Doctor Who tries to keep up a Smile and it works.

First off, I have to apologise for this week’s article taking till Tuesday. It’s nothing to do with this week’s episode, which was fine but for some reason, I couldn’t find anything to say about it for a while.It’s pretty difficult to find another way to say ‘yeah, they brought us a new villain, it did something ,it was fun’. It’s also difficult to smile when you’re sad. Sometimes you think it’s the right thing to do to keep up the pretense, to not ruin everyone else’s day but after a while, even the act of us trying to force one’s facial muscles upwards can be painful. Doctor Who isn’t always a show that you think of for playing psychological games with its audience but this week’s edition ‘Smile’ delivered on its premise by making you realise that the simple act of forcing the characters to smile was making you, the audience, do the same. It was quite a clever trick, one that I don’t know whether it was given an episode deserving of it, but certainly it was a novel effect.

Peter Capaldi & Pearl Mackie in Doctor Who (Credit: BBC)

So the Doctor and Bill go to a human outpost long in the future to see what the settlements look like after Earth (and after the movie, After Earth. The answer to that one is, as always, terrible) and find an abandoned city formed of nanomachines (son)that fly around occasionally like murder bees and slightly less nano-machines that communicate via Emoji and don’t seem to like it when anyone’s not happy. Of course no one questions what that means when the robots are unhappy and if that would cause them to destroy themselves because that would be silly. Anyway, the Doctor when he realises the robots have been killing people because they’re sad, resolves to blow up the base before the humans arrive, till he discovers the humans have arrived and he negotiates a peace treaty. Cue ‘happyish’ ending and set-up for next week.

It might seem from the way I’m rushing through it like I didn’t enjoy this week’s episode which would be wrong because for the most part I did, especially the first 3/4 of the episode showing a far higher standard of tension and world-building from Frank Cottrell Boyce than his previous episode (thank goodness not a shitty CGI animal in sight) but then near the end, it just seemed to stop having momentum. In fact, as soon as the other humans turned up, it felt almost like we’d hit the end of  the first half of a two-parter but they decided to put the entire second episode into five minutes rushing through to a conclusion that allows both the humans not to die but a resolution of “these robots may have killed a load of people but hey, they don’t understand grief so that makes it Ok. I guess, wait what?” Enough about that though, because the set-up was real good with some very nicely done set work making the world that’s been made for the incoming humans seem both clinically beautiful and terrifyingly sterile, the robots themselves, resembling a miniature version of the movie version of Marvin from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the
somehow manage to make a grumpy face emoji threatening. Also the intro segment with this week’s contractually mandated scene of set-up with Nardole going off to make tea continues to build questions about what’s in that vault?

Peter Capaldi in Doctor Who (Credit: BBC)

What’s very important about this week’s edition is that for the most part, it’s just the Doctor & Bill and their relationship has already developed enough that I am willing to watch that with the trademark mix of questions and back-and-forth banter already feeling in place. There’s also a certain humanist quality that sometimes seems forced into the role of the sidekick that Pearl Mackie has made feel very natural. Capaldi as always, is superb, finding new ways to do old things, watching his face having to mangle itself into a very awkward smile is constantly delightful. The rest of the supporting cast never really have anything to do (or names from what I can remember) but do well enough considering. I don’t know whether we got any new information about Bill or the Doctor this week but it certainly did enough to cement what we already knew.

It was a good episode, honest. I seem to be quite down on it but the thing was, it was another enjoyable but not exactly overhwhelmingly notable. It did what it did and it certainly passed the time nicely, serving up some low-key surprises as it did but after it’s done, it really didn’t do much to leave an impression (though I can’t say enough, thank goodness there were no CGI lions). It’s good though, that this series is really favouring so far setting up its characters than getting too invested in plot which is a common criticism of Moffatt, though you could say he’s only seemingly learning these lessons just as he’s leaving. Still, a fun nearly an hour and if nothing else, next week looks like it could be batshit brilliance.

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