“A magic haddock,” the Doctor mentiond three times during Smile, the second episode of Series 10. He waits until the final five minutes to let Bill and the wayward colonists in on the reference.
A scared and unhappy fisherman, upon catching a wish-granting fish, impulsively seeks relief from his fear by taking shortcuts. He wishes for his child to return home from war and he wishes for money. In a response both literal and cruel, the haddock grants him these wishes by sending his son home in a casket, adorned with 10 cold coins as recompense from the miliary. Devastated, the fisherman uses his final wish to undo his first two. He learns in a most terrible way that trusting his limited perspective and taking shortcuts in an attempt to relieve his fear doesn’t work. Instead, he faces the consequences of his arrogance.
Why does the Doctor keep muttering on about this?
The colonists designed their robots to build them utopia, instead of working out the kinks of humanity themselves. In their new world, they expected the robots to magically do away with human aggression, violence, and greed, saving them from the mess they made on Earth. Like the fisherman, they chose magical shortcuts to avoid pain and loss. And, like the fisherman, they got exactly what they wished for … a world in which pain and loss are punishable by death. Their shortcuts proved as devastating to them as the fisherman’s. Like all humans, in their attempt to avoid their fears, they ultimately created them.
Of course, this is Doctor Who, in which a magical solution to any problem, (usually in the form of the Doctor), is always available. Though, in a similar vein to Boyce’s first DW script (In the Forest of the Night), the Doctor did very little to save the colonists from themselves; his high-tech shenanigans failed to solve the problem. To save the world, all In The Forest of the Night required from the Doctor was to stay out of the way and let the trees to do their thing. In Smile, a simple flip of the on/off switch took care of the problem, at least momentarily.
In both of Boyce stories, humanity is left with a far greater dilemma after the Doctor leaves. How do we fix the kinks of humanity with wisdom and forethought, finding solutions that are collective and connective, rather than violent, isolationist, hierarchical and destructive?
Not that this story has any relevance to today’s political landscape. Frank Cotrell Boyce just writes fairy tales, right?