The Robots of Death meets The Happiness Patrol with a side order of The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances. This is Smile in a nutshell.
Simple title, Smile. I like it. It brings to mind the enigmatic smile of the Mona Lisa which, again, is apt because the title is enigmatic…at first.
Frank Cottrell-Boyce wrote this. Big improvement on his previous story. Not that his last story was bad but it wasn’t a classic. This is. Maybe.
Before I start grappling with the story, I must say that I love the names given to the few characters we see. Goodthing, Steadfast and Praiseworthy. I take them to be first names. The naming reflects the Puritan’s way of naming their children after virtues. Also, the Puritans colonised America, ooh, references within references. If nothing else, I love Frank Cottrell-Boyce’s little games in this. So much fun to discover and feel smug upon when found.
Alien planet. Seemingly idyllic and utopian with slightly Spanish architecture. People in fields with emoji-faced droids. A sure winner for most beautiful planet featured in Doctor Who. But there is something rotten in the state of Gliese 581d. When the Emojibots go from 😃 to 💀, then trouble is afoot. The emojidroids are turning unhappy people into bones by way of a huggle. Nice.
The story, for our heroes, starts off in the TARDIS. The Doctor is telling Bill all about the controls of the console. “Jings, this wee button sends us forward in time, this one back, this one dinnae work, and the last one drops my troosers.” Bill is not too impressed, her main concern being why the chairs are so far away from the console. Is that a fair point? In space, nobody can hear you complain about standing.
Nardole knocks on the doors of the police box and gives them a suspicious look. He mentions a promise the Doctor made not to leave the planet. The Doctor, in turn, looks like a child who has been told off by his mother. “Ach, Nardole, ye fuss like a fishwife. Awae wi’ ye, you bald space-sassenach!”
What is this promise? Is it something to do with the vault? Or is the Doctor simply on the naughty step?
Nardole bumbles off (he does this a lot, bumbling) to make some tea. The Doctor sees this as an opportunity to sneak off into the time vortex. Bill queries this but the Doctor brags that he can be back before Nardole gets the tea bags out. How much do you want to bet that the Doctor won’t be back on time? A sure bet, your mazumas are safe.
Bill wants to travel to the future. The previous story reflected Rose, this one reflects The End of the World settingwise. The next one reflects The Unquiet Dead by being set in the past. Oops, spoilers!
The TARDIS lands in a field full of what is meant to be wheat but is actually barley. This is the planet Gliese 581d. Which really exists, I think. The star system of Gliese 581 exists but this planet has not officially being confirmed as yet (according to my book of astronomy) but it is likely to exist.
The colony is made up of amazingly gorgeous buildings. No CGI here (not much). The colony exists in reality as the City of Arts and Sciences in Valencia, Spain. I predict a tourist boom for Valencia.
The colony is empty. Not a soul but for the Emojibots and the swarming nanobots refered to as the Vardy. Not even a mouse.
The Vardy are named after scientist Andrew Vardy. A clever bloke who researches into swarm robotics. Oh! And according to secret public sources he once worked with Boyce on a short story.
Emojibots are the interface for the Vardy. They communicate via their 😃-faces and badges which they hand over to the Doctor and Bill. Beware Emojibots that bear gifts…
So many naysayers complained about the Emojibots before the episode aired. Not so many afterwards. Can’t wait to see what they say when they watch the LOLcat-speaking Mondasian Cybermen later in the series. “Can weez convertz cheezeburgerz?”
The badges are strange. They have a face on one side, an emojiface, and blankly yellow on the other. No matter which way they turn the badges, the face always face outwards. For Americans and other muggles, a badge is what you would call a ‘button’.
Another strange thing happens when our heroes try to stick the badges onto their chests. The little faces zip over their shoulders, down a trouser leg, up the other trouser leg and makes a home upon their backs.
The Doctors susses it out that the badges somehow tap into the user’s mind and broadcasts their emotions onto the badge. If this was a way of allowing people to communicate with the Vardy, why the back? Do the Emojibots have to look behind someone to see what they are feeling? Would it not make more sense to have the badge on the chest?
The Doctor is presumptuous and theorizes that they have arrived before the colonists have. Plausible plausible. He is puzzled however by the lack of pre-colony staff who should have been preparing the colony for the arrival of the intergalactic space immigrants. At least there ought to be a member of UKIP standing on a soapbox in the barley field and ranting about how these ‘ruddy migrants coming here and ruining our barren world by planting crops, building sexy cities and creating jobs’, but no. Not a sausage. No space sausages either.
Our heroes find a space-age polytunnel full of flowers and vegetables and Emojibots and fertilizer bins full of human skulls. Ah. Not good. Trouble in paradise.
The Emojibots see the distress on Bill’s face and her badge, plus the Doctor’s puzzled look, and their smiley faces gain a tear but no 💀-eyes. The Doctor’s spidey-sense tingles, he realises that the Vardy are killing people who are not happy. And what do unhappy people make? Unhappy people make excellent fertilizer.
By the by, the Doctor discovers a locket during all this excitement. He opens it up later in the story and sees a hologram of a woman with bakery on her head, calling for Obi-Wan Kenobi. Nah! Inside is the hologrammatic face of the woman we saw killed earlier. Remember that if you wish. It may be important later. The woman’s face that is, not the duff Princess Leia gag.
The Doctor tells Bill to smile. Smiling will affect her body chemistry and it will show up on her badge as a big ol’ dreck-eating grin. Our heroes exit stage left singing Pharrell Williams’ Happy. The Vardy are either fooled or appreciates the blend of Scottish and Thames Estuary accents. Whatever, the tuneless twosome vanishes before the Emojibot happiness patrol can turn them into bones.
There is a scene where the Doctor and Bill escape to the TARDIS, the Vardy won’t or can’t follow them out here, not sure why. He stuffs Bill in the TARDIS and goes back to blow up the city but not before commanding her to stay there and not to look at his browser history. Bill doesn’t obey the former but does obey the latter; we are thankfully spared from seeing Drahvin Vixens, Foamasi Cougars and Skaro Jelly Bikini Blobs.
The Doctor wanders around until Bill turns up like a bad penny with a rocking afro. They both search until the smooth white walls of the city gives way to the metal rusty walls of the ship that brought the pre-colony staff to Gliese NumbersLetter. They find it, yay, and a handy door into the spaceship.
The ship is called the Erehwon. Which is either ‘now here’ or ‘nowhere’ spelt backwards. A name which some less well-read Whovians mocked. Pish-Posh, young ones. The name refers to the book Erewhon by Samuel Butler. It is a book about an utopia which turns out to, well, not quite as utopian as people might wish it to be. Like the book, spoiler warning, this story does not become a dystopia.
The Doctor’s plan, if plan is an adequate word for what he plans on doing, is to find the reactor of the spaceship, blow it up, and then be back home for tea and Marmite sandwiches with Nardole. Yeah, like that is gonna happen!
The Doctor’s makes Bill stay near a map while she tells him where to find the reactors via an earpiece device that I unaccountably forgot to mention, and am too lazy to insert into an earlier paragraph, when she could just take a picture on her phone and accompany him. Just as well really because a little boy appears out of thin air. This is little Praiseworthy and, bless his cotton socks, he wants to know where his mummy is.
Where has the boy come from? Are the colonists here? What will happen if the Doctor blows up the ship and accidentally kills the colonists? Tune in next paragraph for the next exciting part of this unreview!
Bill has to find the Doctor before he blows up the reactor. Too late, it is about to blow! The Doctor sees the boy and with a cry of “Jings!” he reverses what he has done. Phew! Safe again.
Praiseworthy leads the Doctor and Bill to an enormous room full of hibernation chambers. No sign of any Wirrn though. The Erehwon is the colony ship and the colonists are therefore here on the planet already. The planet of the robots of death!
The Doctor reviews the ship’s logs and…
(Please note that Bill found the preserved corpse of a woman near the aforementioned log earlier. I don’t mention every single detail because, well, it’d be gauche of me to ruin every surprise, eh?)
…discovers that the Vardy, the swarm of doom, were programmed by the humans to make them, the humans, happy. But because the Vardy were not programmed with Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics, things went awry.
This is how it happened: Humans, Vardy and Emojibots living in harmony, utopia, happy happy joy joy. But the snake entered Eden (gah, I dislike Biblical allusions but it seems apt, sorry) in the form of a death, natural causes mind you, and the grief that it caused amongst the pre-colony staff. The Vardy saw that the crew were sad, it saw this as a disease for some reason, and killed all those that were sad. This is what the boffins call an exponential cycle. Hmm, yeah, science. This cycle wiped all the humans out.
If the colonists wake up from their dreams of electric sheep… Yeah, exactly. Hello, goodbye humans.
Or rather goodbye, hello since the humans are waking up. And Ralf Little is one of the humans!
Ralf Little’s character, Steadfast, wants to destroy the Vardy and their Emojibot helpers. Which is understandable. So they all go to the armoury. I say ‘all’ but what it amounts to is less than fifteen. Maybe they are the colonists that are best suited to helping the others out of their hibernation hammocks?
The Doctor does not like this. The Vardy, he argues, are sentient beings. They have rights. Steadfast the human pooh-poohs this. Bill gets caught by a couple of Emojibots. One is shot, blam! The Doctor reacts. He whips out the sonic screwdriver and resets the story…ahem…resets the Vardy to their original state where they didn’t see grief as a disease to be wiped out. Deus ex machina. maybe, but that is fine if it only happens once a series.
So, yeah. Reset. The Doctor offers to negotiate between the Vardy and the vexed humans but, boy, does Steadfast Little look peed-off!
Anyhow, the Doctor and Bill go back to the TARDIS and head home to the university and tea and Marmite sandwiches. Only the university isn’t there.
The TARDIS does not arrive back at the university, oh no, it arrives instead upon a frozen river as an elephant gives them an old-fashioned look and asks, “Where the frell have you been, Doctor? I’m freezing my bloody trunk off here!”
End of story! With a cliffhanger! Of sorts.
Like the first story, The Pilot, the Doctor and Bill are the characters most focused upon. So no need to mention the other actors in any detail later although Kaizer Akhtar impressed me as Praiseworthy (great name).
Mina Anwar plays Goodthing. She doesn’t seem to have aged since she was in 1990s sitcom The Thin Blue Line. Which, for her, is a good thing. Sorry, couldn’t resist… Both her and Ralf Little are, quite frankly, wasted. I was looking forward to seeing Mina and she only appears for a brief period. Nuts! At least they were good in their brief roles.
Peter Capaldi is excellent. Quiet fury at Steadfast, amusement at the Emojibots. Loved him. Great performance. Super super fine! So many different shades of emotions. The Doctor, at one point, quotes David Bowie’s Ashes to Ashes. An apt quote given that happiness is something you must be, but also because the colonists are being turned into ashes to fertilise the plants. Love the references, did I mention that? I do.
Pearl Mackie continues to impress. Great scenes. Loved how she questions the Doctor’s passing reference to his two hearts. Very plausible, wouldn’t we all react a little like this? She is the most normal companion that we have had since, ooh, Donna Noble. I loved Donna as well. Bill Potts is great. So far.
My opinion of the story can be described in three words:
OH. MY. GLOB!
I loved it but then again I love most episodes. So take that however you wish. Should you watch this story? Does the Pope crap in the woods? Are bears Catholic? Hell yeah, you should!
So that is your lot until next week.