Another week and another episode of Doctor Who, and after hopefully hooking a new audience last week with The Pilot, this week had the task of progressing the story of the Doctor, Bill and Nardole well enough to keep that new audience wanting more. With Frank Cotrell-Boyce’s previous track record of writing for Doctor Who, penning In The Forest of The Night, a lot of people were rather anxious about how well Smile would be written and received. What did I think of the episode? There’s only one way to find out…
It was a fact almost universally acknowledged that this episode for a while was known online (and maybe even officially) as ‘The Emoji Planet’. I’m really glad it changed it’s name, as it wasn’t an emoji planet at all. It was a planet partially populated by little robots that used emojis to articulate with people; and personally, that’s a great idea. In my honest opinion, there are only two languages that are universally understandable, emotions (and by extension, emoji) and music. The idea that humanity would use robots that spoke a relative universal language makes perfect sense to me; and whilst we don’t know about the longevity of emojis, I think it’s safe to say that if/when we branch out into space, emoji may be a way of communicating with other cultures (both in humanity and any aliens.)
Next, I have to admit that I was in the camp of people who were terrified that Smile would be as loved as In The Forest of The Night, or even less so; but I will say that I was pleasantly surprised. It wasn’t the perfect story by any stretch, nor do I think it will be many people’s favourite story, but the premise worked well as a second episode, as it allowed Bill the chance to start asking more questions to the Doctor in the context of an alien planet. I know that she visited a few in The Pilot, but I think that it’s safe to say that Bill was rather preoccupied last episode, so we’ll let her off. The main problem I had with Smile were the characters other than the Doctor and Bill. I know some will argue that you needed that many human lives at stake for the emotional impact on Bill, but we didn’t need to meet any of them. Ralf Little is the perfect example of this; he’s a damn fine actor but totally wasted in Smile, now I don’t know how much of the original script was cut, but my guess is that there was a large portion of the episode involving the new inhabitants that was cut, because besides Ralf and the boy, the rest were all pointless. If humanity had remained in the stasis pods, and the Emojibots had the control to kill them all before they even woke because they thought that grief would spread, that would have been as satisfactory, if not more so, because you know that these humans are truly innocent. Oh well.
Personally, I would have preferred it if Smile was a two-hander between the Doctor and Bill, and the emojibots picked up on Bill’s grief for Heather, which would in turn have been the catalyst for the episode, but I’m not the writer here, so I can’t do anything about it. I also think that the lack of Nardole, as much as I loved him in The Pilot, was needed, as it gave time for Bill to get to really know the Doctor without Nardole being snide or making off-hand comments, especially since I think Nardole will serve more of a role towards the end of the series.
It was nice to learn a little bit more about the vault, and I still have a few theories as to what or who is trapped inside, but it’s almost certain that the vault is now the series arc. I think that having the arc be less integral to each weeks story is a good idea from Moffat, as it makes each episode stand on it’s own, like the RTD era did; and casual viewers who might miss an episode won’t feel so alienated when they return a week or two later.
There’s an aspect of Doctor Who that I don’t often talk about that I simply have to for Smile, and it’s the cinematography. Now, I personally don’t know too much about how to take a beautiful shot, mainly because I focus on writing, but every single shot in Smile, especially the outdoor ones on location were absolutely stunning. Everything looked so clean and fresh and utopian, it makes a change for Doctor Who to be filled with some optimism.
Overall, Smile was a good episode, I can’t see myself rushing to watch it on iPlayer over and over, but I was glad that I’d seen it. The transition at the end into the events of the next episode, Thin Ice was very nice and reminiscent of early Doctor Who; I don’t know if it’ll be something we see every week, but it’s a good way to add a cliffhanger to a story that’s already ended. I mean, c’mon, there’s an elephant on the Thames. That’s got to get people talking.
Thanks to Stuart Manning for allowing me to use his poster at the top of this article; if you want to see more of Stuart’s amazing work, click here.