Doctor Who is a show that has existed for over 50 years and even its modern iteration has been on the air for 10 years with 130 episodes. Even with the expanse of all time and space and a rich mythology, the show can reuse story ideas and ‘Smile’ serves as an example of this.
After meeting Bill (Pearl Mackie) and making her his new companion The Doctor (Peter Capaldi) takes the young woman on of her first off-world adventure and like Rose, Amy and Clara before her Bill chooses to go to the future.
On a planet that Humans are trying to colonise The Doctor and Bill finds a city filled with robots that communicate with emojis but no people. It’s up to the pair to figure out what happened to the humans and the reason why before the rest of the human colonists arrive.
This was an episode I was worried about before it was broadcast because it seemed like it was trying to be a satire on an aspect of modern youth culture that would lead to the episode aging incredibly quickly. Despite this fear, the emoji speaking robots actually come across as sweet and threatening when the time requires and are a fun one-time monster.
The episode’s ideas of robots communicating with emoji and monitoring people with a happiness index gives ‘Smile’ a satirical edge and it could have worked as a Black Mirror episode. Black Mirror tackles themes involving modern technology – so easily can have a theme about the devolution of language and can tap into real life issues regarding governments around the world are introducing happiness indexes to see how well their citizens are. ‘Smile’ takes the concept of a happiness index to its extremes: to ensure 100% happiness just kill all unhappy people.
Whilst ‘Smile’ has some substance regarding its theme it does have a cop-out of an ending to give the episode a clean restoration.
The episode is itself a rehash of ideas from previous adventures. ‘Smile’ has the robots who misunderstand their own programming – like the robots in ‘The Girl in the Fireplace’ and the killer robots with pleasure façade that control an abandoned futuristic city are like the ones in the underrated ‘The Girl Who Waited’.
‘Smile’ borrows most heavily from ‘The Beast Below’ – Matt Smith and Karen Gillan’s second episode. Both ‘Smile’ and ‘The Beast Below’ are the companions first trip in the TARDIS and both adventures are set in a future where humanity has to abandon Earth because of some sort of disaster. Both episodes even have a joke about Scottish independence and both end with a hook where The Doctor and the companion have to go on their next adventure straight away.
Like ‘The Pilot’ which acted as a soft reboot of the series, ‘Smile’ reintroduces facts about The Doctor like the fact he has two hearts as well as getting to know Bill a bit more: she shows off her geeky side like referencing to Mr. Fantastic. She is more relatable then Clara who was made to be the most important person in the universe.
‘Smile’ is a solid Doctor Who episode, a simple and enjoyable story that has a satirical edge which outweighs the repeated story ideas and rushed ending.