Friday, 26 April 2013

The Smugglers written by Brian Hayles and directed by Julia Smit

This story in a nutshell: Yo-Ho-Ho! And a bottle of rum! The Doctor gets mixed up with some bloodthirsty pirates and his new friends are adrift in history…

Hmm: Regardless of his health or imminent departure William Hartnell is on top throughout this adventure and seems to relish the chance to take one last journey into history and hobnob it with pirates! The chemistry between the three leads is quite addictive and had his health not prevented him continuing in the show I could have foreseen many adventures ahead for this trio. We can leave all of his heavy handed moralising for his finale (‘have you no emotion, sir?’) as this is our last chance to see Hartnell truly enjoying himself in the role, taking to the seas and employing his gentlemanly charm. This is a time when all and sundry weren’t allowed to traipse into the TARDIS and the Doctor is livid that Polly and Ben have used to Dodo’s key to get inside. With the Ship in flight it feels like a rerun of the first episode with the Doctor taking a couple away from London and unable to get them back. He complains about the distractions and states he really thought he was going to be alone again – he can foresee oodles of trouble with this pair! Because Ben is so obstinate in his refusal to believe that the TARDIS can travel in time the Doctor is really enjoys making a wager that he knows the young sailor is going to lose. The Doctor charms his way into a room, food and a warm fire from Kewper the Innkeeper and refers to his friends as ‘the boys.’ I want to see this story just on the basis of seeing the first Doctor thrown over someone’s shoulder like a rag doll. The indignity of it. Go and listen to his scenes with Pike in episode two and hear how well Hartnell can turn on the charm with him appealing to the pirates sophisticated tastes and treating him in a gentlemanly fashion. ‘Let us talk like men of the world! Be elegant! With dignity!’ He’s such a cheeky rogue the way he uses the cards to aid their escape from the pirate Jamaica, like Ben he preys on the superstitions of the time. The Doctor faces off to Cherub with all the authority at his disposal, refusing to bargain with a man who would so easily end a mans life. It all comes down to the Doctor in the crypt solving the dead mans riddle just as it should be. He wont leave the Squire to die even though they have the perfect opportunity to escape, a far cry from the man who look as though he might bash the brains out of a caveman in An Unearthly Child and a wonderful example of how far he has come. Enjoy The Smugglers as the last hurrah for a phenomenal actor in the part because The Tenth Planet really doesn't exploit either Hartnell or the Doctor (due to health reasons) at his best.

Lovely Lashes & Able Seaman: A lot of people forget (including me) how vital Ben and Polly were during the last stages of the Hartnell era. Without them the transition between the two lead actors would have been a lot harder to swallow. They held our hands whilst the show took its first major gamble and saw us to the other side. It helps that they are both such engaging and fun characters and warmly (sometimes flirtatiously) played by Michael Craze and Anneke Wills. When thinking over the long list of companions they often get left out because so much of their material is missing but frankly I cannot imagine a pair it would be a greater pleasure to travel the universe with. Between them they mention that the Doctor has an uncanny knack of landed himself in it (Ben) but also jolly crafty at getting himself out trouble (Polly). They’ve got the measure of him alright.

Polly is delighted to find herself on a beach and starts whopping with joy. They genuinely believe they are still in their own time and start looking for a train to take them back to London. Once banged up Polly declares she is finding this life on the run rather exciting. Ben enjoys winding up Polly by suggesting the murderer might come back and find them. She’s a pretty brave lass the way she spits accusations in the face of a throat slitting pirate and the corrupt Squire. Oh and she can let rip one hell of an ear splitter too.

Ben plays along with the Doctor for a while but is stiffly informed it will be a long time before he sees his ship again. He asks Polly to pinch him to test whether the Doctor is some kind of hypnotist. I find it charming the way that Ben, who has barely known the Doctor more than a few days, will step in a protect the old goat from roughnecks that threaten him. He takes the piss out of Polly when she spies a rat in their cell just as she took the piss out him for whinging that he cannot report to a 17th Century Navy. Has there ever been a pair in the TARDIS that should just thrown off the pretence of friendship and get it on more than these two? I love the scene where he hysterically demands that Tom lets them both go in case Polly puts a witches curse on him. Ben is clearly enjoying the chance to play act and sadistically plays on the boys fears to help them in their escape. Some have commented that this behaviour is cruel but really it is just using a superstition somebody already has to their advantage. Although it has to be said that he takes things quite far, the kid sounds like the kid is going crap himself by the end of the scene. Whilst at times Ben might vie for power he admits in moments of crisis that the Doctor is ‘the guv’nor’

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘What would they say to a maiden in trousers, hmm?’
‘I’ll have the words spilling out of him like blubber from a whale!’

The Good: I can understand why Hartnell might feel that this isn’t the show that he agreed to be a part of because there is a definite feel that it has left him behind a tad and been swept away by the swinging sixties. Everything seems to be a little bit gorgeous; the TARDIS landing on a glorious stretch of beach (lovely location work courtesy of Julia Smith) and out steps two of the sexiest companions the Doctor will ever travel with. For the first time the show is starting to feel with it in a time when it was probably starting to feel past it.  Doctor Who’s long history never ceases to amaze me and Captain Avery (‘the sharpest skipper that ever sailed out of Bristol port!’) the pirate is alluded to in the first episode, the very same man that the Doctor would end up meeting in his eleventh incarnation! Clearly Avery relieved himself of Pike and his men’s services and his disappearance ties in beautifully with the story that plays out in series six. This was a time when the Doctor could land and stumble on a pirate plot without it being woven into some grand masterplan or plot, just a simple adventure for the sheer pleasure of it. Forget the comic strip pirates we were introduced to in The Curse of the Black Spot for these are the real deal – knife wielding, throat slitting nutters that will fill you full of lead and stab you in the back as soon as look at you. The telesnaps show lovely snugly scenes of the Doctor, Ben and Polly drinking in the atmosphere of the local tavern. You can hardly say this moves glacially since by the end of the first episode the Doctor has been kidnapped and taken on board a pirate ship, Ben beaten up and the pair of them arrested and thrown in prison! Unusually for Doctor Who there is no incidental music at all which took me a while to notice and it didn’t detract from the story one bit. Actually I found it enhanced the period atmosphere (instead we get to hear the seagulls screaming, thunder rumbling, decks creaking and the sea rolling). It's easy to buy into a man like Pike who is living the life of a pirate but under the pretence of being a gentleman, enjoying the finery that comes with both roles. The one man who looked as though he might be able to aid the Doctor and his friends turns out to be the most corrupt of the lot – the Squire is deviously using the pirates to smuggle in all manner of expensive goods. Like The Myth Makers the year before, The Smugglers has the ability to suddenly turn extremely serious in a heartbeat and the sudden death of Jamaica at the hands of Pike (especially with him wiping the blood on his sleeve) is like a quick slap around the face to remind us these cutthroats mean business. However it never forgets to entertain as we engagingly follow the Doctor, Ben and Polly as they fit the clues together that lead them close to the treasure.
It pleased me that the Squire saw the errors of his ways and that Cherub turned on his Captain, both might be cliches in their own right but this is a story that is working to the conventions of a classic pirate story and it would have been sorrier without them. Cherub being run through by Pike’s sword is a punch the air end for a thoroughly hissable villain. All the location work in the last episode really does lend this the look of a feature film, the beach setting is captured in some expensive looking long shots. There is an awful lot of fighting in the last episode and it looks (via the telesnaps) and sounds (via the soundtrack) like a vicious brawl with even Polly and Ben entering the fray and kicking some pirate ass. With a string of corpses left behind it just goes to show that the desperate accumulation of wealth through nefarious means can only lead to a sorry end. Lesson learnt.

The Bad: None of the cliff-hangers are particularly special but there aren’t any really surprising turns a tale like this can take because it runs along conventional piratical lines. The best they can do is shock moments of violence or the sudden death of a character and those are the rare the glimpses that we get of this story, censored by the Australians.

The Shallow Bit: Ben and Polly, naturally. He’s wearing a tight black cotton shirt and shows off his chest and she is dressed up in a stripy top and peaked cap, a truly sexy tomboy. So much so she is mistaken for a lad as is they way when these young girls travel back into history.

Result: The Smugglers is one final hurrah for William Hartnell before his health robbed him of the show that really put his name on the map and he gives one of his most lively and pleasurable turns as the Doctor. In fact all of the performances are bewitching in this swashbuckling tale of lost treasure and piracy with the show attracting names like Micheal Godfrey and Paul Whitsun-Jones to bring its colourful characters to life. From the telesnaps you can see this is a handsomely produced tale with some gorgeous location work (still unusual for this stage of the series), rich and detailed sets and attractive period costumes. The BBC always go all out when producing historical drama and this is no exception. I cannot finish this summary without mentioning Ben and Polly once more who have given the series a shot of adrenalin and they help to make this charming piece even more engaging. Clearly all involved are having a whale of a time which is damn infectious and my one regret is that it is one of a handful of stories of which we have no complete episodes to judge it by visually. The Smugglers has no ambitions beyond providing you with four episodes of top quality entertainment and it fulfills that function admirably: 8/10

Artwork by Simon Hodges @

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