Screenwriter Frank Cottrell-Boyce may, just, have redeemed himself in the eyes of Doctor Who fans with the second episode of Series 10, Smile.
Cottrell-Boyce’s first go at a Doctor Who, the Series 8 story In The Forest of the Night, has been criticized by some for its daft concept of an ultra-fast growing forest engulfing the Earth overnight. It also suffered in the eyes of some for being too light on the Doctor and too heavy on a Coal Hill School field trip headed by companion Clara Oswald and her boyfriend Danny Pink.
The teaser to Smile had me doing just that as the Doctor (Peter Capaldi) prepares the TARDIS for another trip in time and space with new companion Bill (Pearl Mackie) at his side. Bill’s question around the practicalities of navigating the fourth dimension are only natural. But before take-off Nardole (Matt Lucas) is at the TARDIS door announcing that he’s putting the kettle on but he won’t be making one for Bill because he doesn’t like her. This felt like lazy writing because nothing she did in the previous story, The Pilot, could have possibly upset Nardole. Cottrell-Boyce perhaps subscribes to the theory that stories with conflict are better than stories without, and perhaps he was told to write that conflict in by the showrunner. Either way, it was unconvincing.
Then, before the opening titles have even rolled, we’re off to a human colony world where swarms of tiny flying robots have been used in terraforming.
Whoa, it’s Gita Chandra (Mina Anwar), mother of Rani Chandra, from Doctor Who spin-off The Sarah Jane Adventures. But it can’t be, since Smile is set in the distant future. Perhaps its Gita’s great, times 10, or more, granddaughter. Unfortunately, she doesn’t stick around for us to find out.
When the TARDIS lands, post credits, it feels like the Doctor and Bill have arrived on a planet befitting The Hitchhikers’ Guide to the Galaxy. Robot avatars with emoticon faces issue new arrivals with badges that emote the wearer’s feelings but can never be seen by those carrying them. The robots, too, fell like a close cousin to the version of Marvin the Paranoid Android from the film version of Hitchhikers.
And everybody on the colony world is dead.
It’s not long before Bill’s questions get wearisome. I know if I ran away with a stranger in a box that he claimed could travel in time and space I’d want all of my questions answered before I came aboard.
It’s also not long before the Doctor comes up with a plan. The best line, as always, comes from the Doctor. “Do you know why I always win at chess? I have a secret move. I kick over the board.”
That said, I’m beginning to warm to Bill, but I’ve not loved any of the Doctor’s companions since the show returned to television in 2005 as much as Amy and Rory.
It’s as though Cottrell-Boyce, for this story, has taken a whole lot of familiar sci fi concepts and shaken them up to come away with a new twist.
The episode’s conclusion does redeem the writing, making this episode feel more like a story from the first season of Star Trek than the normal Doctor Who fare.
It was great, too, how the episode ended like a Doctor Who story of yore with the TARDIS crew starting a new adventure before the end credits rolled.
There was not enough Nardole in this story, and it looks like we won’t see him next week in Victorian London either.
Outgoing showrunner Stephen Moffatt’s promise to reboot the show in his last, Series 10, came through strongly in Cottrell-Boyce’s script. But it felt a little overlaboured in this story.