Doctor Who - S10E2 Smile - Review: Happy But Not Ecstatic
Smile – When Bill wants to see if the future is happy, The Doctor takes her to a new human colony in the making where, thanks to the resident robots malfunctioning, your very life depends on wearing a big fat smile.
The big smiley faces this week came from visuals and ideals of forced happiness. The colony location itself looked stunning in its white and pristine form with the CG effects blended well into physical sets. Then the classic sci-fi rustic industrial interiors of the space ship really stand out by contrast. Director Lawrence Gough clearly wants to present this to tie into the core ideals behind this new colonisation, people making themselves better. Their ship is crude like the world they’ve left behind while everything new is constructed to an ideal of improvement towards perfection that extends towards human emotion. After so much violence and self-destructive behaviour that to the collapse of Earth (hilariously this was broadcast on Earth Day), they tried to engineer happiness but the complexity of such a concept triggered the ill-fated events of the episode, because how in the hell could a computer understand sadness let alone be able to prevent it? This does produce a few good laughs from the idea of forced smiling through everything to avoid the robots skull-faced wrath.
Although the episode struggles a little with comedy because it’s best offering (Bill’s remark about TARDIS seating arrangements) comes from the open scene and nothing thereafter comes close. This is a well-paced episode though. Like last week, it opens with a mystery (even if this time with more audience awareness) and gives the pair plenty of time to investigate and theorise before moving things along.
The clear weak point of the episode was villains. While the emoji face robots were a fun concept, seeing them waddle about like Ewoks in full plate armour was about as threatening or terrifying as a box of kittens. Even if they do grab hold of you, it took nothing more than a quick screwdriver intervention to break the grip and escape. Then we have the Vardi themselves which are the polar opposite. Their vast swarming numbers present clear peril setup well by the early kills but at the same time they boil down to nothing more than black CG dots a screen with just as much personality. Furthermore,, their approach makes no sense. If they are everywhere, then why (aside from effects budget limitations) does only a fraction attack at any one time? It’s clear that the Robots and Vardis were intended to be viewed as a single entity, counterbalancing each other’s flaws but because they’re mostly presented in isolation it becomes hard to get behind that idea.
This sophomore episode appears to setup what will be the season long arc by building on a casual aspect of the season opener: the vault that that The Doctor has below the university. Following an oath long ago, he is guarding something important inside to the extent that he may only go off world for emergencies according to Nardole (another good sparing use of his character). In the last episode, Bill mentioned that he’d been lecturing at the University for 50 years which presumably places that event in the mid 1960s. It’s fair bet that the final few episodes will revolve around learning just what is inside the vault, seeing the story of how it came to be there and just who The Doctor made his promise to.
For some, the mere idea of having a badge of your back showing exactly how they’re feeling will be the scariest thing they’ve ever seen but this is certainly not a horror -nclined episode like last week nor does it have any clear genre direction and feels far too middle of the road. It certainly wasn’t a bad episode but the kind the feels inferior from a show you know can do much better. Ultimately, Smile felt too much like re-treading from the previous episode with needless time spent affirming the Doctor/Bill relationship when Pilot already had everything covered. Smile did make me smile.... but just the regular smiley face but that big grinning one or the one with hearts for eyes etc.