Making good on showrunner Steven Moffat’s promise to reflect and tackle real-world problems, the latest episode of Doctor Who literally found its protagonist punching-out a racist from the past.
Spoilers ahead for Doctor Who Season 10, Episode 3 “Thin Ice”
Though the primary plot of this latest new adventure concerns a kind of reverse-Moby Dick story combined a bit with the star whale from the Season 5 Doctor Who episode “The Beast Below,” the real news was a more direct attack on racism. When the Doctor and Bill time travel to 1814, they discover a conspiracy to use a trapped sea monster who is being used to create cheap fuel. The Doctor suspects the man behind this plot is probably an alien. But when this guy Sutcliffe is outrageously racist at the sight of Bill, he’s clearly not an alien. In an epic moment, the Doctor punches Sutcliffe out and Bill quips “that was really convincing racism for an alien.”
Unlike more recent seasons of Doctor Who, this episode went out of its way to establish that the Last of the Time Lords himself feels like he works for the people of Earth. He calls Bill “boss” at the end of the episode and in a pivotal moment says, “I serve at the pleasure of the human race.” The actual plot of the episode is fairly generic mostly because fans of the show have seen this kind of thing before. The rescue of “the loch-less” monster called “tiny” is charming, but the real shift is the idea that the Doctor is no longer acting paternal toward his companions, but instead, like a straight-up cooperative hero, perhaps more so than ever before.
Like the previous two episodes of this season, the action was fairly self-contained, but the final moments did give a hint as to what — or who — might be in the mysterious vault below the university. After arguing with Nardole about whether or not the Doctor should travel off-world, Nardole speaks to something inside the vault. There’s some ominous knocking here, which strongly will remind long-time fans of the war drums of … the Master.
Previews for next week’s haunted house episode — “Knock Knock” — don’t seem to indicate the Master is coming back, yet, but you never know.
Doctor Who airs on BBC and BBC America Saturdays at 9 p.m. Eastern.