[Editor’s Note: The following review of “Doctor Who” Season 10, Episode 2, “Smile,” contains spoilers.]
The Doctor and Bill’s chemistry continued to be perfect even though this was only their first official adventure together. Taking place millennia into the future and on a far-off planet that appeared ideal except for its lack of inhabitants, the episode sneaked in an examination of human nature and cultural fluency within its murder-mystery trappings. This jaunt wasn’t so much about whodunit but why, and despite the “robots taking over” plot, it was the human colonists’ reaction the gave us chills.
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What’s worse than a man telling a woman to smile? A robot demanding you smile or else it will kill you and use your bones for calcified fertilizer. Regardless, forcing a smile under duress is just psychologically disturbing even if you don’t factor murder into it.
All that said, the Emojibots themselves had nothing on the Cybermen or Daleks, even though it was freaky when their screen faces frowned. Our only curiosity about seeing them again would be to see how broad their emoji repertoire was. They were, however, far more compelling than the microbots that could transform from the colony’s gorgeous, soaring infrastructure into a flying swarm of death.
Although the Emojibots and last week’s shapeshifting ship goo don’t factor that high on the fright meter, they are just the calm before the Whovian storm. “Do you know what it means when something chases you slowly?” the Doctor asked Bill. “It means there’s a reason that they don’t have to run.” That statement could very well apply to the season itself, which is starting out gently and slowly before it unleashes havoc and heartbreak on us all.
Bill has become an instant favorite, and her lively intelligence and positivity are what make her constant barrage of questions so winning. Her unique style of curiosity gave us a window into how she thinks, while simultaneously poking holes in concepts and procedures that the Doctor and fans have taken for granted.
Why doesn’t the Doctor move his chair closer to the TARDIS control panel instead of standing? Why is the Doctor Scottish? Is there a Scotland in space? And our favorite: “Hearts though, why two? Does that mean you’ve got really high blood pressure?”
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She even psychoanalyzed why the Doctor wouldn’t fix the TARDIS’ chameleon circuit, preferring to travel around in a ship that looks like a police box. It’s because he liked the “advice and assistance obtainable immediately” aspect and swooping in to help save the day.
Bill chose to travel to the future to see if the future is happy, and in the midst of learning some pretty awful stuff on the Emojibot world, she smiled because the Doctor was “an awesome tutor.” No wonder the Doctor couldn’t resist her. We can’t.
The self-styled “scary-handsome genius from space” was still hiding the nature of his secret mission, although Nardole did remind the Doctor that he took an oath not to go off-world unless it was an emergency. The closest the Doctor came to revealing anything was when he unhelpfully told Bill that “A long time ago, a thing happened,” and because of that thing, he made a promise and had to guard a vault.
The vault in itself is an interesting device this season, keeping him tethered to one point in time and space on Earth. Of course, if you have a TARDIS, playing hooky isn’t that difficult.
Although grief was what did the advance team of colonists in, the episode kept the situation relatively light and sorrow-free. We feel for the little boy whose mother was killed, but we didn’t really get to know either of them.
Although the trip to the indeterminate future was fairly straightforward, we’re wondering what’s afoot when the return to the wrong time. They were supposed to come back at the moment they left so that Nardole would be none the wiser about their journey, but instead they ended up in Regency England.
There were only two references we caught this episode, and neither had any strong “Doctor Who” connections that we could recall. The ship in which the colonists were on was named the Erehwon, which is “nowhere” spelled backwards. This could be a very slight reference to “Erewhon” (yes, the spelling there is off), a novel by Samuel Butler that set in the titular fictional country that initially looks like a Utopia. Of course it isn’t, and the novel was as actually a satire of Victorian society.
As for the Doctor’s magic haddock story, that conflated two well-known stories: the Russian fairy tale about a fisherman who gets wishes from a fish that he had kindly set free, and W.W. Jacobs’ supernatural short story “The Monkey’s Paw.”
“I’m over 2,000 years old. I don’t always want to take the stairs.”
“Who needs loos? There’s probably an app for that.”
“I met an emperor made of algae once. He fancied me.”
“There’s a giant smiley abattoir over there, and I’m having this really childish impulse to blow it up. Be right back.”
“I’m not Scottish. I’m just cross. They’re all over the place, demanding independence from every planet they land on.”
Watch a sneak peek of next week’s episode below:
Something is stirring under the ice of a frozen Thames…#DoctorWho returns next Saturday in Thin Ice!#TimeForHeroes pic.twitter.com/OfKwSYmPyF
— Doctor Who Official (@bbcdoctorwho) April 22, 2017
“Doctor Who” airs Saturdays at 9 p.m. on BBC America.
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