Doctor Who‘s latest episode delivers a slice of likable, if unremarkable, classic science fiction…
Last week’s opener ‘The Pilot’ was an enjoyable and much-needed fresh start for this show. While I have to say that episode two ‘Smile’ isn’t quite up to that standard, it is a perfectly enjoyable adventure whose slow-burning story and casual pace recall the Doctor Who of yesterday.
Writer Frank Cottrell Boyce’s last effort – 2014’s ‘In The Forest of the Night’ – was unfortunately lacking in the story department. ‘Smile’, on the other hand, isn’t the most jam-packed of episodes but it does contain some interesting ideas. Long-term fans will recognise the core premise of a human colony being forced to be happy on pain of death from 1987’s ‘The Happiness Patrol’, but thankfully things go in a different direction from that tale very quickly.
Really, the sci-fi storyline is just something to hang the Doctor and Bill’s dynamic on. There are a couple of small supporting roles at the beginning and end of the episode, but this is basically a two-hander between the two time-travellers. This really allows Peter Capaldi and Pearl Mackie to shine. After being amazed by the Doctor last week, this is the episode that Bill realises who the Doctor really is: in Bill’s terms, an intergalactic policeman.
The episode’s monster-of-the-week – the Emojibots – won’t go down as the scariest Who villain of all time, but they were awfully cute. However, it is slightly frustrating that the episode raises the horrific idea of emojis being the primary way people communicate their emotions to each other in the future but then does nothing with it. Still, perhaps that is more of a Black Mirror idea than a Doctor Who one.
One thing I wasn’t a fan of, character-wise, was the treatment of Nardole this episode. I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how much I’ve enjoyed Matt Lucas’ character as the Doctor’s bumbling butler these past two episodes, and for him to be portrayed as a nag that the Time Lord and Bill don’t seem to like felt like a major step back for him. Still, I appreciate that the Nardole haters out there probably enjoyed his minimal role this week.
On the other hand, I have to say that the direction and cinematography of these past two episodes has been sublime. In particular, the show has made great use of its location work so far this season. In this episode, for example, the wheat field with the sci-fi city in the background was a terrific visual (even if it was highly reminiscent of Tomorrowland). Congrats to Lawrence Gough on that one, he is welcome to return to the show anytime.
Overall, ‘Smile’ was a perfectly adequate, presentable Doctor Who episode. It isn’t one that will stay with you too long after watching, but it will leave you with – oh, come on, I have to say it – a smile on your face.
- If you’re wondering, this episode was filmed in Valencia, Spain. The city is actually the real-life complex for the Museum of Arts and Sciences.
- The Doctor mentions that he has met many other ships that have evacuated from the dying Earth before. These include The Ark, The Ark in Space and The Beast Below.
- The direct lead-in to the following episode was another lovely old-school touch. This was often done during the First Doctor’s era, and later picked up in the Fifth Doctor’s, too.
Our TARDIS rating system doesn’t seem appropriate for this episode. So, for one week only, here’s a new one…