Well, it’s time to review the second episode in the new series of “Doctor Who”. Again, although I’m not sure how many of the new episodes I’ll end up reviewing or how long it will take me to review them, I hope to review as many episodes as possible.
So, that said, let’s take a look at “Smile”. Needless to say, this review will contain SPOILERS.
So, let’s take a look at “Smile”:
The episode begins in the TARDIS with Bill asking The Doctor lots of questions. In the traditional fashion, he offers to take her anywhere in time and space, much to Nardole’s chagrin.
Whilst all of this is going on, a woman called Nadia is standing in a field of wheat on another planet in the future, watching a group of robots (called Vardies) tend the crops. However, she receives a radio message from her sister telling her to return to the buildings nearby. When she meets her sister, she smiles at Nadia before telling her that their parents have been killed by the robots.
Needless to say, Nadia doesn’t smile. This upsets the robots….
Of course, after all of this, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to work out where the TARDIS ends up taking Bill and The Doctor….
One of the first things that I will say about this episode is that it is an absolutely brilliant sci-fi/horror episode.
The idea of robots (both traditional robots and micro-bots) who kill anyone who doesn’t pretend to be happy is genuinely chilling and the episode gets a lot of suspenseful drama out of this. Although, since this is “Doctor Who”, there’s also a lot of comedy too and – unlike in the previous episode – this episode actually gets the balance between comedy and horror right!
One of the reasons why this episode works so well is because, unlike some episodes of the show, it’s actually traditional science fiction! In other words, there’s a logical and scientific explanation for everything that happens in the episode. This helps to keep the story coherent, as well as making the horror-based parts of the episode even more chilling too (eg: the idea that the city is built out of micro-bots etc..). There is nothing mystical or supernatural in this episode, just good old fashioned malfunctioning technology.
Of course, this also gives the episode a bit of a thriller-like storyline, since The Doctor and Bill have to work out why everything has gone catastrophically wrong. Likewise, they also have to find a way to stop the robots before more human colonists begin to arrive on the planet. So, yes, this episode is a good mixture of science fiction, horror, comedy, suspense and (mostly) intelligent problem-solving. In other words, this episode is “Doctor Who” at it’s best!
There are so many interesting things in this episode, such as the fact that the robots communicate via emoticons/ emojis (which is both hilarious and chilling at the same time). Likewise, they insist that all humans wear badges that display their mood – this allows for a lot of suspenseful dramatic moments where we see that a character’s true emotional state is different from the one that they are expressing.
Although the idea of a “flawed utopia” is an incredibly old trope in science fiction, this episode actually manages to do something new and interesting by turning the idea of a utopia itself into a source of horror. The idea that the utopia is only a utopia to people who act like they’re living in a utopia is a brilliantly intelligent and chilling one. Likewise, the whole idea of well-intentioned robots going horribly wrong (because they lack an understanding of humanity) is also genuinely chilling too.
One of the cool things about this episode is the set design. The utopian city is the kind of shiny, modern-looking thing that looks very trendy and very “new” – and, yet, the only safe place in the city is a grimy, old 1980s-style spaceship that looks like something from “Blade Runner” or “Red Dwarf“. This clever visual contrast between safe and dangerous places is an absolutely brilliant subversion of typical visual storytelling in the science fiction genre.
As for the writing, it’s really good. There’s lots of classic “Doctor Who” style clever rapid-fire dialogue, lots of intelligent ideas and lots of hilarious questions from Bill too. Likewise, the pacing of this episode is considerably better than in the previous episode. Since the episode starts out with something horrific, the slower-paced scenes when Bill and The Doctor arrive on the planet actually work because they help to build suspense.
The only criticism I have of the episode’s storyline is possibly the ending where the Doctor pretty much lets the robots get away with mass murder (and actually insists that the humans pay them rent for living in the city). Likewise, a major part of the episode’s storyline is that the robots/micro-bots have become sentient and that the Doctor thinks that they should be considered to be life forms. Yet, he has absolutely no problem with “turning it off and on again” and wiping their memories near the end of the episode. Although this is a logical course of action, it kind of goes against everything else that The Doctor has said about the robots.
Likewise, the Doctor is predictably horrified when the human colonists take up arms against the robots. Yet, he has no real problem with killing one of the robots in self-defence earlier in the episode (by throwing it off of a bridge). So, yes, the whole “The Doctor is a pacifist” thing is handled in a wildly inconsistent and incoherent way in this episode.
Likewise, the acting in this episode is fairly good too. Although some of the episode’s horror comes from the actual storyline, a large part of what makes this episode so chilling is the acting, and the main cast manage to pull off the whole “pretending to be happy, whilst obviously not happy” thing surprisingly well. Plus, as mentioned earlier, this episode also guest-stars Mina Anwar from “The Thin Blue Line“, which was a really cool surprise.
All in all, this is an absolutely brilliant episode. It contains a really good mixture of genuinely chilling horror, (mostly) logical science fiction and a fair amount of humour. The set design in this episode is brilliantly creative, the acting is really good and there’s lots of brilliant dialogue too.
If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get at least four and a half.