Bill (Pearl Mackie) and the Doctor (Peter Capaldi) are in the TARDIS; she asks him some pertinent questions about it. How does the Doctor steer the TARDIS, why are the seats so far away from the control panel, how much did it cost him? As viewers of the show know, he doesn’t actually steer the TARDIS, she takes him where he needs to go. I hadn’t thought about the seats, and apparently the Doctor hadn’t either. The Doctor mischievously confides to Bill that he didn’t buy the TARDIS, he stole it. She slyly asks what if she stole it from him. Bill answers her own question; she doesn’t know how to operate it. He didn’t know how to either when he first stole it replies the Doctor. They hear a knock at the door, it is Nardole (Matt Lucas). He asks the Doctor why the TARDIS has moved. He reminds the Doctor of his oath and that he promised not to go off-world unless it is an emergency. The Doctor reminds him he is a 2,000 year old man and sometimes he doesn’t feel like taking the stairs. He tells Nardole to put on a kettle and they’ll be with him shortly. Bill thinks they aren’t going anywhere but to his office to have tea, but she is mistaken. The Doctor tells her they can go anywhere, anytime and be back before the kettle blows. Bill picks the future because she wants to know if it is happy.
A woman named Kezzia (Kiran L. Dadlani) is in a wheat field with an emoji robot. When she gets back to a futuristic looking city, her sister Goodthing (Nina Anwar) greets her with a strained smile and begs her to smile while she gives her some bad news. Everyone is dead. Kezzia thinks this joke is in poor taste, but when she realizes Goodthing is telling the truth she becomes sad and confused; the emojibot can see this and its expression changes with hers. Swarms of microbots called the Vardi descends and turn her into bones and dust. Goodthing can’t maintain her smile and the swarm gets her too.
Even after landing on this planet, Bill is still full of questions. Why a phone box? The Doctor responds that it was stuck. Bill’s follow up is why he kept it. He doesn’t have a good answer for that. She asks the Doctor about his oath to guard the vault. The Doctor gives her a vague answer about something happening in the past, he took an oath to stay on Earth and protect the vault. Bill and the audience still don’t know why he is guarding the vault, but I’m sure the answer is forthcoming. They leave the TARDIS to look around. They see the Vardi flying around and the Doctor explains what they are. Bill doesn’t think they look like proper robots. The Doctor admonishes her for speaking about them that way. It is something a ‘wet brain’ would say. Bill is satisfied when she sees the emojibot. The Doctor explains that it is the interface for the Vardi. The emojibot speaks in emoji. (This is what happens to human language, ugh.)
“Is there going to be food sexism even in the future?”— Bill Potts
Bill wonders where everyone is. The emojibot gives them blank badges, which are mood indictors. The person can’t see his or her own mood but everyone else can. When they try to put the mood indictors on, they jump to their backs. The emojibot takes them to a dining room where a block of gelatin looking food is on plates. Bill has one block; the Doctor has two. Bill: “Is there going to be food sexism even in the future?” The Doctor informs a shocked Bill he has two hearts, so the emojibot counted him as two people. Bill wonders if the Doctor has really high blood pressure. The gelatin is fish flavored; Bill thinks it is nice people aren’t eating living things in the future. She asks the Doctor why he doesn’t love this. The Doctor is pondering why no one is here. This situation reminds Bill of the University before the students show up; the whole place is waiting. The Doctor determines the robots were sent ahead to build the colony before the colonist arrived.
While out exploring, the Doctor finds a necklace with a locket with a little boy’s hologram in it. When they reach the nursery the Doctor tells Bill he thinks that a setup team had arrived to help set up the colony. The fertilizer they find is calcium based. The Doctor asks Bill what his mood indicator is showing. It isn’t happy. The Doctor shows her what the fertilizer is. It is the bones of the setup team. Bill is freaking out but the Doctor tells her they have to smile and act happy and get out of there. They put on an act for their emojibot hosts. The Vardi come out of the building but they are able to make it out of the city and back to the TARDIS. Bill is ready to go home but the Doctor is going to go back to blow up the city. She asks the Doctor isn’t there someone they could call, a helpline, the police. The Doctor orders Bill to stay in the TARDIS and to stay away from his browser history. Bill watches the Doctor run off back to danger and wonders why he is doing this. She reads the sign on the TARDIS door, ‘Advice and Assistance Obtainable Immediately’.
The Doctor is looking around when he hears something behind him. It is Bill and she knows why the Doctor came back to the city. “Because you are the helpline.” The Doctor shows Bill with help from his sonic screwdriver where the Vardi came from; the wall is the Vardi. The whole structure of the city is made of microbots. The Doctor tells her a story of how the Vikings would use their ships as the foundation of a new settlement until they had enough from raids to build out from their ships. The colonist would do the same thing with their spacecraft, so he and Bill look for the spacecraft that brought the setup team. They find it and enter. Bill is astonished and happy to be on a proper spaceship. The Doctor leaves Bill with the big map on the wall to guide him to the engine room. Their presence awakens the ship. The emojibots notice their presence on the ship too. Bill guides the Doctor to the engine room. The engine runs on fusion fuel and the Doctor is going to back it up to blow up the ship. An emojibot is heading towards the ship.
Bill figures out the Doctor didn’t really need her to give him directions to the engine room; he had already memorized the map. She leaves the map room and comes upon a dead woman stretched out on a table with a mood indicator on her head. The emojibot enters the ship. At the foot of the woman is a book that has the history of Earth. Future events in the book look terrifying. A tearful Bill wonders aloud if these colonists are the last remnants of the human race. Bill runs into a little boy (Kaizer Akhtar) who just woke up.
The Doctor has the fusion backed up. The emojibot attacks the Doctor on the platform to stop him. The Doctor is able to knock the emojibot from the platform. Bill is trying to communicate with the Doctor while he is tussling with the emojibot. He finally sees what is so urgent. The little boy named Praiseworthy asks where everyone is. They go to an area of the ship and see rows upon rows of pods. The Doctor realizes he can’t blow up the city, the colony ship isn’t on its way to the planet; it is already here. The pods contains the remaining members of the cryogenic sleeping human race.
Praiseworthy wonders into the city. Steadfast (Ralf Little) a Med Tech 1, is surprised to see the Doctor and Bill, he thought he would be one of the first ones awake. The Doctor pulls Bill aside and explains his theory on what has been happening. The elderly woman Bill found died from natural causes. This was the first death in the city. The other members of the setup team felt grief. The Vardi jobs were to maintain happiness. That meant making sure conditions were right for human habitation of the planet. Once they did their basic mission, they expanded the definition of happiness. They see grief as an enemy of happiness. They see grief as a plague. To eliminate the plague they killed all the humans. The Vardi did it all in a day. (The scene with Kezzia and Goodthing was the day the old woman died and the Vardi started killing all of the other members of the setup team because they were all grieving and not being happy.) The Doctor asks Bill what is the opposite of a massacre. In his experience, it is a lecture. He tries to explain to the colonist (who are awake now) what happened. He explains that to a robot, to eliminate unhappiness meant eliminating unhappy people. This explanation doesn’t appease the colonist and they grab their guns.
“They were your robots”— The Doctor
Two emojibots grab Praiseworthy who is looking for his mother. He is the little boy in the locket. He starts crying and Bill tries to comfort him and get him to smile. The colonist shoot the emojibots. This angers the Vardi and they attack the colonist. The Doctor sees the Vardi are experiencing rage and are fighting back. He realizes they are self-aware. To stop the fighting between the humans and the Vardi the doctor uses his sonic screwdriver to wipe the memories of the Vardi. After the fight the Doctor tells the colonist, “they were your robots”. They’ve forgotten about you. Since they build it, they are the original occupants of the city. If you want to live here, you will have to negotiate with them. The Doctor offers to negotiate for the Vardi and he suggests the colonist pay rent. The emojibot eyes flash the pound sign.
Back on the TARDIS, Bill is excited they helped jump-start a new civilization. Bill guesses that is why the Doctor left the TARDIS in the shape of a police box because he goes and helps people. The Doctor tells her he isn’t an intergalactic policeman. The Doctor tells Bill they have arrived back home. Back before the kettle blows. Bill looks outside; she is puzzled because it was not snowing when they left. They step outside and the Doctor determines they are standing on a frozen Thames river. An elephant appears out of the mist. Where and when are they?
Bill and the Doctor go on their first official trip together. The Doctors always does this with a new companion. It reminded me a lot of Eleven and Amy’s first official trip to space England in “The Beast Below”. I wonder if this group of colonist were refugees from the same incident that forced space England to evacuate our planet. The stories are similar except the English were guilty of torturing a peaceful space whale to keep them traveling through space, while the colonist aren’t guilty of doing anything except using the Vardi as a slave class, though this point is questionable. I think once the colonist pulled out their weapons the Doctor’s sympathies went to the Vardi. He hates guns.
The best part of this episode was the interactions between the Doctor and Bill. Peter Capaldi and Pearl Mackie have great chemistry together and it’s a pleasure to spend time in their company. Bill is so enthusiastic and fun that she reminds us how cool it would be to meet the Doctor and travel in his strange world. I like her questions, they are quite reasonable and it makes you wonder why no one else has asked them. I like that they have a nice teacher and pupil relationship. The Doctor in many ways is the ultimate professor. The story itself was all right. It falls apart a little bit once the colonist wake up and join the episode. The city and robots were interesting and it looked both familiar and alien. I think the story would have been better if they saved the colony and left before they had to interact with anyone else.