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Sonic Feedback: Here's What You Thought of Smile!

Yes, I’m going to break cover here. Unlike much of fandom, it seems, I actually liked In the Forest of the Night, Frank Cottrell-Boyce’s debut contribution to Doctor Who: it was unusual, looked beautiful, and Peter Capaldi, especially, was superbly alien. Plus, it got me thinking Danny Pink was okay as a character – right until the end, with his “I was a soldier” speech. Oh really, Danny? You’ve never mentioned it before! I just could never understand why Clara would fall for someone so boring.
Still, back to Cottrell-Boyce, because I was pretty enthusiastic about him returning for Series 10. His vision for Who is unlike any one else’s, and in that brand new series, a fresh take was more than welcome.
So did it live up to my hype? Yes, actually. But what about you, our dear DWC readers? Following the episode’s transmission in April, we ran a poll for all of you to take part in, and now, we have the results!

As you can see, the majority of you wavered between thinking it was average (or 3/5, represented above as “*Neutral Face*”) and excellent (5/5, or “*Heart*”). In fact, an equal amount of people went for those two options, while 64 of you – a considerable 55% – went for our 4/5 option, “*Smiling Face*”.
Only 4 people voted below average, with no one giving it just 1/5 (a very eloquent “*Poop*”).
All in all, that’s something of a success, especially as the Fandom Collective wasn’t particularly looking forward to a second outing for Cottrell-Boyce. Out of his two serials so far, this is certainly his most popular. In our review, Peter Shaw said:

“And what a novelty it is to find the Doctor and his companion arriving in a 🌐 and forced to tease out and investigate the 🤔 without the Doctor knowing the backstory from the outset, or a 👨/🖥️ giving an info-dump to get them up-to-speed. In that way, it harked back to the slow-burn of a Harnell opening episode.

“While this change of pace could be a challenge for contemporary viewers, the episode makes up for lack of incident and 👨👩👨👩 by intriguing visuals and a genuine mystery to solve. And for me, the revelation at the end, that the Doctor had failed to recognise the Vardy as an emerging lifeform is the key to the 🤔.”

Interestingly, it’s the ending that I had a problem with. It just didn’t really work for me; it was all just over and was perhaps too “talky” to feel fulfilling. But that’s a minor quibble when the whole was so enjoyable. And I think that’s the key: Smile was a breath of fresh air! It was fun, with great visuals, and brimming with wonder. Bill actually thanked the Doctor for taking her on this adventure! Marvellous.

The DWC writersen masse, seemed to like it too. Richard Forbes said: “Truly a maniacal force of evil, this one is. Doctor Who hasn’t been as fun as this for quite some time. Dare I say it, it’s enough to put a smile on my face. Gah.” Simon Danes agreed: “Capaldi is giving his best performance since he became the Doctor. Pearl Mackie is superb: Bill is a real human being, beautifully played and totally convincing.” And James Baldock added: “With the help of some thoughtful dialogue, and a narrative sparsity that mirrors the vast, almost minimalist surroundings, the episode’s real joy is the chemistry between its two leads, an ostensibly chalk and cheese pairing that is showing real promise.”
To expand on that pie chart above, let’s take a look at just a few of your comments now. To kick us off, Bar reckoned:

“Hmm. Looked amazing, Bill and Doctor still working nicely IMO. Laughed at the Alec Guiness’ Star Wars scene – welcome humour amongst the Soylent Green undertone. loved the contrast between old ship and new city, lights flowing along the walls, the ‘erehwon ‘ ref, the exploration of the Doctor’s ‘police’ role.

“Would like to think that the minimalist appearence of any other cast was a reference to the relative unimportance of humans in the grand scheme of the universe, but doubt it. Without getting to know some persons – human or alien – there’s no real sense of threat. (I nearly wrote ‘vardy jeopardy’, but it sounded like Vorg). The negotiated solution was a satisfying moral conclusion, if rushed, but I hadn’t developed enough of an interest in either the human colonists or the new indigenous life-form to care. Which makes me a bad person and not companion material tonight!

“So, though I’ll rewatch and see what else to enjoy, it’s unlikely to become a favourite. But liking the hints of the long plot, and the sense of starting from the end and working towards what started it. Moff machinations.”

Whoosier812 drew parallels:

“Enjoyed the episode. Couldn’t help but thinking that this episode is what “The Happiness Patrol” could/should have been. Apparently, that story was 30 years too early.”

And Gruff underlined a big flaw in the episode:

“I was really enjoying it until it suddenly seemed to rush to the conclusion. Not sure if was down to the planning or during post production that they seemed to mess up the pace. The start was classic (multi-episode) pace, but the conclusion gave you no time to understand the new characters. Granted, in a panic, a headstrong character would probably just act like Ralf Little’s character, but it did seem a little too rushed. A shame as I was much happier with the idea behind and the introduction to this episode than I was with any of FCB’s previous effort. So eventually a 7 for what could nearly have been an 8.5 episode (i.e. 8 or maybe even 9).”

As ever, thank you to all our commenters and readers.
So that was Smile: continuing a very strong start to Series 10, with Pearl Mackie’s Bill particularly impressing with an interesting and joyful dynamic with the Twelfth Doctor. But would the rest of the season continue this optimistic beginning…?

Philip Bates

Editor and co-founder of the Doctor Who Companion. When he’s not watching television, reading books ‘n’ Marvel comics, listening to The Killers, and obsessing over script ideas, Philip Bates pretends to be a freelance writer. He enjoys collecting everything. Writer of The Black Archive: The Pandorica Opens/ The Big Bang, The Silver Archive: The Stone Tape, and 100 Objects of Doctor Who.

Sonic Feedback: Here's What You Thought of Smile!

by Philip Bates time to read: 4 min
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