So what happened?
In spite of being warned not to by Nardole, who scoots out of the TARDIS to put the kettle on, The Doctor doesn’t abide by his promise not to leave the Earth, and asks Bill where she’d like to go for her first trip as his companion; the past or the future. Choosing the latter, they end up in a human colony in the far future that’s populated with a combination of insect-like nanobots called The Vardy, and seemingly innocuous Emojibots which, unbeknown to them, we’ve already seen attack the initial settlers and reduce them to a pile of bones when they didn’t appear happy enough. To welcome them to the colony, one of the robots gives Twelve and Bill special mood badges that communicate how they’re feeling to The Vardy, but which they can’t actually see themselves.
Figuring that the ship with the full colony hasn’t arrived yet, The Doctor is nevertheless suspicious that there aren’t already other humans there to prepare for the arrival of everybody else. With this in mind, he and Bill inspect the greenhouses where the plants are growing and discover that the bots killed the early settlers when they became unhappy, and utilised their bones as fertiliser. Encouraging his newest companion to smile as they escape so that they won’t meet the same fate, Twelve tries to make her stay in the TARDIS for her own safety while he attempts to blow up the settlement, but she refuses to stay put and catches up with him. After discovering that the very walls of the place are made up of the deadly nanobots, they quickly seek out the ship that would have brought the first settlers so that The Doctor can overload the reactor and destroy everything. However, it’s while he’s in the process of doing this that Bill comes across a small boy, and they realise that this ship is the one housing the entire colony in hibernation pods.
After discovering the preserved body of a deceased settler, along with the ship’s log that was completed by those members of the crew who didn’t hibernate, the pair realise that The Vardy were tasked with helping to build the colony and maintain an optimum degree of happiness amongst the settlers. When one of the pilots died of natural causes, friends and relatives became grief-stricken and the bots perceived their sadness as a virus, killing those suffering from it and allowing it to spread further and faster in a ‘grief tsunami’ as more people were murdered.
As some of the colonists begin to wake up and are brought up to speed regarding what The Vardy have done, they determine to use violent means to combat them, a course of action that leads to the emojibots grabbing the small boy and The Vardy acting in self-defence when the colonists open fire. Realising that this means they’re growing sentient, when he can’t bring about a ceasefire between them, The Doctor resets the bots to their state of being before they started to see grief as a disease. Having been successful, he offers to negotiate peace between the humans and The Vardy so that they can learn from their mistakes and live in harmony, leaving him and Bill free to jump back in the TARDIS and return home before the kettle has boiled. When they open doors, however, they find themselves standing on the frozen Thames and staring down a trumpeting elephant.
Monster of the Week
Marieke: Oh look! Cute, white robots who go from smiley to evil! But wait, they are just mood monitoring instruments. Instead, tiny robots called The Vardy, which make up the entire building the Doctor and Bill enter, are the monster of this week. But more of an unintentional monster. Evolution, or robotic AI learning, makes sure everyone needs to stay happy or else. Basically humans are their own worst enemy again by wanting to make life easier. Evacuating Earth to a place where it is all smiles or death, sounds very human to me.
Danielle: The comparison has been made elsewhere, but there definitely was a Black Mirror style ‘when technology turns bad’ feel to this week’s threat. The symbiotic relationship between The Vardy and their eyes on the ground, the Emojibots, raises a whole truck load of questions about what happens if robots do become sentient, and the dangers of them interpreting all sorts of things, such as grief, differently because of their conflicting perspective. Makes you think, huh?
Marieke: The building being made out of nanobots, making them inescapable, gave us an uncomfortable atmosphere. Even before The Doctor found out what was actually going on, the empty, white, and modern building gave off a whole load of creepy vibes. It is a shame we actually knew pre-opening credits that there had already been people killed by the insect-like swarm. This did not lessen the impact of the bones being used as a fertiliser. That thought brings a shiver through Bill’s and the viewers’ spines. The robots and the environment reminded me a bit of the episode, ‘The Girl Who Waited’. It had a certain familiarity to it. Then again, futuristic, clean environments are often predominantly white. Apple would have had a field day on this world!
Danielle: I’d have to agree about the cold open giving too much away. It’s a shame really. Still, there is something really unnerving about being in a place that should be full of people. No wonder Twelve’s ‘spidey-senses’ were tingling. For some reason I can’t get over those mood badges automatically pinning themselves onto your back either. They’re like the ‘Kick Me!’ stickers you used have slapped on your back at school, but with altogether more dire consequences.
Marieke: This episode focused solely on what happened on the planet and why. The vault was mentioned, but we are none the wiser on the why and what of vault protecting. We do know from Nardole that The Doctor promised not to leave the Earth, emphasising again the importance of what they’re supposed to be protecting. The Doctor having to solve the mystery with Bill’s hekp felt like old school Who, with her bringing a fresh new perspective. In the meantime, she is still trying to figure out everything about The Doctor. The ending provided a new mystery with a snowy London and an elephant on the frozen Thames. We will see next week why the TARDIS took our new dynamic duo there.
Danielle: Will Twelve and Bill ever make it back home to have that cup of tea? How the hell hasn’t that elephant gone through the ice yet? Is The Doctor prepping Bill to fly the TARDIS? Answers on a postcard to the usual address!
Ralf Little, who played Steadfast here, the human settler who was awoken and wielded a gun, has recently graced our screens in guest roles on The A Word and Midsomer Murders. He’s perhaps best known for his long-term roles in BBC comedies The Royle Family and Two Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps.
Marieke: Although the feel of the episode was familiar, it was a nice introduction for Bill to the world of time travel and how the Doctor operates. Whilst the Doctor is protective of Bill, she was not having any of it, dealing with the situation in her own way. She does not whine or make a fuss, instead she finds her own answers and ways of helping. That, in itself, saw that she found the dead pilot and the book which provided all the answers. Her curiosity and The Doctor’s willingness to teach still work wonders. It feels more of a continuation of Eleven’s atmosphere than the last few dark and sluggish Twelve series. The emojis were a nice touch and I particularly liked the mood badges on the back. Imagine everyone being able to see what mood you are in all the time. Now that is a dystopia for you. Apple are probably already testing out this idea.
I was sad to see that Nardole’s role has been reduced to one scene. I really hoped it would be a tremendous trio instead of a dynamic duo, and it seems he will not be in next week’s episode either. I wonder if he acts as the Doctor’s conscience if he needs to, but in this episode he was more of an all-round janitor-slash-security guard. Anyway, after showing Bill the future, now it is time to see what the past is like. An elephant on the Thames and a scary monster underneath the ice is all we needed to keep the momentum going.
Danielle: Grief and memory loss are shaping up to become running themes in Series 10. Coming off the back of River’s doom-laden trip to the Library, and the way in which he parted company with Clara, it hardly seems surprising that they keep on popping up. Nevertheless, it does beg the question if these sombre notes amongst the joyousness of Bill’s tenure as companion so far are deliberately leading us somewhere. Who knows? Not even The Doctor yet, it seems. In spite of the creeping sense that the past is following him around, there really is no comparison between this Twelve, the Time Lord who quotes Bowie songs and declares himself handsome as he prances around, with the rather dour alien who used to tell everybody to shut up as soon as look at them. His affability seems to correlate directly with the length of his hair, and I don’t think there’s ever been such a defined sense of a Doctor’s evolution on the show as we’ve had during Capaldi’s run. Bill’s presence, and their inspired teacher/pupil relationship, only emphasises that. This episode may not have broken new ground, but I intend to enjoy every second of this duo while I still can!
- I cannot wait until we all get to eat yummy blue algae cubes… (M)
- Did anyone think of Asimo when they saw the robots? Just me? (M)
- Was the subtle reference to Bill only having one heart a means of debunking the theory that she has Time Lord DNA? (D)
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