Doctor Who Series 10, Episode 2
Posted by Kim
One of my favorite things about meeting a new companion is the first REAL adventure they take with The Doctor. The adventure they take by choice. First meetings are all about The Doctor crashing into a person’s life and opening their eyes to the world beyond their ordinary humdrum existence. But what comes after that…that’s when they truly reveal themselves. “The Pilot” told us who Bill Potts IS; “Smile” tells us who Bill Potts is going to BE. And who is she going to be really? All evidence points to Bill being a bright and inquisitive companion who never stops asking the right questions. She’s the type of companion who will probably never lose her sense of wonder in regards to traveling though time and space. And she appears to be REFRESHINGLY free of any sort of mystery for the Doctor to figure out. No. The mystery this series lies entirely with The Doctor, which makes for an excellent change of pace in the Moffat era of Doctor Who.
Ah, yes. The Doctor. What is going ON with him, y’all? We had but one scene with Nardole in this episode (YAY) but it was a telling one. “Your oath, sir,” Nardole says like some sort of Jiminy Cricket. “You’re not supposed to go off-world unless it’s an emergency.” My first response? Okay, so we’re going Third Doctor Earth-bound this season. (I may be a little ignorant when it comes to Classic Who, but I know THAT.) My second response? When did The Doctor make an oath to stay on Earth, what were the circumstances, and HOW does it tie into the mysterious vault? (The Doctor tells Bill about it in the VAGUEST of terms. “A long time ago, a thing happened. As a result of the thing, I made a promise. As a result of the promise, I have to stay on Earth.” OKAY BUT.) My third response? Shut up, Nardole, and let The Doctor show Bill some planets.
The Doctor and I are on the same page when it comes to my third response. Judging from his devilish grin the moment Nardole leaves, it’s clear that he’s itching to show Bill the universe. “Between here and my office, before the kettle boils, is everything that ever happened or ever will. Make your choice.” He’s like a naughty child, y’all. He knows he’s breaking (well…bending. Timey-Wimey) the rules but at the same time, he doesn’t really give a fuck. He’s desperate to show off, you see. Look at how proud he is when he tells Bill that he stole the TARDIS. (Also Bill’s “What if I steal it from you?” response makes me think that she and Clara would have been great friends.) The Doctor is a traveler by nature and it’s clear to me that staying in one place is making him a little stir-crazy. So he chooses to walk on the wild side. “Past or Future,” he asks Bill and it’s almost like her answer is a bit of a test. (Of the modern companions, all but Martha and Donna choose to go future/other-worldly. Discuss what that may say about them in the comments.) Bill chooses to go to the future. Why? “Why do you think? I want to see if it’s happy.” PROTECT THIS PRECIOUS HUMAN.
So where do they end up after trusting the TARDIS to take them where they need to be? The first colony that Earth has set up after what I can only assume is the planet’s destruction. (How “End of the World” is this?) Everything is bright and shiny and new…and strangely free of human life. Their robot hosts, known as the Vardy, hand The Doctor and Bill little badges that gauge their moods. The only catch being that they can never actually KNOW what kind of mood emoji they are displaying because the badges attach themselves to their backs. The Vardy are clearly monitoring their moods in order to determine how to best serve them. That’s not at all shady. Not in the slightest. (It’s also oh-very-so-slightly Ood like? Side note, I miss the Ood.)
What’s interesting about “Smile” to me is that the first two-thirds of the episode play as an extended duet for Bill and The Doctor. It’s a chance for Peter and Pearl to explore their chemistry and build their dynamic. The whole student-teacher relationship is really strengthened here, with Bill always asking questions (I LOVE how she’s not afraid to question things) and The Doctor not only answering her questions, but lobbying ones back to her, forcing her to come to her own conclusions. (He’s a Socratic teacher, you guys. I feel so many things.) Bill’s sense of wonder is so great; she marvels at everything from the weird algae food substitute to the fact that the robots speak emoji. The Doctor, however, KNOWS that something is off about this whole thing and he doesn’t allow Bill’s enthusiasm to fully distract from the fact that he knows something is wrong. The Doctor has done enough traveling to remote space colonies to know that these colonies always have some sort of set-up skeleton crew that’s there to make everything ready for the settlers. So where are they? They find their answer in the greenhouse, where they discover a calcium-based fertilizer being used to tend to all the fledgling crops. The Doctor kicks open the little fertilizer silo and a bunch of skulls pour out. WELP. The fertilizer is PEOPLE, Soylent Green is PEOPLE.
Naturally, discovering that all the colonists have clearly been murdered causes Bill and The Doctor to freak out a wee bit. Their Vardy guide’s emoji face shifts, first to a crying face, then to a freaking SKULL face. The Doctor is all “BE COOL” as they slowly back away from the robot. They quickly find themselves surrounded by a host of Vardy, all sporting the skull emoji when it finally clicks for The Doctor. He tells Bill to smile and they both put on their best fake-ass smiles (their FACES though). “Smiles aren’t just smiles,” he explains. “Psychologically, they have a measurable effect on your mood states. Yes. These robots, they built this place, they grew those trees. Something went wrong, but they were designed to make you happy.” Clearly, something went terribly wrong with the original colonists. BUT WHAT. The Doctor gets Bill safely out of the city, where they are no longer the Vardy’s concern, thanks to some handy sonic screwdriver work. (It’s interesting to me that the screwdriver is the ONE thing she didn’t question.) He tries to ditch Bill at the TARDIS so he can go back and blow-up the whole city before the colonists arrive and walk into a death trap. “I get that someone has to do something but why is it you? Can’t you phone the police? Isn’t there a helpline or something?” It’s only when the Doctor has run back into the fray that she looks at the sign on the TARDIS and things begin to crystallize. He IS the helpline.
It’s been so interesting to me over these first two episodes how The Doctor has been downplaying his role in the universe. He urges Bill not to romanticize what it is that he does. “I don’t just fly around helping people out.” EXCEPT HE DOES? Just last series he declared “I’m the Doctor and I save people.” His big hero moment from series 8 came when he cried “That is the role you seem determined to play, so it seems that I must play mine: the man that stops the monsters.” His tenth regeneration famously said “I am 903 years old and I’m the man who is gonna save your lives and all 6 billion people on the planet below.” THE DOCTOR SAVES PEOPLE. He’s been doing it for almost 2000 years. So why is he pretending that’s not what he is? What HAPPENED to you, Doctor? What is in that vault that is making you deny who you ARE? But you know why Bill Potts is awesome? She sees right through his bullshit. She may not have all the answers to why The Doctor is the way he is and she’s still learning about him. But she does know one thing: The Doctor saves people and she wants to stand by his side while he does it. “You’ve never passed by in your life. You couldn’t even leave me serving chips, so I’m not going to leave you.” My heart overflows.
What happens next is Star Wars meets Passengers (sans the gaslighting and extremely problematic sexual ethics of the latter). The Doctor and Bill discover a spaceship at the heart of the city. The Doctor does his best Obi-Wan Kenobi impersonation as he moves to blow up the ship’s engine, while Bill discovers a mausoleum dedicated to the first woman who died in the brand new colony, along with a book dedicated to the journey mankind has taken in order to bring them to this point. (Her FACE when she says “Were they our last hope?” though. Dammit, Pearl Mackie is a beautiful crier.) She also finds a young boy wandering the corridors of the ship. “Are we there yet,” he asks. Soooooo…the colonists are THERE already, they’ve just been sleeping the whole time and The Doctor and Bill’s presence in the ship started the waking up process. The Doctor quickly halts the whole blowing up the ship idea because it turns out they are surrounded by the entire remaining population of the human race, cryogenically frozen.
The question The Doctor keeps asking over and over again in regards to the Vardy is “What made them do this?” He finally gets his answer when Bill shows him the Mausoleum. Mankind sent the best of the best to be the skeleton crew for their new colony. They worked with the Vardy to create a new world; a world that would revolve around happiness and zero pain. And then someone died. It was a death that just HAPPENED, as humans are wont to do when they reach old age. And the Vardies…just didn’t understand the concept of grief as a fundamental part of the human existence.
The Doctor: Well, their job was to maintain happiness. At first, that meant making sure there was enough oxygen and water. That’s what the badges are meant to communicate. Satisfaction, a positive mental state. But the Vardy are smart. They learn, try to be good servants, so they expand the definition of happiness until —
Bill: She dies.
The Doctor: No one had ever died here before this lady. The Vardies, they’d never heard of grief before. This place is all about hope and the future, and happiness. No one ever thought about the opposite. The Vardies didn’t know what to do with it. They identified grief as the enemy of happiness and everyone who was experiencing grief as a problem, as —
The Doctor: And all those dead people, well, you know, they had friends and family, too, so
Bill: Even more compost.
The Doctor: And so on, and so on, and so on. And what you get is a whole grief tsunami.
There’s been a fair amount of discourse amongst my Whovian friends this week in regards to the concept of grief being weaponized as a plague. Selling the concept that grief (which again is a fundamental part of being human) is a flaw that needs to be eliminated is troubling, to say the least. A person’s capacity to feel pain and sorrow should never be viewed as a weakness. In fact, I would say the ability to grieve shows incredible strength. But the thing is…the Vardy, fledgling intelligence that they are, they don’t know that. I saw so many similarities between the Vardy and the Nanogenes of “The Empty Child” and “The Doctor Dances.” The Nanogenes didn’t KNOW that Jamie was crying out for his Mother in distress (or that his gas mask WAS just a mask); they just assumed that’s how all humans were because that’s all the information they had. Much is the same for the Vardy here. They weren’t able to separate material happiness from emotional happiness, so they just thought they were doing their job.
The Doctor: Once, long ago, a fisherman caught a magic haddock. The haddock offered the fisherman three wishes in return for its life. The fisherman said, “I’d like my son to come home from the war, and a hundred pieces of gold.” The problem is magic haddock, like robots, don’t think like people. The fisherman’s son came home from the war in a coffin and the King sent a hundred gold pieces in recognition of his heroic death. The fisherman had one wish left. What do you think he wished for? Some people say he should have wished for an infinite series of wishes, but if your city proves anything, it is that granting all your wishes is not a good idea. In fact, the fisherman wished that he hadn’t wished the first two wishes. You see, in a way, he pressed the reset button.
So what happens when the rest of the ship wakes up only to find that their loved ones on the set-up crew had been killed? Their response is oh-so-painfully human: they want revenge, especially once they see a Vardy trying to attack the little boy crying for his mother. The Doctor is a little “WHAT THE FUCK” when the colonists ignore his pleas for them to listen to him. But what’s amazing is that the Vardy start to fight back when they are attacked, proving to The Doctor that they are not just robots but a sentient new species. I’m not sure why THAT is what ultimately triggers The Doctor’s solution, but a little sonic-ing to the Vardy’s belly fixes everything.
Steadfast: What the hell did you do?
The Doctor: Aren’t you listening? I pressed the reset button. Every computer has one, and anyone can find it, especially if they happen to be a scary, handsome genius from space. I re-initialized the entire command structure, retaining all programmed abilities but deleting the supplementary preference architecture.
Bill: He turned it off and on again.
The Doctor: I turned it off and on again. Of course, I wiped their memories. They no longer have the faintest idea who you are and, in fact, they’re wondering what you’re doing in their very nice city.
Steadfast: Their city?
The Doctor: Yes, their city. It’s made of them.
Steadfast: It’s our city. They’re our robots.
Bill: They were.
The Doctor: Welcome to your new world. Meet the Vardy. They are, as of now, the indigenous life form. You’d best make friends with them because there’s loads of them, and they’re the only ones who know how anything works.
Okay, rebooting the system to prevent a massacre is great and all but does anyone else find it a little troubling that this is the second episode in a row that The Doctor has used a mind wipe as a means to solve a problem? Sure, in this situation the reboot is a GOOD thing that the Doctor uses to reset the birth of a society while protecting an emergent species at the same time. I’m just a little wary of the fact that we keep going back to this. It’s either a super problematic plot device that they don’t realize they are repeating OR it’s going to be a major theme of the series? I lean towards the latter, but we’ll see if it comes up again in the next few episodes. Two mentions is a coincidence. Three is a pattern.
Back in the TARDIS, Bill continues to push The Doctor to admit that saving people and civilizations is his BUSINESS and his purpose. He brushes it off again, claiming it’s pure coincidence. The TARDIS lands and The Doctor is all “Back to guarding the vault.” One problem though. Bill opens the door to find that it’s snowing and there’s a freaking elephant in front of the TARDIS. The Doctor may claim that he’s going back to business, but clearly the TARDIS has other plans for them. I LOVE A GOOD OLD FASHIONED CLIFF HANGER.
- Bill asking all the practical questions about the TARDIS is the cutest thing I’ve ever seen.
- The Doctor’s Mood Dial having permanent attack eyebrows is such a LOVELY detail.
- “Yeah, well, I get that it’s a cloaking device, but why keep it that shape? Why do you like it?” “Who said I like it?” “You kept it.” I love how Bill is trying to suss out JUST why The Doctor is the way that he is.
- The lighting and cinematography of this episode is GORGEOUS.
- “These are disappointing robots.” “That’s a very offensive remark.”
- GOD BLESS. Her shade face is amazing.
- Bill associates the smell of Rosemary with home. It’s all these little details that make her so precious to me already.
- “How would massacring hundreds of people make me happy, SMILEY FACE.”
- “I’m having this really childish impulse to blow it up.”
- What’s in the TARDIS movie collection? Or is there some sort of massive system that allows you to call up any movie that’s been made, past or future? WHAT IS IN HIS BROWSER HISTORY?
- “Is there a Scotland in space?”
- THIS MOMENT.
- I KNOW I’m going to hell but my first response to Bill finding the young boy was “OMG It’s Danny Pink’s little orphan boy.” WHAT HAPPENED TO HIM YOU GUYS? That dangling plot thread haunts me still.
- “But if I look purposeful, they’ll think I’ve got a plan. If they think I’ve got a plan, at least they won’t try to think of a plan themselves.”
- “Do you know why I always win at chess? Because I have a secret move. I kick over the board.” HOW TRUE.
- This is so real.
What did you think of “Smile”? Let us know in the comments!
*featured image source: BBC