“Between here and my office, before the kettle boils…is everything that ever happened or ever will. Make your choice. Past or future?”
This week our 2000 year old alien the Doctor takes Bill to the future. Why? To see if it’s happy. In this future however, we soon find out, you need to smile to survive…
Sometime in the future, humans have had to leave earth for another planet and colonise again. This time with the help of robots they built called the Vardi. On the surface, to the Doctor and Bill, it seems the emoji speaking robots are simply that. Helpers to the human race, an advance party setting up in anticipation of humans arriving. It’s not long after the pair receive emotion reading badges from one Vardi and they notice the lack of people that they begin to question the whole setup, to drastic effect. The Doctor and Bill go from one stressful situation to another while always having to smile, which is no easy feat when you’re running for your life.
There is something endearing yet oddly off-putting about a small robot who speaks in the form of beeps and emoticons. The strange familiarity of the form of communication makes for a rather entertaining robot, especially when you put a bemused Doctor and surprised Bill in front of it. This episode cemented what I said last week about Bill’s very human, and very relatable characterisation. She is completely fascinated by the alien world but still asks questions which we honestly haven’t heard before on Doctor Who, and it’s not just because of the situation the characters are in. This brings us to one of my favourite throwaway lines of the episode: the Doctor mentions he has two hearts and the conversation that follows, short but sweet, says a lot about Bill’s delightfully odd yet logical thought process. You can see Bill considering the Doctor’s words as she listens to his excited spiel about the ingenuity of the Vardi.
“Yeah, hearts though…why two?”
“Well, why one?”
“Does that mean you’ve got really high blood pressure?”
It is hard to tell just how serious the Doctor’s response is to the question, but by the time you consider it the pair have already moved on to somewhere new.
Once the Doctor realises just how dangerous the Vardi are, the concept of happiness as an enforced staple becomes much more sinister. The knowledge that happiness equals life helps the Doctor and Bill to survive the Vardi, but there is only so much they can do once the rest of the colony wakes up. As it turns out the Vardi had never encountered grief, and when one of the colony members died of natural causes the grief spread through the workers. The alien emotion was something the Vardi wanted to eradicate, so they did so in the only way they knew how.
Despite the roundedness of this concept, there is something rather contrived, and maybe almost ridiculous about the use of a fake smile to protect you from the emotion reading robots. But as the Doctor soon observes, “Do you know what it means when something chases you very slowly? It means there’s a reason you don’t have to run.” The Vardi are only the effect, the initial cause are the ‘flesh disintegrating’ flying micro-bots which do the dirty work. Thus the Vardi become much less sinister and closer to a manmade gimmick used as a nod to old earth culture. Not so scary now, right? Well, only if you’re still smiling!
As a whole this episode was really pleasing. Plenty of comedy, the time-old doomed future of the human race, a lot of the Doctor coming to the wrong conclusions and backtracking, and an appropriate amount of running. As well as this, questions have been answered in terms of the vault the Doctor and Nardol have been charged with guarding. This has left additional questions for us to ponder until next week. A;; that said the plot falls short of the nail biting fear and/or excitement of last week’s ‘Pilot’, and that of the normal Doctor Who episode. I have to say though that I am liking Bill as a companion more and more. She manages to bring out a much bubblier side to Capaldi’s Doctor. He seems to feed off her strange questions and odd sense of humour to create a very amusing dynamic. Thank you to the Doctor Who team for the spot-on casting with Pearl Mackie as Bill, she really is bringing a lot of life to the show!
So until next week…don’t forget to smile!
Plot: 2.5/4 – Character: 3/3 – Monster (‘Misunderstood Alien’) of the Week: 2/3*
*editor: don’t try and understand this advanced scoring system – it’s from the future