DOCTOR WHO: SMILE (S10E02)
Last week brought us the highly auspicious premiere of DOCTOR WHO Season/Series 10, The Pilot. That episode found Peter Capaldi approaching his Doctor role with more clarity… and greater comfort and focus…than ever before, and introduced us to new companion ‘Bill’ (Pearl Mackie).
And Bill was….a revelation. Mackie’s performance was far more introspective, nuanced, and intelligent than BBC’s funky, almost dismissive promos for the new Series/Season had suggested. In fact, one could fairly charge that BBC’s overall introduction of Bill was largely misleading, and in all likelihood damaged audience’s perception of what kind of person she would be, and what kind of dynamic she’d bring to proceedings.
Deliberate misdirect (for whatever reasons?) Or, just another of many cases case in which BBC has evidenced a dysfunctional understanding of the show they’ve been making for so many years? I’m banking on the later. Whichever the case, if one were to judge Bill on promo material alone, one would be doing Mackie, the series, and show runner Steven Moffat’s conception and execution of the character a significant disservice. The character is very interesting, filled with potential, charming, and simply good. Mackie is very, very layered and wise in her performance choices. I’ll be interesting to see where here career heads from here.
On the whole, The Pilot…just worked. Lawrence Gough’s direction was classy, crisp, and spot-on. The episode’s performances and chemistry were consistent, well considered, and refined, including the addition of Nardole (Matt Lucas).
When I first heard Nardole was joining the show in an extended capacity, I struggled to imagine how he would fit in. I was concerned that his presence would convolute the vibe around the Doctor. After all, Capaldi has, to date, often felt as if he is struggling to place his finger on the precise pulse of his iteration of the Doctor. Would adding two new companions, both highly eccentric, pollute the air around him, so to speak?
This was not the case at all. I’ve already exalted Mackie above, but the use of Nardole as a sometimes airy, but innately wise and always well-intentioned butler/assistant is both inspired and well-executed. His insertion brings the show a much-needed re-shaping of interpersonal dynamic, and does so with surprising effortlessness.
‘Effortlessness’ may be the most essential adjective when describing The Pilot. In nearly every regard, it felt like the most self-assured DOCTOR WHO we’ve gotten in quite a while. Clear in intent and destination. Invigorated. Impassioned. Immediately personal, but also epic in basic concept. It’s a joy.
Will this energy carry over to Smile, the second episode of Series/Season 10? On the plus side, Pilot director Gough returns to helm Smile - which feels like a potential win. On the flip side, however, is the notion that Smile is scripted by Frank Cottrell-Boyce - who brought us In the Forest of the Night back in S8.
Many people abhor that episode (personally, I don’t, but I acknowledge the oft-stated issues with it), so Smile may be seen by many as Cottrell-Boyce’s chance for redemption.
Come what may, footage from the episode…
…and promo images like these…
…suggest an adventure which is visually striking and strong on aesthetic, if nothing else.
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