Smile reviewed

Smile - Doctor and Bill inside ErehwonSo, despite my hopes (not that they matter), the Frank Cottrell Boyce story Smile, was more fail than success for many reasons. It was very striking visually, but that isn’t enough.

This review will be full of spoilers, so if you’ve yet to watch, don’t read.

Smile: The story

First up a Utopian alien world, lots of wheat, happy people, cute robots and gleaming technology. Next thing we know it’s all horror with swarms of killer micro-robots (as we learn) killing people by the well-known technique of eating all their flesh, leaving their bones for fertiliser. As you do.

Next switch back to St Luke’s, and the Doctor is spending time acclimatising Bill to the TARDIS and his world. Cue a chat with Nardole (who gets left behind) and a first proper trip for Bill.

The TARDIS lands on the colony and there’s a mystery — cute robots, no people. The Doctor has theories but quickly disproves them and gets to the core of the problem — smile or die.

Next up find the core of the city is a spaceship (the Erehwon) and the Doctor decides to destroy it to destroy the threat of the micro-bots. Bill has a wander, finds a dead body, skims the video record by their resting place and finds a lost boy. Cue a re-plan by the Doctor and the awakening of a few humans, including Ralf Little’s Steadfast. Add the realisation the whole of the human race is in cold storage (there’s not many left) and the stakes are escalated.

A quick sequence of anger, shooting and confrontation then, Hey Presto!, a reset and an instruction to learn to live together and recognise their creation (and their slaves?) as a life form in their own right.

Smile: the best bits and the worst

It’s all very attractive, immaculately shot and with great music.

Bill is (mostly) great, with a good line in dialogue with the Doctor, very credible reactions to the TARDIS and Pearl Mackie’s talents begin to shine. The only time the ball was dropped (for me) was when she overreacted to the revelation the Doctor has two hearts. I wasn’t sure of that, but let it ride.

Where the story didn’t work for me is in not really being a story. I wonder if it was conceived as a two-hander than extras were added in? Why was the story not told like this:

  • The Doctor and Bill arrive on the colony world, but no colonists. I don’t think the viewer needs to know more, and as none of them survived, it’s a waste of actors. Steadfast could have been a survivor and appear after some misunderstanding as to who was the part-glimpsed lone human. More drama in my view
  • They find the Erehwon, and decide this could be the salvation but then find (eg Steadfast is living here) there are 1000s of colonists aboard. I really, really despair when the plot has the whole of the remaining human race in peril on the doomed ship/colony – why does the Doctor need to save the whole of human history? Billions of people are (generally) less real to the viewer than a few. A more sensible sized colony would be more credible
  • They decide the problem is the reaction to grief (and why do these human creations have so little in the way of safety controls?) and Bill shares her own grief over her mother via the emojibots. They learn humanity can only be really happy when it has a mix of positive and negative emotions, but they shouldn’t be killed for it.

In no way is hitting the reset switch a good answer. The plot pivoted on negative emotion, the resolution should tackle that and move past it. Imagine what a great moment that would have been for Bill?

Smile had some interested science, but their are many other ways to grow a colony, such as mother ship in orbit or dismantling the landed ship. At least Frank Cottrell Boyce bothered to have some grounded science and should be applauded.

Overall then I had a lot of problems with this story, though actually felt it to be a step-up from In the Forest of the Night.


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