“Smile” was written by Frank Cottrell-Boyce and aired on Saturday, April 22.
Spoilers ahead for “Smile” because hey ... it's a TV Recap.
The Short Version: The Doctor and Bill leave Nardole behind as they sneak off to the far future to visit a spectacular city on a distant planet that humans have started to colonize. When they arrive, however, the colonists' prep team has vanished, leaving the city to be run by microbots called the Vardie and cute robots that use emojis to communicate. The Doctor and Bill discover the original colonists' ship within the city, which appears to hold clues about what happened to the colonists and whether or not the cute emojibots might just cause the end of the human race.
The Good: Bill's questions, a reset Doctor, and that elephant!
Whether or not you liked this episode, it was the first “proper” adventure with the Doctor and Bill. The inquisitive Bill seems to never stop asking questions. Why aren't the seats in the TARDIS closer to the controls? Where's the steering wheel? How much did the TARDIS cost? Why does the Doctor have two hearts? Does that mean he has high blood pressure? Is there food sexism even in the future? Why is the TARDIS in the shape of a Police Box?
She's an endlessly wonderful chatterbox of curiosity and a perfect counterpoint to the Doctor. Whether you loved Clara Oswald and/or the parade of other past companions, Bill adds a lightness to the series, and to Peter Capaldi's Doctor. And because the Doctor has forgotten Clara (thanks to a device that took away his memory of her), and since he's had time to deal with the loss of River Song, he's just not as sad and desperate and angry as he was. Bill gives us and the Doctor a chance to reset things and embrace the adventure by flying “around sorting things out like some intergalactic policeman” who lives “in a Police Box.”
As Bill takes a good look at the sign on the TARDIS door that reads “Advice & Assistance, obtainable immediately,” she gains an understanding about the Doctor that perhaps none of the other companions have known or considered. Bill, who questions everything in the best possible way, leads us to see the Doctor in a new light.
We also get another scene with Nardole, who seems to have something over on the Doctor involving the mysterious vault and not leaving Earth unless it's an emergency. But the Doctor quickly sneaks away with Bill to the future, to a distant planet that's to be the new home of humans who have abandoned Earth. “I have a time machine! I can be back before we left!” he promises.
Once the Doctor and Bill hit the abandoned city and meet the cute emojibots, the adventure slows down. We already know that the emojibots have killed the human prep team because they didn't smile convincingly enough.
When the Doctor and Bill walk into the city they are given mood indicators by the emoji robots, which attach to the back of their clothes. While the place seems deserted, the Doctor and Bill's mood changes when they discover human skulls and learn that the prep team is being used as fertilizer. The Doctor quickly discovers the emojibots are reacting to human moods, and that happy face = happy emojibots. Sad face with tears = killer emojibots.
The Doctor decides he needs to blow up the city because it's a death trap for the rest of the colonists when they arrive now that the self-aware Vardie – microbots that make up walls of the city – and their killer emojibots have determined that human grief is the enemy. Unfortunately, after the ship is set to blow, the Doctor and Bill discover that the colonists have already arrived and are in the ship itself, in cryo pods waiting for the city to be ready for them. And now the ship is starting to wake them up, which will certainly be a problem when the colonists learn that the emojibots had murdered their friends and family members from the advance team.
“Smile” was written by Frank Cottrell-Boyce (“In the Forest of the Night”), but the adventure part of the story isn't especially clever or unique. By far the best parts are the Doctor and Bill interactions, something there's plenty of time for, considering the slow pace of the episode and the lack of any other significant characters that stand out.
However, the end did offer a nice turn, with the old tech trick of resetting a computer to fix it. Yep, all the Doctor had to do was turn the emojibots on and off, and they forgot all about human grief. The other cute bit involved the Doctor planting the seed that the Vardie could charge the humans rent to use their city.
At the very very end there's a bit of a cliffhanger as the Doctor attempts to get back to the university with Bill before Nardole can discover he's left Earth. But they don't quite make it. When they open the TARDIS door, it's winter and they're on the Thames River, just in time to see the elephant. Yes, the elephant.
The Bad: A snail's pace, an explosive reaction from the Doctor, and those silly emojibots
While I loved the Bill and the Doctor of it all, the episode is slowly paced and predictable. From the first moments of the episode, we know all about the killer emojibots and their flying nanites that insist on smiling like humans. The story has basically the same logline as last week's episode: Tech leads to self-awareness that doesn't really understand humans.
And then there's the Doctor setting off to blow up the city without checking to see if any surviving colonists were hiding out. Why not at least look around before you blow things up? And since the Vardie are self-aware and the Doctor is more than a bit indignant about them being slave labor, wouldn't you want to come up with better solution than blowing them up. Of course, the Doctor does figure out a solution once he realizes the colonists are onboard and starting to wake up. But then it was obvious he wasn't really going to blow up the city.
My biggest problem had to do with the emojibots. Why would anyone make a robot that can only communicate in emojis? The Vardie created the city for the humans to live in and the emojibots were created to help communicate with the humans. Would you really want to have a bot that can only communicate in happy faces and sad faces with tears? Yes, they're cute, but as the Doctor quips, the city is a “utopia of vacuous teens.” Is it really something that would last through the centuries of the human race? All I can say is :-(.
We learn a little more about the mystery that is supposedly keeping the Doctor grounded on Earth. The Doctor tells Bill that, “a long time ago a thing happened. As a result of the thing, I made a promise. As a result of the promise, I have to stay on Earth...” to protect the vault.
But what thing happened? What was the promise? What's in the vault that the Doctor has to protect? Also why is Nardole acting like the Doctor's "Mum"?
And what's the elephant about?
Lines of the Night:
“Oh, that's a mistake. You can't reach the controls from the seats. What's the point in that? Or do you have stretchy arms like Mr. Fantastic?” – Bill
“Between here and my office before the kettle boils, is everything that ever happened or ever will. Make your choice.” – The Doctor asks Bill to choose between the past and the future for their travels.
“I’m not Scottish. I’m just cross.” – The Doctor
“You don't call the help line because you are the help line.” – Bill
Best Line of the Night:
“Well, you don't steer the TARDIS. You negotiate with her. The still point between where you want to go and where you need to be, that's where she takes you.” – The Doctor
Next week on Doctor Who: