Series Ten, Episode Two — “Smile”
By Brandy Dykhuizen. It’s hard to take smug little robots that communicate entirely via emoji too seriously, even when they could potentially pick your bones clean. In “Smile”, however, this particular Monster of the Week takes a back seat to the developing relationship between Bill and The Doctor.
The Doctor tries to impress Bill with his cheekiness (revealing he stole the TARDIS) and Bill trips him up him with her in-plain-sight observations. (One in particular: instead of standing all the time, why not simply move the chairs in the TARDIS closer to the center console?) In some ways, Bill seems to be the answer to that one person in the room who always ruins the show; that skeptic calling out every inconsistency, or absurdity, who can’t manage to suspend their disbelief through 60 minutes of a children’s program.
Guess what, buddy? Steven Moffat found a way around your kind by writing a companion who beats you to the punch.
“Smile” is more sleekly sci-fi than most episodes of Doctor Who, and perhaps a little too much so for my taste. Aesthetically, the silvery city towering over fields of wheat couldn’t have been more polished. (Or more evocative of Disney’s Tomorrowland.) Visually, it was a fantastic episode, from the building made of micro-robots to the canteen’s bright blue meals of algae squares.
The story, however, became devoid of much sense towards the end, which seems to be a recurring theme when writer Frank Cottrell-Boyce is responsible (see: “In the Forest of the Night”). However, if world-saving fell a little short (was it really as simple as “turning it off, then turning it back on again?”), the episode redeemed itself with charming Doctor-Companion exposition in spades.
The differences in this season’s Doctor continue to pile up. Peter Capaldi’s demeanor has softened — almost alarmingly so. And even this week’s outfit leaned more towards Sunday in the Garden Dad than The Twelfth Doctor’s usual smart, mod-inflected, buttoned-to-the-neck attire.
I don’t altogether dislike the new dynamic; it will just take some getting used to. Next week looks closer to the Who nuttiness we fully expect (an elephant strolling across an icy Thames? Sure, sign me up!). Until then, maybe we should take a page out of Bill’s book and just smile at what we don’t understand.
“You don’t steer the TARDIS, you negotiate with it.” – The Doctor.
“I met an emperor made of algae once. He fancied me.” – The Doctor.
“Is this bloke utopia?” – Bill, irritated at The Doctor’s larger meal time portion.
“There’s a giant, smiley abattoir over there, and I’m having this really childish impulse to blow it up!” – The Doctor.
“I’m not Scottish, I’m just cross.” – The Doctor.
BEST MOMENT: When The Doctor casually lets drop that he has two hearts, Bill asks the most logical question: “Does that mean you have really high blood pressure?” Why has no one asked that before? (Or have they – please correct me if I’ve forgotten.)
EPISODE’S MVP: Apart from a scant few moments involving either a grumbling Nardole or human colonists, “Smile” is a Doctor-and-companion episode. Both Capaldi and Pearl Mackie performed fantastically, but Bill is a constant delight the more we get to know her. She’s jumped right in comfortable as you please, and seems to be the least complicated of the companions in recent years. I’m sure that will change (at least to some degree) in due time. In the meantime, it’s a relief to meet a companion who isn’t immediately trying to prove herself or woo The Doctor.
– In no universe would you need that much fertilizer raining down on your raised beds.
– The Doctor pulling a fake smile to appease the Vardi was almost as unnerving as the flesh-eating robots themselves.
– Nardole remains completely unimpressed by, and perhaps a little resentful of, Bill. Perhaps he’s worried that her presence on the TARDIS provides The Doctor with too much temptation for adventure, but he makes it clear he will not serve or help the human in any way.
– So is The Doctor really breaking his oath by leaving Earth, or is it time? Maybe he’s been waiting around all this time for Bill – it seems like it would take some unseen forces to keep him in one spot for 50 long years, guarded vault or no.
– The budding tension between Nardole and The Doctor (which plays out in a mum v. petulant teenager fashion) has me hooked. Is it just the contents of the vault that has Nardole’s knickers in a twist, or is there a bit more backstory behind their conflict?
7 out of 10
Next: “Thin Ice”, soon.
Before: “The Pilot”, here.