The Doctor gives Bill a choice between visiting the future and visiting the past for her first ‘proper’ adventure as his companion. She chooses the future, as she wants to see if it’s happy. The part of the future they end up in, they will have to at least look like they are happy…
The TARDIS takes the Doctor and Bill to a distant planet that is one of Earth’s earliest colonies. There is a futuristic white building in the middle of a wheat field. When the Doctor and Bill enter they don’t see any people there. As Bill puts it “Don’t tell me we’ve come half way across the universe and they’ve all gone out!”. What they do encounter however are the Vardy, tiny robots which buzz like bees and makes shapes in the sky like flocks of birds. There are also other androids, small white robots which have screens which display emojis on as faces. These are nicknamed the Emojibots.
An Emojibot gives the Doctor and Bill badges which display their mood on as emojis. Going further into the building, an Emojibot serves the Doctor and Bill with food, cubes of blue jelly that are some sort of flavoured algae. Bill has one cube, and the Doctor has two, which is because Bill has one heart and the Doctor has two.
There is a greenhouse with plants and crops that are sprayed with fertilizer. The Doctor is puzzled why there are no humans around. It’s definitely a human colony and there should at least be a skeleton crew around to get things ready. They find what is quite literally a skeleton crew. The bones of the crew which are then ground up into fertilizer, the same fertilizer which is used to grow the crops!
The Emojibots turn on the Doctor and Bill after they react to this discovery, and soon they are surrounded by them. The Doctor says that they should smile. The act of smiling has a psychological effect of making you feel better, and as the Emojibots react badly to negative emotions that might give them time to get away. It appears to at least confuse the Emojibots a little, and the Doctor and Bill escape the city.
The Doctor tells Bill to wait in the TARDIS while he goes back to the city. Bill doesn’t know why, as they have already escaped, but the Doctor says colonists will be arriving and will end up walking into a death trap. “They’re expecting to find the new Garden of Eden. What they are not expecting is to be its fertilizer.”
Bill follows the Doctor back into the city. The Doctor tells her the whole building is in fact made up of the Vardy. He also theorises that the original spacecraft will be in the centre, as Vikings used their longboats as temporary shelter when they invaded other countries, he suspects the humans who claimed this planet did something similar.
They find the spacecraft, and while Bill reads the map the Doctor heads to the engine room. He plans to blow it up, taking the whole city with it. Bill goes to join him, and on the way she finds the body of an old lady sort of lying in state. There’s also a video book which shows the history of Earth, The Big Bang Theory title sequence style.
Bill then runs into a little boy. They go to meet the Doctor, who has just battled an Emojibot and set the engine room to start an explosion. There is a whole room full of pods which contain the colonists. They have been cryogenically frozen and are about to wake up. The Doctor can stop the engine from exploding simply enough, but how can he prevent them walking out into the city?
Bill takes the Doctor to the video book and the body of the old lady. They learn from the video book that there were shepherds who were woken early to get the new world organised. The old lady was someone important to the mission, and she died of natural causes. Then many others died all at once, then more, then more until there were no shepherds left. Bill wonders if it was a virus, but the Doctor says it was grief. The Vardies were programmed to maintain happiness. When the old lady died, this introduced grief to the new world. The Vardies saw grief as an enemy of happiness, so killed everyone who experienced grief, which of course meant a massacre, as the more people died the more grief spread.
The Doctor tells the woken up colonists what has happened. The colonists decide to take guns and kill the Vardies. The Doctor says they will have no chance against them, the Vardies literally ARE the city.
After someone shoots an Emojibot, the Vardies swoop down and kill some colonists. The Doctor then reprogrammes the shot down Emojibot with his sonic screwdriver.
We flash to the Doctor telling a “be careful what you wish for” fable about a magic haddock, and says that he pressed the reset button. Really, that’s exactly what he did. He reset the robots so they have no knowledge of humans whatsoever. The humans and the robots will have to start from scratch from here.
I have to say I wasn’t keen on this ending. Knowing that the shepherds were killed, some of which were members of their families, how can the colonists just carry on as if nothing had happened? Isn’t it a bad idea to keep on entrusting everything to the robots and indeed carry on with the whole project when it’s already gone catastrophically wrong this early in the game? It kind of seems like it’s an accident waiting to happen. And yeah, even if the episode makes jokes about it, it is a bit of a cop-out that they literally press a reset button.
‘Smile’ was one of those episodes that seemed like a lot of random ideas in search of a story. Humans colonising other planets, plus todays technology exaggerated to see what it could be like in the future, plus having to maintain a certain emotional or physical state as a way of staying alive. It’s probably why the ending was so rushed.
All of those ideas have been done many times before on the show. It reminded me of so many other episodes of Doctor Who. ‘The End Of The World’, ‘New Earth’, ‘The Beast Below’, ‘The Curse Of The Black Spot’, ‘The Girl Who Waited’, ‘Rings Of Akathen’, or going back to the classic series, ‘The Happiness Patrol’. ‘Smile’ was such an average, mediocre episode really.
There were some things I liked about it.
Visually, the episode looked good. It was filmed on location in a museum complex in Valencia, Spain, and they showed off the architecture.
The Emojibots were cute, and the Vardy were a decent idea.
However, as someone who finds emojis a bit annoying, I quite liked that Doctor doesn’t seem all that keen on them either. At the time in the future the Doctor and Bill go to, the only form of communication left is emojis. The Doctor says it’s “A utopia for vacuous teenagers”.
I liked the brief appearance of Mina Anwar as one of the shepherds. She has a connection to Doctor Who having appeared in spin-off series The Sarah Jane Adventures, but to be honest I’ve never seen that show. The role that always springs to mind first when I see Mina Anwar is Constable Habib in ’90s sitcom The Thin Blue Line. I’m probably showing my age with those last couple of paragraphs, aren’t I?
‘Smile’ was writer Frank Cottrell-Boyce’s second episode after ‘In The Forest Of The Night’ in series 8, which was quite a weak episode. It wasn’t the worst episode, ‘The Caretaker’ for example from the same series was a lot worse. But ‘In The Forest Of The Night’ was quite dull. ‘Smile’ was an improvement from that, but still not brilliant. Just another episode I guess.
What this episode does that most don’t is that it goes straight into the next one, where The Doctor and Bill open the TARDIS and see an elephant on the frozen River Thames in Regency era England, which will be the next episode, ‘Thin Ice’.