It’s TTF – to the future – Whovians, in this season’s second episode of DOCTOR WHO, “Smile.” Sidenote before I dive in: there’s been so many episodes of Who, I can’t believe something as simple as “Smile” hadn’t already been used as a title. It’s the small stuff that’s still surprising, really.
This week’s episode brought us the quintessential ‘future’ episode that is so staple to second episodes of the show. Nearly every episode after the introductory episode of each season seems to take place in the future. This is doubly true when it comes to new companions. I’m not sure why, other than that it’s a bit telling of the companion’s character if they request to travel to the future or the past. Personally, I think I’d choose the past. Slightly less surprises. In this case, though, Bill chose the future, because she’s optimistic.
This new season with the twelfth Doctor is out on a really strong foot, after a terribly long hiatus that we probably all needed (though who would ever actually admit to that), just to put some distance between our love for the show and the rough ride that was Doctor Who Season Nine. Let’s be honest, even if Capaldi’s Doctor hadn’t been an unrelatable angry mess for most of the season, the episodes themselves felt recycled and unimaginative, a problem that kept the show from maintaining its charm and sparkle. You can hardly blame Moffat or any of the creative team; how do you come up with new ideas for a show that’s literally been everywhere in space and time?
Well, I suppose the answer to that rhetorical question is, you take a year and a half off before starting the next season, that’s how.
This episode wasn’t an entirely new concept, but then again, nothing ever is, is it? But the nice thing about the season thus far (we’re only two episodes in, I know) is that the storylines are only vaguely familiar. Almost as though you can’t quite put your finger on why they don’t quite feel new. And of course, the endings are always different. And that’s the great thing about Doctor Who; you never know exactly what’s going to happen.
This was the emoji bot episode! If you follow the show at all, you’ll know what I’m talking about – BBC America has been promoting this one particular clip of Bill with these emoji bots for weeks. These emoji bots, from which millions of nanobots communicate, feel a bit reminiscent of season six, episode ten, “The Girl Who Waited,” in which Amy gets trapped on a planet with lethal sanitizing robots. The concept of the nanobots, which make up an emerging sentient lifeform called the Vardis, also somewhat reminds me of the healer bots in season one, episode nine, “The Empty Child.” Still one of the creepiest episodes of the regeneration over all.
Though not as overtly creepy as the predecessor episodes it reminds me of, this episode did have its merits. After all, robots killing humans and using their bones as fertilizer? Super gross and also pretty creepy. Mostly, though, the highlight of the episode was Bill. Man, do I love Bill. Don’t get me wrong, Clara definitely grew on me – particularly during her Danny Pink arc – but the bitter bickering between her and Capaldi’s Doctor, and her somewhat dehumanizing transformation after Pink’s death makes Bill quite the breath of fresh air. Bill’s personality comes off probably most similarly to Rose’s – she’s whip smart and inquisitive, but in the street sense. She comes off as less of a booky, though I’d argue that she’s the cleverest companion the Doctor has had as of yet. And yes, I do remember that Martha was a doctor.
Bill picks up on things and makes connections that other companions never did – she’s already thinking outside of the box when the Doctor shows her things outside of the box – and the reaction and chemistry that comes from this is electric to watch. It also helps that this season’s Doctor seems to have mellowed somewhat since Clara’s death. He’s gotten past his rebellious regeneration phase and is finally settling into that sweet-spot of character equation where we get to find out what his moral responsibilities as the last roaming Time Lord mean to him, and how that plays out in his decisions in each episode.
Bill also already seems to be thinking more like a Time Lord than a human – she’s very against the use of guns in this episode, particularly because the emoji bots are unarmed, even though she knows full well that the emoji bots have already killed several people. And this Doctor is bringing a new and interesting moral concept into play this season, with both episodes so far involving lifeforms who have killed mercilessly, and both episodes ending with the Doctor accepting the death and seeking to remain a middle-ground mediator to prevent any more death – both by and to the lethal lifeforms. It’s a different and interesting angle to the usual ‘this lifeform/alien is evil, we must banish/punish/destroy in order to protect humans.’ Not that the ‘misunderstood’ lifeform plot is a completely new concept to the show, just that these first two episodes of this season are drawing very heavily from it.
The episode places us in the future, on one of the first colonies of Earth, after the world is evacuated. This setting is also pretty neat because it draws upon knowledge of previous episode storylines, and for once, makes use of the Doctor Who timeline to place us in the history of Earth’s future (according to Doctor Who).
The colony seems to be empty and waiting for the arrival of colonists when the Doctor and Bill get there, but the Doctor quickly realizes that there’s something wrong with the emoji bots, and sure enough, they’ve killed the “Shepherds” – the prep team of colonists who were sent to set up the colony for the rest of the society. He sets about to destroy the colony, since the structure is made up entirely of the nanobots that killed the Shepherds, so that the bots can’t kill any colonists when they arrive.
With Bill’s help, the Doctor finds the original ship the Shepherds arrived in and goes about overloading the engine so that it will explode. Before the ship and the colony can be destroyed, though, Bill and the Doctor discover that the colonists are actually already there – they’ve been sleeping in cryogenic pods, waiting for the Shepherds to wake them when the time was right.
With his plan foiled, the Doctor realizes he must figure out why the emoji bots were killing off humans. Just in time, he realizes that it was a malfunction in the way in which the bots were interpreting their commands and human emotion, and he resets the bots in a way that would make the IT Crowd proud – by turning them on and off again. With the data reset, however, the bots don’t remember anything about the humans (or killing them, for that matter), and the Doctor is left to help mediate a negotiation with the colonists and the bots. A bittersweet ending for the colonists, to say the least.
This season is already turning out so well. I can’t wait to see what’s next for Bill and the Doctor!
Season 10, Episode 2 (S10E02)
Doctor Who airs Saturdays at 9PM on BBC America
Tasha is a freelance writer currently based in Los Angeles. Originally from Kansas, when she’s not writing about or watching TV, Tasha is searching for the best BBQ place in LA to fill the KC BBQ hole in her stomach.
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Tasha Cerny | Contributor