Discussing Doctor Who: Smile

Doctor Who Smile emojibot

What happens when emojis take over the world? Kevin Harvey and I are back to talk about “Smile,” the latest episode of Doctor Who.

Kevin is the author of All You Want to Know About The Bible in Pop Culture and a fellow Whovian who enjoys watching and breaking down the latest adventures of the Doctor. You can follow him on Twitter at @PopCultureKevin.

Last week, we navigated the first episode of the new season: “The Pilot.” If you need a refresher on last season, here is our recap of season 9.

Did “Smile” make you smile this week?

Kevin: For sure. This is the first, and only, time we have seen Capaldi with a new companion and it was quite fun seeing him excited about taking Bill on her first adventure of her choice. The Doctor has always loved getting the opportunity to take a new companion anywhere and anytime, and Capaldi’s schoolkid giddiness at exploring something new with Bill definitely made me smile.

The episode itself was almost a quintessential Doctor Who episode for me in a strange way. What I mean is, if “Smile” was the first episode you ever saw, and you didn’t know anything else about the show, midway through you’d probably be thinking this is the weirdest show ever and how has it been on for fifty years?

I had a similar feeling while rewatching “The Girl Who Waited” a couple of years ago when my daughter was with me, making it the very first episode she ever saw of Doctor Who.

But even a seemingly ridiculous show about a world with emojibots who keep tabs on your moods and kill you if you’re not happy (doesn’t it sound absolutely silly when you sum it up like that?) can be Doctor Who at its best, just having good old-fashioned fun as we watch the Doctor figure it all out.

Aaron: Yes, it was fun. Yes, the interplay between the Doctor and Bill was great (which we’ll get to), but, like last week, I’m left wanting a little more.

It was an oddly paced episode for me. While I loved Bill and the Doctor’s extended exploration of the city, the end seemed rushed because of it. We barely saw anything from the humans before they were immediately thrust into a life-or-death choice. It’s hard to care about people we just met.

I was disappointed in the execution of the emojibots (which we’ll get to as well) and the all-too-tidy wrap up of the story. It felt like a less serious version of “The Empty Child”/”The Doctor Dances,” which is odd since in this story people actually died.

But it was weird to see the humans (the living ones anyway) cast in a slightly villainous role when it was the emojibots and Vardy who actually killed people unprovoked. And as a solution, the Doctor basically leaves the humans with little power in the negotiation of life on the new planet. Not that humans can’t be the villains, but this was an odd situation in which to cast them as such.

We got our first proper adventure with Bill after introducing her last week. What do you think of her and the Doctor’s relationship?

Aaron: The more I see her and the Doctor, the more this series reminds me of series 4 with Donna and the Tenth Doctor (David Tennant), which interestingly enough was the last full season for that Doctor and lead writer Russell T. Davies. It seems showrunners like to bid farewell to Doctors using inquisitive, light-hearted companions.

The echoes are there. Donna’s season ended with a mind wipe, while Bill successfully avoided one her first episode. In Donna’s first real trip in the TARDIS, they met the face the Twelfth Doctor now uses. One can only hope we get some upcoming episodes as classic as “Planet of the Ood” and “Silence in the Library.”

The growing tutor and student relationship between Bill and the Doctor was the highlight of the show this week. “Smile” was at its best when it was banter between the Doctor and Bill. They enjoy each other’s company, which lets the audience enjoy the show even when the plot or monster may be missing something.

Kevin: Totally agree. The Donna Noble season was at its best in silly, fun episodes like “Partners in Crime.” I definitely get the same vibe that comedy is Bill’s strength too.

No doubt at some point this season, we’re going to get into some serious plot points and Capaldi’s amazing range as an actor is going to get taken full advantage of. He clearly can do the comedy as well as any of his predecessors, but he perhaps is at his strongest when he gets to use some of the more emotional and serious ranges such as in 2015’s “The Zygon Inversion.”

But will Pearl Mackie be able to keep up with him when we get to that point? In my opinion, that’s definitely where Donna fell short and why she’s near the bottom of the ranks for companions. I guess time will tell for Bill.

But two episodes in, let’s give her credit. The dialogue and banter between the two is spot-on thus far, and I especially love how she asks questions of the Doctor he isn’t used to getting at this point.

So are you swearing off emojis forever now that we know they’ll turn deadly in the future?

https://twitter.com/DoctorWho_BBCA/status/856621775869935621

Kevin: You’re asking the wrong person that question. I pretty much swore them off at the moment of invention. No surprise, I’m a word guy. I have never liked the idea of silly pictures expressing my thoughts for me. So getting an episode of Doctor Who that basically takes the ideas of emojis to a fatal level was especially fun for me.

I thought an interesting observation was that the emojis didn’t always truly represent what people were really feeling, only what they were pretending to feel. The fact that they could fake their way through a smile in order to keep the emojibots from sensing their true moods was pretty darn reflective of the world’s popular use of emojis today, isn’t it?

Aaron: You’re right about it revealing more about emojis than was on the surface—speaking into our use of emojis (or even words) to hide our actually feelings. And, as a side note, the Doctor’s distinct eyebrow emoji was so perfect.

Much like last week, however, I loved the idea of the monster, but thought there was something missing in the implementation. To go back to “The Empty Child” connection I mentioned earlier, the Vardy were very similar to the nanobots, but less menacing or creepy—even though the Vardy actually killed people.

And also, like last week, we were given another misunderstood monster that didn’t really mean to kill anyone. I like those as a change of pace to challenge your perception of who villains are, but I want next week to be a truly proper monster that’s not simply needy or confused.

There needs to be real danger in place from a villain with evil intentions. That’s when the Doctor is at his best.

What hints about this season’s future or Easter eggs from Doctor Who past did you notice this week?

Aaron: The relationship between Nardole and the Doctor seems a bit more antagonistic than we first thought, as if Nardole is a bit of an enforcer to whatever “oath” the Doctor has sworn in protecting the vault on Earth.

I appreciate the slow burn of the larger arc. That’s a nice change of pace from previous seasons when the weekly episodes were dominated by the larger narratives. But I do want them to begin to make some progress or at least give me a memorable standalone story.

Kevin: I noticed that about Nardole too and was a bit surprised. We haven’t seen that side of him before. Was it intentional or just something not handled well in his one brief scene of the episode?

I will say that like in most mystery arcs from TV shows, there is danger in revealing things too slowly, because all the time allowing the audience to guess on things like “what is in the vault?” takes our imaginations in places that are typically greater than what is eventually revealed. So I hope they do spend some entire episodes away from the school or give some solid answers midseason.

What were your favorite quotes this week?

Kevin:

Bill: “You can’t reach the controls from your seats. What’s the point in that? Or do you have to stretch your arms like Mr. Fantastic?”

Nardole (about Bill on the TARDIS): “Why is she here?”
Doctor: “Because she isn’t anywhere else.”

Bill: “Emoji! It speaks emoji!”
Doctor: “Of course it does…”

(The Doctor delivered that line exactly the way I imagine I would if I were to go to the future and find humans designed robots that communicate with emojis. “Of course we’d do something so dumb…”)

Aaron: Like I said, the banter between Bill and the Doctor was great this week, so there was a lot of opportunity for quality lines. Besides learning the TARDIS has broadband, here’s some of my favorite dialogue from Smile.

Doctor: “We’re in a utopia of vacuous teens.”

Bill: “Why are you Scottish?”
Doctor: “I’m not Scottish; I’m cross.”
Bill: “Is there Scotland in space?”
Doctor: “There’s Scotland all over the place, demanding freedom from every planet they land on.’

Doctor: They’re expecting the new Garden of Eden. What they’re not expecting is to be the fertilizer.

Doctor: All traps are beautiful; that’s how they work.

What are some spiritual takeaways from this episode?

Aaron: There’s some deeper exploration of what it is we really want as humans. They programmed the emoji bots to make them happy, not realizing that to be human is to experience more emotions than mere happiness.

As Christians, we can see people all around us striving to achieve personal happiness, as if it were the ultimate goal in life. So many sacrifice so much in an attempt to gain more happiness. But our happiness will not bring us true satisfaction. We were made to bring glory to God, not happiness to ourselves.

Of course, the irony of it all is that when we lay down our desire for happiness and seek God’s glory, we can have joy that cannot be taken away by our circumstances. Our attempts at happiness only push us further away from what we truly want.

Kevin: I loved the picture we got of what the truth was about what the entire structure was. The microbots were not in the walls but they were the wall. The Doctor explained, “This whole structure was built from interlocking microbots.”

That is picture-perfect explanation of the church, or at least what it should be. The church has never been a building or a set of programs but instead Jesus intended his church to be one huge set of “interlocking” disciples living in community. Christians are not in the church; they are the church.

Which brings up a sad commentary about how so often people pretend their way through church fellowship and never share what’s really going on with them, just so the rest of the church believes all is well and they’re perfectly happy. As long as we keep smiley emojis showing, we’re good.

Next week on Discussing Doctor Who, “Thin Ice”:

4 Comments

  1. Suprised that you didn’t mention the names of some of the other characters: Praiseworthy, Steadfast, Goodthing, Hopeful – they remind me of Bible verses, “whatever is worthy of praise, think on these (good) things” , “Our hope of you is steadfast”, “renew a steadfast spirit within me”, “everything he made was good”, “rejoice in every good thing” (we could go on). Also, this is the second time the Doctor has used a parable to help guide or explain things.

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Aaron Earls

Christian. Husband. Daddy. Writer. Online editor for Facts & Trends Magazine. Fan of quick wits, magical wardrobes, brave hobbits, time traveling police boxes & Blue Devils.