Hello my fellow Whovians! We are back with another great episode of Doctor Who and, according to Bill, our first “proper” adventure with our new companion.
Before we dig into “Smile”, I have to say that the more I thought about “The Pilot” from last week, the more I liked it and I may have come off a bit harsher than I wanted to in my review for it. Ah well, live and learn. On with the show!
Also mild SPOILERS FOR THIS EPISODE! If you haven’t watched “Smile” yet, maybe do so and then come back.
We start this week’s episode with a woman walking through a wheat field as she heads back to what looks like an alien colony. As she goes back towards the main building, it becomes clear that something is amiss. She is met by what looks like a family member and told that everyone is dead but she HAS to keep smiling as insanely creepy robots with emojis for eyes lurk about. When her smile and happiness starts to fade, a swarm of microbots descend upon her and strip her bones clean! WTF Doctor Who?!?! As cold opens go, this one definitely got the job done.
After the opening credits, we see Bill and the Doctor in the TARDIS control room where the Doctor asks Bill where she would like to go – backwards or forwards? She, like I would, answers forwards. But before they can take off, Nardole pops in and reminds the Doctor that he can’t leave earth because of the promise he made to guard the vault. There’s that vault again. It’s pretty clear that “what/who is in the vault? who did he make the promise to?” is going to be the central plot, season long arc of this season, probably teased until the end of episode 11 and resolved in the season finale. My pet theory is that it’s Susan, the Doctor’s Granddaughter, and that Carol Ann Ford will reprise her role. Maybe Susan has been stuck on Earth ever since she was left there by the First Doctor and was locked in the vault by UNIT or The Master/Missy at some point? I’m hoping that if that is true and it is Susan being played by Ford, that she regenerates and becomes a companion going forward.
Anyway…… The Doctor ignores Nardole, because of course he does, and flies off with Bill in tow to the colony we saw in the cold open. Almost, immediately upon arriving, Bill and the Doctor are met by the robots and given emotion indicators that sit on their backs, basically real live working mood rings. As per usually the Doctor begins to suspect something odd is going on and starts to piece the puzzle together and eventually discovers that they have to stay happy and keep smiling or they die.
I really enjoyed this episode. The true test of a new companion is always their second episode or their first “proper” adventure with the Doctor. Whether it’s Rose on the space station, Martha meeting Shakespeare, or Donna and the Adipose, after all the Doctor Who “pleasantries” are taken care of (bigger on the inside, aliens exist, time travel etc.) it’s always more telling how a companion deals with an adventure than it is when they first meet the Doctor. It’s very safe to say the Bill acquitted herself nicely in this episode. She’s clever, doesn’t always listen to the Doctor, questions everything, isn’t afraid to get her hands dirty, distinct personality – everything we Whovians look for in a companion.
The monsters (or robots) in this episode were delightfully creepy, a tenant (HA! Who puns) of the Moffat era and Moffat penned episodes. Moffat always knows how to take the mundane and ordinary and make your skin crawl with it and they nail it again here. While the Doctor and Bill work to figure out what the hell is going on on this planet, it’s a treat to see the robots monitor their emotions knowing just what they are capable of if they don’t like what they see. Or as my wife put it – “They’re creepy as fuck…..”. Truth babe, truth. I also really liked the clunky way they walked as it just adds to the creep factor. It reminded me of the Mondoshawans in “The Fifth Element” and how they moved.
The reason they give for the robots turning against humans is amazing. Right before the Doctor and Bill landed, the leader of the colony passed away and when the news spread of her death, people started to feel grief and the robots just couldn’t comprehend that sadness. So rather than let everyone work through their grief, the robots simply eliminated the sadness because an absence of sadness equals happiness right? That’s insane logic but precisely what a machine might think because it just doesn’t know any better…. It’s fascinating to think about and Doctor Who is always at it’s best when it gives us something to think about.
Capaldi is rock solid as the Twelfth Doctor once again. Since last season, Capaldi has inched closer and close to knocking Christopher Eccleston off the top of my list of favorite Doctors. (9, 12, War, 8 – in case you were wondering.) I will be incredibly sad to see him go at the end of the season as I think he run will forever be marred by the pretty awful season 8. Hopefully season 10 continues on the strength of season 9 and they will be what defines Capaldi’s legacy.
Another fantastic (HA! more Who puns) 45 minutes of Doctor Who in the books this week. Next week looks extra creepy as we go back to Victorian England and deal with some sort of giant reptile monster!
Until next time, Thank You for reading and….