Saturday, 22 April 2017

Car park in the sky

It's pretty much the template for a new companion on new Doctor Who: Their introductory episode takes place in present-day Earth, the second goes to the far future - generally a human colony post-Earth's destruction - and the third returns to Earth and goes back in time, introducing the companion and any new viewers to the general format.

It also seems to be as much of a template for that second, space-set episode to be a bit of a confusing mess, so "Smile" is a pleasant surprise to the point of almost being a format-breaker.

"Smile" by Frank Cottrell-Boyce, directed by Lawrence Gough. Spoilers after the cut.

One thing it certainly isn't is confusing, at least not to anyone who's watched the new series since the start, because "creatures created to help humans are killing them because their programming is too literal" is a recurring theme, in fact the episode's real downside is that this means even by the teaser it was pretty clear that this was going to be the resolution: The nanobots were designed to keep humans happy, so they eliminated unhappiness by eliminating anyone feeling it (the fact that they were nanobots made "The Empty Child"/"The Doctor Dances" the most obvious comparison.)

Visually it was a bit dull as well - I've never been to the Millennium Centre in Cardiff but I can recognise its corridors well enough, it appears on Doctor Who so often, and this time around there was a distinct multi-storey car park look to much of the utopia, which may explain why people weren't smiling as much as expected. And the design was all too white - which is ironic, because it struck me that in the original series all the colonists would have been white by default, and it's nice that, although they weren't seen much for inevitable, death-related reasons, the family whose grief kicked everything off weren't, and until Ralf Little and the rest of the colonists turned up all the advance party were Asian.

And apart from the production design the episode wasn't boring - maybe it says a lot about the last few series that that seems like a major plus rather than the least you should expect, but there we are, I enjoyed the episode, largely down to the continuing chemistry between Peter Capaldi and Pearl Mackie. The latter already feels like a bedded-in companion, and her continuing to ask the obvious questions nobody usually thinks to ask is a welcome trait. Quite a lot of ancient Egyptian imagery and Bill looking at a bust of Nefertiti - foreshadowing, will they be meeting her later in the series? Of course it's still a Moffat series so I wouldn't entirely discount it turning out that Bill is Nefertiti. Still good stuff so far this year, taking a break looks to have been a good thing.

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