Previously on Doctor Who, “The Pilot”
After a strong start for Bill and season 10, “Smile” presented a monster-of-the-week caper so we can see the Doctor and Bill fully in action—a little bit of this scifi reference and a little bit of that horror reference, blend with fresh excitement and a dash of irony, then top with what will now be known as Bill Questions. Overall, a not particularly deep episode, but an enjoyable and necessary step to settling in a new companion.
Amusingly it paints the Doctor both a delinquent who shirks his duty and steals tech he doesn’t understand and a morally-driven, all-purpose policeman who secretly loves getting calls for help. He draws on his roles as tutor, using a light Socratic method with Bill as they explore the new world, and professor when he must lecture the endangered colonists into saving their own lives. His two hearts throw Bill and the Emojibots for a loop—the latter assumes he’s two people while the former seems truly flummoxed. He repeatedly tries to distract Bill to keep her safe, yet seems not to miss a step nor even be exasperated when she thwarts each attempt. I felt some flashes of the 10th Doctor once it was clear he’d spotted the only viable solution but hadn’t yet explained, lecturing and toying with the understandably irate colonists a bit longer than perhaps necessary. Otherwise Peter Capaldi is having a lovely run so far this season, and his rapport with Pearl Mackie is a lot of fun and blissfully unentangled.
It is Bill’s request that takes them to the future, hoping it is a happy one. But with even the sweetest of wishes, as the Doctor later relates in the fable of the magical haddock, magic exacts an ironic price, a harsh reality all companions learn. While she chirps in thanks and admiration, the danger closes in. Bill’s discovery of patient zero, an elderly woman laid in state, was perhaps the most touching moment of the episode. As she reviews an e-book at the woman’s feet, Bill scrolls hopefully through recorded human history Fifth Element-style, but her voice wavers a few moments later when she realizes these aren’t just fellow humans—they’re the last humans. The end of the world, it seems, is a favorite destination for the Doctor.
Bill runs through the usual questions: Why him? Can’t he just call someone for help? Who allows this? Only a moment after we’re smirking at her newness, she joins in on the joke, calling him out for blaming the TARDIS’s camouflage on a glitch and accurately assessing that he enjoys being the one called. It’s so satisfying not waiting for the newbie to catch up.
There is a bit of layering leading up to the Doctor’s introduction to the Vardy, starting with the nearly cyborg Nardole. Before leaving earth, the Doctor mutters about Nardole being “mum,” nagging him about the no travel rules he agreed to and fussing that he would make tea but not for her, because he is “no human’s slave.” One wonders if Nardole has remained entirely out of choice to stay with the Doctor or if he is perhaps a bit of a babysitter.
The Doctor provides little further explanation on his situation, only that he must guard the vault except in emergencies, but it’s no big deal because he can simply return the TARDIS back to the exact moment in time—a running joke. One must assume his pronouncement of a successful trip is merely wishful thinking at this point, since the TARDIS always does what he says… except when it makes decisions for its own curiosity, for his own good, or for someone else’s good. The place you land, he explains, is somewhere between where you want to go and where you ought to go. Like the colonists, the Doctor once assumed his role in this relationship was, at best, pilot and benevolent master, at worst, thief and hijacker, until the TARDIS informed him in “The Doctor’s Wife” (S6E4) that she had also run away with him. Choice is the key word here. Interestingly, Bill regards the spaceship they find as a “proper spaceship,” with machine-only functions, in direct contrast to the willful TARDIS. Indeed, the TARDIS mocks him in her way by finishing the episode with a pit stop in the snowy past and elephants roaming London.
Wet Brains vs. Dry Brains
The mistranslation of wishes from “human” to “robot,” the Doctor explains, is the difference between wet and dry brains. Like Miranda in Serenity, this terraformed world’s happiness is a deadly directive for the final vestiges of humanity. In the beginning, it was only the Vardy microbots and their interactive emoji interfaces carrying out the wishes of a pre-settlement team of terraformers, but when the scientists grieved their matriarch’s natural, timely death, the Vardy’s adaptive programming determined this unhappiness was a threat to the new world and, using an emoji badge handed out to all newcomers, eliminated anyone not in compliance, turning them into literal fertilizer to make the eventual settlers more happy.
The trouble is, as the Doctor discovers when a young boy stumbles across Bill in the spaceship forming the heart of the city, the settlers aren’t “eventual”—they are in stasis right there on the ship, and their families formed the now-deceased team, creating a loop of inevitability for this to be humanity’s last stand. As the child inexplicably wanders alone into trouble (why?!), the Doctor tries to impress upon the awakened humans that they can’t just solve this with guns, but, humans gonna human especially when kids are involved, and they fail horribly when the robots intelligently defend themselves.
The Doctor steps in, rebooting the robots and wiping their memories long enough to turn the murder directive off. He explains that like “any slave class,” these robots have developed a mind of their own (*cough* Terminator *ahem*), making them the indigenous species to negotiate with and therefore pay rent to, if the “migratory conglomerate” of humans wants to survive. This was a leap for me, considering we just last week hit on the dangers of memory wipes and “resets,” and I’m not sure a single adaptation with defensive postures is enough to convince me of independent AI. For someone so sensitive to the human condition, the Doctor seemed very excited to leave these survivors at an uncomfortable disadvantage; nevertheless, point received.
Other Great Moments
- When the Doctor is served more food than her, Bill asks, “Is this bloke utopia?”
- “Stay away from my browser history!” Again.
- “Why are you Scottish?” “I’m not Scottish. I’m just cross.”
- The Scottish spirit survives in space, “demanding independence everywhere they land.”
- The colonists’ names were very Puritan Pilgrim, including Praiseworthy, Goodthing, Steadfast, and Kezzia (a popular Puritan name from the Bible).
- The engine room was very Galaxy Quest/Star Wars/everything with the giant chopping fan and catwalks.
- “Giant smiley abattoir”
- “I turned them off and on again.” IT Crowd reference
- “This is why I always win at chess. I kick over the board.” Is that winning though? Usually never, which is probably appropriate.
Doctor Who S10E2
Starring: Peter Capaldi, Pearl Mackie, Matt Lucas, Kaizer Akhtar, Mina Anwar, Kiran L. Dadlani, Raif Little