Well, another week, another Doctor Who. After the fast paced frenzy of last week and the introduction of a great new companion, this week took a much slower pace with an episode that evoked Classic Who, in particular The Ark in Space and The Happiness Patrol.
As I said in my Series 10 hype post, this was the episode I was the most worried about, considering Frank Cottrell Boyce’s only other Doctor Who script was In the Forest of the Night. Fortunately, Smile was a lot better, and I enjoyed it even more than The Pilot.
A big part of this was because of the Doctor and Bill’s interactions, with Nardole completely disappearing from the episode in the first scene. The episode played out like a Part One of Classic Who, where the characters explore the setting by themselves. This was especially important as we needed to know how this new TARDIS team functioned and how Bill adjusted to life in the TARDIS. Having no real action or supporting characters meant the story could have been dull, but due to the interactions and continued character development I was entertained throughout.
I love the structure of this story, with the pieces slowly being unravelled and the plot slowly fitting together to form a very enticing mystery. Each plot point made sense and felt necessary, with every aspect of the story slotting into place by the end. I’ll admit the ending was a bit weak, with the Doctor essentially rebooting the robots with his sonic screwdriver, but the resolution still ultimately left me satisfied due to the great build up.
The emojibots worked well in my opinion. They weren’t particularly scary but I don’t think they were meant to be, especially considering the whole story was just a misunderstanding between the Vardis and the humans. It was quite brave to have a story with no real villain (The Edge of Destruction, Listen and to an extent Gridlock all show how a story with no villain can work, as does Smile) and I appreciated the small scale nature of the story and due to the lack of a real antagonist the emojibots served their purpose well as a physical threat to keep the story from being too boring. This is the second story in a row with no actual villain, so I’m hoping this week we see the return of the evil, slightly hammy doomsday villain, because sometimes that’s good.
I found the Doctor’s characterisation in this episode spot on. It’s so refreshing to have the Doctor not know what’s going on and he has to solve everything by slowly investigating the situation and putting the pieces together. Something even rarer was the Doctor making a massive mistake and almost blowing up the cryogenic chambers. The Doctor rarely makes mistakes and seeing him make one was very refreshing, especially in comparison to the know-it-all persona that Steven Moffat loves. The balance between the gruff Doctor of Series 8 and the more quirky Doctor in Series 9 has been very well balanced, so it’s once again a shame that this is Peter Capaldi’s final series. I call it Peter Davison syndrome, where a Doctor only really comes into his own in his final series.
The story had a very William Hartnell vibe, from the slow pace to the Doctor miscalculating to the awesome link to Thin Ice at the end. Much like a William Hartnell story, we have a story which is more about the characters and the setting than the alien threat. The supporting characters however weren’t the best, and they only really popped up in the final third. This is where the story dips slightly, as In the Forest of the Night syndrome hits and we get some forced moralising, albeit more subtly. I wish the story developed the misunderstanding more and delved more deeply into the ideas of emotion and grief, which was the instigator of the whole story. The more I think about it, the more Smile is really just a more macarbe Inside Out.
However, these are just a few flaws in what is a very enjoyable story. Bill continues to be great (in a few episodes time she may end up being my second favourite New Who companion, if not number one) and if the quality remains this good, we could have the best New Who series, surpassing even Series 4 and 5. Considering Smile had the most potential out of all the episodes to be bad, the fact that it’s good bodes very well for the episodes that looked great from the start.
Such as this week, featuring elephants and a frozen Thames. I cannot wait for this Saturday.