I still think Season 10 is the best jumping on point we’ve had since the first season of the Who reboot. If you haven’t started watching this season, you should and bring your friends. Smile is the second episode of the season. It’s a proper adventure. By proper, I mean planned and not running from your watery crush/stalker. Our location is an Earth colony in the future. It’s a beautiful city expanded from the remains of a spaceship; however, the only residents of the colony are robots collectively called the Vardy. They resemble a swarm of insects and their interfaces are cute, child-sized robots that communicate using emojis. They are programmed to keep the colonists happy. Unfortunately, no one can stay happy all the time. Especially after the death of someone you’re close too.
The Vardy have evolved their original programming. It’s not just about keeping the colonists happy by making the best environment for them. It’s also about keeping them mentally happy. Grief leads to unhappiness and unhappiness goes against their main directive. Anyone experiencing these ‘negative’ emotions must be destroyed. It’s not out of malice but to protect the population. How do the killer robots know what you’re feeling? They give you a badge that shows your emotions using emoji faces. The badges are their way of determining ‘sickness’.
Us versus the robots is a common plot in pop culture and the episode could’ve left it there. It could’ve ended with humanity triumphing. This is Doctor Who so they take it a step further. The Doctor recognizes that the Vardy has grown sentient. He refuses to allow the colonists, who have awakened from stasis, to destroy them. As an emerging species, they have as much right to live as the colonists. The Doctor chooses instead to reset the Vardy, wiping their memories. He then serves as a negotiator between them and the humans. This is essential Doctor. He doesn’t run from the problem even though Bill asks him too. He runs toward it and tries his best to help. “Never be cruel and never be cowardly and if you ever are, always make amends,” he told Clara at the end of last season. The Doctor proves this to Bill through his actions.
Episode 3 picks up exactly where Smile ended with an accidental trip to 1814 London. “Okay, I have questions,” Bill says before pointing out that she’s Black and slavery is still legal. I’m thankful they addressed this instead of sweeping it under the ‘we don’t see race’ rug. The Doctor even points out that history is whitewashed. Later in the episode, Bill is accosted by the racist villain leading to the Doctor punching him. Glad that his ability to stay calm in heated situations (which is questionable but I’ll let him have it) doesn’t extend to not sticking up for his companion.
They attend a Frost Fair held on the frozen Thames river. Side note: I have a thing for costumes and both the Doctor and Bill look lovely. Below the ice, a giant, toothy monster waits. Obviously, this isn’t going to be a friendly, vegetarian type. The Doctor surprisingly lets Bill enjoy herself before jumping into the mystery of the lights. Falling into that teacher/student relationship again, he asks Bill what she thinks the lights are rather than explaining it. A group of street urchins straight out of Dickens novel, except with more diversity, are luring unsuspecting marks onto the ice. The marks follow the lights, the ice breaks, they fall and then become monster food.
Bill and the Doctor have their first real fight. There’s a lack of artifice to Bill. She doesn’t hide her emotions behind a smile or misdirects attention to something else. She is open with her feelings and her reactions. She is an optimist which is why the Doctor refusing to save the boy who fell into the ice is almost a betrayal. Her professor doesn’t let people die. He doesn’t calmly admit to not knowing how many deaths he’s seen or even worse, how many he’s killed. Suddenly she doesn’t understand him or his world. Their discussion reminiscent of the one the War Doctor, 10 and 11 had in Day of the Doctor. The War Doctor too looked at them as if they were callous beings completely foreign to him. It takes comforting a child to make Bill realize that he isn’t a stranger and does care. Sometimes you have to move on to focus on what needs to be done next and save as many as you can.
They don’t fight for long. After all, there is the giant sea monster to deal with and children to save. They pretend to be bait, in suits that look cool but not exactly reliable, to get a look at the monster. It’s big and it’s hungry and they have to find out how it got there. That leads them to the racist villain who’s been feeding people to it. One of the most interesting parts of the episode is the Doctor leaving the fate of the monster up to Bill. Ultimately, she can’t kill the monster. That’s not who she is. The episode ends on a happy note- the monster free and the street urchins saved and upgraded to a life of luxury. Check out new episodes of Doctor Who every Saturday on BBC America at 9 pm EST. I’ll be live tweeting the episodes over at @BlackGirlGeeks.