Doctor Who Review – “Smile”

Something like Attack of the Killer Emojis sounds like cheap, independent sci-fi horror flick from the 1960s, akin to Attack of the Killer Tomatoes or The Wasp Woman. Does it work for the modern Doctor Who?

Cast and Crew

Peter Capaldi as The Doctor
Pearl Mackie as Bill
Matt Lucas as Nardole

Directed by Lawrence Gough
Written by Frank Correll Boyce

Original Airdate

This episode originally aired on April 22, 2017.


The Doctor takes Bill to one of the first human colonies, and they run into robots who communicate via emoji that hold all people to an extremely high standard.

High Point

Bill is shaping up to be a great companion for Capaldi’s Doctor. She has a role to play in the story, not because she’s of any great cosmic importance, but because she lives with a different brand of curiosity than the Doctor does, opens different doors, and experiences different things.

Low Point

Capaldi is almost 60, and it’s starting to show in his running scenes. I saw hints of it last week, but it’s exaggerated this week. Running through uniform territory, such as a field of wheat, makes things look like they are moving much more slowly than they actually are.

The Review

While the plot and resolution was original, and continuing last week’s theme that dangers don’t need to be evil, we’ve had more than one instance where a Doctor’s second episode with a new companion is to travel to what should be a future human utopia only to discover a very dark and dangerous underbelly. I give it 3 out of 6.

The effects are great. The environments were clearly composite shots, just because facilities of that size have to be CGI when talking BBC budgets, but it’s not clear where the physical set and the CGI set meet. Making the Vardi tiny also helps by eliminating the need for details. This was written with the budget and TV capabilities in mind, and done well in that regard. I give it 6 out of 6.

The story structure is there. Teases for the larger plot that echo the Third Doctor’s tenure, plausible character choices driving the action, genuine tension, and twists on some cliches that keep things feeling fresh. I give it 5 out of 6.

The acting is solid. Capaldi is one of my favorite Doctors, and may end up being my all time favorite at the end of his tenure. Pearl Mackie just inhabits Bill to the degree that I wonder if they even had a clear picture of who the companion would be before she was cast and Mackie herself was written into the character from the outset. I give it 6 out of 6.

The emotional response builds. At first, the echoes of the structures of previous seasons inhibited my ability to get into it, but when Bill figured out why the TARDIS hasn’t been (permanently) repaired, and when the Doctor figured why his standard “Plan A” wouldn’t work, they had me. I give it 4 out of 6.

The production is great. It’s been a long time since Doctor Who suffered on the production end, which is probably the biggest difference between the classic series and the new one. (I’d say the investment in this end was decent in the Davies years, but really stepped up in the Moffat years. That may or may not be a coincidence.) I give it 6 out of 6.

Overall, it’s perfectly entertaining, but probably won’t stay with me in the long term. I give it 5 out of 6.

In total, Smile receives 35 out of 42.

5 replies on “Doctor Who Review – “Smile””

  1. Good to hear the reference back to the Neil Gaiman episode “The Doctor’s Wife” with “where you want to go and where you need to be”.

    • Yep. They did location shooting at Valencia’s City of Arts and Sciences.

      Did anyone else catch the spaceship’s name? Nice touch.

      I liked the ep, even if the solution to the problem was a little too simple (amusingly simple, but still….)

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