Doctor Who Review: Lights Under the Thames

Let me start by saying I loved the way the previous episode of Doctor Who “Smile” dropped us off at the River Thames in 1814.

Doctor Who - Thin Ice
Courtesy of BBC America
Clearly this latest adventure was going to prove quite different from the killer emojibots of last week. One thing remained consistent though, Capaldi is enjoying himself 100% and boy does it make this new season a joy to watch. Wasn’t his joke about Pete terrific? Are Bill’s exaggerated expressions priceless, or what? Yeah, it’s time travel but don’t overthink it. That’s what it boils down to, I think. The focus is once again on having a good time and keeping things light, which is what Doctor Who is all about for me.

The shots from beneath the frozen river were creepy, but the idea that all those Londoners were walking on thin ice and it could collapse at any moment was freaking me out. Of course, we soon learned the creature down below was gobbling folks up, but was chained and someone’s prisoner. It wasn’t about to smash through the surface to eat the Doctor, Bill or the kids. We did say goodbye to one unfortunate street urchin. Poor little guy. It stressed me out when the sonic was in danger a few times throughout the hour. Bill calling it a wand was hilarious, as well. She has a point, the thing looks nothing like a screw driver. I must admit though, this TARDIS inspired design is one of the most memorable sonics in recent years. It’s funny that the one Doctor that originally didn’t have his own sonic screwdriver (remember the silly shades?) ends up with one of the coolest designs.

Anyway, the dead chap caused Bill to break down. I’m already so used to her smiling, that the scene killed me. The moment led to a deeper discussion about how many people the Doctor has killed and the fact he is 2,000 years old. This season really is designed for newbies, as details from the show’s long history are revisited through Bill’s eyes. I liked that the Doctor mentioned not having the luxury of outrage. If you think back to the Last Great Time War, and the guilt the Doctor carried for ages it’s clear the man has been forced to “move on” many times. You’ve got to in order to survive. Bill “moving on” from their little squabble and her acknowledging it was a nice touch. I’m enjoying the dynamic between Capaldi and Pearl Mackie tremendously.

Doctor Who - Thin Ice
Courtesy of BBC America
I’ll be honest, I had not seen the images of the Doctor and Bill in the old school diving suits. Therefore, when he mentioned getting eaten it came as a total surprise. It’s funny how sometimes a network’s marketing can ruin some of the surprises and twists. Wasn’t the last underwater adventure, “Under the Lake” in Season 9? I can recall the ghosts, and the fact it was a wild ride. The underwater and space episodes are always some of my favorites. Naturally, Bill was pulled under the ice first. Wasn’t it sad to see the young boy’s hat, confirming the fact he had been devoured? The giant eyeball opening was a brilliant image, wasn’t it? The scene was very well put together, and it actually appeared like the stars were under water.

Doctor Who - Thin Ice
Courtesy of BBC America
Ultimately we met Lord Sutcliffe, who wasn’t an alien but was a total arsehole. Can you believe he called Bill a creature? I can not even begin to imagine what it was like to live in those unenlightened times. Even that nasty man recognized the importance and eloquence of the Doctor’s speech. He ignored it completely, but Bill’s expression said it all. She found a new respect for the ancient Time Lord after those words, and I think it was a moment that helped strengthen their bond.

I just couldn’t wait to see Sutcliffe eaten by the monster under the River Thames, so it was a little disappointing he just fell in when the ice cracked. The moment he mentioned a bomb, I wondered if we’d see the Thames crack and see people fall in. Realistically, the sequence I dreamed up in my head would have taken up half the season’s budget. However, focusing on the Doctor and Bill tied up as the little green lights circled them brought on the tension. I was sitting at the edge of my seat, until they got themselves clear of any danger. Bill managed to get everyone off the ice, and the Doctor rigged the monsters chains with explosives to free it. Anyone else think, for a brief moment, the sonic had been lost? It was a relief to see the Doctor reel it in after the ice cracked. Phew, another close call.

Closing thoughts…

Sutcliffe got his, and the orphans were taken care of thanks to his hefty inheritance. It was a nice turn of events, though I also wondered where that huge sea creature might end up. Lockness perhaps? The big locked door has me a bit confused, and I don’t understand Nardole’s role in all this. Apparently, whatever (or whomever) is behind the door is our hint at an ongoing arc. Do you have any guesses what’s going on there? All I know for sure, is that these first three installments have been my favorite of Capaldi’s. The Doctor’s adventures are fun again and not weighed down by an impending death. On the contrary, everything feels new and refreshing reminiscent of Matt Smith’s first season. Next time, we’re visiting an alien haunted house. It’s a great sign that watching the quick promo for next week makes me giddy with excitement. It’s been a while since I felt that way, so clearly the writers are doing something right.


Doctor Who airs Saturdays at 9/8c followed by Class on BBC America.