Ah, I love that we’re back in Doctor Who land again for the next few months. I usually have a few weeks of ceaseless grinning because of it, which is particularly fitting for Series 10’s second episode, “Smile,” written by Frank Cottrell Boyce. Boyce wrote Series 8’s “In the Forest of the Night” which I really didn’t like, so I was hoping for better. Thankfully, “Smile” is a lot more up my alley (there’s an actual story, which is nice). It’s not amazing, but it is solid in a lot of ways, and also illustrates a trend with the Twelfth Doctor I hadn’t fully realized: he’s wrong a LOT.
“Smile” kept the Bill Potts train a-rolling. She’s truly a breath of fresh air; a fun and funny companion who is incredibly passionate about learning, gets giddy when visiting new places, and reacts–as the Doctor said in “The Pilot”–with a smile when she’s confused rather than with frustration. She’s incredibly insightful when it comes to the Doctor, too. Faster than either Amy Pond or Clara Oswald, Bill has picked up on what makes the Doctor the Doctor: that he goes around looking for problems to fix, bearing the brunt of the the universe’s issues. With (reportedly) only these 12 episodes, they’re certainly not wasting any time getting Bill up to speed, and it’s incredibly refreshing.
One of the things, however, that Bill hasn’t quite gotten yet is the ability to tell the Doctor he’s wrong; luckily, ol’ Numby 12 figures things out himself, because he’s incredibly wrong in this episode. After arriving on a futuristic planet, the Doctor and Bill quickly suss out that the seemingly idyllic welcome center/community is hiding a sinister truth. No humans are around, and the robots seem overly interested in whether someone is smiling or not. Naturally, the Doctor finds all the fertilizer-bones of the unhappy people and decides the compound and all the robots in it will need to be destroyed before the colonists ship arrives.
But this is where the Doctor is so spectacularly wrong. He jumps to the conclusion that the colonists ship hasn’t arrived yet, when in actuality the colonists are in suspended animation in the bowels of the original survey/set-up ship. But why would he just assume that ship would be empty, and why wouldn’t he therefore assume that the robots might be worth investigating further? They aren’t evil; they’re robots. Yet he thinks destroying the facility is the only recourse he has, and he would have done had Bill not met the boy looking for his (unfortunately super-dead) mother.
The Doctor always needs the companion to help him from making bad or rash decisions, but it seems to me that the Twelfth Doctor tends to make these leaps of logic a lot more than his predecessors. Most of the time, the Doctor will have a wild theory that ends up being true, but Capaldi’s Doctor isn’t. Examples of this include “Robot of Sherwood” where he is convinced Robin Hood is a myth and the person in front of him must be an evil robot, but isn’t; in “Listen,” he’s convinced there’s something evil in the dark and quiet but it’s just his imagination; “The Caretaker” has him being pretty prejudice against Danny Pink because he’s a soldier; and he’s so wrong in “Death in Heaven” that he even proclaimed himself to be an idiot.
You could write off those Series 8 examples as him being not only a new Doctor, but a physically NEW Time Lord, having his regenerations restored, but it happened the following season as well. Pretty much everything he did regarding Clara, and especially Me, was not only wrong in terms of his relationships with them, but also wrong on a macro level, leading to possible destruction of the universe. It’s strange to think about, given his initial iciness, but the Twelfth Doctor seems to be the most fervently compassionate Doctor of the new era. He makes snap decisions based on impulse and only later rethinks them and finds the correct answer. Even if Capaldi himself is the oldest actor in the role since William Hartnell, he certainly has the most angsty teen response to things.
Ultimately, “Smile” is a just-fine episode heightened by some gorgeous direction by Lawrence Gough and continued fabulous chemistry between Capaldi and Pearl Mackie. I’m liking the low-key sparseness of the episodes, and Capaldi seems so much lighter/breezier so far this year and I really love it. I’m hoping that continues, at least while it can. Next week’s ep, I’m very excited about: Sarah Dollard (writer of “Face the Raven”) is back with a script called “Thin Ice” about a giant monster living under the frozen Thames during the Regency period. In. To. It.
Let me know your thoughts on “Smile,” and Series 10 thus far, in the comments below!
Kyle Anderson is the Associate Editor and the resident Whovian for Nerdist. Follow him on Twitter!