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Doctor Who: Have You Tried Turning It Off and On Again?

The Doctor and Bill faced off against emoji robots in "Smile"

Kaitlin Thomas

The Doctor (Peter Capaldi) has a long and complicated relationship with humanity on Doctor Who. He has saved the human race from certain death more times than even he can probably recall at this point in the show's epic run and the humans he loves so much have clearly rubbed off on the two-hearted Time Lord over time. But the Doctor may have reached peak humanity in "Smile," when he saved the day by essentially turning something off and on again.

Now, it's entirely possible -- and even probable -- that this isn't the first time the Doctor has solved a problem by basically hitting the reset button (please don't ask me to remember everything that's ever happened on this show, my brain can only retain so much before it also resets), but the TARDIS also has internet and so I refuse to rule out the possibility that maybe the Doctor just now got around to bingeing The IT Crowd and was inspired by Roy's familiar mantra. It certainly wouldn't surprise me and it definitely wouldn't upset me.

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But robots are also nothing new in the world of Doctor Who, and the tiny microbots and emoji interfaces in "Smile" were an attempt to update the familiar trope of self-aware robots seemingly revolting against their masters for a new generation, one that increasingly relies on ever-expanding technologies to function. Was it silly? Well, they were emotion-identifying robots with emoji faces, so yes. But the storyline also gave us Capaldi smiling from ear to ear in an attempt to trick the bots into believing he was happy, and honestly, that sight alone was worth sitting through an hour that I'm pretty sure was the result of some writer's 9-year-old only communicating with them via emoji.

Capaldi's Doctor has often been depicted as curmudgeonly -- and it has suited him and the show quite well, especially in the wake of Matt Smith's rather spastic Doctor -- but the lightness that made last week's season premiere so bright carried over here, and it's great to see Capaldi have an opportunity to play around and have a bit more fun with Pearl Mackie's companion Bill. They're a truly delightful pairing, with Bill's presence in the TARDIS and in the Doctor's life a breath of fresh air.


Peter Capaldi and Pearl Mackie, Doctor Who


The Doctor loves how optimistic humans are -- which is such a Doctor thing to say -- and Bill continues to be amazed by the number of possibilities now before her, which makes her the perfect traveling partner. She told the Doctor she wanted to go to the future to see if it was happy -- which should have been our first clue that we were headed for another close call for the human race in an emotionally-fueled hour about how grief is not the enemy but a natural part of existence -- and that's simple and beautiful in a way that Doctor Who hasn't been in a while.

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Bill brings out the Doctor's more playful side, makes him want to break the promise he made to stay on Earth and protect whatever is in the mysterious vault that Nardole (Matt Lucas) keeps reminding him about. She makes him want to explore everything that's ever happened or ever will happen and this allows him to embrace his more childish side, the part of him that's been locked away of late. Like Bill, he's once again looking at the whole of existence with a sense of wonderment. It's infectious and lends to the series a renewed energy.

Plus, Bill continues to ask questions that we honestly should have been asking all along. Like, why are the seats in the TARDIS so far from the controls? This woman is brilliant. Please let her stay forever.

Doctor Who airs Saturdays at 9/8c on BBC America.