The Maddest, Most Beautiful Thing (Thin Ice)

(59 comments)

The Doctor and Bill frantically try to warn Chibnall off his staffing decisions.

It’s April 29th, 2017. Clean Bandit and Zara Larsson are at number one with “Symphony.” Ed Sheeran, Harry Styles, Kendrick Lamar, Shawn Mendes, and Jason Derulo (backed with Nicki Minaj and Ty) also chart. In news, things are fairly sleepy. Work begins in New Orleans to dismantle some Confederate memorials. Anthony Joshua becomes WBA heavyweight champion. It’s a slow week. We don’t get those very often anymore.

On television, meanwhile, Thin Ice As we’ve discussed, one of the major features of the Capaldi era, especially compared to the Smith era, is Moffat’s development of a stable of writers who can fill out a large portion of every season with solid, compelling results. The core of this are Jamie Mathieson, Peter Harness, and Sarah Dollard, who among them contribute at least three of the non-Moffat scripts in each of Capaldi’s seasons, and thus ensuring a minimum of seven episodes every season that were good or better. Add in Gatiss’s late career bloom and the reason the Capaldi era is such a golden age becomes clear even before you start thinking about Moffat’s own late style renaissance.

Of that core stable, Dollard is the oddity, in that she arrived in Series Nine and only did two episodes. Harness and Mathieson each have twice as many data points from which to draw conclusions about their interests and work. With Dollard, however, we get Face the Raven and this. It’s not that this is insufficient. Plenty  of other important Doctor Who writers exist with a similar paucity of stories: Ian Briggs, Stephen Wyatt, Philip Martin, Christopher Bailey, Stephen Gallagher, Robert Banks Stewart, Don Houghton, and Donald Cotton all turned in two stories and are clearly writers it’s both possible to draw a bead on and worth doing so. Even more exist in the new series, where two story writers are common. But Dollard feels extraordinary even within this company, which, let’s note, includes some of the finest writers to grace the series.

One big and obvious reason for this is that she is the first woman to feel like a major writer for televised Doctor Who. Obviously other women have written for the series, including Helen Raynor, Rona Munro, and Jane Baker as ones to have multiple credits. But neither Raynor nor Munro feel era-defining, while Jane Baker is, let’s say, not necessarily a positive model. Dollard is joined only by Kate Orman on the short list of women who have felt like era-defining figures in a remotely positive way. And in an era like the late 10s, when one of the most pressing issues facing Doctor Who and SF/F media in general is the need to foreground diverse voices, having Dollard as the first major woman writer of Doctor Who is an important thing to understand.

Let’s start with the obvious: if you want to be a major woman writer of Doctor Who, it helps to be Australian. Which is great news for Caitlin. Past that, as we argued last week, the need for diverse voices is aesthetic, there’s a moral and political dimension as well. (I mean, there’s always a political dimension. That’s how the political works.) The lack of diverse voices in popular media exists because of structural discrimination and bias; hiring them tacitly opposes that bias. This is not necessarily strongly political, and can certainly be outweighed by other factors, but it’s where the basic gravity lies, a fact that’s only amplified by the thunderous crowd of complete fuckheads who treat each and every instance of putting women or minorities in things as a direct assault on their ability to maintain an erection. In an odd way, this becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, not in terms of their boners specifically, but in that a braying mob of misogynists does serve to make a situation more political than it might otherwise be. When women’s stories are under sustained political attack, telling them becomes more political. (And of course, the same is true of the political pressure towards diversity: telling a story that’s overwhelmingly dominated by men both in its crafting and its content is more reactionary than it was a decade ago.) 

The result of this is that the major female writer of an era is not free to simply write stories unencumbered by the fact of her identity. Harness and Mathieson are in effect genderless writers; The Zygon Invasion/The Zygon Inversion and Flatline are not read in terms of that. But Dollard cannot escape that. Her writing is inexorably linked to a larger rhetoric of social justice. The fact that one of the goals of that rhetoric is to make it so that it’s not remarkable to have a woman be one of the major creative figures in an era of Doctor Who in no way eliminates the fact that right now, her work is still read in that light.

With Face the Raven, this ended up amounting to some nice touches like the refugee camp setting, but never became the focus. Thin Ice, on the other hand, is as overtly political as Doctor Who gets. The obvious and eyecatching bit is, of course, when the Doctor decks Sutcliffe following his overt racism towards Bill. This would of course be delightful on its own terms, but its largest impact was a matter of luck. This was filmed in the summer of 2016, before Trump’s election, little yet his inauguration, at which noted Nazi Richard Spencer was in the midst of explaining the Pepe pin he was wearing to an interviewer when a black block J20 protester ran up alongside him and punched him in the face. This set off a debate within the left on the precise ethics of punching Nazis—one that would continue, in various forms, between a liberal centrist faction determined to demonstrate that procedural commitments to the form of government could win the day against Trump and a more stridently leftist faction that was perfectly willing to embrace direct action, whether violent or nonviolent, in opposing the extreme right. And so by the time this aired in April the scene had become an intervention in this debate, delightfully putting Doctor Who firmly on the side of Nazi punching. 

But the larger political beat of the episode comes elsewhere in the scene, as the Doctor delivers his “that’s what defines an age” monologue. The monologue’s content is not hugely transgressive or challenging; it sits towards the upper end of Doctor Who’s range of liberal political expression, but it is not even a marginal case, little yet an outlier. Still, it shows that the episode is trying, and that its heart is in the right place. It shows that Dollard is willing to own the politics that her work is necessarily associated with. And it’s just nice. Contrary to many of my most tedious critics, I do not actually expect Doctor Who to align to my political opinions. There are plenty of Doctor Who stories I love with dodgy politics, and plenty that have right-on leftist politics that leave me cold. But it’s nice when a story gets the politics right, and Dollard is clearly trying for that.

Moving on to less obvious aspects of her work, another thing that becomes clear over Face the Raven and Thin Ice is that Dollard is more interested in the process of the Doctor figuring stuff out than really any other writer of the period. In Face the Raven, she focused with unusual intensity on the business of finding the trap street. Here, in a story without huge plot obligations in which her concept gets to dominate the entire forty-five minutes, she takes it further. Thin Ice is one of the most meticulously plotted episodes of Doctor Who of the new series. Dollard devotes a tremendous amount of attention to the question of how the Doctor and Bill figure out what’s going on in this world, and more to the point, a tremendous amount of attention to the act of asking questions. This is a procedural examination of a world and the way in which it works and thinks.

There’s something very classic series about this. Certainly it’s closer than really anything else in the Capaldi era to addressing Jack’s complaint that the show isn’t about ideas anymore. Both Thin Ice and Face the Raven are set in places, as opposed to genres. I continue not to have a strong preference for one approach over the other, but Dollard single-handedly makes the case that a less genre pastiche version of Doctor Who that’s more invested in ideas and processes of thought can work, and work extraordinarily well. 

The sense of Dollard as the keeper of past traditions extends to other aspects of the production as well. We’ve noted previously Capaldi’s evolution into an avuncular grandfather figure in this season. Dollard, however, keeps the connection in place to his earlier depictions, bringing Bill into contact with the spiky “you still have to choose” Doctor of Mummy on the Orient Express, and even the remnants of the man who calmly watched Ben Crompton die in Into the Dalek, as the Doctor only ambiguously tries to save Spider as opposed to just the sonic screwdriver. And the scenes that follow that, with Bill confused and upset by the Doctor’s sense of morality, are fantastic, giving us our first taste of conflict between the Doctor and Bill, and in turn letting us see some real character development for Bill as she navigates her reactions to this. 

But Dollard’s take on Capaldi is not simply a Series 8 nostalgia piece. Rather, she’s set on the task of exploring how that character and the mad granddad can be the same person. Hence the denouement, in which the argument of Kill the Moon is inverted, with the Doctor reiterating his position of “your moon, womankind, your choice,” saying “your people, your planet,” and demanding that Bill make the choice as to whether to save or destroy a giant and ambiguously threatening creature. Except this time, instead of angrily framing it as a reason to abandon his companion, he renders it as support, proclaiming that “I serve at the pleasure of the human race,” and demanding that Bill give him an “order” (which, c.f. Listen). It’s pointedly the same man we’ve seen, only having grown and learned.

Following Face the Raven, it was possible to believe that Dollard had essentially gotten lucky—that her story was elevated by the huge arc-level stuff that happens in it, and that without it, it would have been a pedestrian effort. This requires quite a strange perspective on Face the Raven, but I can at least imagine how someone would get there. But with Thin Ice it becomes clear that no, Dollard is just really good. Given a story with no real job other than being interesting in its own right, Dollard demonstrates that her baseline Doctor Who is enormously compelling. Face the Raven may be the better story, and the one upon which her reputation primarily rests. But Thin Ice is what makes it clear that she is not a flash in the pan, but a major figure with staying power.

The Capaldi era is as much the story of this new generation of writers. And while there’s a lot of things that go wrong with the Chibnall era, his disinterest in further developing this stable instead of embracing a needlessly broad clean slate remains one of the most substantially poor choices, and the one most likely to do genuine long term damage to the show. But even within that cohort, Dollard stands out. Harness and Mathieson are great, but the idea of Doctor Who in 2018 and beyond not involving them is merely disappointing. Dollard, on the other hand, is the writer who, in 2017, most felt like the future, offering a vision of what Doctor Who could be that is at once fresh and rooted in a clear sense of tradition, and that meaningfully represents material social progress. It’s traditional, for a writer’s last story, to offer some sort of farewell summation. But I refuse to do that here. I refuse to concede the possibility that we don’t get more of this. If Face the Raven and Thin Ice are not the bits of the Mofat era that feel the most like what Doctor Who is in 2027, it will be bad news for 2027. Here’s to the future. 

Comments

mx_mond 2 weeks ago

“And while there’s a lot of things that go wrong with the Chibnall era, his disinterest in further developing this stable instead of embracing a needlessly broad clean slate remains one of the most substantially poor choices”

I can’t believe I’ll be defending Chibnall, but to be fair to him, he met with Dollard, who was too busy to contribute to series 11, and he invited Mathieson to pitch ideas, but in the end decided to go with something else. So it’s not like he just completely forgot about them.

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Matt 2 weeks ago

Furthermore, the new writers he did pick generally did a good job. Blackman, Patel, Wilkinson and Hime all turned in episodes that ranged from pretty good to very good.

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TomeDeaf 2 weeks ago

Yeah, he actually held talks with Gatiss, Whithouse, Dollard, and Mathieson (that we know of), maybe more.

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prandeamus 1 week, 6 days ago

Which is interesting, given that at some point the publicity machine was talking about the writers' room and a brand new roster of writers as a good thing and what Chibnall intended all along. Well, that's how I interpreted the announcements, but I don't read much deeper than Radio Times. Maybe this was more about justification after the event.

One day, I suspect, the behind-the-scenes story of the Chibnall years will be fascinating reading. I certainly found our host's explanation of the Saward-related problems of the mid-eighties to be eye-opening.

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Danil Somatin 2 weeks ago

I disagree.

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thetruelec 1 week, 6 days ago

I think you'll find that Clean Bandit and Zara Larsson were at number one with “Symphony.”

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Neil Snowdon 2 weeks ago

More than any other writer that came on in Moffat's tenure, Dollars is the one I'd like to see become showrunner/lead writer. Her instinct for what Who is, and can be is spot on I think. I'd love to see her ltake over from Chibnall.

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Leslie L 2 weeks ago

I think you can count Neil Gaimen in that list since he did The Doctor's Wife and ...... Nightmare in Silver.

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AG 2 weeks ago

I derive very little enjoyment from Prestige TV. It seems to have taken the "character-driven plotting" model started by Buffy to a hyperbolic end where plotting is incoherent and contorted to hit character beats the writers think they want, but end up hurting characterization by how half-baked they are.

I've since become much more of a proponent of strong world-building from which character and plot are derived simultaneously, but in western live action media, this approach seems to have been left to procedurals, and so looked down upon as inferior to the super serialized Prestige model. But this episode demonstrates why shows in that mold are so consistently solid, even as they lack viral qualities. You can always return to "the facts" of the world to see where the story goes next, and let the characters organically grow through their logical reactions to a fully realized world.

Also, out of the entire series this episode does have the closest to matching the characterizations of Bill and The Doctor as they were set out in The Pilot, delivering on the promise of their relationship and the charms of their personalities, so I love it for that, too.

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AG 1 week, 5 days ago

Correction/clarification, "But this episode demonstrates why shows in that mold are so consistently solid" refers to the "from world-building" model, not the "super serialized Prestige TV" model.

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Nindokag 2 weeks ago

It's "just" a basic story but it's very well done, with a focus on character, and ethics, and excellent dialogue. I wish this episode could be the baseline for how Dr. Who was always done.

"I have never had time for the luxury of outrage" is a great joke coming from the doctor, as is the one about Pete, the companion you don't remember.

> "There’s something very classic series about this. Certainly it’s closer than really anything else in the Capaldi era to addressing Jack’s complaint that the show isn’t about ideas anymore. Both Thin Ice and Face the Raven are set in places, as opposed to genres."

I really, really like being in a place as opposed to a genre. For one thing, "winter fair with elephants walking on the frozen Thames" is not an established trope, so we never would have gotten to visit this extremely cool setting if we were only visiting established genres. Visiting a real place means we viewers can learn something we don't already know.

I love the focus on the ordinary, forgotten people of history. It's a much better message then "Hey, this person is important because you've heard of them". I wish we always did historicals this way instead of The Doctor Teams Up With A Celebrity.

one thing I really like about the Capaldi era is how much of it is about quietly re-examining the morals of earlier eras and trying to do better. Contrast the way the Doctor sticks up for Bill here against the way the 10th doctor waved aside Martha's concerns about being black in the past in "The Shakespeare Code".

The show is trying to do better and the Doctor himself is trying to do better; the Doctor's relation to Bill here is very easy to read as "old white guy tries to learn how to be a better ally", and a big part of the answer is "I serve at the pleasure of the human race", i.e. being an ally means not making everything about you and your ego.

This era is so rich with subtext, I love it.

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Vadron 1 week, 2 days ago

“one thing I really like about the Capaldi era is how much of it is about quietly re-examining the morals of earlier eras and trying to do better. Contrast the way the Doctor sticks up for Bill here against the way the 10th doctor waved aside Martha's concerns about being black in the past in "The Shakespeare Code".”

—> I don't know if 'morals' is the right word; more 'worldbuilding'. After all, in the improbable, ahistorical fantasy of “The Shakespeare Code”, there really *is* nothing to worry about concerning Martha's skin colour, and the Doctor is perfectly right to wave off her concerns. It's in essence the same problem (though coming from a heart in a righter place) as most stories written in less enlightened days where the European heroes gleefully slaughter the evil dark-skinned cannibals; you can very much blame the writer for writing that story, but you can't blame the in-universe European heroes for acting the way they do, for in their fictional universe the evil cannibals really are horrible, unredeemable beasts.

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Ozyman.Jones 1 week, 6 days ago

I hated the punch when it happened. I still hate it now. I can see why some rejoice in the moment, but for me, it betrays all that the Doctor should be. It betrays the rising above to be better and buys into something that is so earthly and crass; the Doctor should dismantle this with wit and a sharp tongue.

A punch to the face is nothing compared to,

‘You know, you’re the classic example of the inverse ratio between the size of the mouth and the size of the brain.’
(‘The Robots of Death’)

‘All right. All right, I’ll confess… I confess you’re a bigger idiot than I thought you were.’
(‘The Deadly Assassin’)

‘My dear boy, if they had to deal with a man of your talents, they hardly need fear, need they?’
(‘The Dalek Invasion of Earth’)

‘I admire bravery and loyalty, sir. You have both of these. But, unfortunately you haven’t any brain at all. I hate fools.’
(‘The Crusade)

‘I can’t decide whether you’re a rogue, a halfwit or both!’
(‘The Reign of Terror’)

...and many more, or Tom Baker's rage at the Pirate Captain, "But, what's it for!"

No, thanks.

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TomeDeaf 1 week, 6 days ago

How do you feel about Duggan's punch in *City of Death* (of which the Doctor highly approves)? That was written by maybe the ultimate "Doctor fights with words" writer, Douglas Adams...

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Ozyman.Jones 1 week, 6 days ago

... or even the 4th Doctor disabling guards very physically in Harrison Chase's garden, of the 3rd Doctor 'Hai'ing all over the place in every second episode, or even the 1st Doctor smashing a pot-plant over an assassin's head in the Romans. There's a couple of dozen examples or more of the Doctor going in for fisticuffs.

Like Duggan's punch, those were all either self defense, or to effect escape/prevent the destruction of companion/earth/universe/time/etc.

The Thin Ice punch was a loss of emotional control, a resorting to the most human of reactions to punch someone in the face for insulting a friend.

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MattM 1 week, 6 days ago

The main difference though is one of tone. It's not depicted as some serious moment, it's played for comic effect.

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TomeDeaf 1 week, 6 days ago

I don't see any difference between the moral worth in responding to "verbally assaults my friend" and "physically assaults me", frankly.

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TomeDeaf 1 week, 6 days ago

That should read "responding with a punch", sorry.

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Vadron 1 week, 2 days ago

The difference isn't so much between responding to verbal vs. physical abuse as it is about whether it's self-defence or vengefulness. Is the punch thrown to prevent the abuser from doing further serious harm, or is it done out of vengefulness?

(I think it's plain enough that direct, protective self-defence is more often needed with physical than verbal abuse, though there are certainly situations where it's not the case. In point of fact, in “Thin Ice”, Bill was in no danger. Sutcliffe was being a horrible bully to her, certainly, but *she* wasn't buying it. If Sutcliffe had kept spouting racist insults, I don't think there would have been any other consequences for Bill than her getting an even stratospherically lower opinion of Sutcliffe's character.)

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ScarvesandCelery 1 week, 6 days ago

The Doctor also gives an eloquent speech, though? And that wouldn't have stopped Sutcliffe hurling racist abuse Bill - punching him was by far the best thing to do in the moment. And for all the eloquence of the Doctor's "that boy's value is your value" speech, it has no use in stopping Sutcliffe (it's worth noting that none of the Doctor's outraged speeches you cite do - the Captain doesn't respond to "THEN WHAT'S IT FOR?" by saying "my gosh, you're absolutely right Doctor, I should stop destroying entire planets at once") - he's not affected by the Doctor's words in the slightest. Massive bigots aren't beaten by eloquence and wit - those are only effective on already sane people who (rightly) want to see a massive bigot put in their place. The thing that s

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ScarvesandCelery 1 week, 6 days ago

Cont.

Stops Sutcliffe is being eaten by a giant sea snake the Doctor and Bill set free.

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Vadron 1 week, 2 days ago

“And that wouldn't have stopped Sutcliffe hurling racist abuse Bill - punching him was by far the best thing to do in the moment.”

…What's so bad about him keeping on insulting Bill? I mean, yes, it's morally indefensible of him to do so, but I don't think it's objectively doing Bill any harm, whatever his intentions. All she's likely to conclude from his keeping on insulting her is "golly, this guy's even more of a bigot than I expected of the 19th century". At worst she'll be provoked into punching him herself.

Of course, other moral systems may come to different conclusions, but as a utilitarian I don't think punching Sutcliffe was morally justified here; certainly not for reasons of“he had to be stopped” at any rate. The pain of getting punched in the face outweighs the practically-nonexistent distress he would have been causing Bill with his insults, no matter how wicked said insults were in theory.

“Massive bigots aren't beaten by eloquence and wit - those are only effective on already sane people who (rightly) want to see a massive bigot put in their place.”

Don't generalize: the world isn't only “massive bigots” and “wholly respectful people”. There's plenty of grays in between — people with unreasoned bigoted attitude they could be taught out of, unwitting biases and all that. That words were of no use against someone as devoutly immoral as Sutcliffe doesn't mean trying to talk to people you think are wrong *never* works.

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TomeDeaf 1 week, 2 days ago

I would respectfully suggest that this and your other posts indicate you have not experienced verbal racial abuse. If you have, I apologise, though I am even more surprised by the statement that such abuse is not "objectively doing Bill any harm", as though (a) that were even true, or (b) objectivity were the way to measure such things.

Besides, he not only spouts bigotry towards her, he physically intimidates her by towering over her. Who knows whether or not he would have called his henchpeople to have her thrown out into the street if a few more seconds had been patiently, civilly, liberally permitted to elapse?

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vADRON 1 week, 2 days ago

It's not that racial insults are never hurtful; but putting myself in Bill's shoes, I don't feel that they would be in this particular instance. I feel like his words shouldn't have any more impact on her than when Daleks call people inferior abominations. It's not that being called an inferior abomination can't be painful in the right context, but the right context isn't someone whom you already know to be pure evil saying it.

Of course, it can also be hurtful for the same reason that a Neonazi insulting you can be hurtful; it's not that you're hurt that the Neonazi thinks little of you, but rather than you now feel unsafe at this sharp reminder that Neonazis actually exist, and hate you. But that element cannot be at play with Sutcliffe because time travel. It's expected that Bill should meet horrible racists when traveling back in time, and meets diddly-squat about how safe she is when *not* visiting racist colonialist periods of British history.

I dunno. People are all different; perhaps I'm failing to grasp something about Bill's psyche here. It's true that I'm of a temperament that makes me unusually impervious to insults (racial or otherwise); maybe I'm having difficulty modeling the reactions of someone who's more heart and less cold intellect, so to speak? But I don't think I'd be upset by Sutcliffe in this situation. Annoyed, yes, but not hurt.

The possibility that Sutcliffe might have used violence himself is more convincing to me and a very good point. The point doesn't seem to come up very often in discussion of the scene, though.

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Kim 1 week, 2 days ago

As someone who actually *has* suffered verbal racial abuse, let me tell you: it does hurt. Maybe not as much as a punch in the face, but maybe so - I wouldn’t know, I’ve never been punched in the face. But it’s not a matter of whether the abuse of a racist represents a clear and present danger - it *is* a clear and present danger. If someone punched you you wouldn’t be saying “yeah but does this punch indicate that I’m about to be kicked in the balls?”, would you?

I think more to the point - this kind of abuse is cumulative. If you’ve been the target of racism before - and it’s absurd to imagine that Bill hasn’t - it hurts more the next time. And the time after that. Racism is like being ground down by a mill, or being slowly poisoned; even if the first hit doesn’t get you, do it enough and something will.

What hurts even more in my experience is seeing people who claim to care about me minimising my feelings or treating me like I’m overreacting, or giving bad guys “too much attention” or “too much control over me”, as if the pain I feel is my own fault. My friends have done that; it hurt me even more than the incidents I’d been complaining about. What I’m saying is I wish I’d had more friends like the Doctor - friends who would have my back and let me know they took me seriously, even if they had to punch a racist to do it. The Doctor was being a good friend here; if he’d done otherwise, he himself would’ve been responsible for harm done to Bill.

TL;DR, racism sucks, and the Doctor punching Sutcliffe was arguably the only way of *not* implicitly punching Bill instead.

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Vadron 1 week, 2 days ago

I think see what you mean; but surely you must understand my point that there *is* a pretty important difference between a physical punch (which, absent the possibility that the target doesn't have pain receptors in their flesh, is going to hurt no matter what) and an attempt at an emotional attack (the results of which are a function of the target's subjectivity)?

Either way, as I've stated in another comment, I'm not against the scene per se. As a very loyal friend with a tendency to go overboard in his "duty of care" to his companions, as the archenemy of the most xenophobic civilization of space super-racists in the universe, and as a short-tempered Scotsman, it is entirely within the Twelfth Doctor's character to punch Sutcliffe. I just don't think that from a purely ethical point of view, it was the absolute best thing to do in this situation.

Apologies for the fact that the following analogy could be read equating a human racist's malice with a beast's unreasoned threat (which isn't the point of the analogy at all), but if someone gets deathly afraid when in front of a cage containing an angry tiger, then surely, even though "ignoring the feelings of the person who's afraid of tigers" is a very bad call, and even though it's entirely normal of the person to instinctively be afraid of tigers (cage or no cage)… trying to put down the angry tiger would also not be ideal. The best option is to take the person far away from caged angry tigers, and once the caged angry tiger is out of sight and out of mind, try and teach the person to process their feelings more rationally.

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liminal fruitbat 1 week ago

there *is* a pretty important difference between a physical punch (which, absent the possibility that the target doesn't have pain receptors in their flesh, is going to hurt no matter what) and an attempt at an emotional attack (the results of which are a function of the target's subjectivity)?

Okay, firstly, if we're talking subjective internal neural states, that's what pain is, so that's a false distinction. Secondly, Sutcliffe's words are as much an "attempt" at an emotional attack as a punch is an attempt at a physical attack - Bill might have been unaffected by his insults, and Sutcliffe might have dodged the Doctor's punch.

Apologies for the fact that the following analogy could be read equating a human racist's malice with a beast's unreasoned threat (which isn't the point of the analogy at all)

Your analogy absolutely does equate deliberate human malice with an animal's instinctive aggression, and it's impossible to read it otherwise. The two things are distinct and your analogy is a bad one. Ethically speaking, the Doctor was right to defend Bill, and to show her that she could trust him to defend her against dangers that he is safe from. You said above you're a utilitarian; I'm largely a utilitarian too, and kindness and understanding the perspectives of those in your care have a high utility value.

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mx_mond 6 days, 13 hours ago

In addition to liminal fruitbat’s points, I think your analogy misses the fact that Sutcliffe is not caged; he is a white wealthy man in the capital of a globe-spanning empire, he is in his home, at the centre of his power (as evidenced by the Doctor and Bill getting captured immediately after the punch). In contrast, Bill is a member of multiple opressed classes of people, who’s additionally in a completely alien environment. The punch is a decisive intervention from the Doctor that makes sure Sutcliffe won’t attempt to continue the abuse – but I think we vastly overtestimate how hurt he would be by it.

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ScarvesandCelery 1 week, 6 days ago

I'll be honest, I'm not a fan of an alternative scene where Sutcliffe is racially abusing Bill, Bill asks the Doctor to have her back in any meaningful way, and he says "but Bill, we have to rise above and be better than him"

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Vadron 1 week, 2 days ago

That's a bit of a strawman there, though; not how the scene would have been written by an actual person actually of the opinion that the Doctor shouldn't punch Sutcliffe. May I raise:

Bill: ""Doctor, *do* something!"

Doctor: "What?"

Bill: "I dunno… *punch* him!"

Doctor: "Bill, Bill, it's not that I don't think that clown over there is despicable, I do, I really do, but you can't just go around punching people because you think they're despicable. That's how you get Daleks."

Bill: "Bu—"

Doctor: "Bill, what is he doing really. Just words. Just random, silly little assortments of syllable. Take anyone not from Earth — heck, take anyone not from England! — those hilarious garbles he's filling our ears with would mean *nothing*. Words only have power if you listen to them. Well I don't know about you, but I don't want to listen to that idiotic monster who calls himself a man."

*both turn their backs on Sutcliffe, who has been ranting at them all the while and stops, stunned*

Sutcliffe: "But… but… you can't… Come back here! You can't just———COME BACK!"

Doctor (without turning around): "Hahah, no, I don't think so. Places to be, people to save. And a very bad day to you!"

———————

(For the record, my opinion on the scene is that the Doctor, from a purely moral point of view, probably shouldn't have punched Sutcliffe; but that it's perfectly in-character, and from a human point of view totally forgivable, of him to have done so.)

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tachyonspiral 1 week, 2 days ago

This is tantamount to saying that language is meaningless.

Not a fan of this alternative version of the scene either, i'm afraid.

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Vadron 1 week, 2 days ago

Well, I'm not a professional writer, am I? The idea I was instead trying to get across is more along the lines of "insults mean nothing if you start from the healthy mindset that the one flinging them is an idiot, and they don't deserve being listened to".

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tachyonspiral 1 week, 1 day ago

Sure. But if Sutcliffe's the idiot, why is Bill the one getting the sermon?

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Vadron 1 week, 1 day ago

It came up in an earlier comment that trying to reason with Sutcliffe probably wouldn't work, not in the context of some weird Scottish guy blundering into his leaving room and sermonning him at least.

Mind you, I wouldn't call the way he talks to Bill a "sermon" — more of a life lesson, in line with the teacher-student dynamic. He's not scolding her for having done something "wrong", just teaching her a bit of wisdom.

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Ozyman.Jones 1 week, 1 day ago

If there are problems, no matter how the scene is written.... then why write/include the scene at all.

Which is my main gripe, I suppose.

It serves no narrative purpose, that I can recall, and does nothing more than show Sutcliffe is a racist prick; but we already know that. The scene is wholly designed to provide the 'punching nazis' scenario a moment in Doctor Who, where, in my humble opinion, it doesn't belong.

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TomeDeaf 1 week ago

It may not serve any plot purpose, but it absolutely serves a character purpose - showing Bill that the Doctor certainly does feel the same emotive outrage she has earlier criticised him for not feeling.

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Kim 1 week, 2 days ago

See, this is exactly the kind of response I refer to in my comment up there - here we see the Doctor

- minimise Bill’s experience and tell her what she should feel
- assume a tacit moral superiority over her because she’s hurt and upset and he isn’t (even though it is her, not him, who has been attacked)
- assert that her being hurt is the fault of her unhealthy mindset (paying the abuser too much attention) as opposed to the fault of the person actually hurting her
- create moral equivalence between her understandable anger and actually despicable, hateful actions (how is saying “that’s how we get Daleks” any different from saying “people who don’t approve of racists and call them out are basically nazis”?)

If I travelled with a friend who consistently put me in situations where I’d be attacked, either physically or emotionally, and then responded to my distress in this way, I would stop travelling with them pretty quick.

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Vadron 1 week, 2 days ago

I answered to the wider point above, but:

“assume a tacit moral superiority over her because she’s hurt and upset and he isn’t (even though it is her, not him, who has been attacked)”

I think that bringing in that she was attacked and not him is in this instance a bit besides the point. If the Doctor does imply such a thing, it is under the knowledge that *if he had been in her place he wouldn't have been hurt*, not just because he wasn't hurt in this particular instance.

Compare that if the Doctor, say, claims moral superiority over Davros because he didn't create the Daleks, it's not because he factually didn't create the Daleks as a wandering renegade Time Lord whereas Davros, as Kaled Chief Scientist, did. It's because he's saying that *if he had been in Davros's place* he wouldn't have made the same choices that Davros did.

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Lambda 3 days, 11 hours ago

No, that's awful. Being hurtable by words is actually a good thing in general, it's part of the mechanism through which things like altruism work. If someone criticises you, and they've actually got a point, you want to be instinctively receptive to that instead of instinctively defensive. It's kind of a trust thing, if you're able to have a mind which instinctively cares what other people say to you, because you can trust them not to abuse that instinct, a group of decent people can achieve far more. If some people are going to abuse that instinct to hurt you, then you need to choose between being hurt, and closing yourself off, both of which are bad.

The "sticks and stones" 'cure' may be worse than the problem.

How about something like:

(The Doctor pushes his way in between Bill and Sutcliffe)

Doctor: "There's clearly no point in communicating with a creature like that, shall we leave now?"

Bill: "Yes, this place leaves a nasty taste in the mouth."

(Sutcliffe splutters incoherently for a couple of seconds then summons his goons, events proceed in the same way from then on.)

I like this because it works even if you're not good at violence.

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David Anderson 1 week, 6 days ago

I don't hate the scene. But imagine the following scene:

The manly hero (manliness=heroism) accompanied by his female companion confronts the evil villain, who is not manly but effete (effete=villain). The effete villain verbally abuses the female companion. This is a threat to the hero's manliness and so the hero must assert his manliness, which is to say his goodness, by punching the villain. Because the villain is a villain (i.e. effete) and the hero is a hero (i.e. manly) the hero knocks the villain out in one punch; the villain does not get to punch the hero back harder.
Put that way it's a little problematic.

That one doesn't see it is I think because it's so widespread in genre fiction and underlies so much of our political thought. What Nazis share with mainstream politics is the assumption that fundamentally a bad guy with a punch can be stopped by a good guy with a punch. (Mainstream procedural liberalism just limits punching to the officially designated punchers) Which is to say that being good makes you better at punching. (And contrariwise, prioritising being clever and emotionally intelligent makes you evil.) It doesn't normally strike us as salient that being good means having better things to do than get good at punching people.

The only versions of the Master I find tolerable, outside Survival, are The Deadly Assassin and Missy; both evade the dynamic.

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mx_mond 1 week, 6 days ago

Well, you’re right – if we changed things about this scene, it would carry different connotations. But the Doctor is not a masculine hero, of course. And we could argue to what extent is Sutcliffe effette.

“Which is to say that being good makes you better at punching”

That kinda elides the questions of who you’re punching and why, both of which also seem kinda important. Because when fascists march in and start gearing up to exterminate people, there’s only so much that speeches and legal mechanisms can do.

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Vadron 1 week, 2 days ago

Okay, and if Sutcliffe had trained a gun on Bill you'd have a point. Insults are quite another thing, though. Things hadn't gotten to that.

As for the Doctor not being a masculine hero… in the abstract, no. But whenever Capaldi's Doctor is played as "dark, unpredictable and dangerous"? Yeah, he is a bit. Not in an obnoxious way, but a bit.

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mx_mond 1 week, 1 day ago

Yeah, but he’s not that in Thin Ice.

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Vadron 1 week, 1 day ago

David Anderson's point seems to be that the punch itself is evidence of this side of Capaldi's Doctor being played up. I certainly can't imagine Whittaker or Hartnell losing their cool like that, and it would take a *lot* for most other Doctors to get to that.

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Vadron 1 week, 1 day ago

…oh Rassilon, I just realized we're discussing the Doctor "losing his cool" in the context of an episode called "Thin Ice".

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David Anderson 1 week, 6 days ago

I wonder about an alternative history of Doctor Who in which Survival is seen as era-defining. I say wonder, but in fact because of the way I was watching Doctor Who at the time Survival is one of the stories that made the most impression on me at the time. I usually read the Seventh Doctor as a more improvisatory and empathetic and less calculating figure than the New Adventures reading.

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Andrew Blair 1 week, 6 days ago

It's somewhat depressing that, while she wasn't available for Series 11, the show already had a writer in Dollard who could really make a Procedural version of Doctor Who work in a way that Chibnall hasn't managed yet. It's not that Doctor Who doesn't work that way, just that Chibnall's kinda Sawarding about trying to get there.

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Vadron 1 week, 2 days ago

All political concerns aside, I'm still kind of upset at the story for not deigning to explain where the river beast *came from*. Any old bit of handwave would have done the trick — I could have accepted anything up to and including “it fell through time, crippled but alive”, honest — but the story feels unfinished without addressing the one big almost-literal elephant in the room. Especially with it having put so much into being a mystery that the Doctor and Bill meticulously solve.

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TomeDeaf 1 week, 2 days ago

I dunno, I think the story would lose a bit of wonder if we had to stop and explain it was a Kaloojian from Raxys V. In much the same way as the cosmic dragon in Kill the Moon, it seems representative of the unknowable to me. Putting too definite a label on such things undoes that. Plus, one of the things Dollard has said she wanted to evoke was the fact that there are sea creatures we are still learning about / have no idea about their existence. Creatures of the deep which remain mysteries. Not explaining where it comes from keeps the possibility that it's indigenous to Earth wide open.

Fair point about it seeming odd Bill isn't more curious about the mystery not being answered, though.

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Vadron 1 week, 2 days ago

This feels a bit like a post-hoc justification to me. You certainly *can* leave the beast's nature ambiguous and raise the possibility that it's just an undiscovered Earth species, but… if that's how you want to play it, actually play it that way. Go and have a scene where the Doctor gets a bit starry-eyed and marvels at the unknowable-ness of the beast. (You *know* Capaldi would have acted the heck out of such a scene.) Don't just save it for the interviews.

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Simon 1 week, 1 day ago

Even as a leftie, I disagree with the Doctor punching a rascist. Two wrongs don't make a right. Both acts are as barbaric as the other.

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Simon 1 week, 1 day ago

*racist (typo)

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mx_mond 1 week, 1 day ago

That’s based on the assumption that punching a racist in response to him hurling racist abuse at a defenceless woman is a wrong. Which is debatable at best.

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Vadron 1 week, 1 day ago

Sure, it's debatable. In point of fact debating it is precisely what of Simon is doing, coming out on the clear side of "physical violence against other people is inherently wrong". Some would call this a naive position, but it's one with a lot of history and background in many moral theories.

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Simon 1 week, 1 day ago

Racism is an example of verbal violence, if you will, while punching is obviously physical violence. In society, any violence whatsoever is counter-productive, as getting along is the best way for people, as a whole, to function effectively.

Also, the guy was a Victorian and, as such, the product of the times in which he lived. Obviously, not all Victorians were racist, but it was fairly common at that point in history. In the future, classism might be considered just as abhorrent as racism, in which case, they would believe that all the people wandering around right now calling others "chavs" or "trailer trash" deserve to be punched. If the Nineteenth Doctor came back to the 2010s and did just that, the characters around him would think it was weird and uncalled for and someone might even call the police.

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TomeDeaf 1 week, 1 day ago

It's set in 1814. He wasn't a Victorian. A nitpick, but people referring to this story set twenty three years before Victoria becomes Queen really irritates me.

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(Not That) Jack 1 week, 1 day ago

I'm not sure why it happens. Maybe it's just me.

I watched both of Dollard's episodes. I thought they were competent, effective Doctor Who, but nothing spectacular. They were given jobs and hit them square on. They didn't sparkle to me, not like when I watched Empty Child or Girl in the Fireplace and I went "damn, who the hell is this Moffat guy, he can -write-." I liked both of them-I adored the scene where the Doctor just hauls off and clobbers the racist, for one-but I just liked them.

Then I come online and people are gushing ecstatically about these two episodes. Talking about Dollard being an important writer, wishing she had become showrunner, and all of that.

And I go "Huh. Maybe I wasn't paying enough attention. Maybe I should go back."

And I do. And nothing changes. Dollard's work doesn't sing to me. She seems to be very good at writing very competent Doctor Who. Which, having watched the show since 1979, I know is not the easiest of tricks. But I don't feel like if she was given more chances she'd be another Moffat, or another Robert Holmes, or another David Whittaker. I continue to be puzzled by this.

What am I missing? Or is it just my taste? It seems odd that I'd love the Moffat era-that it was custom made for my interests and my very notions of what is good television- and yet Dollard just doesn't sing for me, for some inexplicable reason. It's bugged me since Raven, it bugged me more after Thin Ice, and it bugs me now.

That being said, I'd gladly trade Chibnall for her, in a heartbeat.

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Mark Pompeo 6 days, 23 hours ago

I remember when this episode aired just how much fun it was to watch. It was the most sheer fun the show had been in a very long time at that point and hasn't been since with seemingly no hope of it being that fun again until Chibnall leaves.

But for a wonderful 45 min that, "Thin Ice" was positively delightful. Even the somber parts like the boy dying and the Doctor not really making an effort to save him couldn't drag down the joy factor on this one.

And despite existing in an era that was much lighter on the fun factor, I think this is a pretty good introductory episode of the show for someone new. Not the ideal choice, I don't think - "Rose" will always bear that distinction in my mind because I can't imagine getting into this show as heavily as I did without that jumping on point - but a very good one nonetheless.

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Roderick T. Long 17 hours, 4 minutes ago

So this post's final plea is essentially: "For a Few Dollards More."

(sorry)(not)

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