The 12th Doctor – Series 10, Episode 2 – “Smile” – Psychological Horror Meets Classic “Doctor Who” Themes

   “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

The 12th Doctor – Series 8, Episode 10 – “In the Forest of the Night” – Too Much Fantasy

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Since Moffat has become showrunner of “Doctor Who” after Russell T. Davies left there has always been an element of fantasy in his series. The strongest of this and the best version of it was Series 5 when Matt Smith was the 11th Doctor, and weakest was the series 7…Smith’s final season and one of the most inconsistent seasons that gave us a lot of the worst of Moffat’s writing and themes. This episode is not as bad as the worst of series 7 and would have been good if not for the ending, but because of the ending I can only call it okay. I’ll get into what I mean in the assessment.

The episode was directed by Sheree Folkson and written by Frank Cottrell Boyce.

The premise is that the world has become overgrown by a forest that grew in a day. The Doctor doesn’t know why it happened and is left with Clara and Danny as they find that one of the Coal Hill Students Maehb maybe tied to the events and are left facing this new mystery and whether it is something good and temporary or a the signs of an invasion. From here the story unfolds.

Here is the assessment of the episode:

The Pros: The Premise – The idea of a forest overgrowing the world is a great idea! Especially since it adds a lot of mystery and in this instance plays into the human fear of the woods. Which we see in fairy tales like Hansel and Gretel and Little Red Riding Hood both of which are made visual illusions to in the episode. There is a sense of danger and a sense of loss too given the events of the fairy tales.

Danny Pink – Danny is good at being the one grounded on being in the moment and looking after the kids to make sure they are connected. We see how this appeals to Clara even though she is so drawn to the excitement, mystery and adventure of the current circumstances. She assumes the Doctor can sort things out, Danny assumes nothing. We learn that this was due to his experiences as a soldier and he has no desire to repeat it given what he wants most is right in front of him (Clara). It’s a sweet moment and I liked how he was handled in this episode. Even with Clara lying about adventures with the Doctor and them even happening he is there until she can figure things out.

Clara Oswald – Clara is very much the companion in this episode, and she loves it. We see her separate herself from the Doctor at the end though when she asks him to run since if humanity will go extinct they will do so together and she doesn’t want to be the last of her kind. We see her attachment to Earth in this episode and her love of Danny even if she doesn’t know how to fully communicate her situation with the Doctor and being straight with them both. But she grows some in this episode which leaves things curious in regards to how her leaving will be handled at the end of this series.

The 12th Doctor / The Twelfth Doctor – The Doctor is interesting in this episode. We see him not being very good with children in that he isn’t very aware of them and is drawn in the most to the mystery. It takes a student being connected to the events for him to truly care and though he says he will stay with humanity he is rejected like he rejected helping humanity in “Kill the Moon.” I liked him in this episode but he couldn’t save it as there were other things bringing it down.

The Cons: Child Actors – Having one is bad enough, but this one had a bunch. They weren’t bad all the time but it make the threat seem so much less since it’s a family show…they aren’t going to kill a kid. This made the episode feel G when it was dealing with mortality, which was a shame.

Everything is Okay Again – I really don’t like how this series, especially when the episode has a kid (“Kill the Moon” again, and “The Caretaker”) try to keep consequences from occuring. The Earth doesn’t change and the Doctor talks about people forgetting. There was no point for the episode beyond it advancing the character arcs, which is a waste of a premise. “Kill the Moon” at least gave Clara reason to doubt and for a while was actually a great thriller so the concept was handled better. This one, not so much.

Everybody Lives – There are aliens that predate the Doctor in this episode and apparently they saved Maehb’s sister. “The Doctor Dances” did this so much better, because it was a war, there was consequences going on, there was despair and death so people living meant something. This corny ending gave nothing to the Whoverse and made Moffat going dark feel like a lie. Well, we’ll see how the final goes. Most episodes have been good but this ending is part of what’s wrong with Moffat. It’s too much fantasy, and not the good kind where magic is an element but not a magic reset button of entire character situations.

This episode could have been worse, the mystery was better than “Robot of Sherwood” at least and the character moments did improve the story. But they got to stop using child actors…I know this is a kids show but the original Star Wars didn’t have any child actors and was better for it. Kids can take dark, and some of the darkest Doctor Who (Series 1-3 on “Doctor Who”) were actually quite amazing. Fantasy writing shouldn’t be an excuse for not having stories without consequences. Happy endings should have a cost, or better yet be bittersweet.

Final Score: 6.5 / 10. Would be lower if not for Clara, Danny and the Doctor.