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Doctor Who - Thin Ice & Knock Knock - Review: "An Unimportant Life"

© BBC Pictures
Episode: 10.03 "Thin Ice"
Directed by: Bill Anderson
Written by: Sarah Dollard
Air date: 29 April 2017

Let me start by saying I absolutely loved this episode. Pretty certain it's my favorite one so far in the season. Strange thing, I can't quite explain why it's such a big one for me. There's something about it that made me truly remember why I love the show and the Doctor's character. I think it's one of the best things about meeting a new companion. As Bill is learning more about the Doctor we also get a closer look at who he is and what makes him so special and the story important. It's a beautiful reminder of how the show is like no other and what a wonderful journey it's been.

When Bill and the Doctor find themselves in London in 1814, in the midst of a frost fair on the frozen Thames they quickly discover that there's something hidden beneath the ice. The sea creature of a giant size is chained under a frozen river and is eating the people lured into water by the lights generated by the strange fish. The two are also introduced to the group of young orphans who try to make a living by getting paid to bring more people to the fair. A tragedy hits them quite early on in the episode when one of the orphans, a young boy named Spider is pulled through the ice and killed by the giant creature. The event changes Bill's perspective on their adventures and she confronts the Doctor with questions about his past.

It's the first brilliant scene in the episode. Bill's clearly affected by Spider's death and the Doctor appears unmoved so she begins to question just how often such terrible things happen, how many people he has seen dying and simply whether he still cares. I thoroughly enjoy their dynamics so far and this is one of the examples why. Bill doesn't hesitate, she says exactly what's on her mind, ready to confront the painful truth even when it has the power to break her world. And the Doctor tells her the truth. How he's learned to live with the things he has seen, how despite caring he has to move on without a luxury of outrage. Simply told, he has to go on and search for answers to keep more people from dying, to save as many as he can. Even though he knows it can't be everyone. Pearl Mackie does a wonderful job in this moment yet it's Peter Capaldi who steals this one for me. His reactions at everything Bill's saying, his eyes and expressions... that's the Doctor. There's so much pain and sadness written all over his face, yet there's even more strength, determination and hope, a will to carry on and never give up. Never give in. The Doctor admitting to Bill that he had to not only face a countless loss of life, but he had to kill too, is such an important moment for building the relationship between them and though it's tough, it's also honest and really well done. Even the music works perfectly during the scene, only adding to the depth of the actors' performance and the written words.

Then comes another defining moment of the episode, when the Doctor and Bill learn the truth behind the chains holding the creature captive under the ice. The man paying the orphans to bring more people to the fair turns out to be the wealthy Lord Sutcliffe whose family used the creature (and its waste) to grow their fortune over the years, while also providing it with the people to feed off. The real monster of the episode is revealed to be this heartless man with no remorse who sends the Doctor and Bill to their deaths for interrupting his plans to cause an explosion during the fair and deliver the maximum number of victims to the creature. The short but powerful confrontation between the Time Lord and Sutcliffe is another memorable exchange of the hour. There the Doctor truly reveals his motivations and how much he values a life, "an unimportant life", in a way continuing his previous conversation with Bill but also trying to get through to the cold-hearted man responsible for all the deaths and destruction. While the Doctor is not able to change Sutcliffe's mind, his words mean the world to his new companion as she gets to see him more clearly than ever before.

And speaking of Bill, when she and the Doctor manage to get free and are faced with the question how to best decide their next actions, the Time Lord leaves the decision with Bill, hoping to both help her understand him a little better but most importantly trusting her to make the best possible choice. And she does. When the Doctor uses Sutcliffe's bombs to set the creature free, Bill and Kitty with the rest of the orphans get everyone away from the ice before the explosion. The innocents are saved, the creature swims away from the city and Sutcliffe disappears in the water. Before they head home the Doctor makes one more adjustment, by signing the deed to the Sutcliffe estate to one of the orphan boys, giving the kids a chance for a new and better life in this world.

Once back in the present time Bill searches through the history to know what an impact their visit made on the past and learning that their actions truly worked and provided the children with a future they hoped for. Bill's reaction to this news is absolutely beautiful and I loved how the Doctor saw it in her eyes while asking Nardole to leave him (and Bill) alone. And Nardole... he provided us in the end with another clue to what's hiding in the vault. He seems truly determined to keep what's locked there away for good. And these knocks, the final knocks seem quite familiar, especially with the drums in the background...

© BBC Pictures
Episode: 10.04 "Knock Knock"
Directed by: Bill Anderson
Written by: Mike Bartlett
Air date: 6 May 2017

Just like in my previous review, I can honestly say I liked this episode much less than the one before. This one is a rather standard "haunted house" story with a tragic family tale buried within. "Better luck next time" seems like an appropriate thing for the Doctor to say at the end and for me to sum up the hour. Not to say this one was a bad episode, it wasn't, it just wasn't a memorable one for me. Also, I'm with Bill on the insects. Bugs don't tend to hold my attention in any good way in general.

Quick recap of the events in this hour: Bill and five other young people decide to rent a house together. They don't have much luck looking for a cheap but comfortable new home. They come across a man who offers them a place at a large mansion for very little money which convinces them almost right away. Though Bill is a bit hesitant at first she agrees to sign the lease agreement like the others. When the Doctor helps Bill with her move he notices there's something wrong with the house and it's not just its old parts that need to be replaced. Soon all of Bill's roommates begin to disappear and it becomes clear that the house itself is devouring them. The woodlice the Doctor discovers have taken over, with the help of an elderly Landlord, and are taking the lives of everyone in the house. As it turns out the man made sort of a deal with the bugs when they saved his mother over 70 years ago - he'll keep them fed as long as they keep her alive, even though almost completely wooden. The mother, Eliza, has lost a lot of her memories and believes the man to be her father, but when the Doctor and Bill make her realize the truth she controls the insects long enough to release the people trapped in the house and put an end to this haunted place once and for all.

The one thing that makes this episode quite different than the rest of these "haunted house" stories is how everyone who was lost during the hour comes back (to life) at the end. An unexpected miracle in a rather dark setting. Even though Eliza wasn't able to bring back all the people consumed by the Dryads over the decades, in her final act she saves all of Bill's new friends allowing the Doctor to part ways with them on a surprisingly positive note. Speaking of, I did enjoy the Time Lord's interactions with Bill's roommates for most part. "I'm good at making friends." Indeed. I found the Doctor being introduced as Bill's grandfather to be a pretty funny bit and very much understandable choice on her part. Their friendship is only starting and it's far too complicated to quickly explain to anyone.

As for the Doctor and Bill getting to know each other, I do like how in every single episode there's a new thing that Bill learns about him. First she met him and the TARDIS, then she learned about his two hearts, his mission to help people and the hard choices he makes, as well as his age and now she knows that he's a Time Lord. And there's already a question about the regeneration there. Unlike most of the Doctor's friends she gets to know him gradually, understand him a little better in every episode. It's a new fresh approach and I like the pace in which their friendship is developing. So far, so good. I'm very much interested to see how Bill's going to react to all the other things she's yet to learn.

And finally, we end on another quick meeting with Nardole and the mysterious vault. While I like this mystery I'm not sure about Nardole. His role so far is pretty limited and not entirely aligned with the Doctor's actions. I'll wait to form my opinion about Nardole until he's more involved and I can actually tell something about him. And then there's the vault. In this episode we get a clear confirmation that there's a person hidden inside. And the Doctor feels like they're both prisoners under these circumstances. There's definitely a familiar feeling with the way the Doctor is acting towards this mysterious person and it makes the guessing quite a fun challenge. Wonder whether we'll see any progress on the mystery in the next episode. But judging by the promo, we're not there yet.

Whovian notes and questions:
1. It has to be Master in the vault, right? The only other person I would expect there would be Missy, meaning the change hasn't happened yet. But the way the Doctor acts at the end of the episode 4 it sure sounds like he's talking to an old friend, making me even more sure of this guess. Any other people you suspect could be locked there in the vault?
2. Is it just me or did "Thin Ice" remind you of "The Beast Below" in quite a few moments? Don't know how you felt about that season five episode but I really loved it and thought it was a great way to introduce a companion to the Doctor's world. I think that's when I truly started to warm up to Amy's character. "What if you were really old, and really kind and lonely, your whole race dead. What couldn't you do then? If you were that old, and that kind, and the very last of your kind, you couldn't just stand there and watch children cry." Still a beautiful and fitting quote.
3. Once again with the callbacks, there's a shout-out to Harriet Jones! That was quite a surprise. Made me miss seasons 1-4 even more. Any other callbacks you're waiting/hoping for?
4. Any thoughts on Nardole? I continue to be puzzled by his "series regular" status. I'm guessing his role will increase but for now I can't help but think of a dozen other people I'd prefer to be in the main cast.
5. An update on Bill's character: still continue to really enjoy her interactions with the Doctor and the character herself. I'd say Pearl Mackie is doing a really good job with Bill so far. What do you think?

Memorable quotes:
1. Bill: “So, the TARDIS has dresses and likes a bit of trouble? Yeah, I think I'm low-key in love with her.“
The Doctor: “Me too.”
2. The Doctor: "I told you, you don’t steer the TARDIS, you reason with it."
Bill: "How?"
The Doctor: "Unsuccessfully, most of the time."
3. The Doctor: "Human progress isn’t measured by industry. It’s measured by the value you place on a life. An unimportant life. A life without privilege. That boy who died on the river, that boy’s value is your value."
4. The Doctor: "All right, you lot. Back to the estate agents. Better luck next time!"
5. Harry: "I’m scared."
The Doctor: "Don’t be."
Harry: "Why?"
The Doctor: "It doesn’t help."
6. Nardole: "You don’t have to go to outer space to find monsters. There’s plenty of things that wanna kill you right here on Earth!"

What did you think about "Thin Ice" & "Knock Knock"? Any favorite scenes, quotes or theories? Feel free to let us know in the comments. Check out the press release for the next episode "Oxygen". As always, thanks for reading!

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