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“Smile”, you’ve been here before.

April 23, 2017

smile

One thing about posting up reviews of new Doctor Who adventures that I’ve discovered is that it’s important to defer crucial plot information until the second paragraph.  That way, when this piece shows up on Facebook, it won’t be accidentally telling anybody anything that they don’t wan’t to know yet.

So Smile was a nice, self-contained little adventure.  It’s written by acclaimed author Frank Cottrell Boyes, celebrated for his books for older children and younger young adults such as Millions and Framed.  In both these books, he displays his ability to allow a strange premise to unfold seemingly organically.

And yet I can’t help feeling with this episode that I’ve been here before.  I am of course extremely old.  I think of Smile as Ark in Space meets Robots of Death meets Happiness Patrol.  These are admirable stories (even Happiness Patrol), and each of them creates a peculiar world of their own.  Perhaps the basis of the fear was established a little too early in this story – even before the opening credits.  If you don’t smile enough then robots will arrange to have you reduced to a heap of dry bones.  This circumstance does not explain the plot or the context but it explains perhaps rather too much of the feel of the adventure right at the beginning.   Right at the beginning, you already know what to be afraid of and why you have to be afraid.  This is Boyce, see, establishing his big idea at the beginning, in a way that perhaps doesn’t work quite as well in Whodom.  The menace-management feels ill-timed somehow.

There is menace here, and also a sense of pathos attached to the near destruction of the entire human race.  The evacuation of earth is registered most effectively just by dwelling on the pristine qualities of the planet they (we) are about to settle on.  The very cleanness of the place makes us extrapolate the contamination of our home world.

There was a degree of continuity with “The Pilot” insofar as both episodes were about forms of programming fulfilling their own the destructive extremity of their own logic.   The Vardi are very elegant and certainly versatile but they have no more malice aforethought than the waterly intransigence that provided the peril last week.   Neither of these episodes did “evil”.

Now it’s about time we saw some evil.

Actually it’s about time we saw a few more people.   Even more than last week’s adventure, this story focused almost exclusively on Peter Capaldi and Pearl Mackie.  This is fine, and I’m enjoying them both, but I’m now ready to enjoy them both in a wider variety of social settings.

Next week’s nineteenth-century London setting seems promising in this respect.  Will the Paternoster Gang return?

Here’s what I thought of Pilot…

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2017/04/16/love-love-will-tear-us-apart-again-the-pilot-reviewed/

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