Warning: Spoilers Ahead
The revived series of Doctor Who has a rather predictable pattern when it comes to new companions. You get your introductory episode, and then you get either a jaunt to the past to meet a famous figure, or a trip to the future to see how humanity is doing after you’re gone. “Smile” is the latter, and as far as that subset of episodes go, it’s pretty great.
I would argue that “Smile” is Bill’s proper introduction. All companions need an adventure to run off on their own, and The Doctor does that thing where he tells them they need to stay out of trouble, and they go, “oh look, I’m brilliant at trouble,” and we all learn a lesson about the importance of believing in ourselves. It’s pretty much the point of the whole bloody series.
To do that, “Smile” ditches Nardole as a companion for most of the episode, which sucks because Matt Lucas might honestly be the most amazing companion since 2005. Here, he’s written off for only a single scene where he goes on to make tea for The Doctor, who is trying to sneak an adventure in when he is supposed to be guarding whatever is in the basement of the university where he is teaching. Although the way Nardole acts has me wondering if he isn’t throwing shades of Vislor Turlough and operating under a hidden agenda. We’ll see.
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Bill and The Doctor head off to the first planetary colony Earth ever establishes, bringing with it the inevitable comparisons to both “New Earth” and “Gridlock.” There we find robots who rely on buttons that indicate mood and who communicate only through emojis. You know how sometimes you run into people online who end every sentence in "LOL," no matter how toxic the statement? Imagine those comments as flesh-eating nanobots.
If I have any qualm with Series 10 so far, it’s its penchant for being derivative. “The Pilot” was a completely recycled plot line, and “Smile” is little more than the Vashta Narada meet the Handbots (with just a shade of “The Ark in Space” thrown in). There is some interesting commentary on the nature of grief and communication going on, but ultimately the ideas feel like leftovers.
Pearl Mackie as Bill saves it, though. She is shaping up as an amazing companion, and thank Rassilon is not, apparently, a Moffat mystery girl. It’s been so long since we just had a proper traveling companion and not some plot device in a skirt that I almost forgot what it was like. Bill remains plucky but capable and, most important, observant. She serves the function of being the viewer’s POV, but also manages to be her own character that is capable of pointing out the flaws in the world. She is the 21st-century version of Polly Wright, and that is a very good thing to be.
“Smile” is probably not going down as anyone’s favorite episode. It has pretentions of “The Girl Who Waited” and some of the classic Tom Baker serials, but it doesn’t really deliver on the payoff. Still, it’s a solid character piece for the new companion, and does some narrative lifting for this new life of Twelve-in-exile. The sheer brightness of the episode, and its ability to unnerve within that environment, is amazing. So far, Series 10 is winning pretty hard.