Doctor Who: Smile review – “This All Feels Very Familiar”

Broadcast Date: 22 April 2017
Writer: Frank Cottrell Boyce
Rating: 2.5/5

Note: This review contains spoilers from the episode.

The new series of Doctor Who, after promising a fresh start with the premiere, provides nothing new in this somewhat disappointing second episode.

It seems to be custom now for a new companion to be taken to the future in their second episode. Bill (Pearl Mackie) is the third central companion in a row to experience this, following Amy and Clara. This episode has striking similarities with the series 6 episode The Beast Below, which was the former’s first trip in the TARDIS. Both feature the setting of a human colony where something is amiss, both feature robots which transform in facial expressions and both provide a moral question regarding the human colonists and their slave labour. In this sense, the writer is literally taking a page out of Doctor Who 101. When I saw that Frank Cottrall Bryce was writing this episode, I had low expectations as his only previous effort was the dismal In the Forest of the Night. This episode only really succeeds when compared to that.

There were a few things that really worked in this episode, the central one being the tutor-pupil relationship between The Doctor (Peter Capaldi) and Bill. Similar to The Pilot, she is still eager, full of questions and is easily relatable in references to her university and how she reacts to this alien surface. The first fifteen minutes were probably just as strong as the premiere, putting the connection between Doctor and companion at the centre; it felt very pre-2005 Who, which I love. She is continuing to prove her worth as well, going back after The Doctor after he sent her to the safety of the TARDIS. The fact that Nardole only appears in a cameo role at the start is also a relief as he doesn’t add much to the dynamics.

As the ‘monsters’ of the episodes, the Vardies are no Ood. There is nothing sinister or particularly monstrous about the living robots, so the suspense was practically flat throughout, which is a real shame after the promise of the Puddle Monster in The Pilot. My immature side was hoping that the poo emoji would emerge, which represents my feelings on these ‘monsters’. However, the narrative really starts to stumble over itself when the lacklustre twist, that the colonists were in cryogenic sleep all along, reveals itself. Then we get an awkwardly fitted in conclusion where the humans are somehow blamed for the Vardies murdering the crew as they didn’t realise the living robots were a fully fledged life form. I can’t help to compare this to the emotional reveal of the space whale in The Beast Below and this sadly falls well short of its intended effect.

In short, Smile shows Bill an alien planet with a deep moral issue hidden beneath, except she is the only one who hasn’t experienced it before. Series 10 was promised as something of a reboot but, save from the excellent dynamic between the leads, nothing new is brought to the table here. Hopefully the next episode, featuring a sea monster below the frozen 19th century River Thames, will become more memorable than this.

So did this episode leave you smiling or were you left wanting more? Tell me what you thought of Smile in the comments section below.

Missed any of my reviews of series 10 of Doctor Who? You can now find them all in one place by clicking the link here.

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