Monday, May 1, 2017

Doctor Who 10.02: "Smile"

“There’s a giant smiley abattoir over there, and I’m having this really childish impulse to blow it up! Be right back.”
-The Doctor

Overall, I enjoyed “Smile.” It was a proper, in-the-future sci-fi adventure, which always makes for my favorite episodes of “Doctor Who.” It most reminded me of my favorite episode from way back in series one, “The End of the World” (although I think that episode was a touch better). “Smile” had a similar attempt at commentary on today’s society (robots that communicate in Emoji!), but it also tried to mix in some discussion of the nature of grief and the respect due to indigenous people. I think it suffered a bit from trying to do too much, even if it was for the most part an entertaining ride. Mostly, though, I just enjoyed that the Doctor and Bill were going on an adventure. Sure, the Doctor had to do his Doctor thing and save the day when things went horribly awry, but that’s exactly what you expect out of a solid episode of Doctor Who.

The episode begins in the TARDIS, where the Doctor and Bill are preparing for Bill’s first proper adventure. Bill has a lot of detailed (and perfectly understandable) questions about the TARDIS, such as where’s the steering wheel. Nardole interrupts, though, and sensing the Doctor is about to go off on an adventure, reminds him that he took a vow to stay on Earth unless it was an emergency. Irritated, the Doctor sends Nardole off to put the kettle on to make tea. Then he tells Bill to choose where she wants to go. The plan is to be back before the kettle boils so that Nardole will be none the wiser. Bill decides she wants to go to the future, because she wants to know if people are happy.

The future the Doctor and Bill will be visiting is a colony planet where we see a woman using very tiny robots to pollinate wheat. One of her fellow workers tells her there’s a problem and she shouldn’t come inside at the moment, but she’s hungry, so she decides to come inside anyway. When she arrives inside, her sister warns her to keep smiling, but then tells her that their mother (and a whole bunch of other people) have died. The woman thinks this must be a joke. Why would she keep smiling when such a tragedy has happened? It’s soon apparent why. When a nearby robot (with a face that looks like an Emoji) detects the woman is upset, it calls a bunch of the micro robots to kill her. Her sister is so upset at yet another person dead that she is killed too. The robots completely strip the skeletons of meat – it’s pretty gruesome.

So when the Doctor and Bill arrive, nobody’s there but the robots, for obvious reasons. Bill finds the micro robots disappointing, but she likes the Emoji robots. The Doctor thinks that the Emoji robots are just an interface with the micro robots, though. Anyway, the pair wonders why nobody is there. When Bill mentions that it feels like the university right before school starts, the Doctor has a theory. He thinks that people must have sent the robots ahead to build the city for them, so that everything would be ready to go when they arrived. Weird things continue to happen to the Doctor and Bill as they explore their new world. For instance, one of the Emoji robots gives them badges that also have Emoji on them. The badges go on their backs and basically serve to broadcast their moods at all times. The Doctor and Bill find a greenhouse, and that’s when things start to go awry. The Doctor realizes that the colonists would have sent ahead a skeleton crew. The fact that the city is abandoned doesn’t make sense. Then they discover the bones of all the people that have died that are being used as calcium-based fertilizer for the plants.

The Doctor and Bill barely escape by pretending to be happy, then running to the TARDIS. As soon as he gets to the TARDIS, though, the Doctor wants to head back to the city. He wants to blow the place up before the colony ship arrives and the colonists find themselves walking into a death trap. He tells Bill to stay behind and watch movies. She starts to obey, but then she thinks better of it and follows the Doctor back to the city. The Doctor and Bill have some great banter as they look for the original ship that brought the robots and skeleton (in more ways than one) crew to the planet. Being paired with a new companion seems to have reinvigorated Peter Capaldi, who has always been a fantastic actor, but now gets to show off his comedic chops a bit more. Anyway, they do eventually find the ship in the bowels of the city, and it even has a map. The Doctor, trying to keep Bill out of trouble, has her use the map to direct him to the ship’s engine room, which he intends to blow up. He doesn’t actually need the direction, though, which Bill figures out pretty quickly, so she starts exploring on her own. All I could think of in this part of the episode was hasn’t Bill, for all her mentions of sci-fi, watched “Star Wars?” Those films teach us that older mentors going off to engine rooms alone never ends well!

Of course, the Doctor’s mucking around in the engine room attracts the attention of the Emoji robots. The Doctor ends up having to fight off one of them as he tries to reconfigure the engine to blow up. He ends up pushing it off a very high ledge, though, so score one for the Doctor! Meanwhile, Bill makes two very important discoveries during her explorations. First, she finds the body of the dead mother referred to early in the episode, laid out on a beautiful bed with a book that seems to contain images of the whole history of humanity. Bill sees a lot of pictures that look like war and strife, and she asks the Doctor if humanity had to leave Earth because something horrible happened. He says that yes, Earth was evacuated, but he has encountered several ships like this one along his travels, so humanity endured. Bill also discovers a little boy who has woken up from hibernation. The Doctor finally puts all the pieces together. The colonists aren’t on their way to the planet. They’re already here in the ship, and the presence of the Doctor and Bill in the ship has started the process of waking them all up. The Doctor has to reverse all the modifications he made to the engine right away so that he doesn’t blow up everyone just as they become aware of their new home.

The Doctor realizes he needs to figure out why the robots started killing everyone, and Bill thinks she might have a piece to the puzzle. As they observe the woman’s body Bill found earlier and look at the book that was with her, the Doctor finally figures it out. The robots were supposed to keep everyone happy, and they gradually expanded the definition of what that would entail. When the woman died, the robots encountered someone grieving for the first time, and they interpreted maintaining happiness as killing unhappy people. As more and more people died, it became, as the Doctor put it, a “grief tsunami.” The Doctor tries to head off the robots killing any more colonists by explaining what happened to the newly awakened. They just want to grab their guns and kill all the robots, though. To make things even more complicated, the little boy Bill encountered has wandered out into the city, been given an Emoji badge, and is starting to realize that things are very wrong.

There’s a big clash between the humans and the robots, especially when the robots realize that the kid is very unhappy, and it seems like it’s going to be all-out war. The Doctor saves the day, though, by resetting the robots so they don’t remember what happened. The Doctor now acknowledges them as their own life form, though, so to correct for his earlier mistakes, he decides to act as negotiator between the robots and the humans. Particularly to discuss rent, since the city is literally made of the robots after all. On their way back to Earth, Bill continues to press the idea that the Doctor is basically a policeman. The Doctor tries to deny it, but he doesn’t make a very convincing argument. They return to London, but all is not as they left it. It’s snowing, the Thames is frozen over, and there’s a random elephant. Clearly something has gone very wrong.

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