Synopsis 10×2: The Doctor and Bill find themselves on an empty planet. Not a human in sight. But there are helpful, emoji-speaking robots who are here to help. That is, depending on the definition your help.
“Sometimes,” I replied, thinking of “Idiots’ Lantern,” “Rise of the Cybermen,” “The Bells of St. John,” or any other episode pitting humans against technology. Ironically enough, “Smile” was the Doctor Who version of Black Mirror. There’s enough camp and heart to make the terrifying prospect of killer robots family friendly.
We learn a little more about what the Doctor has been up to since the erasure of Clara. Turns out he’s promised to not go off-world, vowing to protect a vault. Nardole’s guest appearance tells us all of this. I hope he’ll come back for more!
On a separate planet, there’s a woman in a spacesuit fertilizing some crops with her robot companion. All seems well; all seems happy, one could say. That is until she returns to the main complex. Another space-suited woman comes rushing out, urging her to smile and explains that everyone is dead. And as the absurdity of the situation and the grief creeps over them both, the emoji-bot changed faces. From confused to sad, to dead. Out nowhere comes a swarm to devour both women, leaving only bones behind.
This planet is where the Tardis take our heroes. The Doctor describes traveling in the Tardis as going “between where you want to go and where you need to be.” Perfectly accurate.
So of course the Doctor and Bill wind up on a planet with robots eager to please, but no one to look to. The emoji-bots greet The Doctor and Bill, excited and ready to serve them. They’re like robot versions of The Ood, servants who need a master. Except these guys, The Vardy, speak in cartoon faces. The Vardy are actually tiny swarms of robots that make up the entirety of the building. Their interface is the emoji-bot, and their purpose is to make sure that humans are happy. That’s all robots do, right?
Since emoji is their language, it’s only fair that Bill and the Doctor learn to communicate. This is facilitated by a small yellow button that sits on their backs. It reflects their moods: happy, sad, battle-eyebrows, and so forth. Throughout the episode, Bill and the Doctor search the planet for signs of life. They find full planted fields ready for harvest, and bones as the food source for the plants. How did they get there?
There’s a few cockamamie ideas the Doctor has, all of which are meant to distract Bill (and the audience). There’s the idea that there are colonists coming, like students before the first day of uni. The word colonists is used very specifically, I should think, considering the British relationship with the colonists and colonies.
There’s the idea that the Vardy are going to kill everyone and that the building must be destroyed. This Doctor is certainly destroy first, ask later. There’s the idea that being sad will turn the Vardy into insane killing machines. But which idea is true?
With Bill’s help (and some sheer luck), the Doctor makes an important discovery. Bill finds the body of a dead woman aboard the ship, along with images of her life. She was a scientist, one of the people come to found this colony. “Colony” is used because, in the process of creating a new Earth, they have also taken over the home of the Vardy. But it’s okay, the Vardy only want to make people happy. Right?
The Colonists, one by one begin to wake up, thanks to the Doctor attempting to blow the whole thing up. Whoops, they’re not coming on ships. They’ve been sleeping in pods, like we’ve seen in so much sci-fi before. They begin to wake up, and discover that their love ones are dead, killed by the robots meant to serve them. The Doctor attempts to make a grand speech, but for once he fails.
In true human fashion, the crew grabs guns and prepare to defend the dead. But the Doctor figures it all out. The Vardy aren’t just robots. They’re self-aware beings. Upon this realization, the Doctor decides to… treat them like computers? He turns them off and on again.
This is the Black Mirror aspect: the robots meant to serve saw death and grief as something to be eliminated, like a dirty plate or plant virus. So they did, one by one, which only grew and snowballed until one day everyone was dead.
By resetting them, the Doctor made it so they could recalibrate what it means to be happy and what it means to serve. It also means that they think the humans have come to live in peace and harmony. Which is not what the humans expected as the colonists. Colonists, historically ravage and rectify what they see as savage. Genocide, slavery, and war is often what happens when colonists come to town. But here, the Doctor has given the Vardy the upper hand. The humans must coexists with the Vardy equally, lest the Vardy become murderous once more.
So there you are, man and robot cohabitating side by side. Seems like a Time Lord worthy ending. Also seems like the beginning to New New New New New Earth. On their travels back to their time, just as Nardole has begun to boil the tea, they find themselves again, not where they expect to be, but where they’re meant to. Tune in next week for a Frozen Thames Festival!
- Bill always asking (and answering) the right questions. Like, “Why can’t you call the police?” Oh, it’s a police box. The Doctor is the police, the person you turn to when you need help from a higher authority.
- The Doctor trying to protect Bill from bad things is kind of adorable. He leaves her in the Tardis, and leaves her again to find his way to the engine room. All in the name of her safety. It’s almost dad-like of him, which might be just what he needs.
- There’s a rolling screen of images telling the story of why the colonists have come to Earth. It’s very Beast Below.
- No one going to tell the humans that their crops are now fertilized with the bones of their loved ones? No one?