After a strong start with ‘The Pilot’ the new series of Doctor Who looked to continue the momentum with ‘Smile’. Frank Cottrell-Boyce who brought ‘In the Forest of the Night’ (2014) to the Doctor Who universe returns with a new story that too continues to develop the relationship between The Doctor and his new companion Bill…
For long time Doctor Who fans a number of similarities to previous stories such as ‘The Robots of Death’ (1977), ‘The Ark in Space’ (1975) and ‘The Girl in the Fireplace’ (2006) will pop up. The headline grabbers are of course the Emojibots or Vardies as The Doctor calls them. Equally noteworthy is some of the most impressive location work ever seen in the show’s history. This is another episode that drops the new series back to the basics It must, however, be considered in the context of this new series, a new adventure with a new companion where Bill gets to know this mysterious adventurer in his natural habit; saving people.
The Doctor and Bill Bond
A most of episode is dedicated to the blossoming friendship between The Doctor and new companion Bill. As a result, Nardole has sent to put the kettle on and is making tea. The exchanges between the new duo are a highlight of the story. Both are learning about the other and it is fascinating to watch. Bill is a companion that asks the right questions as she latches onto one aspect in particular – the exterior shape of the TARDIS. Why does our famed blue box stay stuck as a police box? But it is far more significant than many of us may have previously considered. Whilst long term fans get caught up on what is the exact message, Bill reminds us that “advice and assistance” can be found within the box – a beacon of hope in the universe.
Smiling Robots of Death
Robots gone rogue are obviously central to the plot. As science fiction narratives go robots turning against their creators is probably explored the most frequently. I had grave concerns about the emojibots in advance of this series. I needn’t have worried. The inclusion of emojis is not, as I feared it would be, a simplistic attempt to appeal to a younger audience. Instead, the concept of conveying real emotions in a simple form is actually really interesting. The simplification of human emotion into a single visual representation proves to be the undoing of humanity. Talk about a stark warning! Reusing malfunctioning robots is therefore entirely appropriate because, despite all the benefits, technology will never fully understand the human condition. Concepts such as grief are far beyond their appreciation.
The emojibots themselves are visually impressive but suffer from a traditional Doctor Who monster flaw. When the inevitable comes and the Doctor and his companion have to run away, a brisk walk would suffice. The script just about manages to cover for this flaw and does a reasonable job claiming that they’re so dangerous they don’t need to be fast. The idea of a robot giving you a hug to stop you being unhappy, by killing you is seriously terrifying. Hugs that kill. It doesn’t get more Doctor Who than that. This strange juxtaposition of a dark storyline and bright location, therefore, creates a peculiar and unnerving contrast.
Visually the episode is spectacular. Filming was conducted at the City of Arts and Science Museum in Valencia and the choice of the Spanish location was well worth the trip. The incredible architecture does look like something out of this world. Huge credit must go to the production team for delivering such sumptuous visuals. On the downside, the strong sunlight and white surfaces limit the atmosphere that can be generated. Therefore unlike ‘The Pilot’ there is a lack of scares. But the horrific elements are present. Cute little robots that kill. The Doctor and his companion saving the day. It’s possibly Doctor Who at it’s most traditional. For once in quite a while the story is also simple enough for younger viewers to follow. For the adults, there are darker undertones and horrific concepts to be enjoyed. Saturday evening family viewing solved for 45 minutes, just what Doctor Who should do.
Following ‘The Pilot’ was going to be a tough task. ‘Smile’ will no doubt get a kicking from certain reviewers. To simply dismiss ‘Smile’ would be foolish and to miss the point of this episode. It allows the exploration of The Doctor and Bill’s developing friendship and reinforces the symbolism of the TARDIS. In addition to that, the seemingly harmless becomes deadly. It is as traditional as Doctor Who can get. Perfect for this rebooted new series…