Doctor Who Review by John Keegan

Doctor Who 10.02: Smile

Doctor Who 10.02: Smile

Written By:
Frank Cottrell-Boyce
Directed By:
Lawrence Gough

One of the most glaring flaws of “The Pilot” was how poorly it introduced Bill as the new Companion.  Besides a few character traits, most notably her general inquisitiveness and sexual preference, not much was explored in terms of her personality.  The structure of “Smile” allows for quite a bit more opportunity for The Doctor and Bill to get to understand each other (and therefore give the audience much needed perspective), but it’s also becoming amazingly clear why Moffat prefers to render his Companions as walking, talking plot devices.



Bill literally has a badge attached to her that conveys her emotional state in emojis, and yet there is still much about her that is missing from the equation.  Or rather, Bill seems designed to be so ordinary and everyday that there is practically nothing about her that one might mark as particularly interesting.  I love the fact that she is essentially just a pupil, returning to the roots of Doctor Who and the notion of The Doctor as something of a teacher.  Bill shows joy in discovery, but so would countless others.  Why is Bill a focal character right now?  It’s still not clear.


Of course, it may be that Moffat (and Davies before him) has conditioned the audience to expect more out of a Companion than simply running around having adventures.  I don’t object to the notion, but I would like to see more of Bill’s particular reaction to things.  She wants to ensure that the future is a happy one, which vaguely fits the episode’s premise, but why? Why is her perspective unique out of the fifty years worth of students that The Doctor has encountered?  Surely she can’t be the only student that has anxiety about the fate of the human race given the modern descent into worrisome philosophies.



There are nice nuggets of Doctor Who continuity in this episode, particularly the various serials and episodes that allude to the human diaspora that allowed the species to survive (such as “The Ark in Space”).  And the concept of the Vardi is intriguing enough on its own as a lesson for Bill (and the audience) to consider that “the enemy” may simply have a difference of perspective.  That’s not a bad lesson for Bill to get early in her adventures with The Doctor, but it's rather odd for him to miss so many hints about the true nature of the colony and its status quo.


Another nugget worth considering, from the larger perspective of The Doctor’s long history, is that his solution to the problem seems workable on the surface but has more than a few potentially problematic aspects to it.  The Doctor is all too willing to “solve the problem” and then rush off to the next adventure, and considering that the ninth series was all about how Clara near-fatally adopted that cavalier mindset, it begs for greater consequences for The Doctor this time around.  Not that he is likely to learn his lesson, but Moffat’s treatment of The Doctor has been to emphasize his recklessness, so having that come to a head and launch him into a different direction with the new regime in the eleventh series would be awfully intriguing.



Nardole is still largely relegated to the background, which continues to make sense given that he is more connected to the mystery of “the vault” than helping to give the audience clarity on Bill’s personality.  Having something like that be a slow burn of a plot thread is a nice change of pace.  The whole notion of “the oath” is also reminiscent of the Third Doctor’s requirement to remain on Earth and his ties to UNIT, though of course it doesn’t carry quite the same level of constraint. If the mystery itself can be kept relatively small and focused (as befitting a single-season plot arc), then this could turn out tremendously well.

Our Grade:
The Good:
  • The inventive use of emojis
  • The callbacks to previous serials in the long history of the franchise
The Bad:
  • Bill is still lacking a strong personality, other than a convenient desire to ask questions that move the plot of an episode along

John Keegan aka "criticalmyth", is one of the hosts of the "Critical Myth" podcast heard here on VOG Network's radio feed Monday, Wednesday & Friday. You can follow him on twitter at @criticalmyth

Doctor Who by - 4/25/2017 5:47 AM155 views

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