION’ can be rearranged to form ‘HAITI OVEN TITS’, and I think we all know what that means, don’t we?

Finally in this image, regard the holly on the table. Specifically, holly in the house of a dignitary – a CLEAR AND UNAMBIGUOUS REFERENCE to Holly Earl, who played Lily in ‘The Doctor, The Widow and the Wardobe’ – WHICH FEATURED RORY WILLIAMS. Coincidentally, Holly also played Christine Kochanski when she was momentarily transformed into a child back in Red Dwarf VIII, which has nothing to do with anything except that she was so goshdarn cute.

Oh, and did I mention that the crew were running away from a dinosaur? Everything is connected, folks. Everything.

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Here’s who’s really in the vault

Legend says that close to the end of things, the reassembled humanoid known as Nardole shall speak to the inhabitant of a heavily secured vault located beneath a British university. And lo, the dialogue shall be hidden from the audience, until the other half of the conversation is leaked, and the occupant of the vault is finally revealed.

Would you like to know who it is?

Are you sure?

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Review: Thin Ice

Warning: spoilers.

We’re three episodes in. In 2005, this would have been ‘The Unquiet Dead’ – a story which was received with far more excitement and appreciation than it arguably deserved, given that it was the first time New Who had attempted period drama, with the comparatively lavish production values and bombastic guest star glossing over the many problems in the script. The following week, we were back in London for the Slitheen, and a story which was unfairly maligned. Twelve years later, in this supposedly rebooted series, Doctor Who returns to the past, only this time Bill and the Doctor are strolling around ‘Regency’ London, where something nasty lurks beneath the Thames. Sadly the elephant from last week’s cliffhanger was nowhere to be seen, a money shot that had no bearing on the story, save an inconsequential line of dialogue.

Actually, the elephant is here. The fact of the matter is that even after twelve years, the stories are still rather less than brilliant. ‘The Pilot’ is twenty minutes of whimsy and fifteen minutes of planet hopping, with a less than thrilling denouement. ‘Smile’ ripped off every story in the canon, and the Doctor’s solution was so archaic it should have been in a museum. And ‘Thin Ice’ features an unnamed creature being bullied by a charmless, featureless villain who dies the most comedic of deaths. Oh, it looks lovely, but that’s kind of the point: it is far more about atmosphere than it is about narrative, and far more about relationships than it is about the story in which they grow and develop.

And perhaps – just perhaps – that’s why it succeeds. Because ‘Thin Ice’ is one of those episodes that might have been tedious had it occurred under the watch of another companion. Perhaps Clara would have managed – early Clara, travelling with the Eleventh, before the smugness kicked in. But this seems to be tailored for Bill, in the sense that it is its immediate predecessor’s binary opposite: cold, foggy and throbbing with life, as opposed to the warm, sterile whiteness of the off-world colony that was home to the Vardy. The Doctor spent some time in ‘The Pilot’ racing from one end of the universe to the other in order to throw off the advancing Heather; the two episodes that followed are a direct extension of that, establishing the same pattern that the show adopts for its new companions by quickly showing them both the future and the past, as well as opening their minds to the hidden layers of the contemporary world that they took for granted. “There is strangeness to be found, wherever you turn,” Sarah Jane Smith muses. “Life on Earth can be an adventure too… you just need to know where to look.”

Race plays a part in all this. Regency London is, as Bill describes it, “a bit more black than they show it in films”, and this was quite deliberate – Moffat stating that “History is always white washed…People all didn’t arrive in the twinkle of an eye. It is bending history slightly, but in a progressive and useful way.” There are times when the sense of worthiness becomes tiresome (it may be something the chief writer says he is anxious to avoid, but if you’re going to write about these things that’s how it’s going to come across, particularly if you give the Doctor a long speech about it). London – at least the microcosmic cross-section we’re allowed to see – is the gloomier side of BBC costume drama, all soft focus and poor lighting. The effect is rather like Witness For The Prosecution, which employed a similar conceit. None of this would count for anything were we not experiencing it through the eyes of an enthusiastic young woman of mixed race whose eyes widen at every wrestling match or local delicacy. We have fun, because Bill is having fun – and when she is upset, we cry with her.

But the genius in Mackie’s casting isn’t Bill’s layman accessibility, or her presence as a BBC box-ticking exercise in diversity – it’s the chemistry she has with the Doctor. She and Capaldi spark in a way that he never quite managed with Clara, even at her best. There is a scene a third of the way into ‘Thin Ice’ where the Doctor puts himself in jeopardy not to save a child whose number appears to be up, but rather to recover a screwdriver. Bill is furious, and cannot accept his apparent indifference. “I care, Bill, but I move on,” he assures her, quietly. “You know what happens if I don’t move on? More people die. Do you want to help me, or do you want to stand here stamping your foot? Because let me tell you something: I’m two thousand years old, and I have never had the time for the luxury of outrage.”

It’s an electric scene. The dialogue helps, as does the fact that the Doctor is dressed rather like a Victorian funeral director, but Capaldi has possibly never been better than he is in this single moment: here, at once, we get a fusion; the fierce authoritarian we saw in ‘Deep Breath’, combined with the world-weary traveller in ‘Hell Bent’. We get a Doctor who has got over the mid-life crisis of his ‘difficult second series’, accepted the darkness within him and learned to live with it. He is reconciled, the same way that Forrest Gump reconciles the two approaches to life that he learns from those close to him. That Bill accepts this and moves on so quickly will be the cause of scorn to many viewers who’ve not realised that this is a long game, and something that will inevitably return later in the series.

The tension isn’t all above ground either: the Doctor’s solution is to ‘get eaten’, and we are, for just a moment, back in ‘Beast Below’ territory (to which we will return at the episode’s climax, and about which nothing more needs to be said). But the river bed is dark and silent and inhabited by a colossal leviathan observing the two explorers with a single, unblinking eye. It is mildly reminiscent of SOMA, a game I played just recently, which features an extended sequence upon the ocean floor, a tropical storm raging around you as you fight through caves of spider crabs, evading poisonous angler fish and trying desperately to stay in the lights. It is intense, claustrophobic and frightening. The floor of the Thames is never quite going to compare to that, but it works.

It helps, also, that Moffat has seemingly abandoned the big overarching mysteries, or at least relegated them to the sidelines. The vault is still a Rorschach: it contains whatever you want it to contain, although we can at least now surmise that its contents are conscious and quite possibly humanoid, given that whatever is inside apparently has the ability to knock. But the story is not about that: it does not linger, the way the crack did, or the way the mystery of Clara permeated every series 7 episode in which she featured (and even some of the ones where she was nowhere to be seen). If anything, the narratives we’ve seen unfold occur in spite of the vault, rather than because of them: the Doctor seeks adventure purely as a means of escaping his responsibilities, almost as if he were tired of having to maintain the sense of continuity and just wanted to tell stories. It’s tempting to believe that Moffat is projecting here, but the road to hell is paved with second guesses.

Still: perhaps the best thing about ‘Thin Ice’ is the wink it makes at the audience. It is not a story that pretends to be grand or significant. It is a story in which the Doctor rewrites Dickens and gets all fanboyish over a con artist. (It is difficult to watch the scenes with the pie man and not imagine a similar exchange between Capaldi and a persistent, autograph-hunting enthusiast.) It is a story in which an unreconstructed Nicholas Burns does the splits as the ground cracks beneath him. It is a story in which you wonder whether the thing in the Vault is actually John Simm, and whether the final ‘boom’ that accompanies the words ‘NEXT TIME’ is a simple sting for the episode 4 trailer or that crucial fourth knock.

But at its heart, it’s a story about the necessity of exploration: to scratch and forage, to find both the joys and the darkness therein, the frozen river serving as metaphor for Bill’s discovery of her mentor’s darker side. The path to enlightenment, it is implied, lies not in the certainty of tradition but the willingness to think sideways, whatever the risk. “Only idiots know the answers,” the Doctor insists, in the episode’s latter third. “But if your future is built on the suffering of that creature, what’s your future worth?” Ultimately, ‘Thin Ice’ speaks to us of the dangers of venturing deeper – the perils that lurk in the darkness and the fear of the unknown – but also of the unexpected clarity that results when you come back up to the surface.

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