We rejoin the Doctor and Bill straight after the events of ‘The Pilot’, for Bill’s first ‘proper’ trip on the Tardis. Nardole’s not too happy about it though - reminding the Doctor of his mysterious oath not to go off-world unless absolutely necessary. We found out later that ‘a thing’ happened, and as a result, ‘a promise’ was made - but nothing more specific yet. And there’s still the mysterious vault to be guarded… But as Mummy Nardole slinks off to put the kettle on, the Doctor gets that mischievous twinkle in his eye, and reckons he can pop away for a quick jaunt. He’ll be back exactly when they left - perhaps even before. Yeah right - when has that plan ever worked, Doctor?
But anyway, on to the monster of the week. In a shiny, futuristic city, the second cutest robots ever are on a mission to maintain happiness no matter what the cost. (The cutest robot ever is technically a droid, and that’s BB8. Fact.) Of course, the variation of human language that has survived the ages is Emoji. It’s universal, ubiquitous, and simple - though its limitations include inadvertently triggering genocide… But the robots were only trying to help! Look, they hug you before they kill you! Awwww.
There were a lot of familiar tropes at work here. The little robots, trying to help and doing something awful instead - well, that’s straight out of ‘The Empty Child’. The doom-laden transitions from smiley face vs frowny face were reminiscent of ‘The Beast Below’, as was humanity’s attitude to something ‘alien’ that just wanted to help. And the deal struck at the end between the colony of humans and the newly sentient robot race - that brought back memories of the deal between humans and Zygons in ‘The Day of the Doctor’.
But that’s not to say that the episode felt repetitive. I liked the dynamic of ‘Smile’; it was silly, definitely, but it brought up some interesting discussion points. Any adventures in the future offer a judgment on the present, and ‘Smile’ offered a few. The constant feedback loop of online approval ratings, polls, likes and reviews seeks to measure happiness on a daily basis, and downplays the importance of other emotional states. Like Black Mirror, this episode played with the concept of likes — and showed how people fake happiness to survive when grief is expected to be hidden away.
Side note - the idea of something sinister lurking behind cuteness brought to mind the Angel episode ‘Smile Time’ (now I’m really taking you back) - you know, the one with the psychopathic puppets. And anything that reminds me of Angel gets a thumbs-up.
There was also a post-colonial theme at work here - the humans emerged from their pods to find that their territory now had indigenous life-forms, and their first reaction was to grab the shotguns. Human nature really doesn’t change much, huh?
And in the middle of all of this is Bill, throwing out almost incessant questions, which could have been really irritating, but once again, she provides a new perspective on events. This show has been running for decades now, and yet the writers find ways for Bill to shed new light on the Doctor. We didn’t need the mood-badge to show us how happy she was - she was beaming with excitement. Until they found the bones, that is… Then when she found the dead woman and the tablet showing human history (or future, depending on your point of view), her face crumpled, like Leeloo’s in The Fifth Element when she got to ‘war’ on her screen encyclopaedia and learned the terrible truth. Bill’s not a one-trick pony. We saw something similar with Donna during ‘The Fires of Pompeii’, and when she heard the song of the Ood in ‘Planet of the Ood’. This is a promising sign. I’m still on Team Bill.
The Doctor - who still runs like a penguin with its arse on fire - nearly made a rather significant boo-boo when he almost blew up a spaceship full of people. Perhaps this will remind him of his oath… Certainly, he intended to go straight home again, like a good boy, only for the Tardis to do its usual trick. I guess the negotiation process between where he wanted to go and where he needed to be hadn’t been quite as successful as the peace deal between the humans and the robots.
Which means that next week, we’ll be in Regency London, on the frozen Thames. Nardole is going to have to boil that kettle a few times, I’d imagine.