Killer robots are nothing new in science fiction, but killer robots who murder with good intentions are rarer. And the latest confused murderous bots on Doctor Who aren’t from Black Mirror, but instead, straight from Isaac Asimov, only now, upgraded with emojis.
Spoilers ahead for Season 10, Episode 2 of Doctor Who: “Smile”
For faithful Doctor Who fans, “Smile” will feel a little like “Curse of the Black Spot,” meets “The Beast Below.” There’s a wayward human colony in the far future, confused A.I. programming, and the Doctor trying to sort it all out by lecturing everyone. This time, instead of a killer-clown robots, or a computer ghost haunting a pirate ship, tiny robots acting as intermediaries for even tinier swarm robots, decide to punish based on emojis. The Doctor gets one diss off about humanity being “the only species to speak emoji,” but in the end the robots are revealed to be just misunderstood. The emoji robots didn’t mean to kill people who weren’t happy; they just took their programming of wanting to protect people from bad feelings way too far. The swarms of tiny bee-like robots may have reminded contemporary viewers of Black Mirror, but the concept of the story is probably a lot older.
Knowingly or not, this script (written by Frank Cottrell-Boyce) apes a 1941 Isaac Asimov story called “Liar!” which is included in the author’s famous collection I, Robot. In Asimov’s stories, robots (mostly) don’t kill, owing to one of the famous laws: they can’t let a human being to be harmed. In “Liar,” one robot named Herbie starts reading minds and determines the feelings of human beings will come to harm if they learn the truth about things — and so, he lies like crazy to save their moods. This, of course, makes everything worse, since the robot didn’t anticipate the result of this outcome. It’s charming in the Asimov story and relatively charming in the new Doctor Who. True, if one thinks about the obvious absurdity about any of the emoji interface in this episode for one second, the entire thing falls apart, but Doctor Who has never been big on realism.
The latest episode still featured Bill asking a lot of questions about the Doctor and his purpose, and the audience was treated to a tidbit of what will surely be the season-long mystery: The Doctor took some kind of “oath” to protect that vault at the university. What’s in the vault? What was the oath? At this point, we literally have know idea, but it feels like the Time Lords will have something to do with it.
Watch the trailer for the next episode below:
Doctor Who airs on Saturdays on BBC and BBC America at 9 p.m. Eastern.