This week’s episode of Doctor Who, “Smile,” felt very much like a classic Tennant episode. From the bright shiny setting to the setting mostly devoid of other people, this definitely had that “We’re saving money in a sneaky way” feel to it.
That being said I thoroughly enjoyed “Smile.” Being the first true adventure for new companion Bill, there is still a bit of a learning curve. I am liking how naturally they are weaving information we all know in to the story to catch her up. Like when The Doctor says the robots bring him two dinner portions because they read him as two people due to his two hearts. That line both catches Bill up on his alien physiology and sets her up to have a great reaction to such a weird fact being just dropped on her.
Adding to the Who pantheon of enemies that can be held at bay by what on the surface seem like mundane actions, “Smile” insists that to survive you must do just that, smile. Much like “Don’t Blink,” “Smile” is the kind of episode where you find yourself trying to do the tasks along with our characters. Just smiling seems like the simplest price to pay for your life but once you try and hold that smile indefinitely you start realizing how difficult that can soon become.
Bill continued subverting The Doctor’s traditions and pointing out his poor choices. In this case it’s having chairs in the Tardis that aren’t close enough to actually sit in while piloting. Bill seems like she came right out of a fan message board. I would love to find out that the writers are literally lifting fan complaints to fill out some of her dialog. I also liked how clever Bill is proving to be and how easily she can read The Doctor. She calls him out on why he likes the police box form of the Tardis. He has basically become a peacekeeping force for the universe, there for advice and assistance available to all as the Tardis sign says. Plus Bill gets to see him head purposely back into danger as they escape incredibly easily. The strength of this episode was in building her character and their relationship / understanding of one another.
Going back to what I said earlier, this week really struck me as a Tennant era episode, and Bill is kind of like Capaldi’s Donna Noble. Funny, not romantically presented at all, and constantly challenging The Doctor. Plus a “villain” whose appearance and mode of attack is pretty silly. The emoji robots had a great design and clever twist on a pretty standard idea. We’ve seen the technology misinterprets programming thing before so many times. On Doctor Who the concept has been done to death. Even the microbots eating people down to the bone feels like a rehash. “Silence in the Library” featured a similar fate albeit through alien shadow monsters.
The idea that emoji will become its own language was both perfectly fitting and totally depressing. As The Doctor calls it, “a Utopia for vacuous teens.” The medallions tracking their emotions on their backs was another clever idea but it never seemed to pay off much. A few cute jokes here and there. I loved the Lightbulb icon popping up whenever The Doctor had an idea, very cute. But the medallions never came into play other than that.
In fact, when The Doctor finally did figure out what to do it was a total cop out. Having awoken and almost murdered the last earthlings in stasis, The Doctor unsuccessfully tries to convince them to act peacefully towards the emoji bots. Then sonic screwdriver to the rescue as he employs the old standard fix of turn it off and back on again. Part of me thought this was a funny, simple solution while still being very aware that sonicing his way out of problems is one of the laziest writing crutches Doctor Who has.
Though they took an easy out and The Doctor got almost everything wrong this week, “Smile” was still loads of fun to watch. Capaldi is a delight and his silly grumpy style is perfectly accompanied by Bill’s flippant laid back attitude. Not in the top tier of Who episodes but still pretty damn fun.