Tuesday, 25 April 2017

The Gallifrey Times Team Reviews Smile

Doctor Who is officially back and we joined Bill and The Doctor on a trip to the future in Frank Cottrell-Boyce's Smile. Did the episode make our team 😀 or 😢 ? Let's find out...

Ben (Assistant Editor)

Smile, in many ways, is like the 'difficult second album'. As Bill's second episode, we've been introduced to her and seen the character in her natural environment, but now we get to see what she's like out of her comfort zone and if she can maintain the fresh, inquisitive charm that we fell in love with. Thankfully, she did. The excitement of discovering a new world, her emotional responses to the horrific truths and her boldness in confronting the Doctor throughout the episode really added to her character. Capaldi played opposite this perfectly.

Smile was also a second chance to see what Frank Cottrell-Boyce had to offer. I'll admit, In The Forest Of The Night wasn't one of my favourite episodes, but ol' Frank won me over with this week's episode. 

Similar to the use of WiFi in The Bells Of Saint John, the idea of emojis being the prevailing language in the future brings the show right up to date with current trends. Though emojis themselves may date, the concept of image replacing words is definitely plausible as we can see in our ever more visual world today. The idea that humans are turned into fertiliser, however, is not quite so appealing. Though again plausible in desperate circumstances, the quite gritty portrayal of it in the episode did send my mother hiding behind cushions and shouting "Oh bloody hell!" on a loop until the scene had ended. 

The story itself, I thought, was interesting. Whilst the 'robots being evil because of misunderstanding instructions' format is not new (the lethal healing of the Nanogenes and Handbots in particular), the revelation of the humans still being on the planet was a great twist that I did not see coming and puts a clever spin on what would have been a generic solution. Sadly the ending comes all to quickly, as a simple 'turn it of and on again' sadly lets the rest of the story down.

Once again, Nardole, like most of the guest stars, was rendered essentially useless in this episode, except for explaining the story arc of the Doctor promising to guard the vault on Earth. Though it's a shame to see the character underused, I read recently that he will be much more prominent from episode 5, so I look forwards to that. Another niggle for me was the Doctor's all-too-quick assumption that something was wrong. We seem to have lost that part of the episode where the Doctor is just as excited as the companion at discovering a new place. I appreciate that there's only 45 minutes, so they need to jump straight into the action, but we need some of the magic and wonder before the bad stuff kicks in. 

Finally, the reveal of the frozen Thames at the end was a real surprise and felt like a nice treat having this episode lead neatly into the next. It really felt like a proper 60s freeze-frame credit sequence and has shown me just enough to get very excited about Thin Ice.

So, a 'difficult second album' it may have been, but Smile was sweet music to my ears and I hope The Doctor and Bill keep blasting out more hits in the rest of Series 10.

Suman (news)

Picking up almost exactly from where we left them in The Pilot, Smile sees the Doctor and Bill arrive at a human colony in the far future, only to find it devoid of humans. In contrast to writer Frank Cottrell-Boyce’s first offering, the resulting mystery feels like textbook Doctor Who, providing a strong foundation for Bill’s first outing to a new world.

At its core, Smile is an intriguing look at the relationship between humans and technology, hinted at by touching upon the Doctor’s long-standing bond with his TARDIS before introducing us to the quirky yet deadly Emojibots. Far from being a gimmick, the concept of emoji as communication is handled with great thoughtfulness by Cottrell-Boyce. The writer deftly explores the distinction between the colonist’s ‘wet brains’, capable of accurately using a method of communication based on interpreting emotions, and the ‘dry brains’ of the Emojibots who are unable to successfully do this even as they evolve and develop into a sentient life-form of their own. The interplay between the two is fascinating, and is sadly only let down by the somewhat rushed conclusion; whilst reassuring to think that ‘turning it off and on again’ might still be a viable solution in the future, it means that the story, so strong for most of the episode, undeservedly fizzles out.

Although the colonists and the robots may suffer from a breakdown in communication, the Doctor and Bill certainly don’t, with the enjoyable dynamic between the two building on The Pilot’s promising start and bolstered by the large amount of screen time they are given as a duo. Endlessly inquisitive and keen to learn, Bill slots neatly into the role of student alongside the ‘awesome tutor’ that is Peter Capaldi’s Doctor, whilst Pearl Mackie also displays a broad emotional range – from Bill’s joy at being on a spaceship to her distress at the future of the human race – that makes her character endlessly easy to identify with. The development of the pair’s relationship is one of the biggest strengths of the episode, but does come at the expense not only of the guest cast, who feel underused as the planet’s eventual colonists, but also Matt Lucas’ Nardole, who although sidelined still makes the most of his brief time on screen.

Sliding into the next episode as smoothly as it picks up from the last, we are given just enough to tease us going into the Doctor and Bill’s next adventure, along with lingering questions surrounding the mysterious Vault and a second mention of memory wipes in as many episodes to pique our interest for the rest of the series.

Andrew (news)

My goodness, Doctor Who seems to be changing a little! And hopefully this is to the delight of both old and new viewers! We started off with a great first episode and now I would say episode two is climbing some kind of exponential gradient towards something brilliant overall (early days yet!) with writer and show runner Steven Moffat bowing out in style.

Yet again I feel Pearl Mackie's character Bill stole the show. Within the vast universe of Doctor Who we could easily (but incorrectly) see Bill as a simplistic character, brand new and clueless, but we'd be very wrong to believe this. She truly provides a doorway for us all to enjoy the Doctor's complex personality and of course his endless adventures in time and space.

In Smile I was struck with how similar the Doctor and Bill are. The Doctor and Bill both study purely the same Egyptian artefact amongst rooms full of items, also at a later stage they simultaneously utter the word "smile" whilst addressing the confused new settlers. In Bill I could almost see her as the rebellious youngster on Gallifrey who would steal a TARDIS!

Bill is bright in more than one way (smart and also a real ray of sunshine complete with undoubtedly happy rainbow clothing oozing cheerfulness) and she is very switched on, intuitive and inquisitive, yet naturally vulnerable emotionally.

We are given more great re-education about The Doctor's relationship with the TARDIS, Bill makes some cheeky remarks on the design but the Doctor somewhat wows Bill explaining that travelling in the TARDIS is a process of 'negotiation'. We are told The TARDIS takes you somewhere between where you want to go and where you NEED to be. What could be clearer! A great concise thought for all of us.

The Emoji as the enduring future communication between humans was a cracking idea. Similarly, the mood indicators make the emotions plainly obvious; Bill flitting between confusion, wonder and enthusiastic joy, whereas as the Doctor is seen consistently carrying a mood of disturbed and growling distress, concern and anxiety.

What we get in Smile is the sight of beautiful landscape and architecture, a new world ready to provide for the arriving humans that unknown to The Doctor and Bill are sleeping in pods within a space craft internally set in the new World the Vardy have built outside of the ship together with human predecessors who have arrived prior to the next wave of humans. The Doctor wanting to destroy this Utopian death trap and later realising he has misunderstood the forward-thinking pragmatic Vardy is a great twist. The Doctor manically reverses his sabotage of the base and lectures the awakening in an inspiring speech.

I was a tiny bit disappointed to see very little of Nardole in this episode. Matt Lucas truly raises a smile in me almost just by sight of him and expression, tone of voice too. I realise he has proved a divisive figure for many viewers already, but I hope we see some more to his character even purely as comedy as the series develops.

Smile, let's face it, was a bit whacky when it came to plot and scenario. However, this doesn't mean it didn't provide top class imagination and clever ideas which were easily relatable to and thrilling to us TV watching humans. Thank you Steven Moffat for another shining episode full of promise! So far it is feeling very worth the long wait for Series 10!