After being somewhat under-enthused by last week’s opening, I have to say I greatly enjoyed ‘Smile’.
I loved the way it looked: so pristine and futuristic, and yet strangely off-putting. I thought the little white robots (or interfaces) were creepy as hell, and not just when they had their rage face on. Both their big grin and surprised emoji faces were most disconcerting too. Narratively it was great the way the stakes suddenly rose, with thousands of colonists (okay, represented by half a dozen people) thrown into the mix; while the treating all species with equal respect and wrapping up with an amusing peace deal is just so perfectly DOCTOR WHO it sent a huge grin soaring into my cheekbones. As for The Doctor himself, well, the interplay between him and Bill – and for most of the length of the episode it was just the two of them – was absolutely lovely. P-Cap and P-Mac are a wonderful pairing.
It could be that the very scenario of landing in a strange futuristic city and having scary stuff swiftly happen is so much in my sweet spot that I was always going to find it hard to resist. Throw in an amusing script, excellent direction and fantastic design, then I pretty much loved ‘Smile’.
I actually rewatched the Sylvester McCoy story ‘The Happiness Patrol’ recently. That, of course, is also set on a planet where people have to be happy all the time, or else…. Watching that for the first time since the original broadcast, it struck me as a stagey piece of agitprop which – watched with 2017 eyes – suffered from some distinctly ropey performances and a budget obviously not high enough to leave the BBC’s studios. An anti-Thatcher satire, it’s actually really unsubtle and quite a sour piece of family entertainment. I know though that some will compare ‘Smile’ unfavourably to it, because it doesn’t so obviously have the big political message. Yet the optimism of tonight wins for me, and I know which of the two I’d rather watch again tomorrow.
Strangely, I’ve seen more than one commentator say that this introduction of Bill is Moffatt trying the old tried and trusted RTD companion introduction triptych of story set in modern day, story set in the past and story set in the future. But surely Amy’s introduction was ‘The Eleventh Hour’ (present), ‘The Beast Below’ (future), ‘Victory of the Daleks’ (past); while Clara’s (proper) introduction was ‘The Bells of Saint John’ (present), ‘The Rings of Akhaten’ (future) and ‘Cold War’ (past). This is the way it’s always done, and really, if you’re introducing new people to show – both characters and viewers – it’s a damn fine system.
I look forward to my Victorian adventure next week!