Thursday, June 6, 2013

"The Smugglers"

Aired Sept 10 – Oct 1, 1966

4 Episodes

Story 28

Written by Brian Hayles

Directed by Julia Smith


The Doctor is shocked to discover Ben and Polly aboard the TARDIS. He explains that the ship can travel through time and space and that his lack of control means it's unlikely he'll be able to return them to their era for some time, but they both refuse to believe him. The TARDIS arrives on the coast of 17th century Cornwall where pirates led by Captain Samuel Pike are searching for a hidden treasure while a smuggling ring is operating masterminded by the local Squire.

Pike and his men abduct the Doctor after he learns the meaning to a cryptic rhyme that will lead the pirates to the treasure. The Doctor is forced to decipher the clues for Pike, and the treasure is found. However, the militia soon arrives to stop Pike and his pirates  while Ben and Polly try to help the Doctor.

During the ensuing battle, Pike and his men are either caught or killed, while the Doctor and his friends make their way back to the TARDIS and continue
 their travels through time and space.


I've mentioned before about how there's a popular theory among fans that there wasn't a bad historical story, but for me at least, The Smugglers comes closest so far to disproving that theory.

The main thing that I feel lets this story down is that it's simply a straight-forward adventure story. The other historical stories took advantage of the Doctor Who concept, using the setting to illustrate the temptations and dangers of time travel (The Aztecs, The Massacre of St. Bartholomew's Eve) or to subvert our conceptions of historical events through humour (The Romans, The Myth Makers, The Gunfighters) or to actually educate viewers about a specific event, person or period (Marco Polo, The Reign of Terror, The Crusade).  

The Smugglers doesn't do any of those things. It is simply an adventure story set in the past, involving pirates and smugglers. It tells that story reasonably well, and it does have a few exciting moments, but it doesn't do anything that another program set during the period couldn't do, and possibly do better.

The performances are all excellent however, and a special mention has to go to Michael Craze and Anneke Wills, who build upon their debut. Ben and Polly are the most consistently written companions since Ian and Barbara, whereas Steven, Vicki and Dodo largely had to shade in their characters themselves. Polly is depicted as kind of a coward here, which is great and wonderfully endearing and doesn't detract from her ingenuity. Ben is stalwart, as all Hartnell male companions are, but with a scrappy smart-aleck attitude that feels fresh. I honestly wasn't expecting to like them this much.

As for Hartnell himself, he is far from the gravely ill presence he's usually described as. I wouldn't call this the best showcase for the First Doctor, but it's far from his worst. There's no reason to suspect he was on his last legs at all.

The Smugglers may be an odd choice to start off the fourth season due to how ordinary it is, but the story that follows would be among the most momentous in the history of the entire series, and would ensure the survival of the series and change its very nature forever.

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