After the excitement of last week’s long-await return to the airwaves, ‘Doctor Who’ comes in again this week with an episode that maintains the nostalgic feel of the “classic” Who episodes of the 1970s and 1980s – those that are almost wholly self-contained with a “monster of the week” vibe, and are even a bit episodic within themselves (for a long time, DW was aired as 25-minute programs, meaning the first and second parts were connected but also disconnected, if that makes any sort of sense). Let’s jump in and talk about it!
WARNING: Spoilers for this episode of ‘Doctor Who’ lie ahead, obviously. If you haven’t seen the episode and don’t wish for any of its content to be spoiled for you, the time to turn back is NOW!
RECAP: After a “cold” open on an alien world where we are teased with a short scene of humans having some deadly trouble with robots, we open the action in the TARDIS with the doctor and Bill chatting about where they might like to visit; it’s not long before they are interrupted by Nardole, who reminds the Doctor that he’s made a promise not to travel off-world. The nature of the promise, of course, remains secret for now, but you know the Doctor: he does as he likes, and like a child trying to pull one over on parents, he’s soon got the TARDIS all fired up, and he and Bill are off to the far future, to one of humanity’s first outer-space colonies.
This colony, of course, is the same we saw in the opening credits; “emoji bots” are roaming the empty colony with their smiley faces on, and it’s not long before the Doctor and Bill deduce their way to the conclusion that the robots have killed all the humans who weren’t being happy – a number which, as one might imagine, would potentially dramatically increase the more that people were being killed. It’s up to the duo to figure out why the robots are attacking those that can’t keep a smiling face, and they have to protect the colonists that have not yet been exposed to the emotional robots – but are about to be.
- Last week’s episode was rife with blatant callbacks to other points in the series, including all the way back to the very first episode, “An Unearthly Child,” back in 1963. This week was a little lighter on the Easter eggs, but there are a few dropped here and there…
- The fact that Bill points out the awkwardness and general uselessness of the chair on the TARDIS’ bridge may seem a bit odd initially, but the chair has actually been around for quite some time (from the very first season back in ’63, in fact) and is touched on here and there throughout the series’ history. The chair has always been off to the side of the main console, though; in the 2008 episode “Journey’s End,” the Tenth Doctor mentions that the TARDIS was actually meant to have six pilots working in tandem, so apparently the one chair is available to whomever on the team might have needed a short rest?
- The Doctor mentions to Bill that he stole the TARDIS, a concept that has been woven into the fabric of ‘Doctor Who’ since first being introduced by the Second Doctor in the 1969 episode “The War Games” (fun facts about that episode: it was the final episode of the 1960s, it was the last ‘Who’ episode to be presented in black and white, and it was the final episode for Patrick Troughton as the Second Doctor).
- As was the case with last week’s episode, “the vault” is referenced but not fully explained. We do find out that the Doctor is specifically on Earth to “guard” the vault, but in last week’s adventure, it certainly seemed that he and Nardole were trying to gain access to the inside of the vault. It’s become clear that this will be, at least in part, the “slow-burn” reveal and multi-episode mystery for at least the first part of the season, if not the entire way through.
- For “classic Who” watchers, the plot of “Smile” will no doubt bring to mind a similar idea as found in the 1998 three-episode tale “The Happiness Patrol,” from the era of the Seventh Doctor (and my personal “first Doctor” I ever watched, the fabulous Sylvester McCoy). In it, the Doctor and his companion Ace visit a human colony on Terra Alpha, a colony that has happiness forced upon them by the tyrannical leader Helen A, who has made unhappiness an offense punishable by death. “The Happiness Patrol” featured one of the goofiest Doctor Who monsters of all time, The Kandy Man (who was literally made of candy from head to toe), but it is probably most famous for being (to my knowledge, anyhow) the only DW episode where the TARDIS is completely repainted – to a lovely shade of pink, no less, in an attempt to make it look not so “depressing.”
CLOSING THOUGHTS: For as much as the episode did have a “throwback” vibe, it ended on a cliffhanger note, with the Doctor and Pearl not ending up back where they thought they would at St. Luke’s, but rather on the frozen Thames River with a full-sized elephant sauntering its way towards them. While the “monster of the week” milieu is from the ’70s and ’80s ‘Who,’ the “to be continued” aspect was actually employed heavily in the 1960s half-hour episodes of the show, so it’s not too unusual to see in the here and now either, I suppose.
PRINCIPAL CAST FEATURED IN THIS EPISODE:
Peter Capaldi as the Doctor
Bill Mackie as Pearl
Matt Lucas as Nardole
Tony Schaab wonders who would win in an epic, Gladiator-style fight between the Grumpy Cat and the “This is Fine” Dog – an animal-heavy meme battle for the ages! A lover of most things sci-fi and horror, Tony is an author by day and a DJ by night. Come hang out with Tony on Twitter to hear him spew semi-funny nonsense and get your opportunity to finally put him in his place.