“Smile” continues the great writing the Series started out with, but this time giving a more “Twilight Zone” feel combined with Classic “Doctor Who” ideas of new life and the resolution of conflict. It is fantastic and my non-spoiler thoughts are that the only thing that bring it down are the references to modern day like Emojis and selfies, that did take me out of the story when they happened.
The episode was directed by Lawrence Gough and written by Frank Cottrell-Boyce.
The story involves the Doctor taking Bill to one of the first human colonies, that when they arrive at is completely empty except for Robots who control the facility. From here the mystery unfolds surrounds the complex and the robots known as the Vardy.
The Pros: The Premise – The premise of robots that kill you if you aren’t happy is fascinating as well as the fact that they can be tricked by a smile. It felt very “Twilight Zone” and “Black Mirror” esque, which I appreciated.
The Vardy – The Vardy are natives to the planet the colonists inhabit and are sentient machines. Their goal is to help humanity how humanity believes to best but also to be respected as when they are turned on they go full defense mode too. It takes a factory reset done by the Doctor to leave their future and how they interpret their relationship to humanity to be in the future.
Bill – Bill is very much the tourist in this as her request to the Doctor is to go to the future and to somewhere happy. This brings her to one of the first human colonies and her realizing that she enjoys the mystery and adventure like the Doctor. She also discovers she likes helping people but that things are more complicated than they appear to be as she is on neither the Vardy’s or humanity’s side in the conflict, so in turn can’t condemn the Doctor, she just realizes what his role is.
The Doctor – The Doctor is the one who is always seeking help and also doesn’t want to be tied down to one location. He is on Earth guarding the Vault, and that is why Nardole is there to hold the Doctor to that promise…which the Doctor abandons to travel with Bill. Both of these actions reveal the childishness and also the maturity and heroism of the Doctor. He is complicated and as we discover at the end of the episode, he can’t solve everything and something there isn’t an answer…he can do what he can to save lives but after he leaves it is up to the people left behind.
The Doctor and the TARDIS’s Role – The sign on the TARDIS says “Advice and Assistance Obtainable Immediately” and part of the reason why it is a police box is because the Doctor is sent where he is needed. This is something we get early on as he describes to Bill that the travel to locations is like a dance between himself and the TARDIS. This is also why he was on Earth as he is protecting a mysterious “Vault,” which more than likely is for humanity’s protection.
Okay: The Colonists – We don’t get to know any of the colonists as they are only reacting to the Vardy. This was a shame as we know humanity was escaping from Earth where they nearly destroyed themselves. That could have been explored if we’d been given a colonist for Bill and the Doctor to play off of.
The Cons: Modern Lingo and References – From the Vardy being called emoji-bots and Bill taking selfies…these things weren’t needed and took me out of the episode. We get what they look like and we get that Bill is a tourist in the future…but it could have been done better.
The idea of this episode if it had been explored more fully (as in gone full “Black Mirror”) could have turned this into something akin to “Blink” or “Listen.” Because it didn’t it manages to stay solidly good though as so much of the future is still left up in the air. The Vardy have been rebooted and have no memory of what they did, but they still destroyed the colonists under the simple command of making them happy. The Doctor accepts this though and the fact that there isn’t a happy ending boosts the episode immensely.
Final Score: 8.5/ 10