After last week’s opener was largely devoted to introducing new companion Bill, we now have the mandatory first full-length off-world adventure for the new character. As with previous early companion stories, the episode ‘Smile’ is largely a light-hearted affair, though a balanced enough looming threat and solid work from the two leads keep interest.
This week finds the Doctor and Bill exploring a human colony far in the future, said to hold the secret of human happiness. However, upon arrival, they find no humans whatsoever but instead several emojibots, which are thankfully not too embarrassing, as well as the robotic flesh-eating Vardi which inject some menace to the episode. With humans expected to arrive at any moment, it is up to the Doctor and Bill to shut down this death trap.
‘Smile’ is largely a light-hearted affair, though a balanced enough looming threat and solid work from the two leads keep interest.
With Nardole relegated to a cameo, this storyline allows much of the episode to focus solely on the interaction with the Doctor and Bill, providing some great character work especially with the emoji-badges used to convey the characters’ true moods. This also allowed Bill to continue learning the ropes, asking several never-before-asked questions concerning the Doctor’s blood pressure and Tardis seating arrangements. While I’m yet to fully warm to her, this episode certainly showed Bill had great rapport with the Doctor.
There are some pacing issues – after the emojibots’ intentions were revealed to the viewer right from the offset, there was certainly a long wait before the Doctor and Bill caught up. Indeed, it is a credit to Peter Capaldi and Pearl Mackie for being so engaging together despite so little happening. After this relatively slow start the episode then abruptly sped to the conclusion in the last ten minutes, brushing over a near-genocide and suddenly resorting to yet another reset button used to save the day. While the tale of the magic haddock voiceover helped make for a poetic ending, it would have been far more effective if given room to breathe and if the solution had not seemingly been pulled out of nowhere.
As mentioned before ‘Smile’ is not an earth-shattering entry to the series, and is mostly a light-hearted adventure to further introduce our new companion, save for some Black Mirror-esque comments on technology from renowned writer Frank Cottrell-Boyce. Not that this is necessarily a detriment – it is light standalones such as this that Doctor Who thrives on. Nevertheless, it was an enjoyable experience if a bit breezy, and of course visually stunning thanks to the gorgeous design of the Gliese 581D settlement.
With Bill now more established as a companion, in the coming weeks we will hopefully be able to get on with the series proper and get stories with a bit more substance, hopefully starting next week where the Doctor and Bill encounter an elephant on the Thames!