DOCTOR WHO – SEASON 10, EPISODE 02
WRITTEN BY FRANK COTTRELL-BOYCE
DIRECTED BY LAWRENCE GOUGH
My brother lives in Valencia and once had an apartment that overlooked the Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias where this episode is filmed. The Arts and Sciences, as its known, is an incredible structure that I have visited many times when seeing my brother and his family. The last time I went there was about a week before this episode was filmed so I missed my chance to meet the Doctor and I’m still not really over it. Anyway, this episode was the one I was most exicited for this season for those reasons and more, and last week’s great opener just had me ready for more from the Doctor and, new fan favourite, Bill.
The Doctor and Bill discuss the logistics of using the TARDIS and Bill points out a few design flaws. I’ll just say now that if a big part of Bill’s character is to point out weird things about Doctor Who, then I’m here for it. The Doctor tells Bill that you don’t steer the TARDIS you negotiate with it. In the end she’ll take you where you need to be.
There’s a knock at the door and Nardole comes in demanding to know why the TARDIS has been moved and reminds the Doctor of his oath to not go off-world. Curiouser and curiouser. The Doctor assures Nardole that he’s not going off-world and asks for a cup of tea. When Nardole leaves the Doctor asks Bill, ‘Past or future?’
Bill says future and the Doctor asks why. Bill answers, “Because I want to see if it’s happy.”
We cut to a women in a suit with a smiley face on it. She stands in a corn field next to a huge futuristic structure. She is told not to come in just yet, but she says she’s hungry and gets her a little robot with a big smiley face to round up a swarm of tiny black insects/robots/nanobots called Vardis who have been pollinating the wheat. The woman on the communicator tells her they’re having problems with the Vardis and she should stay away, but she ignores her. When she gets to the structure the speaker grabs her and tells her to keep smiling. The speaker tells her that their mum is dead and she needs to keep smiling. The smiley face on the woman’s suit turns to a shocked emoji. The speaker begins listing off people who have died, still with a strained smile on her face. The emoji on the suit is now sad as the woman walks away, towards the robot. The robot, it’s face now a sad emoji grabs her and the Vardi from the field arrive and turn her into a pile of bones. The robot turns on the speakers and the Vardis goes after her too.
The Doctor and Bill have arrived in the cornfield. They walk towards the futuristic structure, which the Doctor calls one of the first Earth settlements, a place where they claimed to crack the secret of human happiness. Bill asks the Doctor about his ‘oath’ and he gives her a vague answer that basically amounts to something happened and a promise was made and that promise means the Doctor is Earth-bound and guarding the vault. They see a swarm of Vardi and we see they’re being watched by robots with suspicious emojis for faces. The face shifts and Bill and the Doctor start having problems with their ears. Somehow they’ve been fitted with a communication device which the Doctor describes as being like they’re bodies have downloaded upgrades for their ears. They walk around and realise that there is no one else there. A door opens and one of the emoji robots walks out. The Doctor explains that it controls the Vardi and Bill asks if it can speak. The Doctor says it will communicate in whichever aspect of human language has survived into the far future. And the robot replies with an emoji of a smiley face.
“It speaks emoji,” exclaims Bill, and I can’t decide yet if this is good satire or just an excuse for very cute robots. Either way I’m in.
The robot gives them badges like the one worn on the suit of the unfortunate woman at the start. When the Doctor picks his up it shows a grumpy face, however the expression face is never on the side of the badge that you’re looking at. They surmise that you can never see your own mood because that might affect your mood in a feedback loop. The Doctor sticks his on his chest and it jumps around to his back. They follow the robot who takes them to a dining room and feeds them blue jelly cubes. The Doctor asks about the location of the other colonists and the robot’s face turns suspicious. The Doctor wonders why the whole place is ready but no humans are there and Bill asks why he has two portions of jelly cube and she only has one (“So there’s food sexism in the future?”). The Doctor tells her they think he’s two people because of the heartbeats (something Bill struggles with) and he tells her that the robots came first to build the place and get it ready for the humans who have yet to arrive. They go exploring and while they’re in the gardens the Doctor sees a necklace on the floor. In the vegetable garden the Doctor sees one of the robots pollinating a plant and asks Bill if he sounded convincing when he told her the settlers weren’t there yet. She says yes. He asks her if he convinced himself and she looks at his emoji badge and sees a doubting face. He tells her there should be at least a skeleton crew there to help the set up. He asks her what the source could be more the calcium rich mineral fertilizer they’ve seen sprayed on the plants and where are all the people. They open up the machine pumping out the fertilizer and see its filled with human bones, so I guess there is a skeleton crew there after all – badum-tish.
The Doctor picks up a skull and sees how it lost all it’s skin. He tells Bill that this is the set up team and they try and leave the garden, only to be stopped by a robot with a confused face that matches their badges. They scarper past the robot whose face now has skulls for eyes. The Doctor and Bill find themselves in a corridor with robots blocking each end. The Doctor tells her to smile, theorising that they hadn’t been attacked until they became confused. Bill smiles and her badge changes. The Doctor says that the robots were designed to make people happy but something went wrong. He smiles as well and they approach the robots, complimenting them and trying to keep plastered smiles on. They get past the robots and run away only for one to grab Bill one they’re outside. The Doctor sonics it and they escape, pursued by the Vardi.
They make it back to the TARDIS. The Doctor tells Bill to wait in the TARDIS and that he’ll be back. She asks him where he’s going and he tells her he’s going to blow up the city. Bill wants to leave but the Doctor tells her that the colonists are still on their way and will be arriving into an abattoir when they get there.
The Doctor walks through the city and opens the necklace he found earlier. A hologram of a young boy appears. A robot approaches and the Doctor tells it he’s happy and the robot gives him a big smiley face in return. He makes his way deeper into the city and tries out his ear communicator only to hear Bill ask him why he’s Scottish as she walks up behind him. She tells him that she’s not going to leave him because he doesn’t leave other people. He tells her to look at the wall and tells the Vardi make up the city. They are the walls, the stairs, the ceiling, etc.
They go looking for the settlers original spaceship and find it unlocked. They head inside and we see the emoji robots outside all becoming alert, their eyes becoming exclamation points. The Doctor and Bill find a map which the Doctor tell Bill she will use to guide him to the engine room.
Bill directs him to the engine room and a voice fills the air telling them that error one systems have been initiated. Outside, the emoji robots’ eyes become skulls. Bill takes a picture of the map and follows the Doctor, who incidentally had already memorised the map and was leaving Bill there to keep her out of trouble.
The Doctor does some techno babble on the engine core and the robots head to the spaceship. Bill finds a room full on antiques and pulls back a velvet curtain. We don’t see what she sees but we see her emoji badge turn to open mouthed shock. She walks into the room and we see an old woman with white hair lying on a dais. On her head is an emoji badge with a cross for a mouth.
An emoji robot gets to the spaceship door, and we see the spaceship is called the Erehwon. The robot unlocks the door.
Bill opens the door on the dais and sees images from all of human history beginning in antiquity and gradually showing fighting, war, destruction. She asks the Doctor why people came to settle on this planet but he can’t hear her as he tampers with the engine core. She asks him if the people coming there were the last of humankind and he tells her that Earth was evacuated but there were a number of ships that left. The engine begins freaking out and Bill heads over to help but bumps into a boy (the one from the hologram necklace) who asks if they’re there yet.
As the Doctor tries to keep the engine from exploding too quickly see an emoji robot watching him.It approaches the Doctor and he hits it with a wrench. It falls from the catwalk, but grabs the Doctor’s leg as it does. The Doctor fights it off and it falls. He jams the wrench in the engine and makes a run for it, bumping into Bill and the kid.
The kid asks where everybody is and we cut to rows upon rows of sleeping pods opening. They run back to the engine and stop it from going into meltdown. The kid goes wandering and ends up outside of the spaceship.
The Doctor and Bill try to think of a way to stop the robots but the Doctor struggles to understand why it started in the first place. Bill takes him to the dead woman on the dais. They look in the book and see that the dead woman died of natural causes. The Doctor realises that the grief from her death infected the others. The Vardi were meant to maintain happiness and satisfaction and when faced with the death of one of the settlers, didn’t know how to react so tried to eradicate grief by removing the grieving. The Doctor shows Bill the necklace and tells her where he found it. The grief virus is guaranteed to happen again as soon as the colonists wake up and their friends and family aren’t there to greet them.
What is there to greet them is the Doctor with a lecture. He tells the colonists who have woken up what has happened with the Vardi and how they have revolted. The colonists react with reasoned compassion and understanding…oh wait, no, they go and get guns.
The colonists and the Doctor and Bill arrive in a room with two of the robots and the kid. Bill tries to talk everyone down and the robots grab the kid. Bill tries to get the kid to smile but fails and one of the colonists shoots a robot. The city begins to break apart, turning into swarms of the Vardi. The Doctor realises that if the Vardi are trying to protect themselves it means they’re alive. The Doctor pulls out some parts of the downed robot and sonics it.
From the cornfield we see a flash of light engulf the city. The light fades and we see the city intact as the Doctor narrates a story about a magic haddock who grants wishes but in that annoying monkey’s paw way where you get exactly what you wished for but in a pedantic way that ends up being worse.
Everyone wakes up back in the room and robots are back to being friendly and docile. The Doctor explains, in a roundabout way, that he turned them on and off again, resetting their programming. He explains that now the Vardis are the indigenous lifeform of the planet and the humans are their guests.
The Doctor tells them he will help to negotiate peace and that, even though the robots have killed a lot of them, they’re going to have to learn to live together.
The TARDIS flies through space back towards Earth. Bill asks if the Doctor’s job is to fly around sorting things out. He says no (and yet 50 years of television would disagree). They land and he tells her they have arrived the exact moment they left.
They open the doors and find themselves outside, in London, on the frozen Thames, and facing an elephant.
So this is Doctor Who in the Black Mirror age. Obviously it’s not as cutting or bleak as a Black Mirror but social media language as the enemy seems like it could be something that Charlie Brooker might concoct.
As I said at the top, a big part of my enjoyment of this episode was seeing the Arts and Sciences in all its glory. It’s an amazing futuristic place that’s been referenced in a few sci-fi properties over the years such as The Guardians of the Galaxy. It lends itself to a Utopian paradise and I just wish I had been there to see the filming.
The episode itself was great though the central concept probably didn’t have the legs for a full episode. It was an improvement over Frank Cottrell Boyce’s episode from last season which had the same problem while also having a weaker central concept.
Bill continues to impress. She definitely falls into that great companion category of being cool, brave, and not in love with the Doctor. She feels like there’s a lot of Amy and Rose in there rather than Martha and Clara. Its good to have her comment constantly on who the Doctor is and how silly some of his stuff is. With this being Capaldi’s final year its good that he gets to define the character before he leaves and Bill being there to ask him what he thinks his role in the universe is makes this organic and fun.
As with last week’s episode which carried the weight of introducing Bill, these first episodes of the season have to tell good, complete stories while establishing Bill and introducing the Doctor to her. It fits with the trend that we get an episode in the far future followed closely by an episode in the past. After that we’ll be off to the races and exposition can take a back seat.
Body Count: 2 on screen, but the whole set up team got fertilized too.
Best Line: “I’m having this really childish impulse to blow it up” – The Doctor
What’s in the vault? The Master or the Mistress, or both. The ads at the end of episode one showed John Simm back as the Master so maybe they’ve got him locked away at the behest of Gallifrey or the Mistress. Come back next week for more wild speculation.
Predictions for next week: Regency-era derring-doo, period costumes and cultural clashes, y’know, Doctor Who in the past and all the good stuff that comes with that.
Featured Image: BBC