Take Them To The River
♦Our man in Los Angeles, Robert Cave, takes a look at the third episode of Doctor Who Series 10, on last Saturday on BBC1 in the UK…
Director: Bill Anderson
Writer: Written by Sarah Dollard
Stars: Peter Capaldi, Pearl Mackie, Matt Lucas
And we are back in the past, London 1814 to be precise, for the last great frost fair. The Thames is frozen and the city’s inhabitants have come out to play on it.
This is Sarah Dollard’s second Doctor Who script after last season’s “Face The Raven,” and she brings with her a historically-informed edge that many of the show’s previous, and predominantly, male writers on the show often miss.
It is both important and great to see Bill asking, quite reasonably, about how safe she would be on the streets of Regency London, and also see the Doctor acknowledge that slavery is still, as Bill puts it “Totally a thing.”
Although the slave trade had been made illegal by an 1807 act of Parliament, the abolition of slavery throughout the British Empire was still yet to be achieved, and there were still plenty in power opposed to it
And while the Doctor isn’t a supporter of slavery himself, he’s been more than willing to accept it at various points on his travels. He tolerated, the enslavement of the Ood, back in series 2’s “Impossible Planet/Satan Pit” two-parter and the slavery implicit across vast swathes of the Doctor Who universe past, present and future.
As great as it was to see Martha Jones discover Elizabethan England was more cosmopolitan than she expected back in the “Shakespeare Code” it is here for Bill to note early 19th-century England is “a bit more black than they show in the movies,” it’s even better to get a Doctor Who story that has all the traditional elements – monsters, plots, running around, but also has a depth even greater than the episode’s brief underwater scene.
The pre-title sequence ends with what looks like a turnip falling onto the frozen Thames, although it seems more like a boot when it falls through the ice and past a giant sea monster. I guess we aren’t supposed to be worrying about exactly what fell through what appeared to be solid ice, and the mechanics of how it all works are covered later in the episode, but I must confess it was all I was thinking about as the titles rolled.
After the titles I was also slightly irked by the warning on the Tardis console that a “life form” has been detected on the Thames – surely there are hundreds of thousands of “life forms” in Regency London: the entire human and animal population of the city?
I’m still really enjoying the ongoing tutor/student dynamic between The Doctor and Bill, especially the subtle way in which he repeatedly tests her, gives her criticism and the opportunity to learn from it, give her room to fail with the expectation that she won’t. And she doesn’t, she makes the decision to save the fish monster, and that leads to saving some, if not all of the street urchins.
It was also fun to see the Doctor getting angry, losing his cool and clearly casting doubt on his claim that in the struggle for justice, logic and reason can or should trump passion.
But while the educational dynamic is clearly the heart of the episode, meshed with the save, rescue the monster from the more monsterous humans plot, but what really sold it to me was the little details – the diversity of London docks, Kitty the head street urchin, seemingly a call back to Nancy, the young mother, both surrogate and actual in the Series 1 two-parter “The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances” and the acknowledgement that a daughters could not inherit Sutcliffe’s fortune and property.
It all left me eager to see more episodes written by Dollard in the future.
And then we had as the coda Matt Lucas as Nardole once again re-emphasizing the mysterious oath that is this part of this season’s central mystery before heading down to check up on the other part, the vault. There is some ominous knocking, but it is a triple, not quadruple beat. At this point if any Who fans hear someone knocking four times they will naturally assume it is either the Master (As in “Last of the Time Lords”) or possibly Wilf (as in “The End of Time”).
Personally, I’m not yet convinced the vault isn’t a giant red herring that will be casually dismissed in a throwaway line in the last episode of the season. Time will tell and as the Doctor sometimes says “it usually does.”