Monday, April 24, 2017

My Review of Doctor Who's 10x02: "Smile"

Written by Frank Cottrell-Boyce
Directed by Lawrence Gough

Bill (to the Doctor): "Stop trying to keep me out of trouble!"

Going back to the tradition of Series 1 to 5 of this revived series, we've had the present day opening story and now we've gone into the future as the Doctor bestowed Bill with the choice for her first TARDIS trip while Nardole mostly sat this one out.

Enter a trip to the planet Gliese 581d and both the Doctor and Bill have ended up on a world where the only inhabitants seem to be some rather harmless robots that communicate in the not so extinct language of emoji, which amuses Bill but not so much the Doctor. Aside from the opening sequence that ruins the surprise, alarms also pop up when the Doctor and Bill get to wear mood badges that they can't see.

The planet itself is largely empty for the most part so there's a lot of screen time for solely the Doctor and Bill, which in some ways almost made this episode into a two hander of sorts between the new friends. It mostly works as both the Doctor and Bill are given a little more insight into how the other ticks during a crisis.

I know it's only been two episodes but the rapport between Capaldi and Mackie has certainly rejuvenated the show and while the student/mentor dynamic has been explored before with Seven and Ace, this version with Twelve and Bill is already turning out to be equally dynamic.

For all the questions that Bill asks the Doctor (and they're still reasonable ones), she also figures out certain things by herself. She certainly was able to deduce what had happened to a lot of the colonists that came to the planet and did her best to try and calm down a distressed child in the midst of a near battle between the remaining colonists and the bots themselves.

Speaking of the bots, the idea of them using the emoji language (hence them being labelled as Emojibots to a point) seemed really daft when I first read about this episode but it was effectively done and they managed to have a decent level of menace to them as well. I mean, they turned people into fertilizer and their inability to understand grief had disastrous consequences all around.

However while the episode a lot that worked in it's favour (beautiful character bits for our TARDIS duo, gorgeous location work and mostly satisfying baddies), the last few minutes slightly undo all the good work beforehand. The Doctor's resolution between the Vardy/Emojibots is a bit too pat and the few guest actors they have in the episode, such as Ralf Little's Steadfast are criminally wasted that it does make the episode a little frustrating.

Of course two episodes in though and the current series does seem to have a nice spring in it's step. The characterisation for the Twelfth Doctor is easily the best we've had, Bill is working out wonderfully and the mystery of the vault isn't soaking up too much screen time although the Doctor did mention that he had a promise to keep in relation to guarding it. Plus any episode that ends on the note of an elephant standing on the frozen Thames in the snow deserves an extra point or two.

- Apparently the Algae King fancies the Doctor. Bill also ate some blue algae jelly during the episode as well.
- "I'm happy, hope you're happy too" - gotta love a David Bowie reference, don't you? There was also a Erewhon reference too.
- Did I mention the gorgeous location work this week? Valencia translated beautifully on the screen as a different world.
- Anyone spot the allusions and similarities to the likes of The Ark In Space, The Happiness Patrol and The Beast Below in this one?
- I'm still convinced what's in the Vault has been spoiled online now. Not mentioning it for those who still want to be surprised though.
- Mina Anwar, who played Goodthing in this episode also played Rani Chandra's mother, Gita in The Sarah Jane Adventures.

After the much maligned In The Forest Of The Night, I wasn't particularly enthused with the idea of Frank Cottrell-Boyce returning for another episode. Smile however, while it won't go down as a classic, certainly was a step up from Boyce's previous effort. While the resolution was extremely poor and guest characters savagely underused, the episode itself was more watchable than expected, so that's a good thing.

Rating: 7 out of 10

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