Doctor Who: 10.02 Smile
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After a delightful introduction to Pearl Mackie's Bill Potts last week, Smile follows the tried and tested formula of taking the new companion on a trip to the future. It worked with Rose in The End of the World and Amy in The Beast Below and there are a number of thematic ties to both episodes in Smile. It's a fun jaunt into the future, bright, breezy, with enough mystery to keep the Doctor and Bill on their toes; like those previous entries, it doesn't achieve 'classic status' as its more glossy finish than substance but considering it's a story we've seen done before, it works surprisingly well. It's a case of different doctors, same handbook. Next week we're off to the past and I am sure there will be similarities to The Unquiet Dead with its Victorian setting.
It's also the second script from Frank Cottrell-Boyce, who wrote one of series eight's most decisive episodes In The Forest Of The Night, a story that looked lovely but had a logic that fell apart the moment you examined it. Fortunately this is a stronger episode; Smile looks wonderful, making the most of its futuristic Earth colony setting and the location filming in Valencia, but it's all kept nice and simple. Cottrell-Boyce does manage to pack in a couple of surprise twists but the real joy from this episode is in the developing interplay between the Peter Capaldi's Doctor and Mackie's Bill.
She wins the show with more great questions; the Doctor just wants to show off but she wants to know where the steering wheel on the TARDIS is, why it's disguised as a police box and what the Doctor's true role in the universe is. He might claim that his duty is to protect the mysterious vault on Earth for the last 70-odd years but she soon realises that he's best placed zipping around the galaxy saving everyone.
It's a nicely paced realisation over the duration of the episode and the Doctor continues to test her; I like the moment she realised she could just take a picture of the spaceship map rather than direct him over comms and his reveal that he had already memorised it. He wants her to think out the box and this is something Bill certainly does. But she doesn't have that slightly superior nature that Clara had. She's still filled with joy at entering a spaceship, meeting robots and trying futuristic cubes of food that taste like fish and are made of fungi.
In some ways, the best moments were those ten minutes after they arrived at the colony, exploring the deserted buildings, investigating the swarms of nanite robots, meeting the sweet but slightly naff emoji robots and chatting over dinner. The mystery for them to solve was not what had happened - the robots killing the first colonists - but why. That mystery made for an insidious opening as Mina Anwar's Goodthing found Kiran L. Dadlani's Kezzia and tried to tell her everyone was dead while keeping a big smile on her face. And later on, the discovery of the colonist's bones ground up into fertilizer added a dark edge to the bring sunny surroundings. As for the robots, well their faces switching to angry death mode wasn't exactly menacing but are sure to give the kids a few moments of concern. They reminded me of the smilers from The Beast In Below in that regard, all smiles one moment and then expressions of doom thereafter.
If Smile had the glossy, fun feel of The End of the World, it was closer to The Beast Below in its storytelling. Taking place in the same period of humanity's history as that season five episode and Tom Baker's The Ark In Space - cryogenically frozen humans taking to the stars in search of new worlds after the decimation of Earth - this colony was the first of many new worlds humanity would expand to and as such, the sudden threat of everyone being wiped out raised the stakes somewhat.
If the main colony ship arrived and the emoji robots killed everyone, than a sizeable portion of humanity could be wiped out entirely. It's something Bill was quick to grasp. Though while I liked the big twist that the ship was already there and the humans were just sleeping in the their cryogenic tubes, they didn't seem that memorable when they woke up, with Ralf Little's Steadfast coming across as a gun-wielding idiot when he decided to lead his people against the robot 'uprising'.
What worked much better though was the reason for the robots killing people; the grief of the death of one women spreading through the colonists and being identified by the robots as something to be removed. After all, they just want to make the lives of these humans happy. Killing with kindness is an idea used in Doctor Who before, but Cottrell-Boyce makes the most of it here and through the fresh eyes of Bill it absolutely works.
Smile was a perfect fun, Saturday evening family affair. It won't top the lists of favourite episodes, but then neither did The End of the World or The Beast Below. What it really does is cement Bill's worth as a companion (as if we had any doubts after last week), build on her relationship with the Doctor and deliver something that will - pun intended - put a smile on your face. I'm mostly interested in the mystery of the vault Nardole was guarding the Doctor, I assume linked to the overall arc for series 10, though the episode doesn't quite get back to the present yet. Like true 'classic Who' fashion, this is the second episode in a row to end with the tease of the next story as the Doctor and Bill arrive on the frozen Thames in Victorian London and encounter an elephant. Judging by next week's trailer, I think we might be in for the best episode of series 10 yet...