The Doctor took Bill on her first official adventure as a companion, and naturally, they encountered a life-threatening situation in Doctor Who Season 10 Episode 2.
At first, "Smile" bore some superficial resemblance to a Seventh Doctor serial called "The Happiness Patrol," which saw a world on which happiness was the law (enforced, naturally, in a fascist manner).
Then there was the Big Twist, which actually proved both strangely sad and simultaneously face-palm worthy (a truly impressive feat).
Actually, "Smile" ended up bearing a surprising resemblance to Doctor Who Season 4 Episode 6, "The Doctor's Daughter," which featured human colonists and a bunch of deaths in an unexpectedly short period of time.
Not to mention the Doctor lecturing the colonists on how to treat their neighbors!
As mentioned above, this was the first official adventure of Bill and the Doctor, following their initial meeting, and the trip to the distant colony world proved quite an excellent bonding experience.
Most of the episode featured just the two of them exploring the City of the Emojibots, so they carried pretty much all the weight of the storytelling.
Pearl Mackie's Bill was clever without outshining the titular star of the show, compassionate and caring yet all the while more than willing to call the Doctor on his behavior.
From questioning the Doctor's Scottish accent (reminiscent of Nine's insistence that "lots of planets have a North!") to lampshading his hero complex, Bill and her genre savvy are a definite highlight to the season so far.
You don’t call the helpline because you *are* the helpline.Bill
Capaldi, meanwhile, gave another good turn, showing several different faces of the Doctor. His admiration for the human capacity for hope, his rebellious streak, his unstoppable protective nature, all turn up at one point or another.
The episode started with the standard horror story of the emojibots killing anyone who wasn't happy. The trope of artificial servants turning on their masters in such a way isn't exactly new, and I daresay the emoji bit will seriously date this episode at some point.
The twist came when the Doctor realized that the microbots had actually achieved sentience (reminding me of the Vashta Nerada in "The Silence in the Library" and "Forest of the Dead").
The bots were programmed to help, but didn't actually comprehend that grief was natural and not a problem, per se. So the deaths of all the shepherd colonists were essentially caused by a tragic communications gap.
This season has focused somewhat on the Doctor as a teacher, so it was only fitting that he ended up addressing the problem the way he did.
The Doctor: What’s the opposite of a massacre?
The Doctor: In my experience? A lecture.
Earlier, I referred to the episode's Big Twist as both sad and face-palm worthy. Sad, because of the way it all started (with a single death of natural causes triggering grief).
Face-palm worthy because whoever originally coded the microbots obviously didn't pay attention to Asimov's Three Laws of Robotics:
A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
A robot must obey the orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Laws.
Clearly, turning living people into fertilizer would rather violate the First Law. Of course, the argument could be made that since the microbots (somehow?) achieved sentience, they could ignore such laws at will.
Free will is, after all, a requirement for true sentience.
The Doctor did come off as rather high-handed towards the colonists. Seriously, these poor people wake up from cryo sleep to discover that the stucco has a will of its own and murdered their relatives.
(That sounds even funnier when written than it did in my head!)
The large number of continuity nods and references worked in this episode's favor, helped add some flavor. The Doctor, for instance, mentioned meeting some of the various colony ships over the years (such as Starship U.K. in Doctor Who Season 5 Episode 2, "The Beast Below").
Then there was this bit:
You don’t “steer” the TARDIS! You *negotiate* with her! The still point between where you want to go and where you need to be. That’s where she takes you.The Doctor
This sounded quite reminiscent of Doctor Who Season 6 Episode 4, "The Doctor's Wife," when the Doctor complained that the TARDIS never took him where he wanted to go, and she countered that she always took him where he needed to go.
(If you haven't seen that episode, do so as soon as possible. The TARDIS is awesome.)
Actually, "Smile" was actually chock-full of great lines. Pop over to our Doctor Who quotes page for some of the notable ones.
And while this episode did sport numerous references and nods, its story was different enough to not come across as simply a rehash.
Do remember to watch Doctor Who online if you need to. And remember to tune in to BBC America on Saturday, April 29, 2017 at 9/8c for Doctor Who Season 10 Episode 3, "Thin Ice"!
So, what did you think of "Smile"? Were the microbots creepy, tragic, silly, or something else? Does Bill make for a good companion so far? Let us know in the comments section below!