DOCTOR WHO Review: “Smile”

Where we are reminded that most adorable things in DOCTOR WHO will murder you.

Doctor Who continues its welcomed monster-of-the-week structure in season ten’s “Smile.” Again, showrunner Steven Moffat skips out on the chance to tie one story to another, like he is primarily known for doing. For the meantime, it is a nice change of pace and I’m having fun free of the heavier stuff that I’m sure is on the horizon.

“Smile” catches up with Bill and The Doctor during Bill’s second time out on the T.A.R.D.I.S. This time she is given a choice to either go to the past or future. Bill fancies the future and away they go… Against Nardole’s wishes.

To keep the mysterious undercurrent that was set up in the first episode, Nardole tells The Doctor that they should remain on campus and on-world in order to watch over the surreptitious vault hidden in the University basement. So far, Nardole remains the unsung voice of fans skeptical of changes in the series. In this case, Nardole is pretty suspicious of Bill. He constantly analyzes banter between her and The Doctor and hasn’t fully accepted Bill’s presence in The Doctor’s life.

The T.A.R.D.I.S lands The Doctor and his companion lightyears into the future, in a pristine city surrounded by fields of wheat. They discover the new world is filled with small adorable robots called Vardi who communicate through emoji. As with everything in Doctor Who, the seemingly perfect utopia hides some ugly secrets.

Turns out that the Vardi were sent by the humans of Earth to setup a new colony, have evolved past slavery and become sentient lil buggers. Their original purpose was to make sure that humans were happy but didn’t have the understanding of what to do with a human’s grief. So, instead of trying to figure out how to deal with grief stricken humans people, they simply grind them down to dust and bones and use the calcium to fertilize the colonies crops. The plot borrows a little from Soylent Green, making the big plot twist familiar but still kinda brutal given the super cute appearance of the Vardi.

In its final act, The Doctor and Bill discover that the future colonists are already tucked away on-planet in cryo stasis. They have been waiting for the Vardi and a select group of human shepherds to prepare for them to be thawed out. Bill finds that this is the last of humanity following a nuclear war on Earth. It doesn't specifically say that Trump was in office at the time but I used context clues and added that little bit myself.

One of my favorite Moffat-isms along the way has been how he adds to the canon with just a couple lines of dialogue. In this episode, Bill finally asks The Doctor why he sounds Scottish, which he replies with “I’m not Scottish, I’m just crossed.” Okay, okay, it isn’t a totally satisfying answer but I do love that they addressed it and his answer was pretty great. Bill also discovers (like we all know) that the Doc has two hearts. He admits to her that he has very high blood pressure. I loved the play on Capaldi’s age and the amount of stress you would have if you were a time traveling adventurer. In the previous episode, we found out that the T.A.R.D.I.S had a macaroon machine and a bathroom and now this. I love that they add these in from time to time but hope they use these tidbits in moderation.

When the humans finally exit cryo, The Doctor figures out that once they all discover that the shepherds were murdered and ground to dust, it will unleash a sort of “plague by grief.” Once the Vardi see that the humans aren’t happy and smiling due to their sadness over loss, they will all be mass murdered due to the Vardi’s binary understanding. In order to save the day, The Doctor finds a way to reset the Vardi to factory mode. He and Bill leave the two species to sort out their differences with a fresh start.

I really liked the way The Doctor chose to deal with the situation. Instead of wiping out the Vardi, he found a way to make them temporarily peaceful, allowing the humans to find a way to co-exist with each other and teach the Vardi about human’s happiness as well as their grief. It isn’t the usual way of The Doctor but it was different and a little variety is always welcome.

Once Bill and The Doctor head back to the University, they overshoot it a bit and end up a little further back in time than planned. In the beginning of the episode, he tells Bill that the T.A.R.D.I.S doesn’t always take you where you want to go but where you need to be. So, I’m assuming that the next episode will tie into a bigger narrative in some way, maybe it will even tie into the mysterious vault that is now unprotected.

“Smile” wasn’t a perfect episode and it didn’t offer much in the direction of what this series major arch is going to be. The Vardi were great and I do love what the series is saying about our over usage of emoji and the obvious political statements it makes about the uncertain and slightly scary place we are currently in. It might not be the most memorable episode but fun none the less.