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08 May 2017 @ 08:57 pm
I was really enjoying Smile right up until the final 10 minutes or so. I actually enjoyed the Doctor and Bill exploring the empty colony and figuring out the threat more than I had the previous weeks' depicition of them initially getting to know each other.

Like In the Forest of the Night this had bags of atmosphere, but it was less overt than Forest with its explicit evocation of fairy tales and I thought, gorgeous as Forest was, that Smile benefitted from a more realist tone and less intense evocation of place.

Where In the Forest of the Night fell apart for me, and for most viewers, I think, was in its explanation for the trees. In my review of The Pilot I touched on the difficulty of pinpointing where a pseudo-scientific explanation in a show like Doctor Who fails to convince. After all, in a show about someone who travels through time and space in a police box, what is so inherently ridiculous about the concept of magic space trees? any yet for a large segment of the audience they clearly pushed suspension of disbelief too far.

I don't think the resolution of Smile works any better than In the Forest of the Night but I think it is easier to figure out what went wrong with it. At the level of the in show explanation, we have been told that the problem here is that the Emojibots have learned that they can eliminate unhappiness by eliminating the people who are unhappy - the solution we are presented with emphasises the concept of equal rights for robots which does not really seem to follow from the problem. To compound the issue, only the previous week the show has emphasised the potential amorality of mind-wipes. So here we have the Doctor first mind-wipe the robots as a solution to the immediate problem but then assert that they are sentient creatures deserving of respect. On a thematic level, in a story which has been about the impossibility of permanent happiness and the effect of grief a solution which not only side-lines but downplays the colonists grief at the end seems jarringly out of place. Smile doesn't feel as insulting to basic intelligence as In the Forest of the Night did, but its ending still feels incredibly clumsy to me, particularly in contrast to the story that had preceded it.

I think Frank Cotterell-Boyce is excellent at invoking a sense of place, creating atmosphere and introducing interesting themes. However I think he's really bad at then bringing all these elements together into resolutions that make sense. In Smile the problem is that the resolution is almost actively working against both his themes and the problem he has presented. I'm still not quite sure why the resolution to In the Forest of the Night doesn't work beyond that the appearance of Maeve's lost sister comes from nowhere and follows from nothing previously established about the magic space trees, but I suspect part of the problem is that Cotterell-Boyce doesn't really seem to have grasped the essence of the scientific concepts he is attempting to use, so that they appear as set dressing on a story that is magic realist without the guts to actually admit as such. I think part of the problem with Smile is that he's equating any solution related to Artificial Intelligence with any problem related to Artificial Intelligence without realising that AI is far from some monolithic thing within which any solution solves any problem.

This entry was originally posted at http://purplecat.dreamwidth.org/445491.html.
parrot_knightparrot_knight on May 8th, 2017 08:34 pm (UTC)
That's a good point about the inconsistency of the mind-wiping. It can be defended, but it still feels that the last quarter of the episode is rather weak. I wonder how many of this series have abandoned two-part versions in their development? I think Thin Ice does at least.
louisedennis: Doctor Wholouisedennis on May 9th, 2017 04:58 pm (UTC)
This doesn't feel like a lack of time problem to me to be honest, more like Cotterell-Boyce was more interested in the problem than in the solution.
daniel_saunders: Leekleydaniel_saunders on May 8th, 2017 08:58 pm (UTC)
I also liked it until the end, although I think for different reasons, but I can't remember what they were. I think there has been a pervasive problem so far this season with rushed endings and faulty plot logic. I felt Smile trod similar ground to The Happiness Patrol, but I preferred the earlier story and wasn't sure if that was because I saw it first or because it was genuinely better.
louisedennis: Doctor Wholouisedennis on May 9th, 2017 05:00 pm (UTC)
I think The Happiness Patrol is superior in plot terms (obviously Smile looks miles better) since everything it does, pretty much, revolves around the ideas it is playing with and the theme of enforced happiness where Smile is, I think, more interested in the idea of Artificial Intelligence gone wrong and the thoughts about grief and its role are secondary to that.
daniel_saunders: Leekleydaniel_saunders on May 9th, 2017 05:22 pm (UTC)
I think you're right. The problem is AI gone wrong is a familiar idea in new Who especially in stories that Steven Moffat has been involved with, either as writer or showrunner.