May. 8th, 2017

Smile

May. 8th, 2017 08:57 pm
purplecat: Texture by simpleandclean (LiveJournal) (Doctor Who)
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.

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