This article contains lots of spoilers.
Smile, folks – it’s that time of the week again where we take tonight’s episode of Doctor Who and shake it repeatedly until all of its hidden secrets fall out of its pockets – as well as callbacks and generally interesting observations. And if you think we’ve missed something, let us know in the comments below!
Happiness Will Prevail
If you’re reading this, you’re likely to fit into one of two categories – those of you who love and understand emojis and those of you (myself included) who have resigned themselves to a state of vague bafflement at their use. Small icons used to represent both moods and a wide range of objects from hamburgers to, erm, poo, emojis are a Japanese invention. Originally created for Japanese mobile internet provider NTT DoCoMo in the late 1990s, emojis found worldwide success when they were picked up by Apple for inclusion on its iPhone, and other devices have since followed suit. There is even a feature film, The Emoji Movie, due out in cinemas this summer – with none other than Sir Patrick Stewart voicing the aforementioned poo.
The core threat in this story – be happy or die – is the same as that of 1988 Sylvester McCoy tale The Happiness Patrol, in which the Doctor and Ace face the dictatorial Helen A (intended as a satire of then-prime minister Margaret Thatcher), who has made it illegal to be unhappy, punishable by death. Coincidentally, the seventh Doctor and Ace shared a strong teacher-student relationship – she would usually refer to him as ‘Professor’, though unlike the current Doctor this wasn’t in any official capacity – and one of Ace’s catchphrases was ‘Wicked!’, an exclamation we hear from Bill this week.
There are echoes of Rose Tyler’s time in the TARDIS with Bill’s first couple of journeys, as she travels to a futuristic setting followed the past. This sampling of the show’s different styles has become something of a standard since the series returned in 2005 – both Rose and Clara followed this pattern, while Amy, Donna and Martha all went to the past then the future – but the first time this happened was with fourth Doctor companion Leela; following her debut in The Face Of Evil she travelled to the future in The Robots Of Death and then to Victorian London in The Talons Of Weng-Chiang.
In Rose’s debut story, she queried the ninth Doctor’s northern accent, as Bill does here, only to be told “lots of planets have a north!”. The twelfth Doctor’s response that there are many Scotlands in space, all striving for independence, is in part a callback to Amy Pond’s second story, 2010’s The Beast Below. The story sees the Doctor encounter one of the other spaceships that left the Earth during its evacuation, the Starship UK, and it is explained that Scotland refused to be a part of that ship, instead building their own. Bill struggling with the idea that the Earth has been evacuated mirrors Rose’s experiences with the destruction of the Earth in The End Of The World.
Another group of post-evacuation colonists were encountered by the fourth Doctor, Sarah and Harry in 1975’s The Ark In Space. As in Smile, most of the humans were held in suspended animation aboard the space station Nerva Beacon, and on that occasion the Doctor praised humanity’s positive spirit and resourcefulness, calling them ‘indomitable’. As in The Ark In Space, the first person due to wake from cryogenic sleep was a Medtech.
The Beast Below also features a concept that returns in this story – robot servants who turn deadly; on that occasion it was the sinister Smilers. Of course, this is neither a new idea for science fiction or for Doctor Who; robot servants who turn nasty previously featured in 2007’s Voyage Of The Damned and, most memorably, in 1977’s The Robots Of Death. On that occasion the robots turned on their human masters following reprogramming by Taren Capel, who believed that the robots were being subjugated and needed to overthrow humanity. This notion of slavery also reared its head in 2006 and 2008 during David Tennant’s encounters with the Ood, another servant race with a propensity for murder. There’s probably a lesson here somewhere…
Another familiar sci-fi concept used in Smile is that of nanoscopic robots. These previously appeared in Doctor Who in Steven Moffat’s 2005 story The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances, another occasion on which the robots – known as nanogenes in that story – were trying to help but ended up doing more harm than good due to a fundamental misunderstanding of humanity. Nanogenes reappeared in 2012 opener Asylum Of The Daleks, where they were used by the Daleks to convert humans into Dalek slaves.
Finally, the idea of the colonists being used as compost may be familiar to some long-term fans; 1976’s The Seeds Of Doom saw the fourth Doctor and Sarah go up against Harrison Chase, an eccentric botanist with a human-sized composting machine that he used to dispatch anyone who stood in his way. The Doctor and Sarah both find themselves in the (very slow) crusher during the story, but in the end it is Chase himself who becomes fertiliser.
Bigger On The Inside
Bill points out the pointlessness of the chair in the TARDIS console room not being located anywhere near the console itself. Chairs aren’t a new feature of the console room by any stretch – the original 1963 console room featured one, and indeed the script for the first episode described the room as having ‘panels of instruments and the paradox of comfortable chairs.’ But at no point in the show’s history has the chair been placed so that the TARDIS can be piloted sitting down. A possible explanation for this comes in 2008’s Journey’s End, in which the tenth Doctor explains to a horde of assembled friends and companions that the TARDIS was always designed to have six pilots working in tandem; presumably the single chair is provided should any of the six fancy a breather.
The Doctor once again explains that he stole his TARDIS, a fundamental piece of Doctor Who lore that was first introduced in 1969’s The War Games. However, when the Doctor had the opportunity to speak to his TARDIS in 2011’s The Doctor’s Wife, it was suggested that actually it was the other way round – the TARDIS stole him in order to see the universe. It’s also in that story that the Doctor confronts the TARDIS for never taking him where he wants to be – itself a bit of a throwback, as the TARDIS steadily became much more reliable from the mid-80s onwards – and the TARDIS replies that she always takes him where he needs to be. The Doctor’s line in Smile suggests that travel these days is far more of a knowing compromise.
The Doctor’s sales pitch of access to ‘everything that ever happened or ever will’ is a direct lift of a line from The Eleventh Hour, Steven Moffat’s first episode as showrunner, in which the eleventh Doctor asks new companion Amy Pond: “All of time and space, everything that ever happened or ever will… Where do you want to start?”
Bill pulls the Doctor up on not fixing the TARDIS’ chameleon circuit; though he’s never been in much of a rush to make the repair, the Doctor has tried on a few occasions – first in 1981’s Logopolis, when his attempt to fix it using block transfer computation was scuppered by the Master, and then in 1984’s Attack Of The Cybermen, where he temporarily succeeds and it becomes an organ, a wardrobe and a gate before reverting to its usual form. In 2005’s Boom Town the ninth Doctor admits to Jack, Mickey and Rose that he likes the police box ‘disguise’.
The Doctor leaves Bill in the TARDIS to keep her out of danger, something he’s had a slight habit of doing when times are tough since 2005; in that year’s The Parting Of The Ways he sent Rose back to Earth in the TARDIS to keep her safe (and fulfil his promise to Rose’s mum Jackie that he wouldn’t let anything happen to her). He pulls a similar trick on Clara in 2013’s The Time Of The Doctor to try and keep her out of the siege of Trenzalore.
Bill suggests that the Doctor and the TARDIS are the helpline the universe calls for assistance. Though not often true in a literal sense, the TARDIS telephone has been used to get the Doctor’s help on multiple occasions, such as by Winston Churchill in Victory Of The Daleks or Riggsy in 2015’s Face The Raven. Also, the fourth Doctor gave Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart a space-time telegraph machine that he could use to contact the Doctor in emergencies, as shown in Terror Of The Zygons.
Two Pints Of Lager And A Packet Of Algae Cubes
Smiling her way through the pre-credits sequence is Mina Anwar, an actress who rose to prominence in the underrated Ben Elton/Rowan Atkinson sitcom The Thin Blue Line from 1995 to 1996, but who is perhaps best known to Doctor Who fans as Gita Chandra, mother of regular character Rani in CBBC spinoff series The Sarah Jane Adventures, which saw the much-missed Elisabeth Sladen reprise her role as investigative reporter Sarah Jane Smith, former companion to the third and fourth Doctors.
Also appearing in this episode is Ralf Little, an actor best known for his starring roles in popular sitcoms The Royle Family and Two Pints Of Lager And A Packet Of Crisps, in which he played the boyfriend of Sheridan Smith – who herself went on to play the eighth Doctor’s companion Lucie Miller in four series of Big Finish audio productions. He previously voiced Guy Fawkes in the canonical Doctor Who Adventure Games story The Gunpowder Plot.
It’s reiterated again that the Doctor has two hearts. This aspect of Time Lord physiology was first revealed in 1970’s Spearhead From Space and has remained a constant in the series ever since. The Doctor can survive with only one heart working, though; this was demonstrated in both The Shakespeare Code and The Power Of Three. Perhaps it’s as Time Lady companion Romana described it in 1979’s Destiny Of The Daleks: ‘One for casual, one for best.’
The twelfth Doctor does like his stories about special animals – the way the tale of a magic haddock factors into the story is reminiscent of the bird who chipped away at a mountain in Heaven Sent. However, while that tale was written by the Brothers Grimm, this appears to be an original piece.
The Doctor and Bill mention Aberdeen and Wiltshire as potential destinations; Wiltshire was home to Devil’s End, the setting for 1971 Jon Pertwee story The Daemons, and also Stonehenge, the real monument that played an important role in 2010’s The Pandorica Opens/The Big Bang. Aberdeen, meanwhile, is where the fourth Doctor left Sarah Jane Smith at the end of 1976’s The Hand Of Fear, believing it was South Croydon.
The Doctor warns Bill to stay away from his browser history; it’s impossible to say what niche fetish the Doctor is hiding – nasty Nimon? Mucky Myrka? Filthy Foamasi? – but he gave the same order to Osgood in 2015’s The Zygon Inversion…
The Doctor discusses chess, a game which was invented by the Time Lords according to the eleventh Doctor in Nightmare In Silver, an episode in which he played the game against the Cyber-Planner to win control of his mind. Other notable chess games in Doctor Who include the seventh Doctor’s matches with ancient evil Fenric and the fourth Doctor’s multiple games against robotic companion K-9.
While an unusual sight now, a cliffhanger leading into the next standalone episode was a regular feature of Doctor Who when it launched in 1963; the final episode of one story would very often lead straight into the next. The practice was largely abandoned by the end of the Patrick Troughton era, though it would pop up again on occasion, such as in 1984’s Frontios or 2011’s Closing Time.
Bill refers to Mr Fantastic, aka Reed Richards, the Marvel Comics character who first appeared in The Fantastic Four #1 in November 1961 (predating Doctor Who by two years!) and has the ability to stretch his body and limbs. Though Mr Fantastic and the Doctor have never met, in 1989’s Death’s Head #8 the titular metallic mercenary crossed paths with the seventh Doctor, who left him atop the Baxter Building – home to the Fantastic Four.
When Bill asks about going to the toilet, the Doctor tells her “There’s probably an app for that”. “There’s an app for that” was a phrase coined by Apple in 2009 for use in advertising relating to the iOS App Store; in 2010 the phrase became a registered trademark.
The yellow smiley face is ubiquitous in modern popular culture, but the icon as we know it is credited to American graphic artist Harvey Ross Ball, who was hired in 1963 by a life assurance company to raise the morale of its employees. It went on to appear on everything from T-shirts to illegal drugs – the face has been associated with both ecstacy and LSD – but many geeks will be most familiar with its use in Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ seminal 1986 comic Watchmen. It appears in the first issue as a badge worn by The Comedian, who is attacked, leaving a line of blood across the smiley’s left eye. This image appeared on the cover of the first issue and has been associated with the franchise ever since.
Though United Earth isn’t a term that has been associated with Doctor Who before, it will be familiar to hardcore fans of Star Trek; it’s the name of the planetary state formed when the governments of the world decide to put aside their differences and form one ruling body. This process is scheduled to begin at some point after we make first contact with the Vulcans in 2063, so that’s something to look forward to.
The Fleishman (sic) cold fusion reactor is named after Martin Fleischmann, a British chemist who spent much of his career researching cold fusion – a theoretical nuclear reaction which would occur at room temperature, thus providing a source of energy that didn’t require heating to extreme levels – with Stanley Pons. He passed away in 2012.
The montage Bill settles down to watch isn’t dissimilar to the opening credits for US sitcom The Big Bang Theory. Notably, it features both the aforementioned Stonehenge and artist Vincent van Gogh, who the eleventh Doctor and Amy Pond met in 2010’s Vincent And The Doctor.
A typical first step for tech support staff everywhere, “Have you tried turning it off and on again?” was the catchphrase of Moss and Roy, the protagonists in Graham Linehan’s Channel 4 sitcom The IT Crowd.
And finally, a challenge – the craft the colonists arrived in is marked ‘Erehwon 190484’. Obviously ‘erehwon’ is ‘nowhere’ backwards, but can any of you explain the significance of 19/04/84? It seems unlikely to be a coincidence, but all our own research brings up is that it was the birth date of cricketer Christopher Pearce and the day that Australia adopted Advance Australia Fair as its national anthem… But it seems unlikely to be a reference to either of those.
It was a Thursday, if that helps.
Pete is the co-presenter of The Mostly Made-Up Doctor Who Episode Guide, a comedy podcast chronicling the Doctor’s adventures that is almost as well-researched as this article. You can find it on iTunes or at http://www.mostlymadeupdw.co.uk.